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Chartiers Creek

Posted by on Nov 2nd, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

Chartiers Creek

Al and I had so much fun driving the course of Saw Mill Run that we decided to take on a bigger challenge:  Chartiers Creek.  Saw Mill Run, with a watershed entirely within Allegheny County, is only about 9 miles long.  Chartiers Creek runs a 38-mile course in Washington County before it even flows into Allegheny County, where it empties into the Ohio River.

The creek and the former Chartiers Township, from which many western Allegheny County townships were formed, were named for Pierre (or Peter) Chartiers, a half-French, half-Shawnee trader who established a trading post on the creek in the early 1730s.  (Learn more about Peter Chartiers here).

Chartiers Creek in Rural Washington County

Al and I started our drive on a beautiful fall day that showed off rural Washington County at its best.  Those who can afford to do so build their homes on hilltops with huge banks of windows that look out on the rolling green hills of farmsteads, winding tar-and-chip country roads, and trees ablaze in gold, bronze and red. 

The creek is born as a tiny trickle along Route 18.  A couple of miles along, it is still a very tame little stream as it wanders through the golf course of the Lone Pine Country Club.  In North Franklin Township, it starts to gain steam, fed by another trickle from a large reservoir.  It then passes through the county seat of Washington, PA.

Al said the roads reminded him of Ireland: two lanes but only one car wide!
One stunning view in beautiful rural Washington County
Chartiers Creek’s humble beginnings
Nice and tame through Lone Pine golf course

Chartiers Creek in Washington, PA

Washington is one of the many medium-sized towns in western Pennsylvania that prospered in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but have since suffered from the decline of heavy industry, the rise of suburban sprawl and malls, and then the age of internet shopping.  For a while, the county offices and Washington & Jefferson College seemed to be all that kept it afloat.  But Washington is fighting back (see this recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).  They’re making the most of their Whiskey Rebellion and abolitionist heritage by maintaining the LeMoyne House and the Bradford House.  Wineries, breweries and distilleries have opened in the past few years.  Al and I toured the Liberty Pole Distillery a couple of months ago with our daughter and son-in-law, and I highly recommend the tour and tasting. 

During our Chartiers Creek drive, Al and I had lunch at the Union Grill in downtown Washington.  It has a bit of a speakeasy vibe, with its art-deco stained glass, and the entrance at below street level.  Pictures of Washington County history hang on the walls.  Al’s steak sandwich and my chicken & artichoke pizza were very good, and their house-made chips were the best we’ve ever had:  super-crisp with just the right amount of salt. Our server, Debbie, was personable and friendly, and sent us home with an extra box of chips at no charge!

Union Grill in Washington. If you go, definitely order a sandwich so you can get some of their amazing house-made chips!

The creek itself is still shallow and kind of lazy in Washington, but it starts gaining some muscle near Houston, PA, where it is fed by Plum Run and Chartiers Run.  By the time we left it in Canonsburg, it looked like a real-grown-up river.  It was mid-afternoon when we drove through Canonsburg, and we’d started our drive at mid-morning, so we decided to call it a day and head for Route 79.  After our meander down the country roads of Washington County, we were ready for the express route home. 

Chartiers Run before it merges into Chartiers Creek
Plum Run
Our little creek is more of a river when it reaches Houston, PA. Look how beautifully it reflects the sky and trees above!
Also: ducks!
In western PA, where there is a stream, there will be a coal patch. Here’s a big one outside Houston.

But we’ll be back to drive the rest of the creek’s route through northern Washington County and Allegheny County, all the way to my birthplace, McKees Rocks, where it joins the Ohio River.  Stay tuned! 

Sources

http://www.co.washington.pa.us/233/County-History

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Chartier

Saw Mill Run

Posted by on Oct 5th, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

Saw Mill Run has figured in two of my blog posts about lost Pittsburgh towns.  So, Al and I thought it would be interesting to drive the 9-mile length of it and learn a little bit of the history of the towns the live along it. 

