Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I want to take ya. Bermuda, Bahama com on pretty mama. Kelargo montego, baby why don’t we go to Fourteen Mile Island…wait.
That’s not how the 1988 song Kokomo by the Beach Boys goes, but we do have islands in the Pittsburgh area, and although they may not be tropical paradises, they have interesting histories. The Allegheny River has the greatest number of islands in our region with the Ohio River coming in second, but what the Ohio lacks in number, it makes up for in size with two of the largest islands. Unlike the other two Pittsburgh rivers, the Monongahela River in our area has no islands. Here’s a tour of our area islands.
Allegheny River Islands
Fourteen Mile Island
Originally called Hulings Island or Lanes Island, this stretch of land located in Harmar township became known as Fourteen Mile Island in 1864. Contrary to what most people think, this island is not fourteen miles long. Boatmen in the 1860s named several Allegheny River islands according to their distance from ‘the Point.’ In 1932, the island was split in two to build a lock and dam. The McDonough Corporation mined sand and gravel on Fourteen Mile Island until the 1970s when the company donated it to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. The state then purchased it, along with four other Allegheny River islands, to form the Allegheny Islands State Park in 1980. Some camping is permitted on the island, although it is only accessible by boat.
Herrs Island was named for the Herr family who owned a mill there during the 1700s. After the Civil War, the island became industrialized, housing oil refineries, stockyards and at one time the city’s garbage dump. By the 1970s, it was deemed a contaminated “brownfield site.” The island has since been revitalized and renamed Washington’s Landing. Today, this part of the Troy Hill neighborhood boasts river- island living with exclusive townhomes, a business park and a marina.
Twelve Mile Island
Located in Harmar Township, Twelve Mile Island has several summer rental cottages and a few year-round residents. It is only accessible by boat.
Nine Mile Island
Located within the jurisdiction of Blawnox, Nine Mile Island lies parallel to Sycamore Island and is part of the Allegheny Islands State Park. It is uninhabited.
The Allegheny Land Trust acquired Sycamore Island in 2008. Once a bird sanctuary, the island is now a green space accessible only by boat. It has limited camping.
Six Mile Island
Six Mile Island is located in the river between Sharpsburg and the City of Pittsburgh. It is a part of O’Hara Township. This island is an alluvial island, which means it was formed by water-carried deposits of sand, mud and gravel. It is uninhabited.
Ohio River Islands
Considered part of the city’s Marshall-Shadeland neighborhood, this 129 acre lot was named for Dr. Felix Brunot, a French surgeon who settled there in the late 1700s. Reportedly, Dr. Brunot and his family entertained Lewis and Clark on the island in 1803. A flood in 1811 washed away the Brunot estate, and in 1894, George Westinghouse bought the island to build an electrical plant. Today, the island is only accessible by boat so as to let nature reclaim the space.
Neville Island is the largest island near Pittsburgh at nearly five miles long. It was named for Revolutionary War General, John Neville, who purchased the land—known as Long Island—in 1776. The General constructed a home there in 1794 and lived on the island until his death in 1803. His daughter inherited the land, which had become to be known as Montours Island. In 1900, a Pittsburgh Press advertisement compared the similarities of Neville Island to New York City’s Manhattan Island, touting it as the next Gotham City.
It wasn’t until WWI that the island was given its current name when the U.S. government opened a large ammunition plant there. After the wars, the island’s industry fell with the rest of the economy. The twenty-first century brought revitalization and environmental cleanup. Now, Neville Island is home to the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center, parks, a hotel and residential and commercial areas.
This small island is located just beyond Neville Island down the Ohio River and is located in Avalon. It was formerly the home of the Davis Island Lock and Dam, which was in operation from 1878 to 1922. West View Water Authority is the current owner and operator of the island. Wells on the island draw up water from the Ohio River which supply 32 different municipalities after going through a water purification system.
By Janice Lane Palko