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806 Western Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

836 Western Avenue

836 Western Avenue

Introduction

836 Western Avenue was built in 1889 for Clara and Caroline Rosenbach, unmarried sisters who were dressmakers. The Rosenbach sisters commissioned the prominent architectural firm of Longfellow, Alden & Harlow to design 836 Western Avenue, an untypically modest home for the firm. The sisters’ new home at 836 Western Avenue took the place of an earlier and smaller house that had stood on its site.

Clara and Caroline Rosenbach, who had been born in Maryland, were among six children of Hemy Rosenbach, an oil dealer who died in the early 1880s, and Fannie Rosenbach, both Prussian Jewish immigrants. The Rosenbach sisters lived at 836 Western Avenue and operated their dressmaking business in their home between 1889 and 1906. Fannie Rosenbach also lived at 836 Western Avenue between 1889 and 1897, when she died.

In 1906, the Rosenbach sisters moved from Western Avenue to live with family members on South Aiken Avenue in Friendship, joining many other Allegheny City families who were moving to East End neighborhoods. The sisters owned 836 Western Avenue until 1913, maintaining the house as a rental property after they moved.

Detailed information on the ownership history and age of 836 Western Avenue, and on Clara and Caroline Rosenbach, is contained in the following report.

Ownership

  • November 4, 1853
  • March 30, 1857
  • March 31, 1866
  • April 3. 1866
  • May 1, 1876
  • May 16, 1877
  • April 26, 1888
  • August 28, 1961
  • February 20, 1913
  • January 3, 1917
  • August 13, 1932
  • December 24, 1945
  • February 12, 1946
  • August 23, 1946
  • November 22, 1946
  • June 10, 1947
  • June 21, 1993

Elizabeth F. Denny of the city of Pittsburgh conveyed property on Western Avenue (then Water Lane), including the present site of 836 Western Avenue, to William Anderson Sr. of Allegheny City for $750. The property was described as located on the northern side of Water Lane, 348′ west of the West Commons (later Irwin Avenue, now Brighton Road), and measuring 36’ wide along Water Lane and 120’ deep to Pasture Alley (later Douglas Alley, now Dounton Way). The property was part of a larger tract of land that Elizabeth F. Denny had inherited from her father, James O’Hara, in 1829.

(Deed Book Volume 122, Page 376)

Martha and William Anderson Sr. of Allegheny City conveyed property on Western Avenue to William Anderson Jr. of Allegheny City for $1000. The property conveyed, measuring 36′ wide by 60′ deep, was the southern half of die property that William Anderson Sr. had purchased on November 4, 1853.

(DBV 161 P 463)

Malazena and William Anderson Jr. of Allegheny City conveyed the 36′ by 60′ lot that William Anderson Sr. had purchased on November 4, 1853 to James McKinney of Allegheny City for $2800.

(DBV 205 P 77)

James and Mary A. McKinney of Allegheny City conveyed a lot measuring 18′ wide by 60′ deep, comprising the western half of the lot conveyed on November 4, 1853, to Isaac M. Kitchin of Allegheny City for $1600. The lot was located on the northern side of Western Avenue, 366′ west of the West Commons.

(DBV 205 P 79)

Isaac M. and Jemima Kitchin of the Village of Wilkinsburg (sic) conveyed the 18′ wide by 60′ deep lot described in DBV 205, P 79 to John C. Smith of Allegheny City for $1800. This deed, one of a very few deeds that indicated the occupation of a purchaser or seller, described John C. Smith as “a grocery merchant, now and for some years past doing business as such on the northwestern comer of Irwin and Western Avenues in the Second Ward of Allegheny City.”

(DBV 350 P 471)

John C. Smith, a single man, a grocer and provision merchant of the Second Ward of Allegheny City, conveyed the 18′ wide by 60′ deep lot described in DBV 205, P 79 to Mrs. Margaret Scanlon, wife of Mr. James Scanlon of Akron, Ohio, for $2100.

(DBV 371 P 84)

James and Margaret Scanlon of Akron, Ohio conveyed the 18′ wide by 60′ deep lot described in DBV 205 P 79 to Miss Caroline Rosenbach and Miss Clarissa Rosenbach of Allegheny City for $3000.

