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806 Western Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

719 Brighton Road

719 Brighton Road

Introduction

719 Brighton Road is a three story stone and brick Renaissance Revival style house occupying a 50′ wide by 198′ deep lot located in the Allegheny West section of the city of Pittsburgh.

Letitia Holmes, a wealthy widow, had 719 Brighton Road built between late 1868 and 1871, after purchasing the lot on which the house stands for $15,000. Letitia Holmes lived at 719 Brighton Road until her death in 1914.

Letitia Holmes was the widow of James Holmes, the owner of a pork packing business. James Holmes died in 1862.

Letitia Holmes’ heirs sold 719 Brighton Road to a not-for-profit corporation that used the house as Holmes Hall for Boys between 1923 and 1954. Holmes Hall for Boys, formerly the Protestant Home for Boys, was founded and maintained through the will of Jane Holmes, a philanthropist who was a cousin of James Holmes.

Philip and Martha Bianco operated a funeral home at 719 Brighton Road between 1955 and 1979.

The block on which 719 Brighton Road is located was owned and subdivided by members of the Irwin family. John Irwin established a rope walk, or rope manufactory, in Pittsburgh in 1794. After John Irwin’s death, members of his family moved the Rope Walk to Out Lot 276 in Allegheny in 1813. The Irwin family operated the Rope Walk until 1858, and then subdivided the property.

719 Brighton Road was known as 48 Irwin Avenue from the time of its construction until 1900, and was known as 719 Irwin Avenue from 1900 until about 1940.

Detailed information on the ownership history, age and owners of 719 Brighton Road, and on the Irwin family and other early owners of the lot on which 719 Brighton Road stands, follows.

Ownership

  • March 17, 1790
  • November 2, 1813
  • March 9, 1816
  • June 15, 1858
  • April 6, 1865
  • November 13, 1865
  • November 16, 1868
  • October 1, 1923
  • November 12, 1954
  • February 28, 1955
  • August 19, 1983
  • February 21, 1986
  • September 30, 1988

Charles Wilkins, merchant, of the town of Pittsburgh, conveyed property that included the present site of 845 North Lincoln Avenue to John Irwin, esquire, of the town of Pittsburgh for 30 pounds. This deed conveyed Out Lot 276 in the Reserve Tract opposite Pittsburgh and Lot 69 in the town of Allegheny. Out Lot 276 was a 10-acre tract of land situated on the western side of land laid out for a common, and bounded by what are now Brighton Road, Ridge Avenue, Galveston Avenue and Western Avenue. Lot 69 in the town of Allegheny was a 60′ wide by 240′ deep lot at the comer of Ohio Street and Sandusky Street, measuring 60′ wide on Ohio Street and 240′ deep along Sandusky Street to Strawberry Alley.

(Deed Book Volume 2, Page 97)

William F. Irwin of the borough of Pittsburgh, one of the sons and heirs of John Irwin, rope maker, conveyed property that included the present site of 845 North Lincoln Avenue to John Irwin of the borough of Pittsburgh, another of the sons and heirs of John Irwin, for $1,772. This deed conveyed Out Lots 276, 263 and 268 in the Reserve Tract, containing 10 acres each, and property on Liberty Street (now Liberty Avenue) in Pittsburgh. John Irwin had died intestate and was survived by his widow Mary and four children, Margaret, John, William and Elizabeth.

(DBV 19 P 127)

John and Hannah Irwin of the town of Allegheny to Elizabeth Irwin and Margaret Irwin of the town of Allegheny. This deed conveyed Out Lot 276 in the Reserve Tract and other property in the borough of Pittsburgh. This deed was an amicable and full and equal deed of partition of the estate of John Irwin.

(DBV 22 P 189)

John and Abigail Irwin of the city of Allegheny to James C. Watt of the city of Allegheny, $3200. This deed and subsequent deeds conveyed a 50′ wide by 198′ deep lot of ground located on Irwin Avenue, 25′ south of the corner of Irwin Avenue and Central Street (now North Lincoln Avenue) in the city of Allegheny. The lot, which was part of Out Lot 276, was known as Lots 9 and 10 in the Irwin Plan of the Ropewalk Property, recorded in Allegheny County Plan Book Volume 2, Page 173.

