Donora, Pennsylvania

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Cement City Historic District.jpg
Concrete houses in the Cement City neighborhood
Etymology: portmanteau of "William Donner" and "Nora Mellon"
Washington County Pennsylvania Incorporated and Unincorporated areas Donora Highlighted.svg
Location of Donora in Washington County, Pennsylvania.
USA Pennsylvania location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location of Donora in Pennsylvania
Coordinates: 40°10′33″N79°51′41″W / 40.17583°N 79.86139°W / 40.17583; -79.86139 Coordinates: 40°10′33″N79°51′41″W / 40.17583°N 79.86139°W / 40.17583; -79.86139
Country United States
State Pennsylvania
County Washington
  MayorJames McDonough II
  Total2.05 sq mi (5.30 km2)
  Land1.90 sq mi (4.92 km2)
  Water0.15 sq mi (0.38 km2)
(2017) [2]
  Density2,426.54/sq mi (936.65/km2)
Time zone UTC-4 (EST)
  Summer (DST) UTC-5 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 724 Exchange: 379
A pictorial map of Donora from 1901 Map of Donora PA 1901.jpg
A pictorial map of Donora from 1901

Donora is a borough in Washington County, Pennsylvania, United States, approximately 20 miles (32 km) south of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River.

Borough (Pennsylvania) borough in Pennsylvania

In the U.S. commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a borough is a self-governing municipal entity, best thought of as a town, usually smaller than a city, but with a similar population density in its residential areas. Sometimes thought of as "junior cities", boroughs generally have fewer powers and responsibilities than full-fledged cities.

Washington County, Pennsylvania County in the United States

Washington County is a county located in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. As of the 2010 census, the population was 207,820. Its county seat is Washington. The county was created on March 28, 1781, from part of Westmoreland County. The city and county were both named after American Revolutionary War leader George Washington, who eventually became the first President of the United States.

Pennsylvania State of the United States of America

Pennsylvania, officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state located in the northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The Appalachian Mountains run through its middle. The Commonwealth is bordered by Delaware to the southeast, Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, Lake Erie and the Canadian province of Ontario to the northwest, New York to the north, and New Jersey to the east.


Donora was incorporated in 1901. It got its name from a combination of William Donner and Nora Mellon, banker Andrew W. Mellon's wife. The borough's nickname is "The Home of Champions", mainly because of the large number of famous athletes who have called Donora their home.

William Henry Donner (1864–1953) was an American businessman and philanthropist, born in Columbus, Indiana. He graduated from Hanover College in 1887.

Agriculture, coal-mining, steel-making, wire-making, and other industries were conducted in Donora early in its history.

In 1910, 8,174 people lived in Donora; in 1920, 14,131; and in 1940, 13,180. According to U.S. census figures, the population was 5,653 in 2000 and 4,781 in 2010. [3]

Donora is a Rust Belt location which has lost most of its industrial capacity.

Rust Belt region of the United States in the Midwest and the Great Lakes, in which industry declined since the 1980s, experiencing deindustrialization, economic decline, population loss, or urban decay

The Rust Belt is a derogatory term for an informal region of the United States that experienced industrial decline starting around 1980. It is made up mostly of places in the Midwest and Great Lakes, though definitions vary. Rust refers to the deindustrialization, or economic decline, population loss, and urban decay due to the shrinking of its once-powerful industrial sector. The term gained popularity in the U.S. in the 1980s.

It is in the "Mon valley", 5 miles (8.0 km) downriver from Charleroi and 25 miles (40 km) upstream of Braddock.

Monongahela River river in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, United States

The Monongahela River — often referred to locally as the Mon — is a 130-mile-long (210 km) river on the Allegheny Plateau in north-central West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania. The river flows from the confluence of its west and east forks in north central West Virginia northeasterly into southwestern Pennsylvania, then northerly to Pittsburgh and its confluence with the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River. The river is navigable its entire length via a series of locks and dams.

Charleroi, Pennsylvania Borough in Pennsylvania, United States

Charleroi is a borough in Washington County, Pennsylvania, along the Monongahela River, 21 miles south of Pittsburgh. Charleroi was settled in 1890 and incorporated in 1891. The 2010 census recorded a population of 4,120.

Braddock, Pennsylvania Borough in Pennsylvania, United States

Braddock is a borough located in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, 10 miles (16 km) upstream from the mouth of the Monongahela River. The population was 2,159 at the 2010 census. The borough is represented by the Pennsylvania State Senate's 45th district, the Pennsylvania House of Representative's 34th district, and Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives.


