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By Matthew Shorraw

Beverly Novak, a local resident and Geography graduate from Penn West California, is set to embark on a transformative journey of historical exploration and archiving. During her academic pursuits, she developed a keen interest in historical research, particularly in local and public history, leading her to pursue a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree with a concentration in archival studies. Novak, who is originally from the DC area, has lived in the Rust Belt (Detroit and SW PA) for the past decade.

Novak has deep roots in the region and intends to remain in the area.  Her fascination with the history of Monessen intensified after engaging in conversations with her cousin, former Monessen Mayor Matt Shorraw. Together, they delved into the intricate history of the Urban Renewal program, a federal initiative spanning from 1949 to 1974 that reshaped neighborhoods across the nation, notably impacting the Hill District of Pittsburgh.

Intrigued by the historical implications, Novak and Shorraw focused on Monessen's implementation of the program, which led to the clearance of two neighborhoods – Eastgate and Westgate, encompassing approximately 25 blocks of commercial and residential areas. The Urban Renewal program, intended to eliminate "slums" and ghettos, has faced recent criticism for its alleged unethical and racially motivated practices.

While Shorraw completes his master's thesis at Harvard University on Rust Belt Urban Renewal Programs, Novak recognized the significance of mapping Monessen's Westgate neighborhood before and during Urban Renewal. Stretching from 8th Street to the Charleroi-Monessen Bridge, Westgate witnessed the demolition of hundreds of homes, churches, ethnic clubs, and businesses during the 1960s and 70s.

Novak initiated the "From Morgan Avenue to Westgate: Remembering Monessen’s Third Ward" archival project, which aims to make information on the Westgate urban renewal project accessible through Google searches. Previously, a Google search yielded no results on the subject. She plans to collaborate with institutions specializing in urban renewal research, such as the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab and their "Renewing Inequality" project.

Expressing her vision for the project, Novak emphasized, "I would like to create other digital archives commemorating other communities in the Mon Valley, to show the sweeping changes they have undergone due to deindustrialization, population decline, etc."

Shorraw, drawing on his research, identified common threads in small communities participating in Urban Renewal, linking it with redlining, disdain for dense urban areas, and a lack of respect for diverse cultures. He highlighted the tendency to isolate these neighborhoods from others, often through the construction of highways or major roadways.

Novak's research has uncovered alarming statistics, revealing that around 1,000 people, predominantly non-white, were displaced from the Westgate neighborhood. Novak remarked, "It’s all the more reason why this work is important."

Looking ahead, Novak's project will incorporate community input, actively seeking newspaper clippings, photos, and personal stories from individuals who recall the vibrancy of Morgan Avenue and its surrounding neighborhood.

Shorraw emphasized, "Now that Pittsburgh is having a reckoning with the Hill District, it’s time that smaller communities start looking at the impacts of the program and how it affects our communities today." Novak's project is poised to contribute significantly to this crucial examination of Monessen's past and its reverberations in the present day.

While the actual mapping of the former neighborhood will happen later this year, anyone interested could follow the progress by visiting the website at:  or by visiting the Facebook Group: “From Morgan Avenue to Westgate: Remembering Monessen’s Third Ward”.


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