The “Hump” and it’s Detrimental Effect on the Courthouse

Believe it or not, Pittsburgh’s downtown area hasn’t always been the same elevation. Prior to 1912 there existed a nuisance of a hill known both as “Grant’s Hill” and as “The Hump.” The hill was extremely aggravating to workers, cars, trolleys, and horses so the city decided to remove the entire hill.


Over a period of three years the hill was leveled and buildings were remodeled. The reason this event is being documented in a blog about the courthouse is the effect the removal of the hill had on the appearance and overall experience of the Allegheny County Courthouse.


While the hill still existed the courthouse was in its intended state of being with the entrance at ground level. Old photos of the bridge show a gap of a certain size between the bridge and the ground.


Interestingly enough, a photo from the same perspective today shows the major difference between the bridge today and the bridge a hundred years ago. The bridge is only being discussed because of how easy it is to show the change.


It is evident that the ground beneath the bridge has been lowered substantially. In fact, nearly 15 feet under the bridge was removed in the grand “hump” removal. Looking at the windows specifically in the first photo compared to the second shows a whole new level appearing after the hump removal process. How did the hump removal affect the Allegheny County Courthouse? Here’s how.

Since the construction of the courthouse was before the hump removal there was little planning for how the exterior of the courthouse would look if the land was removed. Richardson had planned a deep foundation in case the hump would be removed, which it eventually was, but there was no exterior stone. When the hump was removed and dirt was scraped away from the foundation of the courthouse, new stones were cemented along the revealed foundation. Unfortunately the stone was not the same as the existing stone, whether because it was all together a different rock or if the older stone had been weathered already. Regardless, there is still a discrepancy between the old stone and the new stone, especially on the side of the courthouse where the bridge is located.

The change of stone color is not the only consequence of removing the hump; the entrances were also modified because the ground was lowered. Originally, visitors to the courthouse would enter through the traditional main entrance through the grand staircase leading up to the door. After the land was lowered, however, a larger staircase was added on which visitors would enter the building. It wasn’t much of a problem until the 1930’s when the streets, specifically Grant Street, was widened to accommodate automobiles. (Source) When the street was widened the grand staircase entrance was removed and the entrance to the courthouse was moved to the basement level. No longer do visitors to the courthouse enter through the grand doors to the courthouse but rather through the basement.

The overall effect and experience of the courthouse was changed by the lowering of the hump. While the building is still spectacular it isn’t in the impressive state of being Richardson desired when he designed the building so many years ago.

2 thoughts on “The “Hump” and it’s Detrimental Effect on the Courthouse

  1. I really like your use of pictures to show the changes over time. I am actually amazed by the idea of removing a hill, especially after buildings had already been built on top of it. The impact that the removal of the hill had on the courthouse is interesting because I honestly wouldn’t have realized how much extra work was involved in making it look as if there had never been a hill there in the first place.


  2. The transition depicted in your post here is very neat. I like how this post actually depicts a negative aspect to the overall building of the courthouse; it makes the idea of your blog more real and includes all of the important details that people should know when looking to learn more about the history behind the courthouse.


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