In 1794, the Whiskey Insurrectionists held several meetings at Fells Church, approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) east of Donora.

Whiskey Rebellion tax protest in the United States from 1791 to 1794

The Whiskey Rebellion was a tax protest in the United States beginning in 1791 and ending in 1794 during the presidency of George Washington, ultimately under the command of American Revolutionary war veteran Major James McFarlane. The so-called "whiskey tax" was the first tax imposed on a domestic product by the newly formed federal government. It became law in 1791, and was intended to generate revenue for the war debt incurred during the Revolutionary War. The tax applied to all distilled spirits, but American whiskey was by far the country's most popular distilled beverage in the 18th century, so the excise became widely known as a "whiskey tax". Farmers of the western frontier were accustomed to distilling their surplus rye, barley, wheat, corn, or fermented grain mixtures into whiskey. These farmers resisted the tax. In these regions, whiskey often served as a medium of exchange. Many of the resisters were war veterans who believed that they were fighting for the principles of the American Revolution, in particular against taxation without local representation, while the federal government maintained that the taxes were the legal expression of Congressional taxation powers.

A trolley line opened in Donora on December 15, 1901, linking First and McKean, and Fifteenth Street and Meldon. [4] It was extended in 1911 to Black Diamond to connect to the Charleroi to Pittsburgh interurban trolley. The line was abandoned on May 5, 1953.

The town was the scene of the infamous Donora Smog of 1948. Between October 26 and October 31, 1948, an air inversion trapped industrial effluent (air pollution) from the American Steel and Wire plant and Donora Zinc Works. During this spike in air pollution, 6,000 people suffered respiratory problems and extreme discomfort. [5] "In three days, 20 people died... After the inversion lifted, another 50 died, including Lukasz Musial, the father of baseball great Stan Musial. Hundreds more finished the rest of their lives with damaged lungs and hearts." [6] The incident made national headlines. Today, the town is home to the Donora Smog Museum which tells the impact of the Donora Smog on the air quality standards enacted by the federal government in subsequent years. [7]

Donora's neighborhood known as "Cement City" is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. [8] The homes built in the neighborhood are completely made out of pre-formed and poured concrete. This structural building technique was championed by Thomas Edison, and was used by neighborhoods throughout the United States. The homes were built as employee housing for the Donora Wire and Steel Mill in the early 1900s. [9]

The Cement City Historic District and Webster Donora Bridge are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. [10]


Donora is located at 40°10′33″N79°51′41″W / 40.17583°N 79.86139°W / 40.17583; -79.86139 (40.175879, −79.861264). [11]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the borough has a total area of 2.0 square miles (5.2 km2), of which 1.9 square miles (4.9 km2) is land and 0.2 square miles (0.5 km2) (7.32%) is water.


The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Donora has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps. [12]

Climate data for Donora, Pennsylvania
Average high °C (°F)4.6
Average low °C (°F)−4.9
Average precipitation mm (inches)66
Source: Weatherbase [13]

Surrounding and adjacent neighborhoods

Donora is only bordered by land with Carroll Township to the north, south and west. Across the Monongahela River to the east, Donora runs adjacent with Rostraver Township in Westmoreland County.


Donora is a borough and consists of an elected mayor and an elected borough council.

Mayor Donald "Piglet" Pavelko was recently appointed to the position of mayor by the Donora Borough Council after the previous mayor John "Chummy" Lignelli resigned in order to better enjoy his retirement. Lignelli served for nearly three decades. At age 92 when he retired, he was one of the oldest seated mayors in the United States.

Chief of Police is James Brice.

Council President is Dennis Gutierrez.


Donora is part of Ringgold School District, which includes the municipalities of Donora, Monongahela, Carroll Township, Nottingham Township, New Eagle, Finleyville, and Union Township. As of 2011, the district no longer operates any facilities within the borough that house academic classrooms for students.

Donora's youth sports mascot is the Donora Dragon and its colors are orange and black. Since the merge of the elementary and middle schools, there is no longer Donora Dragon football or cheerleading.


Historical population
1910 8,174
1920 14,13172.9%
1930 13,905−1.6%
1940 13,180−5.2%
1950 12,186−7.5%
1960 11,131−8.7%
1970 8,825−20.7%
1980 7,524−14.7%
1990 5,928−21.2%
2000 5,653−4.6%
2010 4,781−15.4%
Est. 20174,608 [2] −3.6%
Sources: [14] [15] [16] [17]

As of the census [16] of 2000, there were 5,653 people, 2,469 households, and 1,434 families residing in the borough. The population density was 2,973.8 people per square mile (1,148.8/km²). There were 2,958 housing units at an average density of 1,556.1 per square mile (601.1/km²). The racial makeup of the borough was 82.10% White, 14.84% African American, 0.14% Native American, 0.27% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.32% from other races, and 2.32% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino people of any race were 2.02% of the population.