(DBV 605 P 64)

Richard S. Nichols and William Fletcher, executors of the will of Jane Nicholls, deceased, late of Allegheny County, conveyed an 18’ wide by 60′ deep lot on Pasture Alley to Miss Caroline Rosenbach and Miss Clarissa Rosenbach of Allegheny City for $1550. Jane Nicholls had purchased the lot from Isaac M. and Jemima Kitchin on April 11, 1883 (DBV 556 P 212). With this conveyance, made one year after the construction of 836 Western Avenue, Caroline and Clarissa Rosenbach owned a 18’ wide by 120′ deep lot extending from Western Avenue to Pasture Alley, and containing 836 Western Avenue and a wood frame alley house.

(DBV 725 P 468)

Clarissa Rosenbach, unmarried, and Caroline Rosenbach, unmarried, both of the city of Pittsburgh, conveyed 836 Western Avenue and a wood frame alley house, occupying an 18′ wide by 120′ deep lot, to Josephine Hanson of the city of Pittsburgh for $5000.

(DBV 1768 P 305)

Josephine and Octavius Hanson of the city of Pittsburgh conveyed 836 Western Avenue and a wood frame alley house, occupying an 18′ wide by 120′ deep lot, to Martha A. Vorwerck of the city of Pittsburgh for $5000.

(DBV 1887 P 151)

Paul Vorwerck, unmarried, and Martha A. Vorwerck, unmarried, both of the city of Pittsburgh, conveyed 836 Western Avenue and a wood frame alley house, occupying an 18’ wide by 120’ deep lot, to George W. Kemerer, unmarried, of Delmont, Westmoreland County, for $1 and other valuable considerations. This deed also conveyed property at the southeastern corner of Allegheny Avenue and Behan Street.

(DBV 2458 P 641)

Mark W. McGaffey and the Union Trust Company of Pittsburgh, executors of the estate of Martha A. Vorwerck, deceased, conveyed 836 Western Avenue and a wood frame alley house, occupying an 18′ wide by 120′ deep lot, to Harry L. Rumstay of the city of Pittsburgh for $4500. Paul Vorwerck had died on November 15, 1938, survived by Martha A. Vorwerck, who died later.

(DBV 2869 P 652)

Harry L. and Helen Rumstay of the city of Pittsburgh conveyed 836 Western Avenue and a wood frame alley house, occupying an 18′ wide by 120′ deep lot, to Thomas M. Waters and James P. Casey of the city of Pittsburgh for $6000.

(DBV 2880 P 177)

Thomas M. and Helen M. Waters and James P. and Marie W. Casey of the city of Pittsburgh conveyed 836 Western Avenue and a wood frame alley house, occupying an 18’ wide by 120′ deep lot, to Thomas M. and Catherine M. Casey of the city of Pittsburgh for $1 and other valuable considerations.

(DBV 2907 P 580)

Thomas M. and Catherine M. Casey of the city of Pittsburgh conveyed 836 Western Avenue to Gail B. and Clover M. Amos of the city of Pittsburgh for $1 and other valuable considerations.

(DBV 2927 P 742)

Gail B. and Clover M. Amos of the city of Pittsburgh conveyed 836 Western Avenue, occupying the property described in the November 22, 1946 deed, to Charles J. and Dorothy N. Milauskas of the city of Pittsburgh for $1 and other good and valuable considerations.

(DBV 2945 P 668)

The city and school district of Pittsburgh acquired 836 Western Avenue on June 21, 1993 to satisfy unpaid tax liens (Treasurer’s Deed Book 15, Page 424).

Age of the House

All available information indicates that Clara and Caroline Rosenbach had 836 Western Avenue built in 1889.

Plat maps of the Allegheny West area published in 1872 and 1882 show that a small house occupied the present site of 836 Western Avenue. The house occupied a lot measuring 18′ wide by 60′ deep.

Clara and Caroline Rosenbach purchased the 18′ wide by 60′ deep lot on Western Avenue for $3000 on April 26, 1888. This purchase, at $1.67 per square foot, was comparable to prices paid for other undeveloped lots in Allegheny West at the time, and indicates that 836 Western Avenue had not yet been built. The price also suggests that the earlier house on the lot may have been demolished, or was so small or deteriorated that its existence had no effect on the lot’s market value.

Allegheny County mortgage records contain no record of any loan taken by Clara and Caroline Rosenbach to finance their purchase of the property on which the Rosenbach sisters had 836 Western Avenue built.
Allegheny County mortgage records show that on June 28, 1889 (Mortgage Book Volume 490, Page 365), Clara and Caroline Rosenbach borrowed $4000 against the property they had purchased on April 26, 1888. This loan, for an amount greater than the purchase price of the property, indicates that 836 Western Avenue had been built or was about to be built.