First, why is it called a “run” and not a “creek” or a “stream”?  We have our English and German ancestors to thank for that.  The word “run” is related to “ryne” in Old English, “runnen” in Middle Dutch, “irnan” in Old Saxon and “rinner” in Old High German. 

Famously flood-y after a heavy rain, Saw Mill Run was an unprepossessing trickle at the end of a very dry September.  In the past, its banks were home to a salt works, coal patch towns and the saw mill that gave it its name. 

Saw Mill Run in Bethel Park

The Run starts in the backyard of a house on Casswell Drive in Bethel Park, but it is culverted for about its first half mile as it passes under backyards on Casswell and Cassidy Drives.  It emerges as a visible stream near the Caswell T stop, in a little wood among birdsong, thrashing deer and flitting yellow butterflies.  It flows openly along Milford Road for less than a mile, before culverting again at the Washington Junction T station.  There, we also saw some houses that dated back to one of the many coal patches that once thrived in the South Hills.

Here is where Saw Mill Run is first visible
Old coal patch houses near Washington Junction

Saw Mill Run in Castle Shannon

The stream emerges once again just north of Washington Junction, and gurgles obediently through sluices between T tracks and the backyards of Canal Street until it sprawls again near St. Anne’s School.

Here Saw Mill Run is very neatly controlled
But it sprawls a little more further into Castle Shannon

Culverted under downtown Castle Shannon, the stream again sees daylight starting at the corner of Library Road and Castle Shannon Blvd., near Mindful Brewing and Williams Stained Glass, watched over by a banner honoring a son of Castle Shannon who was killed in Viet Nam in 1969. 

I felt like this hero was guarding the stream as it flows near his banner

At the corner of Library and Grove Roads, where the Sunoco Station and the St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store stand today, a large greenhouse business once thrived.  It was the second-largest employer in Castle Shannon at one time, second only to the coal mines. 

This large greenhouse business was one of the biggest employers in Castle Shannon

A little further on, the Run trickles past Memorial Hall T Station and historic Linden Grove.  I can remember going to dances at the Grove as a teenager, when it stood on stilts above its often-flooded gravel parking lot, and smelled like an old boat house.  The Grove dates back to 1872, when the Pittsburgh-Castle Shannon Railroad created it as an “amusement grove” to draw more fares from the city into the suburbs. 

I have many fond memories of dancing at the Grove
The stream bed was almost completely dry near the Grove on the day we did our drive.

A little further down Library Road all that remains of another coal patch is a bar marking the old entrance to the mine shaft, and the steps that used to lead to miners’ housing on the hillside across the street.

The Coal Mine tavern near old mine entrance
Old steps that led to miners’ housing
Children standing in front of patch town houses in 1920s

Saw Mill Run many times naughtily overflowed its banks at the intersection of Library Road (Route 88) and Saw Mill Run Blvd. (Route 51), before the state Department of Transportation enlarged the culverts and improved the interchange several years ago. 

Junction of Saw Mill Run Blvd. and Library Rd. today
It was a lot quieter in 1933

Saw Mill Run in Brookline, Overbrook and Bon Air

I wish I could say that our drive was a pleasant one, but if Library Road is a featureless show of strip malls, the scenery gets even uglier when the Run makes its bend onto Saw Mill Run Blvd.  The Run’s namesake road is a miserable slog of decrepit houses, one used-car lot and car-parts store after another, other dispirited-looking small businesses, and traffic as clogged as the arteries of some cranky old man who’s been eating nothing but cheeseburgers for 40 years.  In the span of 20 minutes, we witnessed a truck accident at the Co Go’s and an altercation in the parking lot of the Red White and Blue Thrift Store, and got caught in chaotic quitting-time traffic coming out of the Advance Sign factory.  Oh, and you don’t see a car carcass in just any stream.

