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More than 200 years worth of Pittsburgh historical documents now available online

A black and white picture of a row of stone buildings in the Lower Hill District in the 1950s. An old fashioned car is in the foreground, and the Allegheny County Courthouse can be seen in the background.
Courtesy of Pittsburgh's City Archives Digital Collections
A 1955 picture of Pasquinelli's Market in the Lower Hill District included in a number of recently digitized Pittsburgh records.

Meeting minutes, reports, photos, maps and other records from over 200 years of Pittsburgh government activity are now available for researchers and local history buffs to browse online.

The Records Management Division of the City Clerk’s office launched the City Archives Digital Collections website Monday.

Before the site went live, the only way to view most of the city-maintained historical record was to visit the City-County Building or one of the warehouses where the city’s disparate collections are housed. The website is part of an effort to make the materials — most of which have never been seen or used before — easier for the public to access, said Nick Hartley, who manages the records management division.

(Hartley said city officials have since identified a permanent facility for a centralized archive that will begin renovations next year.)

The digitized archive includes about 4,800 images, 830 text files (like meeting minutes and reports) and even some films. It represents just a small fraction of the historical records and important documents in the city’s collection.

“And so, when users use this website, it's going to give them an idea of the kinds of material that they can expect to find in Pittsburgh government records and hopefully, you know, spark their curiosity to learn more,” Hartley said.

Information-rich records and those thought to be most valuable to users were prioritized and are on the website now.

Standouts include over 2,000 photographs of buildings in the Lower Hill District, prior to the demolition of the Lower Hill, reports and meeting minutes from the City Planning Commission dating back to 1918, footage of the construction of U.S. Steel Tower downtown, and the items placed in a time capsule at the old city hall in 1869.

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Additional meeting minutes and records from Pittsburgh City Council from 1816 through the 1870s were also digitized, nearly bringing the city’s entire legislative history online, which Hartley said is “not entirely common among local governments in America.”

(Pittsburgh municipal records from 1868 to 2000, including Pittsburgh City Council meeting minutes, legislation, correspondence, and more, were previously digitized and made available online.)

The city archives are relatively young; they were established in 2017. Before Hartley and other archivists could begin digitizing records, they first had to process the information, a labor-intensive process that required rehousing the collections and creating finding aids and container lists to help locate them. Only after that could the thousands of pages of records be scanned and tagged with more than 10 metadata elements including their title, creator, keywords and date of creation, and uploaded to the website.

Hartley said the comprehensive process is meant to help “futureproof” the archive.

“No system lasts forever,” he said. “So as long as we have this metadata, we'll be able to transfer it to a new system in the future.”

The project was supported in part by grant funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Because the digitization process is expensive and time consuming, archivists had to be selective about which records were digitized first; the grant requirements partly helped determine their priorities.

Additional city records will be digitized and uploaded going forward. Hartley said he hopes to upload new materials each week, moving the department towards its goal of establishing collections that are “as easy to access and use as possible.” New uploads will be shared on the department’s social media pages.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at