The Long Way Home

Neville Island: A History
October 14, 2015, 7:27 AM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , ,
my love on second street

memory lane

People around the Pittsburgh region have their theories about Neville Island, the largest inhabited island in the Ohio River: it’s off-limits to outsiders, a thruway for truckers, crowded with factories – nobody really lives there. In the 80s, crossing the Coraopolis Bridge to the island, you’d be warned: Poison! Do Not Enter! (I remember a skull and crossbones painted on that sign, but maybe I watched too many cartoons as a kid.) Chemical companies treated a corner of the former farmland turned shipyard as a dumping ground. It took years, but they finally cleaned up their act. Now an ice rink inhabits the area once dubbed “poison park,” and across the street is a tropical island-themed bar complete with fake palms and sand  (island – get it?). My sister lives on the Island, so Jeff and I explore it often. I tell him stories about Wind Chimes truck stop and the amazing Chinese-American neon sign that made me want to go there because I imagined it would be like stepping into 1955. All those afternoons at the Rollerdrome next door, learning to skate backwards, and playing Pac-Man in its seedy little café that hasn’t changed decor since the Carter era. Grid-patterned streets dotted with tiny cottages boasting pink flamingos and the American flag on lawns cut clean and bright.

Neville Motel parking lot

Neville Motel parking lot


4 Comments so far
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My grandfather worked for one of the companies that buries toxic chemicals there. When they were permitted to build the sports complex I was amazed. For most of our childhood we were banned from going there because of the toxins. Where’d they go all of the sudden. Btw, beautifully written as always.


Comment by Michelle

Thanks, Chelle! I was amazed they allowed it to be built too – the place was like an apocalyptic zone for us when we were kids. Now it’s bustling with a hotel, a Speedway – and a King’s yet (ha!). It has that eerie vibe to me too – filled with ghosts (I hope).


Comment by Lisa

We used to sneak around the corner of the fence and run around and play in the “tar pits”. There was tons of wild game back there, an old oil well, and a bee keepers hives. At the tip of the island was a sand bar that you were able to walk 100 yards or so and not get your knees wet. Later in life I became ill, and alway wondered if it was from playing in the “tar pits”. One of the island police used to drive back in there and hunt the wild game. An interesting way of life in the 50’s and 60’s for sure.


Comment by Tom Pugh

Tom, Thanks for reading and for sharing your memories – they are lovely and surreal and make Neville Island sound even more mysterious.


Comment by Lisa

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