In its July 1889 issue, The Inland Architect and News Record reported that architects Longfellow, Alden & Harlow were preparing plans for a three- story pressed brick front residence in Allegheny City for Miss Rosenbach.

An 1890 plat map of the Western Avenue area shows that 836 Western Avenue had been built. The 1890 Pittsburgh city directory listed Fannie Rosenbach, the mother of Clara and Caroline Rosenbach, as living at 836 (then 317) Western Avenue for the first time; Clara and Caroline Rosenbach were listed at the house within a few years.

Construction Financing

Clara and Caroline Rosenbach’s $4000 mortgage was for a term of five years, with two payments per year. This financing arrangement was typical in the late 1800’s and in the early 1900’s. Mortgages made for purchases of existing homes often required down payments 40% or more; in the Rosenbachs’ case, the sisters’ full equity in the lot apparently substituted for a down payment.
The Rosenbach sisters borrowed their $4000 mortgage from Josiah Cohen, then one of the most prominent Jewish residents of western Pennsylvania. Cohen, an attorney, then lived at 1240 (then 114) Sheffield Street in Manchester. In 1900, Cohen lived at 1334 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Construction Cost

Allegheny City building permit dockets, available beginning in 1894, contain no record of issuance of a permit for construction of 836 Western Avenue. However, the amount of the Rosenbach sisters’ mortgage, and information on construction costs for brick houses of comparable size, suggest a likely construction cost for 836 Western Avenue of $4000 to $5000. This assumes a slightly higher cost per square foot than other homes of comparable size, in order to execute design specifications of Longfellow, Alden & Harlow.
Other brick houses built between 1890 and 1895 include:

  • 930 West North Avenue, Allegheny West, for $5317 in 1895
  • 4017 Northminster Street, Brighton Heights, for $3200 in 1895
  • 176 Home Street, Lawrenceville, for $4000 in 1890
  • 4041 Penn Avenue, Lawrenceville, for $2000 in 1890
  • 355 Fisk Street, Lawrenceville, for $3200 in 1890

Residents

The Rosenbachs

U.S. census records and Pittsburgh city directories provide information on Clara and Caroline Rosenbach, the first owners of 836 Western Avenue.

Learn More

The 1910 Census

Records of the 1910 census show that 836 Western Avenue was rented to a household headed by Daniel Johnson.

Daniel Johnson, 28, was an accountant who worked for a baking company. His wife, May M., 29, had no occupation. Both had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Pennsylvania. In 1910, the Johnsons had been married one year and had one child: Robert L., who was less than one month old when the census was taken on April 19, 1910.

At the time of the census, the Johnsons shared their home at 836 Western Avenue with four lodgers:

  • Phebe M. Lombard, 67, a Canadian-born widow (year of immigration unknown) with no occupation
  • Russell Lombard, 30, a bookkeeper for a gas company, who had been born in Wisconsin to parents born in Maine and Canada
  • Martha Bopp, 21, a waitress in a restaurant, born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Pennsylvania
  • Agnes Bopp, 24, a waitress in a restaurant, born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Pennsylvania

Neighborhood Development

836 Western Avenue was built more than two decades after the Allegheny West area began to develop as a genteel alternative to sections of Allegheny City like the east and south commons and the Anderson Street area, which were crowded and contained mixed residential, commercial and industrial uses by the end of the Civil War. While Ridge Avenue and Brighton Road became the home of some of the wealthiest residents of the Pittsburgh area, and Beech Avenue homes were built for middle-class families, Western Avenue developed as a somewhat unlikely mixture of mansions, homes of middle-class and working-class families, and small industrial sites. North Lincoln Avenue was developed with a mixture of mansions and middle-class housing.

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 of the area around Western Avenue
  • a copy of a 1910 plat map of the Western Avenue area
  • the notice of Longfellow, Alden & Harlow’s design of the Rosenbach house, from The Inland Architect and News Recordd, July 1889
  • information on Longfellow, Alden & Harlow, from Pittsburgh & Allegheny Illustrated Review
  • the obituary of Fannie Rosenbach, from the Allegheny Evening Record, July 6, 1897
  • a copy of a photograph of the Oil Exchange Building in Oil City, from a 1971 centennial history of Oil City
  • the obituary of Clara Rosenbach, from the Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, June 21, 1927

A Researched History
By: Carol J. Peterson

all photos by Nick Smerker, unless otherwise noted

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