(DBV 180 P 191)

John Watt, guardian of the heirs of James C. Watt, deceased, to William Dean of the city of Allegheny, $7350. James C. Watt had died and the Orphan’s Court of Allegheny County appointed John Watt guardian of the estates of his children William A. Watt, David M. Watt (now of full age who joins with the said guardian in the sale of the property), George D. Watt, deceased, James C. Watt, over the age of 14 years, Mary F. Watt, Charles A. Watt, Jane Watt and Martha Allen Watt, minors under the age of 14 years. John Watt, as guardian, had presented a petition it would be in the interest of the said minors and heirs that Lots 9 and 10 be sold, “said lots being unproductive and unimproved being expensive in the payment of taxes and loss of interest on the value of said lots.” The lots were offered at public sale on January 28, 1865.

(DBV 184 P 201)

William and Amelia B. Dean of the city of Allegheny to David E. Park of Allegheny County, $8400.

(DBV 194 P 14)

David E. and Sarah J. Park of the city of Allegheny to Mrs. Letitia Holmes of the city of * Allegheny, $15,000.

(DBV 239 P 307)

Elizabeth H. Donner of the borough of Edgeworth to Holmes Hall for Boys, $31,000. Mrs. Letitia Holmes had died on or about March 1, 1914, intestate and survived by no husband, child or grandchild except Elizabeth H. Donner. Percy E. Donner, the husband of Elizabeth H. Donner, was by decree of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County at No. 2190 January term 1922 declared weak-minded and unable to take care of his property, and Elizabeth H. Donner was appointed guardian of his estate.

(DBV 2172 P 529)

Holmes Hall for Boys, a non-profit corporation located in Pittsburgh, to the Allegheny Trust Company, a banking corporation, for the use and benefit of the Pittsburgh Foundation, a community trust, $1 and other good and valuable considerations. The deed stated that the final degree of dissolution of Holmes Hall for Boys was dated October 24, 1954 in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County.

(DBV 3355 P 670)

The Allegheny Trust Company, trustee, to Philip A. and Martha Bianco of the city of Pittsburgh, $24,000.

(DBV 3392 P 12)

Martha Jean Wolverton and Phyllis Abinanti, co-executrices of the estate of Martha Bianco, deceased, to Brighton-Lincoln LTD, an Ohio limited partnership, $195,000. Philip A. Bianco had died on January 28, 1960, and Martha Bianco died on June 30, 1979.

(DBV 6718 P 181)

Brighton-Lincoln LTD, an Ohio limited partnership, to 200 West North Associates, a Pennsylvania partnership consisting of William Peterson and Henry E. Beal, $170,000.

(DBV 7251 P 395)

200 West North Associates to John DeSantis of the city of Pittsburgh, $175,000.

(DBV 7887 P 364)

Age of the House

Available information indicates that Letitia Holmes had 719 Brighton Road built between late 1868 and 1871.

The November 1868 sale of the lot on which 719 Brighton Road now stands for $15,000, at $1.52 per square foot, indicates that 719 Brighton Road had not yet been built.

Subsequently, the 1871 Pittsburgh city directory listed Letitia Holmes’ brother William A. Caldwell at 48 Irwin Avenue (now 719 Brighton Road) for the first time. An 1872 plat map of part of Allegheny shows that 719 Brighton Road had been built.

Allegheny County mortgage records contain no record of any loan taken by Letitia Holmes for construction of 719 Brighton Road.

The $15,000 that Letitia Holmes paid for the lot was nearly double the $8400 paid for the lot in November 1865 and more than double the $7350 paid for the lot in April 1865.

The Allegheny City 1866 municipal report stated that Irwin Avenue had been graded and paved during 1866. This improvement apparently increased the value of the property significantly.

The Allegheny City 1866 annual report stated that the cost of grading and paving Irwin Avenue was $5038.23. The city assumed $495.60 of the cost and assessed private property owners $4542.63. Near the end of the year, the city had collected $4049.15, with $989.08 due January 1, 1867. Plat maps of the area around the subject property suggest that any additions made to 719 Brighton Road by Letitia Holmes were constructed between 1882 and 1890.
Plat maps of the site published in 1872 and 1882 indicate that the front of the house occupied the full 50′ width of its lot, with two narrower sections extending toward the rear. Plat maps published beginning in 1890 suggest the house may have received modest additions on its northern and western sides. However, the greater detail present in maps published in and after 1890 also suggests the apparent additions may not have been new.