I’d love to know the story behind this
Corner of Saw Mill Run Blvd. and Nobles Lane today
There was a gas station there in 1936 too

Saw Mill Run in Beechview

Seldom Seen Greenway seems like an oasis after the hell of Saw Mill Run Blvd between Library Road and Woodruff St.  Here, the Run trickles merrily through a lovely wood right in the middle of the city.  See my blog entry from April 28 on Seldom Seen (formerly Shalerville) for more details about this pretty greenway. Here are a few pictures of the Run in its much more natural habitat.

Pretty little waterfall in Seldom Seen.
So pretty!
Saw Mill Run in its natural habitat.

Saw Mill Run in Banksville and West End

From Seldom Seen, the Run passes under the Rt 51/376/19 interchange and emerges into West End, another place where it has caused all kinds of trouble in the past.  Al and I spent a very nice day exploring the West End (formerly Temperanceville) earlier this summer (see this blog entry).  We walked the length of the Run in the West End, all the way to where it culverts under West Carson Street and the railroad tracks.  Where it spills into the Ohio River, near the West End Bridge, is where the saw mill that give it is name once stood.  That saw mill almost certainly supplied the lumber for Fort Pitt.  Later, in the early 19th century, a salt works stood there.     

I’ve spent my whole life living within a couple of miles of this humble little stream that has seen so much history and been so abused.  Now that I’ve seen every inch of its 9 miles that is viewable, I feel kind of protective!

This is the last view of the Run before it culverts under West Carson Street and the railroad tracks and empties into the Ohio.
Right below this view is where Saw Mill Run spills into the Ohio
Salt works at the confluence with the Ohio, 1834.

SOURCES

https://www.wesa.fm/post/why-are-there-so-many-run-roads-pittsburgh-region#stream/0

http://www.brooklineconnection.com/history/Facts/SawMillRun.html

http://www.brooklineconnection.com/history/Facebook/SawMillRun.html

Here’s a Rick Sebak show about Route 88 that tells a little more about the history of part of the Saw Mill Run watershed.  We’ve seen the play about the armored car heist in Bethel Park in 1927; it was really good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94jJNLXyNgg

Temperanceville

Posted by on Sep 7th, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

In my last post, I blogged about the Pittsburgh area’s oldest tavern building.  This week, I continue with the history of the neighborhood where the Old Stone Tavern stands.  The history of Old Temperanceville is both fascinating, and very, very typical of Pittsburgh communities.    

19th century map of Temperanceville

Early Temperanceville History

The present-day West End of Pittsburgh was part of St. Clair Township in the 18th century.  In 1800, the northern and western sections of St. Clair broke off into Chartiers and Union Townships.  Much of the land in Chartiers was owned by a gentleman named West Elliott (yes, the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Elliott is named for his family).  Mr. Elliott was a gambler and he sold the land encompassing present-day West End in 1835 to pay off gambling debts.  The new owners, Isaac Warden and John Alexander, laid out the town of Temperanceville in 1837.  The deeds to the lots that they sold included a clause stipulating that no liquor may be sold on the parcel, or the lot would revert back to Warden and Alexander.  Nevertheless, by the mid-1800s, several saloons flourished in Temperanceville.

The little town grew quickly.  Businesses sprouted up to support the nearby coal mines, blast furnaces and iron mills.  By the 1870s, Main, Wabash and Steuben Streets were paved roads, and Temperenceville businesses included the Sheffield Iron Works, Haller & Beck Salt Works, Duff’s Sawmill, Wood’s Rolling Mill, Hall’s Plow factory, Wightman Glass, and Taylor Salt & Chemical.  A coke oven operated at the corner of Main & Woodville Streets. 

The Slums of Temperanceville

This is not a photo of the slum area of Temperanceville, but it is a good depiction of what a 19th century slum looked like.

