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Identity & Community

Pittsburgh Bridge to be Named for David McCullough

The man who wrote probably the definitive book on the building of the Brooklyn Bridge will have a bridge named for him in his native Pittsburgh.

The 90-year-old Sixteenth Street Bridge, which links the Strip District and the North Side, will be rededicated Sunday as the David McCullough Bridge in honor of the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian.

McCullough will be joined Sunday — his 80th birthday — by family members, friends, fans and local officials for the unveiling of the plaque formally renaming the bridge.

“It is altogether fitting that Pittsburgh native, Western Pennsylvania’s best ambassador and America’s favorite historian should have a bridge named for him,” said Andy Masich, president and CEO of the Heinz History Center. “He, more than anyone, understands the amazing influence our region has had on the world.”

In December the Allegheny County Council approved legislation formally changing the name of the county-owned Sixteenth Street Bridge. The prime sponsor, Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko, said the idea was first proposed by amateur historian Michael Connors of Chalfant about two years ago.  

Danko said the naming process has become more involved since the Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Street Bridges were renamed after Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson respectively in 1998, 2005 and 2006.

“Council votes on it, sends it to a committee headed by the county manager, waits for that committee to make a recommendation, and it eventually went back to council where we got a unanimous vote — bipartisan,” Danko said. Prior to this, it took only a one-time majority vote by council.

Danko admitted that she “wrestled a bit” with naming a bridge after a living person.

“But I feel on someone’s 80th birthday and really a lifetime body of work, I think this naming will stand the test of time,” she said.

Danko said she received more email on the bridge renaming than any other issue including property assessment. 

“Basically it was like 100 to 1 to do this,” she said.

McCullough is a 1951 graduate of Shady Side Academy and earned a Bachelor’s degree in English from Yale four years later. His first book, "The Johnstown Flood," was published in 1968, and he has written eight others, including the highly-acclaimed “Truman” and “John Adams” and his most recent book “The Greater Journey,” about Americans in Paris from the 1830s to the 1900s. He is also the recipient of the nation’s highest honor for a civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The bridge was built in 1923 at a cost of $1.25 million, with pylons rising approximately 62 feet above the bridge deck. The pedestrian walkway passes through an arched opening with stone carvings of a bearded man, the Greek god Poseidon and a woman.

The festivities get underway at 2 p.m. Sunday at 16th Street and Penn Avenue, followed by a birthday celebration for David McCullough at the Heinz History Center, which is free and open to the public. A ticketed talk by McCullough begins at 4 p.m. at the history center.