Nine Mile Run

Nine Mile Run where it meets the Monongahela

My research for my previous book, The Saint’s Mistress, took me as far as Italy.  We’re staying closer to home as I research Righteous, but we’re still making interesting discoveries.  Last week, looking for the spot where my two main characters met, we hiked the very pleasant Nine Mile Run Trail.

The summer day was perfect for our quest. We knew that James and Jane met along Nine Mile Run, in the fateful scene described in this excerpt from my novel-in-progress.  And we knew that it must have been along the portion of the Run nearest the Swisshelm farmstead.  We decided to walk the whole of the Nine Mile Run trail in Frick Park, and see if we could guess where Jane’s carriage may have overturned in the swollen run one early-spring day.

Nine Mile Run Trail

The trail is beautiful, for bikers, hikers or just plain loafers.  Benches sit invitingly at several points along the path, where a hiker may rest for a few minutes or a loafer can sit and read a book, daydream or watch the bees and butterflies.  On the day we walked the trail, we saw black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, crown vetch, daisies, and thistles, along with several other wildflowers that we couldn’t identify.  It’s an easy hiking trail, 3.6 miles in and out, mostly flat with a few short rises and a mix of sun and shade.  Although it passes directly under the Parkway East at one point, the main sound is birdsong. 

Nine Mile Run Trail, Frick Park
Flowers along the trail

The land along the Run served as a slag dump from the 1920s until the 1970s.  Over the course of that time, Pittsburgh’s many mills deposited about 200 million tons of slag.  Between 2003 and 2007, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers invested $7.7 million into restoring 2.2 miles of the stream. It was one of the largest urban-stream restorations undertaken in the United States. They uncovered the stream channel in many places where it was blocked or culverted. Wetlands and animal habitat have been restored.  The work continues, as you can see in the picture below.

Work on the Run continues

The stream is clean enough that we saw several people fishing for bass near where it empties into the Monongahela River.

This guy says he has caught some big bass at this spot

The trail connects the main body of Frick Park with the Monongahela River.  Al and I identified what I think a likely spot for Jane’s carriage to have overturned, leading to her rescue by her future husband.  It’s near the Swisshelm farmstead, in a fairly deep section of the Run, right above a rocky waterfall. 

But it looks like such a NICE stream, not dangerous at all!

History of the Site

James Swisshelm’s father, John, a Revolutionary War veteran, endured the bitter winter at Valley Forge in 1778.  John’s first wife died after bearing him 3 sons. He then married his second wife, Mary Elizabeth Miller, at some point before 1808. She was no more than 25 years old.  He would have been nearly 50.  In 1808, John bought 162 acres in the area called Nine Mile from William and Mary Pollack for one thousand pounds. 

John and Mary Elizabeth had at least six children: Eva born 1808, James born 1810, Samuel born 1815, Margaret born 1817, William born 1821 and Henry born 1827.   Some sources mention two additional children, who may not have survived infancy. I’ve made the decision to write a few of these siblings out of my novel.  Five brothers and sisters is a lot for a reader to keep track of! 

John Swisshelm disinherited his three sons by his first marriage and both of his daughters.  His will left his estate to his wife, Mary Elizabeth, an unusual step in an era when women’s property rights were very limited.  After her death, the estate was to be divided equally among their four sons.  As I show in my novel, this controversial will led to a lot of bitterness in the Swisshelm family, especially between James and Jane.  The family story ran that in his old age John “became blind and when the time came to make his will desired that all of the children should share and share alike in the estate,” but that Mary Elizabeth “had two wills prepared, one the way John desired and the second the way she desired.  She had the first read to him and had him sign the second.”

Lawsuits over the property continued well into the 1860s.  But, today, that battleground is a lovely and peaceful place to spent a summer afternoon.

