Saw Mill Run Creek

Saw Mill Run originates in Bethel Park
and flows north to the Ohio River. Here,
the Creek flows along Rt. 51 near Brookline.
Saw Mill Run Creek flows towards the intersection of Route 51 and Whited Street near Brookline.

Saw Mill Run Creek originates in Bethel Park and flows north for 9.3 miles before entering the Ohio River about a mile south of the Point in downtown Pittsburgh. The watershed of Saw Mill Run covers 12,343 acres, or about nineteen square miles.

The main stream travels along Route 88 to Route 51 in Overbrook, where it meets with Weyman Run Creek, which flows along Clairton Boulevard from Brentwood, with a subsidiary branch running along Provost Road from Baldwin.

The enlarged Saw Mill Run then continues northward along Route 51 to the West End. Many other tributaries feed into Saw Mill Run, including Little Saw Mill Run, which runs through the Banksville Road corridor until it intersects the main stream near the Fort Pitt Tunnels.

Saw Mill Run flows along Route 88 towards
Route 51 and the junction with Weyman Run Creek.    The junction of Saw Mill Run and Weyman Run Creeks
under the bridgework at the Rt 51/Rt 88 interchange.
Saw Mill Run Creek (left) flows along Library Road (Route 88) towards a junction at Saw Mill Run Boulevard (Route 51);
Saw Mill Run and Weyman Run Creeks meet under the bridgework at the Route 51/Route 88 intersection.

Little Saw Mill Run flows along the
Banksville Corridor, shown here in 1908.    Junction Little Saw Mill Run and Saw Mill Run Creeks
at the Banksville Circle, today the Ft Pitt Tunnels.
Little Saw Mill Run Creek (left) flows along the Banksville Corridor, shown in 1908; The junction of Little Saw Mill Run and Saw Mill Run Creek at the Banksville Circle, now the location of the Fort Pitt Tunnels in 1950.

Saw Mill Run Creek near the West End in 1937.
This area was known as the West End Flood District.    Saw Mill Run Creek near the West End in 1937.
This area was known as the West End Flood District.
Saw Mill Run Creek runs through the West End Flood District in 1937 towards it's intersection with the Ohio River.

Years Of Neglect And Efforts At Remediation

Like many secondary waterways and tributaries bisecting the growing city of Pittsburgh, Saw Mill Run Creek became increasingly polluted with sewer runoff, a problem that grew worse with each passing year. In 1914, public sewer lines and individual residential and commercial sewage was still being discharged directly into the stream. This sewage gathered along the banks of the stream and was washed away during rainy periods.

Another problem was the discharge of water from abandoned coal mines along the corridor, which gave the water and stones an orange color. Litter and other assorted items of discarded garbage were also problematic, and for the most part, but the mid-20th century Saw Mill Run Creek was considered a dead zone for acquatic life and a filthy, diseased waterway.

In 1968, the abundant sewage in the stream caused one Pittsburgh Press reporter to refer to the stream as a "source of nauseating odors" and noted how it was "infested with foot-long rats." These problems were not properly addressed until the 1980s.

For years, sewage drained directly into the Creek.
Modern efforts have helped alleviate the problem, but pollution
levels in 2000 showed that more work needs to be done.
This photo was taken in 1950.
Sewage runoff has been a problem for years along Saw Mill Run Creek. Efforts have been made to alleviate the problem.

Saw Mill Run Creek - 1972    Franum Street Bridge flooding - 1967
Saw Mill Run Creek flows past an abandoned service station (left) in January 1972,
and flooding at the Franum Street Bridge in July 1967.

Saw Mill Run Creek - 1968    Saw Mill Run Creek - 1970
A main sewer line discharges into Saw Mill Run Creek (left) at the South Portal of the Liberty Tunnels
in 1968, and students helping to clean litter from the creek on October 20, 1970.

A boy stands next to the end of the sewer
line at Saw Mill Run Creek.
A boy stands at the end of the sewer line, near Warrington Avenue (same as shown above) in July 1915.
Note: Plummers Run Creek, a Saw Mill Run tributary, was diverted into this West Liberty Avenue sewer line.