There were 2,469 households out of which 23.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.9% were married couples living together, 16.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 41.9% were non-families. 37.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 21.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.23 and the average family size was 2.95.

In the Washington County borough the population was spread out with 21.7% under the age of 18, 6.4% from 18 to 24, 25.5% from 25 to 44, 21.4% from 45 to 64, and 25.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females, there were 82.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 78.4 males.

The median income for a household in the borough was $27,939, and the median income for a family was $37,176. Males had a median income of $33,725 versus $22,346 for females. The per capita income for the borough was $17,893. About 12.4% of families and 16.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 28.2% of those under age 18 and 14.0% of those age 65 or over.


Though many group Donora in a class of Western Pennsylvania towns and cities known collectively as the "rust belt" because of the demise of the once prolific steel industry, the town continues to be a center for industry and manufacturing. On the site of the former steel mills now stands a large industrial park that is managed by MMIDA (Mid Mon Valley Industrial Development Authority).

Major companies that have facilities in the Donora Industrial Park include A-1 Babbit company, Apex N.A., Area Agency on Aging, Bergen Power Pipe Supports, BMA of Donora, HYTEC Inc., Dyno-Nobel Inc, Eastern Alloy, Eastern Hydraulic & Machine, Elizabeth Milling Corporation, Elliott Support Services, Glosser MFG, Industrial Nonferrous Casting Company, K-Z Tool Company, Airgas Specialty Products, Inc. (formerly LaRoche Industries), McGrew Welding Fabrication, Metalife Resources, MIDA Inc., Mon Valley Child Care, Mon Valley Sewage Authority, Monessen Ambulance Service, Nitrous Oxide Corporation, Power & Industrial Services Corporation, Nichols Miniatures, Pittsburgh Post Gazette Distribution Center, RAS Industries Inc., Regal Industries Inc.and Spartech Polycom. [18]

Cement City

Donora is home to the world's second largest "Cement City" housing tract, innovated by Thomas Edison. The neighborhood consists of 80 "poured in place" homes. [19]

Notable people

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1948 Donora smog

The 1948 Donora smog was a historic air inversion that resulted in a wall of smog that killed 20 people and caused respiratory problems for 6,000 people of the 14,000 population of Donora, Pennsylvania, a mill town on the Monongahela River 24 miles (39 km) southeast of Pittsburgh. The event is commemorated by the Donora Smog Museum.


  1. "2017 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved Mar 24, 2019.
  2. 1 2 "Population and Housing Unit Estimates" . Retrieved March 24, 2018.
  3. "American FactFinder - Community Facts". 2010-10-05. Retrieved 2018-04-02.
  4. Paglia, Ron (June 25, 2006). "Riding down memory lane". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved October 15, 2009.[ permanent dead link ]
  5. John Bachmann, David Calkins, Margo Oge. “Cleaning the Air We Breathe: A Half Century of Progress.” EPA Alumni Association. September 2017. Page 9.
  6. The Globe and Mail, December 7, 2002, book review by Andrew Nikiforuk When Smoke Ran Like Water by Devra Davis
  7. "Smog Deaths In 1948 Led To Clean Air Laws" . Retrieved 2011-08-17.
  8. "Asset Detail".
  9. "Cement City Historic District, Donora Borough, Washington County, Donora PA 15033". Retrieved 2018-04-02.
  10. National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service.
  11. "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  12. "Climate Summary for Donora, Pennsylvania". Retrieved 2018-04-02.
  13. "". Weatherbase. 2013. Retrieved on October 24, 2013.
  14. "Number of Inhabitants: Pennsylvania" (PDF). 18th Census of the United States. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  15. "Pennsylvania: Population and Housing Unit Counts" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  16. 1 2 "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on September 11, 2013. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  17. "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on October 19, 2013. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
  18. Archived June 16, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  19. "Cement City in Donora open for tour | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette". Retrieved 2018-04-02.
  20. 1 2 Musil, Robert, K. (2014). "2. Don't Harm the People: Ellen Swallow Richards, Dr. Alice Hamilton, and their heirs take on polluting industries". Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America's Environment. Rutgers University Press. ISBN   9780813571768 . Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  21. "Stan Musial and the Donora HIgh School baseball team | Multimedia". 2013-01-24. Retrieved 2018-04-02.

Further reading