Sources:

Jane Grey Swisshelm, An Unconventional Life; Sylvia D. Hoffert; University of North Carolina Press; 2004

https://www.yelp.com/biz/nine-mile-run-watershed-association-pittsburgh

https://myhikes.org/trails/nine-mile-run-trail


Jane Grey Swisshelm

Here is a picture of the Swisshelm homestead. Could that be Jane on the porch?

When writing a historical novel based on a real person, it’s always a good idea to walk where your subject trod.  I had to go all the way to Italy when I was writing The Saint’s Mistress (I know, rough duty).  But Jane Grey Swisshelm, the subject of my next novel, is local.  Not to mention 1400 years more recent! So, it’s been a lot easier to visit sites associated with Jane.

Al and I set out to do that on a beautiful June day last week. 

Young Jane Cannon

Thomas and Mary Cannon named their first daughter Jane Grey after the Protestant “9-day queen” of 16th-century England.  Jane was born on December 6, 1815, in a house on Pittsburgh’s Water Street (present-day Fort Pitt Boulevard).  Jane’s brothers and father were susceptible to tuberculosis and so in 1816 the family moved from Pittsburgh to Wilkinsburg for better air.  In Wilkinsburg, Thomas opened a little general store and his health improved. 

Here is the approximate site of Jane’s birth: Water Street (currently Fort Pitt Blvd) between Wood and Market Streets. Excuse my thumb; my kids make fun of me all the time for that. But how about the beautiful view they would have had of Mt. Washington?

The Cannon family were Covenanter Presbyterians, strict Calvinists who had broken in 1643 with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which they believed did not resist the Anglicans fiercely enough.  In Pittsburgh, the Cannons had attended a Covenanter church, but there was no Covenanter church in Wilkinsburg.  So, in Wilkinsburg they attended Beulah Presbyterian Church, pastored by Reverend John Graham, whose house still stands today on William Penn Highway in Wilkinsburg. 

Graham house. The people who live here now were real nice about letting me take pictures.

The family’s first sojourn in Wilkinsburg was cut short by the financial crash of 1819.  Thomas Cannon’s income from renting his property in Pittsburgh plummeted, and his title to his land in Wilkinsburg was questionable because the seller had mortgaged his original land grant.  The Cannons moved back to Pittsburgh, to a little house on Sixth Street, which they shared with Mary Cannon’s parents, Hance and Jane Scott.

The Cannons’ home on Sixth Street stood on the current site of the Heinz 57 Center.
Here’s the historical marker on the Heinz 57 building. This marker is what first go me interested in writing about Jane.

One of Jane’s sisters and three brothers had died of tuberculosis and, in 1827, her father followed them.  The family – Mary, Jane age 11, William age 14 and Elizabeth age 5 – was left nearly destitute. Before he died, Thomas had lost his title to the Water Street property for non-payment of ground rent, and the title to the Wilkinsburg property was still in dispute.  To earn a bit of money, Mary Cannon made bonnets, Jane produced paintings on velvet, and William attempted to carry on his father’s chair-making business.

Finally, the title to the property in Wilkinsburg was settled, and Mary moved with her children back to Wilkinsburg and re-opened the store.

Today there’s a First National Bank on the site of Wilkinsburg’s first post office, the Stoner Dry Goods store, dating to 1840. I speculate whether Jane’s family’s store may have preceded the Stoner store on the site.

Jane and James

Not long after the move back to Wilkinsburg, Jane met her future husband, James Swisshelm, in a scene from my novel-in-progress, Righteous which I posted to this blog last month. Here’s a LINK in case you missed it.

From that fateful meeting, the rest of Jane’s story flows.  She and James met again at a “frolic” at Dumpling Hall, the home of prominent Wilkinsburg citizen John Kelly. 

Dumpling Hall in its heyday
Current view of site of Dumpling Hall in Wilkinsburg

Jane’s marriage to James was marred by disagreements, centering on both religion and property.  Jane and James came into conflict over the property she inherited from her mother on Water Street in Pittsburgh, and over the Swisshelm farm in present-day Swissvale.

