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The earliest example of civil engineering in this area was associated with the Washington and Pittsburgh Railroad, incorporated in February 1831.

They hired local engineer Charles De Hass to perform a preliminary design of a railroad linking Washington, Pa., and Pittsburgh.

At a time when the lone railroad in this country was 12 miles of track in Baltimore, this assignment required an impressive combination of knowledge, ingenuity and imagination. Mr. De Hass was the right choice for it. Thanks to Rob Anders of the Observer Publishing Co., we have a copy of his engineer's report as reported in the May 17, 1871, Washington Reporter.

Reading this remarkable document confirms that Mr. De Hass was an outstanding engineer who produced an extremely competent engineering report, despite having a minimum of access to the sort of information that became available to civil engineers generations later.

His approach was to survey a route down the Chartiers Valley to the Ohio River, then along the south shore of the Ohio to Pittsburgh. His route was just over 32 miles long; his estimate of the cost to build it was just over $148,000. De Hass did a good job of reporting the quantities of excavation and fill, masonry required for retaining walls and viaduct piers, viaducts, ties and rails, and crushed stone ballast. The grade on this route was limited to 1.5 percent with a minimum radius of 385 feet.

The Bridgeville area route begins on “Vance's farm in Allegheny County,” which appears to be on the South Fayette side of Chartiers Creek about halfway between Bridgeville and Mayview. “McDowell's factory” is more than 2 miles farther north, approximately where Vanadium Road crosses the railroad today.

The next referenced location, nearly 2 miles farther north is “a point near Cowan's,” probably at the north end of Heidelberg. Then a little over two miles north to “a short distance before the mouth of Robinson's Run” and another roughly 2 miles to “Murphy's factory.” Looks like we have some work ahead identifying all these landmarks.

Unfortunately the financial and business minds behind the Washington and Pittsburgh Railroad were not as successful at their task as Mr. De Hass was at his. Although the corporation began to acquire right-of-way and perform initial grading immediately, it took 40 years and several reorganizations before the Chartiers Valley Railroad was completed to Carnegie, following De Hass' original surveyed route.

John Oyler is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or Read more from him at

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