Market Square truly is a jewel in the heart of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was founded at The Point. This is where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers merge to form the Ohio River. As the budding community at Fort Pitt grew beyond the settlement there, it became apparent that the developing city needed some direction. In 1784, Philadelphia surveyors George Woods and Thomas Vickroy were sent to layout the new city. The pair created a common area. It was known as the “Diamond,” a Scottish term for a public square. Eventually, this Diamond would become known as Market Square.
In 1794, the Diamond was the first location to the Allegheny County Courthouse and the first jail . It was also where the first newspaper published west of the Allegheny Mountains, The Pittsburgh Gazette., was located. It also contained the original Market House, on the eastern side of the square. In those days, goods were brought to the city by steamboat and offloaded at the Mon Wharf then brought to the square. Farmers and merchants also sold their wares at Market Square.
In 1841 the courthouse moved to Grant Street and the square became exclusively a market district. A raging fire destroyed one-third of the buildings in downtown Pittsburgh in 1845. The wooden market buildings were not destroyed by fire. However, in 1852 they were replaced with two brick buildings, the Diamond Market Houses. Each of the buildings covered half of the square and were operated by the city.
After 62 years, the Diamond Market Houses were demolished in 1914. Market Square was reinvented with the opening of The New Diamond Market. An H-shaped building that occupied all four quadrants of the square and was built with openings that allowed Diamond Street traffic to pass below and intersect with Market Street. Grocers, bakers and florists attracted shoppers to the vast market. It featured an exhibition hall and a boxing ring on the second floor. At one time, the market even had a roller-skating rink on the third floor.
However, as more people moved to the suburbs and shopping centers were built, the Diamond Market’s appeal as a shopping district lessened. In 1958, Mayor David L. Lawrence changed the name of Diamond Street to Forbes Avenue, to honor General John Forbes, who took this area from the French.
The New Diamond Market fell into disrepair. In 1959 a cornice fell from the building, injuring a woman. This prompted an inspection of the building, which revealed to officials that it needed extensive repairs and was infested by pigeons and their droppings.
In 1961, The New Diamond Market buildings were razed to create an open plaza. It was composed of four grassy quadrants, which were crossed by Forbes Avenue and Market Street. It became a popular hangout for the lunch-time crowd and a place to feed pigeons. In 1972, Market Square was designated as the city’s first historic district. Hartzell Memorial Fountain was brought to the square in 1977. It was constructed in 1909 by James E. Hartzell for his late wife Annie, which is inscribed with the words, “For Man, Beast and Bird.” It served as a birdbath and public water fountain until 1990. It now resides on the North Side at North Commons and Federal Street.
When PPG Place was constructed the early 1980s, the old buildings surrounding the square in one of the quadrants were demolished to make way for the new PPG structures. Market Squares’ most recent remodeling came in 2009. The intersection in the middle of the square was eliminated and traffic was diverted around the perimeter. The four grass quadrants were paved over, creating a larger European-style gathering place, surrounded by restaurants and shops.
Today, Market Square continues to be Pittsburgh’s gathering place. It houses numerous shops and restaurants, including the Original Oyster House, which has been on the square since 1870. It is the oldest bar and restaurant in the city. During the holidays, the Peoples Gas Holiday Market entices shoppers to the square with its German-styled Christkindlmarkts. In the warmer months, a Farmers’ Market is held. People also gather in Market Square for Light-Up Night, the Irish Fair for St. Patrick’s Day and for pep rallies for the Penguins and Steelers. Additionally, free concerts and even Yoga in the Square occur.
Our Diamond in the heart of the city has gone through many changes. However for more that two centuries it has remained a gathering place for the Pittsburgh community.