Approximate site of Jane’s Water Street (Fort Pitt Blvd) property, which was a cause of conflict between Jane and James. This property was destroyed in the fire of 1845.

Jane died in 1884 in the Swisshelm homestead, but not before living a very vivid and controversial life which you can read about in my upcoming novel, Righteous.

Here are some current photos of the site of the Swisshelm farm, on the border between Swissvale and Edgewood.

Historical marker right off the Parkway East ramp
Pretty little street right off the parkway ramp, on the former Swisshelm property
Not quite as bucolic as it used to be!
I couldn’t resist including a picture of this cute little fairy garden in the front yard of a house that stands on the former Swisshelm farm.
And here’s another shot of the Swisshelm homestead as it looked in the late 19th century.

Sources

Sylvia D. Hoffert, Jane Grey Swisshelm, An Unconventional Life (University of North Caroline Press, 2004)

Jane Grey Swisshelm, Half a Century (Jansen, McClung, 1880)

Wilkinsburg, A Detailed History: https://www.wilkinsburgpa.gov/about-wilkinsburg/history/a-detailed-history/


Local Authors

Pittsburgh has been called one of the most literate cities in the United States, based on number of libraries and bookstores, newspaper readership, and residents’ educational levels.  We are also blessed with many local authors. 

I already knew several local writers because of my membership in writers’ groups and participation in panels at local libraries.  I met several more last Saturday at a local author event at Barnes & Noble in South Hills Village.  Why not check out the work of one or more of these talented writers? 

Local authors who are my friends

Audrey Abbott – Audrey is the author of a three-part historical romance series.  Volume One, The Lady’s Desire, came out last year.  Volume Two, The Lady’s Prayer, will be released this year.  I am not a romance reader, but I loved The Lady’s Desire.  I pre-read The Lady’s Prayer, as part of Audrey’s writer’s group and liked it even more.  Here’s a link to Audrey’s web site: https://www.audreyabbottauthor.com/

Gary Link – Gary has written three novels that take place in Pittsburgh in the 1840s.  In each of the novels, Constable John Parker must solve a mystery – and he has a knack for getting in trouble while he’s doing it.  The Burnt District is the first in the series.  The others are The Throughway and The Spectrum.  Volume four is in progress. 

Madhu Bazaz Wangu – Madhu’s first novel The Immigrant Wife is about a young Indian woman who is wants to make her own choices.  She moves to the United States with her husband, gets lost in parenting and grief, and, as a middle-aged woman must rediscover her determination to set her own destiny.  Her second novel is The Last Suttee, about a woman who sets out to prevent a tragedy in rural India.

Local authors I met at B&N on Saturday

Louis Astorino – Louis is former principal of the Astorino architecture firm (acquired by CannonDesign in 2014).  He has written a beautifully-illustrated book about his experience of being the only American architect to design a building at the Vatican, A Pencil in God’s Hand.

 Jason Cherry – I’ve lived in Pittsburgh all my life and thought I knew its history, but I didn’t know that there was supposed to have been a fort at the Point that would have preceded Fort Duquesne.  Read all about it in Jason’s well-researched book, Pittsburgh’s Lost Outpost: Captain Trent’s Fort, and check out his website https://www.jasonacherry.com/.

Rossilynne Culgan – Rossilynne is a Pittsburgh journalist who has written an updated version of 100 Things to Do in Pittsburgh Before You Die.  Another surprise for me as a lifelong Pittsburgher:  I have not yet done all 100!

Heather Ferri – Heather is a professional speaker on mental health issues.  Her book, Victim to Victory, is the story of her journey of recovery from childhood abuse.  Check out her website at https://www.heatherferri.com/.

John Harvey – John is a retired psychologist.  He decided to sit silently in the same natural spot once each week for a whole year.  His book, The Stillness of the Living Forest, tells about his experience, which he described to me as life-changing.  Learn more at his website  http://foreststillness.com/.

