Reading about the circumstances of others is proven to increase empathy and resilience. Local Historical Fiction allows you to ponder how you might feel if you were living in this region within the context of different times and historical events.

Out of this Furnace by Thomas Bell is about immigrant labor in America, and more specifically in the steel mills of Braddock, Pennsylvania during the mid-1880s. It follows three generations of an immigrant Slovak family, the Dobrejcaks, documenting their ethnic heritage, history, and their incredible struggle to support their families and survive amid the ever challenging conditions of the steel mills. If you have a VHS player, you may also want to view Out of This Furnace a Walking Tour of Thomas Bell’s Novel which brings the locale to life through a walking tour of Braddock in conjunction with historic photographs.

The Woman in the Photo: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood by Mary Hogan shares the intertwined story of two young women of different times – Elizabeth Haberlin of America’s Gilded Age, and Lee Parker of modern-day California. This book brilliantly links the strangers together through space and time, all in relation to a single tragic historical event that occurred in nearby Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

The Valley Of Decision by Marcia Davenport is the story of four generations of the Scott family who owned and operated one of Pittsburgh’s iron and steel works. Spanning from the economic panic of 1873, through the dramatic rise of American industry and trade unionism, through waves of immigration, class conflict, natural disaster, World War I, and Pearl Harbor, this book gives a detailed view into the historical setting of Pittsburgh and the steel mills through the challenging times. The book was made into a major motion picture starring Greer Garson and Gregory Peck.

The Blues Walked In by Kathleen George shares the story of a youthful Lena Horne who’s father owns a hotel in Pittsburgh’s Hill District where jazz is flourishing. Spanning ten years, this book illuminates the extraordinary struggles Lena faced in her early career as a jazz singer. In the beginning of the book Lena meets Marie David, a Lebanese American girl, and their friendship brings to light the many commonalities and differences of their lives. Enrich your reading experience by listening to the live albums An evening with Lena Horne and Lena Horne the Lady and Her Music Live on Broadway.

Consecrated Dust: A Novel of the Civil War North by Mary Frailey is story set during he Civil War that revolves around the romance between Clara Ambrose who works in the Allegheny Arsenal making bullet cartridges for the Union Army and Garrett Cameron who leaves Pittsburgh to fight in the Union Army in Maryland with his Pennsylvania Regiment. How will their relationship be affected by the dual tragedies of an explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal in Pittsburgh that kills seventy-eight girls, and the horrendous casualties from the Battle of Antietam on that very same day on September 17, 1862?

Johnstown Girls by Kathleen George shares the horror of the flood through the memories of a survivor. Ellen Emerson’s twin sister went missing in the Johnstown Flood in 1899, a century later Ellen is interviewed by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters for a feature article on the flood. Ellen reveals her innate belief that her twin survived the flood, and could even still be alive. One of the reporters is compelled to assist Kathleen in uncovering the truth about her twin sister, what will they discover?

Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood by Jame Richards is a novel in verse. Celstia spends every summer with her family at Lake Conemaugh at an elite resort. Celestia prefers to fish and swim with Peter, the hotel’s hired boy, and their a secret affairs of the heart become heightened when heavy rain causes the dam holding the water of Lake Conemaugh to fail. How will their lives and love be challenged as the devastating torrent of water rushes into the valley below where Peter lives with his father?

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict shares the story of an Irish immigrant, Clara Kelley, who finds herself in desperate circumstances but fortuitously gains employment as a lady’s maid in the home of Andrew Carnegie. Set in Pittsburgh during the dawn of Carnegie’s empire during the industrial 1860s, will Clara’s influence propel Carnegie into becoming a philanthropist as their bond deepens?

Steel Ashes by Karen Rose Cercone is a historical mystery that takes place in Pittsburgh during the year 1905. When the burning of a rundown tenement and the deaths of two poor immigrants barely make the evening papers, a courageous social worker and Detective Milo Kachigan work together to solve the murders. If you enjoy this mystery there are two more sequential Detective Kachigan books also set in Pittsburgh titled Blood Tracks and Coal Bones.

Thanks for checking out some of our favorite Local Historical Fiction, be sure to check out our Lists page for more reading suggestions and resource guides.

Written by Linda, 11/12/20