Long before GPS, driving in Pittsburgh meant following tombstone-shaped mile markers

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Imagine this: It’s 1815, and you’re cruising along in your Conestoga wagon across the Pennsylvania wilds to Pittsburgh. Maybe you’re headed from Greensburg to find work or from farther east because it’s too crowded there.

“Cruising along,” by the way, is putting it nicely. It’s more like bumping along over a muddy path while your horse neighs and all of your worldly possessions toss and turn.

The sight of a mile stone — a piece of sandstone indicating how many miles to go until Pittsburgh — is a vision on par with a mirage.

These simple mile markers, about two feet tall and engraved with a number indicating how far to the next town, dotted Pennsylvania’s fledgling highway system in the early 1800s. Thirty identically shaped mile stones stood along the Greensburg-Pittsburgh Turnpike, each carefully placed to face North so they’d light up in the sun. They were spaced exactly one mile apart, spanning the 30-some miles between Greensburg and Pittsburgh.

Only one of the 30 still exists, local historians say.

Today, it sits in front of the Wilkinsburg Borough Building, preserved in a granite-and-plexiglass case. Its original “7 mi” engraving has washed away, but a placard explains its history along what was once “The Great Road” (now known as Penn Avenue), where it welcomed weary travelers to the newly settled town of Wilkinsburg.

Est. 1815. Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

“At that time, that was mostly wilderness, so a stone like that was very important to let people know they’d made progress on their trek to Pittsburgh,” said Anne Elise Morris, president of the Wilkinsburg Historical Society. “Those stones look so insignificant now, but at that time when you’re walking through this path with your Conestoga wagon and your stagecoach and your herds of sheep and you saw that stone,

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