Bill Steigerwald – A Pittsburgh journalist and author of Dogging Steinbeck, Bill’s new book is 30 Days a Black Man.  It tells the story of white Pittsburgh journalist Ray Sprigle, who went undercover in the south as a black man in 1948 and reported on his experience.

Kristy Jo Volchko – Kristy’s witty tween novel, Mall Hair Maladies, is about two girls in the 1980s who are determined to attend a Madonna concert at all costs.

Toni Weber – Last but not least, my table-mate at Saturday’s event, Toni, is the author of Dancing Into Destiny.  This novel tells the story of a widow who learns to live and love again after loss.  A sequel is currently in progress.   


Pipetown: another lost Pittsburgh neighborhood

Next in my series on lost Pittsburgh neighborhoods:  Pipetown.

Pipetown early history

The area that was known as Pipetown in the 19th century was a valley that lay along 2nd Ave. between Boyd’s Hill (also known in those days as Ayer’s Hill, now known as The Bluff) and the Monongahela River. It was also bordered by a vanished stream called Sukes Run.  The Monongahela terminus of the Pennsylvania Canal (see my previous blog post) was where Sukes Run ran into the Monongahela River. 

Pipetown, also known as Kensington or Riceville, got its name from an early settler named William Price, who had a small shop there where he manufactured clay pipes.  He was described as “an eccentric little gentleman” known for his quirky humor and his mechanical genius. 

The neighborhood was a small, compact community that covered the area along Second Avenue from about the current site of the County Jail to Try Street.  It was a rough neighborhood of machine and tool factories, slaughterhouses, breweries and laborers’ cottages and tenements.  An 1826 directory listed, for example, two steam-rolling mills, a wire manufacturer, an air foundry, a steam grist mill and a “steam engine for turning and grinding brass and iron.”

Puddler working in a 19th-century rolling mill

For those especially interested in breweries, here’s a link to a good article about early Pittsburgh breweries.  Scroll down to the section on Kensington brewers.  Two breweries stood on the present-day location of the Allegheny County Jail.

Well, THIS site isn’t as much fun as it used to be!

1845 Fire

Pipetown was severely impacted by the fire in Pittsburgh in April 1845.  The fire started on Ferry Street in Pittsburgh and the high winds that day rapidly advanced it east right through Pipetown.  The fire was extinguished within the city limits by 7 p.m., but it continued to burn in Pipetown until 9 p.m. 

The factories and tenements were quickly rebuilt.  The residents of Pipetown may have been poor and rough, but they were tenacious and hard-working.  In my previous blog post, I noted that historic Bayardstown included many small businessmen.  Virtually all of the Pipetown residents in an 1869 directory were listed as puddlers, coke burners, teamsters and general laborers.  Pittsburgh in the 19th century was a rough, dirty town, but it was also a place of rapid change and great opportunity.  It is astonishing how far and how quickly some of the laborers rose from their circumstances. 

Samuel Young, born in Pipetown, wrote his autobiography in 1890. In it, he describes being hired as a puddler’s helper in the Pipetown rolling mill owned by Church, Carothers & Co.  The mill was destroyed in the 1845 fire, and he next got a job at another rolling mill in Franklin, Venango County.  He soon got a promotion to being in charge of the “stock department.”  He also started writing for the Conneautville Courier, and wrote a book as a serial for them.  Then he was one of the workers who pitched in and bought the mill.  From puddler’s helper to factory owner in the course of his adult life.  And he wasn’t the only one. 

William Tatnall

My favorite Pipetown Horatio Alger is William Tatnall Jr.  William Sr. arrived in Pipetown in 1800 at age 6.  He and his wife Ann were both born in London, England. William Jr., born May 4, 1825, went to work in one of the mills at age 9, when William Sr. died.  At age 23, he was working in Kensington Roller Mills as a puddler.  He was promoted to puddling supervisor and then to plant manager.  In 1847, he married Susanna Rowland, whose father owned a coal works in Birmingham (present-day South Side of Pittsburgh). 