Plat maps of the site published in 1901, 1907, 1910 and 1925 show that the house’s “footprint” remained the same during this time.

City of Allegheny building permit dockets, available between 1894 and 1907, contain no record of issuance of any permits for new construction or additions at 719 Brighton Road.

Plat maps of the site published between 1872 and 1907 suggest that Letitia Holmes had no stables or other outbuildings erected during this time.

City of Pittsburgh building permit dockets show that Letitia Holmes had a garage built at 719 Brighton Road in 1910. Building permit dockets also show that Letitia Holmes’ estate had a garage built at 719 Brighton Road in 1916.

The Contractors

John H. Trimble & Brother

On November 17, 1910, Mrs. Letitia Holmes received a permit to erect one brick garage at 719 Irwin Avenue, at a cost of $2000. The garage was to stand one and a half stories tall, have a slate roof, and measure 15’6″ wide by 26′ deep. The garage was designated plan and permit No. 1716.

Letitia Holmes hired John H. Trimble & Brother to build the garage. Pittsburgh city directories of the early 1900’s show that John H. Trimble & Brother was located at 1717 Greenwood Street in Allegheny, near the present location of the Port Authority of Allegheny County. John H. Trimble lived in Bellevue.

John H. Trimble & Brother had served as contractor for the $60,000 home of Harry Darlington Jr. at 709 Brighton Road in 1908, and constructed a carriage house at 709 Brighton Road in 1909 at a cost of $9000.

Patterson & Shaw

On August 4, 1916, the estate of Letitia Holmes received a permit to erect a one-story brick and tile garage at 719 Irwin Avenue. The garage was to measure 23′ wide by 26′ deep and have a construction cost of $2000. The firm of Patterson & Shaw was hired to build the garage, which was designated plan and permit No. 932.

The 1916 city directory shows that Patterson & Shaw was operated by Samuel Patterson and was located at 30 East General Robinson Street on the North Side. Samuel Patterson lived in Etna.

The Home Today

Photos by Chris Siewers

Residents

The Holmeses

U.S. census records, Pittsburgh city directories and biographical materials provide information on Letitia Holmes, the first owner of 719 Brighton Road, and members of her family.

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Holmes Hall

719 Brighton Road was known as Holmes Hall for Boys between 1923 and 1954. Holmes Hall for Boys was established by the will of James Holmes’s cousin Jane Holmes.

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The Biancos

Philip and Martha Bianco, the third owners of 719 Brighton Road, operated a funeral home at 719 Brighton Road between 1955 and 1979.

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Rope Walk

The rope walk occupied a site bounded by what are now Brighton Road, Ridge Avenue, Galveston Avenue, and Western Avenue.

Learn More

Supplementary Materials

The following materials accompany this report:

  • a copy of part of an 1852 map depicting Allegheny City
  • a copy of an 1872 plat map including the current location of Brighton Road
  • copies of parts of fire insurance maps of parts of Allegheny including Irwin Avenue, published in 1884, 1893 and 1906
  • a copy of an 1889 plat map of part of downtown Pittsburgh, showing the location of the Holmes and Caldwell houses on Penn Avenue
  • biographical information on Letitia Holmes, from The Social Mirror
  • biographical information on William A. Caldwell, from Century Cyclopedia of History and Biography of Pennsylvania
  • biographical information on John Caldwell, from History of Allegheny County and Encyclopedia of Biography
  • a March 19, 1886 Pittsburgh Gazette article on the wedding of Letitia Caldwell Holmes, Letitia Holmes’ daughter
  • biographical information on George P. Hamilton Jr., from Twentieth Century Bench and Bar of Pennsylvania
  • biographical information on Percy Donner, from Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania Biography and The Book of Prominent Pennsylvanians
  • an item from the March 14, 1914 Pittsburgh Bulletin reporting on Percy and Elizabeth Donner’s trip to the West Indies
  • biographical information on Jane Holmes of Pittsburgh, from The Social Mirror
  • biographical information on Jane Holmes of Baltimore, from The Social Mirror

A Researched History
By: Carol J. Peterson

all photos by Chris Siewers, unless otherwise noted

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