Despite ongoing efforts at stream remediation, water samples taken from the stream in 2000 determined that high concentrations of fecal coliform were still present, a water pollution problem that continues to plague many streams in the Pittsburgh area.

Seasonal Flooding

Seasonal flooding is another problem associated with Saw Mill Run Creek. Many homes and businesses located along the low-lying areas near the waterway were the victim of frequent flooding. In the late 1990s many structures along the flood plain were demolished.

Dredging and flood control measures by the Army Corps of Engineers have somewhat eased the problem. However, the prospect of flooding will always exist and a strong rainstorm can still bring the water to dangerous levels, often overflowing onto portions of Route 51 between Overbrook and the West End. The year 2018 was a record year for precipitation and also a record year for flooding, with some of the worst recorded flooding all along the basin.

Saw Mill Run Creek - 2018    Saw Mill Run Creek - 2018
A raging creek passes under the Timberland Avenue Bridge (left) and flooding along Saw Mill Run Boulevard in 2018.

Why Is It Called Saw Mill Run Creek?

The creek got its name back in 1759, when a water-powered saw mill was erected at the mouth of the waterway, at the Ohio River. The mill supplied lumber for General John Stanwix and the construction of Fort Pitt. The lumber was floated upstream to the point and cut to size on site.

Saw Mill Run Creek near the Salt Works in 1834.    Saw Mill Run Creek near the Salt Works in 1843.
The Union Salt Works at the mouth of Saw Mill Run, shown in 1834 (left) and 1843.

The saw mill at Saw Mill Run was eventually abandoned and replaced with a Salt Works around 1820. Extracted from flowing wells and refined in the mill, the production of salt was big business. From a modest output of fifteen barrels a day at the start, by the mid-1850s the Union Salt Works could produce up to 300 barrels a day. The Salt Works were in operation at the mouth of Saw Mill Run until approximately 1860.

Saw Mill Run Creek near at the West End in 1919.
This area was known as the West End Flood District.
A temporary bridge along West Carson Street, at the West End Circle, spans Saw Mill Run Creek in 1919.

Saw Mill Run has also become synonymous with the roadway called Saw Mill Run Boulevard, also known as Route 51 or Clairton Boulevard. The photo below shows the West End Interchange, the busy intersection of Route 51, Carson Street, the Steubenville Pike and the West End Bridge, where the colonial saw mill and old salt works shown above once stood.

The new West End Circle traffic design where
Saw Mill Run Creek enters the Ohio River.
The West End Interchange, where the Salt Works once stood and Saw Mill Run Creek enters the Ohio River.

The Seldom Seen Arch

Despite the problems with pollution and flooding, and the development along the course of Saw Mill Run, the creek's landscape also contains some wonderful scenic architecture. The Seldom Seen Arch, a stone arch bridge along Saw Mill Run Boulevard near Woodruff Street, is one of these locations. Built in 1903 as part of the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway, the Seldom Seen Arch is on the List of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation Historic Landmarks.

The Seldom Seen Arch, near Woodruff
Street, is a Pittsburgh Historic Landmark.    The Seldom Seen Arch, near Woodruff
Street, is a Pittsburgh Historic Landmark.
Looking through the Seldom Seen Arch from both sides of the tunnel.

A sign near the arch reads: "Beechview-Seldom Seen Greenway - Est. by the City of Pittsburgh July 15, 1985 - Dedicated to the memory of Edward E. Smuts, whose vision and enthusiasm inspired the Greenway Program to preserve Pittsburgh's wooded hillsides. Twenty-two acres of this greenway given as a living memorial by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in tribute to Mr. Smuts."

The Seldom Seen Arch, near Woodruff
Street, is a Pittsburgh Historic Landmark.

Life has also returned to the creek. Fish, birds and small reptiles and amphibians now call the creek home, not just along the Seldom Scene greenway, but all along the Saw Mill Run Corridor. This improvement is an ongoing process, with several major upcoming initiatives as part of an integrated watershed management plan.

Saw Mill Run Creek flows through
the Seldom Seen Arch.

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