Once he had some technical and management experience, and the necessary capital, Tatnall went into partnership with five other gentlemen (named Lindsay, Owen, Sample, Moody & Sellers).  They opened their own rolling mill, Excelsior Mill, in Woods Run.  The mill failed and Tatnall lost his capital.

Undeterred, Tatnall went back to work as a general manager of other mills in Western Pennsylvania: Schellenbergers Mills, Lochiel Iron Co., and Pittsburgh Forge & Iron. 

At some point, he bought a farm in Ross Township, and there he retired around 1904, aged 79.  He later left the farming to his sons and lived in a home in Bellevue.

Tatnall outlived his wife and 4 of his 6 children.  He was still living as late as 1914, and his biography in a 1914 directory of prominent Pittsburghers notes that his daughter Sarah was living with him at that time.  The biographer also notes that he had been a long-time Republican but later in life was a Progressive and was known for his “very liberal views.”

I found an 1897 map of Ross Township that showed a William Tatnall farm and a George Tatnall farm adjacent to each other roughly where Benton Avenue and Tatnall Avenue intersected.  George was one of William’s sons, and he died some time between 1904 and 1914.  City of Allegheny Fire Department records indicate that there was a fire on George’s farm in 1904, but the records don’t provide details on the amount of the loss or whether anyone was hurt.

Ross Township 1897. Tatnall farms outlined in pink.
As near as I can tell this is the approximate site of the Tatnall farm today, corner of Benton and Bascom Streets.
POSSIBLY Tatnall farm house. It’s on the former property and was built in 1900.

After that, the Tatnall trail goes cold.  I found an Edna Grace Tatnall at Chatham College in 1909, but couldn’t establish what relation, if any, she was to William. 

But I love Tatnall’s rags-to-(modest) riches story.  His story of starting at the bottom and making it into the upper-middle-class is quintessentially American.  He must have had some good luck, but he had his share of bad luck, too.  What caused Excelsior to fail, for example?  Did they start their business at the wrong time?  Or did Tatnall choose bad partners? Did a big customer fail to pay?  I could discover no details, but we do know that Tatnall dusted himself off and went back to work living his all-American story. 

Pipetown today

Here are some shots of Pipetown today. It is still the site of some heavy industry including at least one rolling mill, and a lot of technology companies. It was also, of course, the site of the J&L Steel Mill in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Look, we still have a rolling mill!
Carnegie-Mellon University, Hitachi, Fisher Scientific and other high-tech companies have campuses today in old Pipetown.
Former J&L site. I remember the flames from the J&L plant lighting up the night when we drove on the Parkway back in the 1960s.

Sources

http://www.pittsburghbrewers.com/styled/styled-5/index.html

http://www.pittsburghmetrofire.com/history.html

https://historicpittsburgh.org/islandora/object/pitt:00adm7012m/from_search/ab4c668952aca916832630d04862c914-1#page/1/mode/2up

https://historicpittsburgh.org/islandora/object/pitt:31735038288522/from_search/ab4c668952aca916832630d04862c914-2#page/494/mode/2up

https://historicpittsburgh.org/islandora/object/pitt:31735056290285/from_search/ab4c668952aca916832630d04862c914-20#page/16/mode/2up

Genealogical and personal history of western Pennsylvania. Vol. 1

Municipal reports of the City of Allegheny for the fiscal year ending. 1904/1905


Lost Pittsburgh Neighborhoods: Bayardstown


But…where are the draymen and chandlers?

The Strip District Yesterday and Today

Pittsburghers who consider themselves “foodies” – along with some of us who hate the term “foodie” but just like to eat – love the Strip District.  But it wasn’t always part of the City of Pittsburgh, it wasn’t always called the Strip, and it wasn’t always a mecca for expensive chocolate, cheese from all corners of the world, and Steeler t-shirts.

