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When I was born in 1964, my parents, Charles and Lois Thornton, were living on a 1-room houseboat docked just above “Grimm’s Landing” (previously “Zubik’s Landing”) on the Allegheny River on the North Side of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Back then the river was lined with “squatters”. The land that ran along the river was owned by the railroad,  but people docked their boats and houseboats and barges, setting up businesses and marinas. My parents actually had utility service (gas, phone, electric) and a mailbox with a street address (703 River Ave.). Grimm’s Landing (508 River Ave.) – between the two bridges – had been taken over by my uncle (my father’s brother in law) Bill Grimm for his river towing business. Bill and his brother Chick owned several towboats and salvage barges docked there. Their hold on the land wasn’t challenged until well into the 1970s.

I found this cool photo of Bill’s parents Edward and Emma Grimm in the same spot.

Edward and Emma Grimm houseboat. This photo shows Edward Everett Grimm and his wife, Emma (Locke) on their houseboat. It was at Grimm’s landing on the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, between the 9th Street Bridge and the railroad bridge (nearly under the railroad bridge). Emma May Locke was born in 1881 in West Virginia. She married Edward Everett Grimm on November 24, 1900, in Pleasants, West Virginia. They had two children during their marriage. She died in 1960 at the age of 79. Source: Rosa Nutt. Found on

Below 1963: You can just see where that was along with some of the Grimm River Towing Company boats and equipment on the far side of of the bridge pier. The small boat in the foreground was Fred Mauk’s boat, a friend of Charles and Lois. He introduced Lois to Charles, who was building his houseboat at the time (about where the photographer is standing in the pic – I believe all the lumber is for that).  She had her own little shanty boat, docked upriver near Blawnox. Fred took the next photo on a boat building day.

Building the houseboat: L-R Danny Pulanski, Paul Thornton, 3 Fingers Charlie (Everett Thayer’s brother), Lois Wagner, ?, Jehovah’s Witness Joe(?). On the pontoons during a day of decking to prep for building the houseboat (prebarge). This is before Lois and Paul were married. Danny later gave Lois’ new baby Diana a little silver cup and spoon which she kept all her life never knowing who it came from until decades later (I was able to meet him a few years ago). Danny was a friend of Lois from AYH. Photo taken by Fred Mauk 1963.

Below – the finished “prebarge” houseboat where I spent my first year of life on the water. You can see the gas meter in the bottom left.

Google satellite showing the location of my parent’s houseboat in the above photo (hand upper right of map). No more houseboats and barges! Even the railroad track is replaced by a walking trail. The Rachel Carson Bridge is what they call the 9th street bridge now (it was also called Anderson Street on the North Side, where Paul lived in the first block off the river when his father died – read the Ernest and Helen Chapter link below).


I was amazed to find this photo online. It clearly shows the railroad bridge with Bill Grimm’s barges on the left, and my parent’s houseboat right when we were still living there, ca late summer 1964. After the big flood in March, Uncle Bill used one of his cranes to lift the little house off the original pontoon deck and onto a half barge seen in this photo. We might even have been in the houseboat at the moment the photo was taken!

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