Homestead was the site of a few of the most important moments in US labor and industrial history. It was the location of the massive Homestead Steel Works. The Homestead Works were the heart of the Carnegie steel empire in the 1880s and 1890s. The Homestead Works were built in 1881 and acquired and expanded by Carnegie in 1883. Bridges connected the Homestead works to the Carrie furnaces on the opposite side of the Monongahela river. In 1892 Homestead was the site of the infamous Homestead strike where pitched battles were fought between striking steel workers and Carnegie's Pinkerton mercenaries. 4,000 state militia were called in by the governor of Pennsylvania to put down the strike. An assassination attempt was made on the life of Henry Frick who was the manager of the plant at the time. In the end, the union was broken. The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers effectively ceased to exist after the 1892 strike and the steel workers continued to live in poverty. This poverty was documented in the Pittsburg Survey, published between 1909 and 1914. The Pittsburgh Survey was a ground breaking sociological work that included the 1911 volume: Homestead: The Households of a Mill Town.
The Homestead works closed permanently in 1986. The mill which had employed as many as 15,000 people was the economic foundation of Homestead and nearby communities. The workforce at the mill had been declining for decades before the closure as had the population of Homestead. Many mill workers had left the older homes of Homestead for newer houses in the hills above town. Homestead's peak population was 20,452 in 1920. Today it's population is 3,155 (2012 est.)
In the late 1990s the Homestead works was demolished. In it's place was built a low rise suburban style shopping center and office park called The Waterfront. Almost nothing of the mill remains aside from a few historic plaques, a couple of small buildings and a set of smokestacks. Going to the Waterfront is surreal. There is nothing else like it in the Monongahela valley. The exact same suburban strip mall template, used endlessly across the US was stamped on the mill site eradicating everything that came before it. As usual, about 75% of the land is covered with pavement, mostly in the form of surface parking lots. The shopping center is thoroughly separated from the rest of Homestead by a hillside and railroad tracks. Nothing was done to connect the two together- in fact it seems almost like the separation was intentional. Homestead outside of the suburban bubble of the Waterfront continues to decline. The storefronts in downtown Homestead are mostly empty and the city continues to lose population. A trip to Homestead and the Waterfront is well worthwhile. It is the worst possible kind of re-development and as such makes a good example. The Steel Valley Trail provides the only access to the Monongahela river from the "Waterfront" development. From the trail you can see the Carrie Furnaces. The pump house, where the Pinkertons tried to come ashore during the 1892 strike has been preserved and is the site of the Homestead Strike memorial. There is parking near the memorial and there are a few informational signs. Most of historic Homestead up the hill from the shopping center is still standing although many homes and other buildings are empty and deteriorating.