Life in a boom town isn’t always pleasant.  The town flooded frequently, most catastrophically in 1874. Most of the streets were still dirt, and turned to rivers of mud after a rain or snow.  Cows and chickens roamed the streets and free-ranging pigs rooted in the garbage.  Sensible people knew to avoid the shantytown along River Road (present-day West Carson Street) at night.  One woman who often had to go back and forth between West End and downtown Pittsburgh described it this way: “It required considerable courage to make a trip in comfort and safety to Saw Mill Run after nightfall…the only illumination after leaving the Smithfield Bridge came from the glare of the blast and puddling furnaces…the absence of gas lights and police in this district made it a refuge for toughs, who were dangerous to meet at all times, but particularly so after they had received a pay and were full of drink…Needless to say, if a passerby happened to get killed, it was an easy matter to throw his body into the river.”

Late 19th-century housing

A local official described the slum housing that climbed up the hillside from the Ohio River:  “half a thousand people living there under conditions that were unbelievable – back-to-back houses with no through ventilation; cellar kitchens; dark, unsanitary, ill-ventilated, overcrowded sleeping rooms, no drinking water supply on the premises, and a dearth of sanitary accommodations…In one apartment, a man, his wife, and baby, and two boarders slept in one room, and five boarders occupied two beds in and adjoining room.  In another apartment of the three rooms, the man, his wife and baby slept in the kitchen, their two boarders in a second room; and the third room was sub-let and occupied as a living and sleeping room by five persons – a man, his wife and child, and two boarders.”

The single water pump in this section served 91 households, a total of 568 people.  It was located 75 steps below the top row of houses.  Drainage chutes for both storm water and human waste dropped to open wooden gutters running between the houses. 

Temperanceville Becomes West End

Temperanceville was absorbed into the City of Pittsburgh in 1872, and continued to grow, from a population of 2768 in 1880 to 3725 by 1900.  Slavs, Hungarians, and Poles joined the English, Irish and Germans in the neighborhood.  Small industries gave way to commercial buildings like banks, shops and real estate offices.  The West End became a shopping, transportation and entertainments center for the Crafton/western Pittsburgh area.  Wooden houses were replaced by the tall brick row houses seen today in the neighborhood.  The West End boasted many social clubs, fraternal lodges, churches, choral and drama societies, and a dance school and baseball league. 

German Evangelical Church dates to 1864. Now the Jerusalem Baptist Church
Late 19th-century buildings.
Some beautifully restored 19th-century architectural detail

The neighborhood endured a period of decline in the late 20th century, but shows signs of bouncing back.  The lovely old Carnegie Library, dating to the 1890s, still stands and is a lively community hub.  Local businesses include a yoga studio, a stone and tile showroom, an art gallery and an antique store.  I had a delicious vegetarian panini and iced chai latte at Café 412, a pretty little coffee shop in Main Street.  Life in old Temperanceville sure has improved since the days of wooden gutters and wandering pigs!

West End is one of the earliest Carnegie Library branches, dating to the 1890s.
Charming Cafe 412 serves a great lunch at a reasonable price.
A nice side trip from West End takes you up to the West End Overlook, for a slightly different view of the Point than what you get from the more-famous Mt. Washington.

Sources

A special shout-out to Emily Ahlin and Maria Joseph of the West End branch of Carnegie Library. The history closet at the West End branch was a wealth of information. Thanks!

Lawrence, Peter, A Geographical History of West End and Elliott and the Neighboring Southwest Pittsburgh Area: City of Pittsburgh Planning Department, 1973.

Fording, Arthur M., Recollections and Reminiscences of West End – Pittsburgh, PA: Self published circa 1950.

Pittsburgh’s Oldest Tavern

Posted by on Aug 17th, 2019 in Blog | 2 comments

Early History of Temperanceville

In our search for lost Pittsburgh neighborhoods, Al and I recently visited old Temperanceville. The community was founded on temperance but is also the home of Pittsburgh’s oldest tavern building.