The Strip District was part of what were once called the Liberties. They stretched roughly from 11th Street all the way through Lawrenceville.  “Liberties” were areas where veterans could receive free grants of land in thanks for their military service.  In the early 19th century, the area between 11th and 20th Streets was called the Northern Liberties.  Croghansville stood between 33rd and 43rd Streets. Lawrenceville in those days didn’t start until 43rd Street.  The present-day Strip District, roughly between 20th and 33rd streets, was then a separate town called Bayardstown.

Site of Pennsylvania Canal Pittsburgh terminus

The Pennsylvania Canal

In the 1830s and 1840s, the Pennsylvania Canal ended at 11th and Penn, right at the beginning of the Liberties, where Penn Station stands today.  The canal was actually a combination of canals and portage railroads, started in 1824, to connect Pittsburgh with Philadelphia.  It ran parallel to the Allegheny River from Freeport to Pittsburgh. At the present-day site of PNC Park, it crossed the Allegheny into Pittsburgh via an acqueduct/bridge and ended at the current site of Penn Station, in a neighborhood of warehouses and taverns.

Bayardstown

In the 18th century, a Native American chief named Cornplanter often camped on the land that we know today as the Strip District.  The Bayard family bought the land that would later become Bayardstown, Croghansville and Lawrenceville from the Penn family in 1784. George Bayard started laying out Bayardstown in 1816.  By 1830, Bayardstown had a population of 2801, about the same as the City of Allegheny. For comparison, the 1847 population of Pittsburgh was 12,568.  In 1847, the Bayardstown business directory listed 5 butchers, 3 draymen, and 2 grocers, along with tailors, chandlers, tanners and one listing of “an old gent.”  Nobody selling “Irish Steeler Fan” t-shirts so far as we know, and definitely no Chinese grocery, but there was a “confectioner” as precursor to Mon Aimee Chocolates. 

In 1844, George Bayard sold land in Lawrenceville to Allegheny County for Allegheny Cemetary.  The Bayards also had a school named after them, which still stands and has been turned into loft apartments.

Allegheny Cemetary

Former Bayard School, now pretty swank looking lofts

Croghansville

I found little information about Croghansville, other than it was named for a George Croghan who lived there. He later built a home in Lawrenceville, on the bank of the Allegheny between 52nd and 53rd Streets, as known as Croghan’s Castle.  No pictures of it survive, and the site is now home to a pet hospital and some old-Pittsburgh-style small factories.

Site of Croghan’s Castle, with arrow pointing to pet hospital. Some small factories also stand nearby and the view of the Allegheny River is beautiful.

SOURCES:

http://pghbridges.com/articles/fieldnote_pghstnames.htm

http://mentalfloss.com/article/65575/how-65-pittsburgh-neighborhoods-got-their-names

https://historicpittsburgh.org/islandora/object/pitt%3A00agf4445m

https://historicpittsburgh.org/islandora/object/pitt:00awn8211m/from_search/6aeb6604425b0154c85581fdd5c1fbff-1#page/44/mode/2up

https://historicpittsburgh.org/islandora/object/pitt:31735056290863/from_search/6aeb6604425b0154c85581fdd5c1fbff-6#page/1/mode/2up

https://historicpittsburgh.org/islandora/object/pitt:00anh8596m/from_search/6aeb6604425b0154c85581fdd5c1fbff-18#page/124/mode/2up

https://historicpittsburgh.org/islandora/object/pitt:20z902855s/from_search/6aeb6604425b0154c85581fdd5c1fbff-19#page/26/mode/2up

https://historicpittsburgh.org/islandora/object/pitt:31735055723054/from_search/0e495a48fb0c69fded783c2b8c47f5f1-0#page/1/mode/2up


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