19th-century map of Temperancville (present-day West End)

The American Indians seldom traveled to the area that would later become Temperanceville and then Pittsburgh’s West End.  They preferred the mouth of Chartiers Creek in modern-day McKees Rocks.  Like all of western Pennsylvania, the site of Temperanceville was disputed territory in the 1850s, claimed by both the British and the French.  Traders from both countries tramped the wooded hills and rafted up and down the rivers and creeks, trading with the Indians.  One of the earliest traders was Peter Chartier a Frenchman who lent his name to Chartiers Creek and the former Chartiers Township from which Crafton, Sheraden, Temperanceville and other western communities were formed.

The history of Temperanceville predates our nation.  Before the American Revolution, the mouth of Saw Mill Run was the home of the saw mill that almost certainly supplied the lumber for Fort Pitt.  In our nation’s earliest history, the area also boasted a boat yard, stables and an inn. These would have been conveniences for travelers heading south on Washington Pike or west on Steubenville Pike.  The inn, The Old Stone Tavern, still stands and is one of the oldest buildings in the City of Pittsburgh.

History of the Old Stone Tavern

Most historians don’t think so!

Architectural historians dispute the age of the Old Stone Tavern.  The cornerstone gives a date of 1752, but that is probably inaccurate.  1756 is another proposed date, but that is also suspect.  Few Europeans settled the area before the 1860’s and the French & Indian war raged in the 1850’s.  It seems unlikely that anyone would have made the investment to put up a stone building in the middle of a war zone. In pre-Revolutionary Western Pennsylvania, most all buildings in Western Pennsylvania were log or frame. Stone would have been an expensive luxury. 

Dates as late as 1819 were proposed until a ledger from the tavern was found, with entries starting in 1793.  Current consensus is that the Old Stone Tavern was built sometime between 1782 and 1793. An addition on the back dates to the Civil War era.  Perhaps the cornerstone refers to a humbler tavern building that first stood on the site. 

The Old Stone Tavern today

The tavern has a colorful history.  The ledger helped to establish as fact the legend that the it was a meeting site for members of the Whiskey Rebellion.  The ledger lists the names of 89 Whiskey Rebellion participants, as well as 109 known veterans of the American Revolution, and 16 known veterans of the War of 1812.  President Grant visited the tavern in 1869. 

Less proven are rumors that George Washington, Arthur Saint Clair and Charles Dickens slept at the tavern, along with a legendary duel fought there in the early 19th century.  Also unproven are the inevitable ghost stories. Ghost stories center around the use of a small room in the tavern as a holding cell for prisoners being transported along the Washington Pike. 

The tavern operated continuously from circa 1782 until 2008.  It was a toll plaza for the Washington Pike, a stage coach stop, a social center, reputedly a brothel for a time, and a Prohibition-era speakeasy.  Dog fights, political rallies and boxing matches were held there.  It just missed destruction in a refinery fire in 1873. The 1874 Saw Mill Run flood swept away a grocery store only a block away but merely licked the tavern. 

As a young girl growing up in Banksville and riding the old 36C West End Greentree bus out of downtown, I passed The Old Stone Tavern many times and never noticed it. Reading a book or daydreaming about boys.  I had no idea that a piece of lively Pittsburgh history passed right outside the bus window .

The Future of the Old Stone Tavern

The tavern was designated a historical landmark in 2009, and the Pittsburgh’s Old Stone Tavern Friends Trust is raising funds for an ambitious project to restore the old building into a restaurant and tavern.  Plans for the tavern and surrounding area also include a museum, distillery and tasting room, and community green space.  Find out more HERE.

Coming Next on the Blog

COMING SOON:  More Temperanceville history, our trip to Temperanceville, and tracing the path of Saw Mill Run.   

Sources

A special shout-out to Emily Ahlin and Maria Joseph of the West End branch of Carnegie Library. The history closet at the West End branch was a wealth of information. Thanks!

Lawrence, Peter, A Geographical History of West End and Elliott and the Neighboring Southwest Pittsburgh Area: City of Pittsburgh Planning Department, 1973.

Fording, Arthur M., Recollections and Reminiscences of West End – Pittsburgh, PA: Self published circa 1950.

Informational flyer from Pittsburgh’s Old Stone Tavern Friends Trust

Wilkinsburg’s One-Room Schoolhouse

Posted by on Jul 27th, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

Jane’s schoolroom probably looked a lot like this, since it was in a room of her mother’s house.

Jane Grey Swisshelm held several jobs in her lifetime.  Her father died when she was only 11 years old and her family was plunged into poverty.  Jane had to produce paintings on velvet for sale as her contribution to the family’s income.  She was at various times a writer, a newspaper publisher, a corset-maker, a quartermaster’s clerk, a street commissioner and a nurse.  She was also a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse.

Wilkinsburg didn’t open its first public school until 1840.  Before that time, there were private schools in the area of varying size and quality, including Edgeworth School, the ladies’ academy that Jane attended for a couple of years in her early teens.  Following her education at Edgeworth, Jane opened a school of her own in her mother’s home in Wilkinsburg in 1830 – at the age of 15!

Jane bragged of being the first schoolmistress in Western Pennsylvania to teach without flogging.  She taught seven hours a day Monday through Friday, plus Bible school on Saturday morning, for $2.50 per term per pupil.  That would be about $67 in today’s dollars.  Quite a bargain!

Jane probably taught students of all ages.  Younger students would have sat in front, older in back.  I’ve found no record of what she taught, but it most likely followed the general educational rubric of the one-room schoolhouse of the era.

A Typical Day in a 19th-century Schoolhouse

The students’ day usually started with the Lord’s Prayer.  The first lesson of the day was in reading.  Memorization was important in those time when books were in short supply and computers non-existent.  Part of the reading lesson would include each child reciting a speech or poem from memory.  After a privy break and perhaps a short recess, arithmetic and penmanship would be taught.  Students practiced penmanship by writing their name, the date and a maxim or two in a copybook.  The class might then discuss the moral meaning of the maxim. 

Lunch and recess followed penmanship. After recess, children helped carry more firewood and water into the schoolhouse. 

The teacher instructed her students in grammar and spelling in the early afternoon, followed by history.  After another privy break, the class read and discussed a moralistic story.  This was meant to both build character and develop elocution skills.  The last class of the day was geography.

Behavioral Expectations

At dismissal time, children assigned for that day helped to tidy up the classroom.  Chores for the next day were assigned at this time as well.  Students who had misbehaved might have to stay late to sweep the floors and wash the tin drinking cup.  Oher common punishments included whipping with a rod or ruler on the palms or buttocks, or spanking with a hickory stick.   Since Jane was opposed to these physical punishments, she more likely stood her naughty students in a corner, or sat them on a stool wearing a dunce cap.  She may also have had them memorize or copy long passages with moral messages, or write sentences over and over, while the other children were outdoors enjoying recess.

19th century parents and teachers placed a high value on good manners in children.  “Making your manners” meant curtsying for a girl and bowing or nodding for a boy.  An apple or some picked wildflowers was a kind way to make one’s manners to the teacher.

Jane as a Teacher

As I do my research, I find Jane to be a study in contrasts.  She was certainly self-righteous; hence, the title of my book. She could be stubborn, demanding and unreasonable. But she was passionate about doing good, and she was very dainty and feminine in appearance when she was young. What would she have been like as a teacher?  She describes herself as being so successful at non-corporeal discipline that “boys, ungovernable at home, were altogether tractable.”  Were they charmed by her femininity?  Or intimidated by her steely righteousness?  I’d say it’s a toss-up.  She is a complex character.  I’m figuring her out as I write.

Sources

Half a Century – Jane Grey Swisshelm, 1880

http://www.heritageall.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Americas-One-Room-Schools-of-the-1890s.pdf

Nine Mile Run

Posted by on Jun 29th, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

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

Posted by on Jun 15th, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

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

Posted by on Jun 3rd, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

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

Posted by on May 28th, 2019 in Blog | 2 comments

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

Posted by on May 11th, 2019 in Blog | 1 comment


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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