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.
- 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.
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
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.
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.
Philip and Martha Bianco, the third owners of 719 Brighton Road, operated a funeral home at 719 Brighton Road between 1955 and 1979.
The rope walk occupied a site bounded by what are now Brighton Road, Ridge Avenue, Galveston Avenue, and Western Avenue.
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
I thought I understood what kind of work went into putting on one of our house tours. After all, I had been working on the tickets sales for something like 5 years; sat in on countless committee meetings; set up a couple of spreadsheets for managing volunteers; even lead a tour or two (it’s probably best for everyone if that doesn’t happen again). Once, I even dressed up in 40lbs of velvet in August (and showed up at the wrong house with a group of 20 people – seriously, I’m not guide material).
Yeah, I had no idea.
No idea just how many people have to come together and contribute time and talent to pull off one of these tours until I added the perspective of the home-owner. And it’s the spring tour (which is basically the starter tour) – and it’s just our garden not the house so we’re not quite all in. Even still, there are a crazy number of people helping me and Gene at our house, just to make sure visitors get in and out of the garden with a glass of wine and an appetizer for 3 sets of tours. And there are 7 (7!) other houses. And 2 tours a year. And the neighborhood has been putting these tours on for over 30 (30!) years. I can’t even fathom just the raw number of volunteer hours those pretty little tour booklets represent.
By the way, if you’re feeling stalled on a home improvement project I would definitely recommend putting your house on tour. I think we’ve finished more projects (yay, no more chain link) in the last 3 months than we have managed to finish in the last 2 years. But as much as our new gate makes me smile, what I appreciate even more is that every time I think I can’t be surprised by our neighborhood, that I’ve lived here long enough to really understand how lucky we are to live here, I am yet again amazed by what our neighbors have managed to accomplish and sustain over decades of dedication.
Lots of other stuff is going on too! Please join us at the Tuesday membership meeting for an update on what’s going on with Lake Elizabeth and other updates for the Commons, a new One Northside project to catalog neighborhood resources and, fingers-crossed, a proposal for the Stables building that looks very promising.
- One Northside AIM Project
- Stables Proposal
- Erin Tobin, Parks Conservancy
- Treasurer’s Report
- Nominations for Secretary, Sgt. at Arms
- Vote on the Budget
- Neighborhood Clean-ups
- Wine Tour Recap
- Upcoming Membership Events
- Housing and Planning Updates
- AWDC Updates
- Committee Q&A
- Housing & Planning
- Friends of Allegheny West
Submitted by Michael Shealey
Over the weekend of the May 30 – 31 (the weekend of the Kenny Chesney concert) AW had a very successful cleanup that cleaned the neighborhood before, during and after the Kenny Chesney concert as well as doing two days of gardening work on the AW parklet. Thanks to Fran Barbush and Howard Brokenbek for handing out flyers. Mary Callison, Holly Pultz and Carol Robert worked on the parklet as well as Michael Shealey’s 84-year old father, James, visiting from Virginia. Gloria Rayman tackled Dounton Alley herself. Trish Burton, Cathy Serventi and a new neighbor on W North Avenue, Carol Domrick, did a fine job of post-Kenny Chesney trash removal as well as weeding.
Our June neighborhood cleanup will be on Saturday, June 27th from 9:00 to 11:00. We will meet at the AWCC office at 806 Western Ave and refreshments will be provided. Based on the May cleanup experience, more donuts will be provided and fewer bagels. Come out, meet and work with your neighbors.
If you’d like to recognize a neighbor who went above-and-beyond for you or the neighborhood this month please send a note to email@example.com or give Cathy a call at (412) 418-2027 and we’ll make sure they’re recognized in the Gazette.
We ran into Carol S. and her mom walking past with bags of weeds and clippings that turned out had come from the garden on Brighton & North. Loved her observation that she caught herself thinking that that “wow, someone should really trim those peonies that were squashed in the rain” quickly followed by “wow, I could take 20 minutes and trim those peonies”.
Michael S. has been a litter fighting MACHINE over the last few weeks. If you felt a little disappointed that Kenny Chesney turned out to be pretty much a non-issue and so you missed out on an opportunity to get snarky about folks from the suburbs, you can thank Michael. He spent that weekend walking around talking to folks, modeling proper behavior by preemptively picking up litter and leading a clean-up so that the neighborhood looks awesome for the tour.
So picture this, Tom B, chaining himself to an Allegheny West light post facing off a group of probably pretty confused electrical workers, until Councilwoman Harris swooped into rescue him (and us). Basically, rather than listen to Fran B explain where the conduit for the light poles was buried in the gutter, the power company, after drilling some random holes in the sidewalk, was planning to put in a “temporary” fix for the Beech Ave lights that have been out for a few weeks. It involved a random telephone pole and very un-decoratively strung wires (all wildly historically inappropriate). Everyone is back to focusing on actually fixing the lights.
“Many hands make light work.” – John Heywood
Nonie sends a big “Above and Beyond” to the committee who worked together for the Memorial Day Block Party. Chairwoman, Mary Callison, Michael Shealey, Trish and John Burton, Gloria Rayman, Howard Brokenbeck, Tom Barbush and Greg Coll (Sorry if I missed anyone). Their efforts gathered many neighbors together to welcome “unofficial summer” to Allegheny West. For those of you who have never helped or chaired this committee, you may not realize how much hard work, mentally as well as physically, is involved. The work begins before the day of the party, and as many of the helpers are aging, the schlepping, hauling and lugging is really a hard task. Nonie hopes that at the next party, those who are on hand could lend a hand during the set-up and clean-up. This would be GREATLY appreciated. It would be terrific to have more people get involved. Again, many thanks to this wonderful committee. For those of you interested in helping with the July 4 party, please contact Mary Callison by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
32nd Annual Scholarship and Awards Dinner
Northside Leadership Conference
June 11, 2015
Begun in 1984 as a fundraiser to pay an overdue phone bill, the Annual Dinner has grown to be the largest such community gathering in the region, with close to 400 attending annually. It is a celebration of Northside neighborhoods, volunteers, students and partners. NSLC and its sponsors have recognized over 360 community volunteers and awarded over $187,000 in scholarships!
RSVP by June 8: http://www.pittsburghnorthside.com
Submitted by Mary Callison
June neighborhood mixer will be at Peppis on Western Ave, Friday the 19th at 6:30 PM. If it is not raining we will meet in the patio at the back of the restaurant. Bring your own wine or beer or you may order fountain drinks there and anything else you want from the menu.
Bocce will begin on Thursday, June 11th, 6:30 at the court on Western Ave. Everyone is welcome to play, no prior experience is necessary. We will play every Thursday unless it is raining. In prior years we played on Wednesdays, because several indicated conflicts with the day we are trying Thursday.
The 4th of July 4th Block Party will be on Saturday the fourth in the 900 Block of Beech.
Many thanks to Dennis, Doug and Linda Iannotta for all they did for the May Mixer/1st Annual Allegheny
West Art Show. An added attraction was Ann Gilligan’s sorbet. There was a great turnout, around 70
persons. Already there is discussion for the 2nd Annual Art Show for next year.
The Memorial Block Party had a great turnout and we were fortunate no rain came as was predicted. It
would not have been possible without the help of the following: Tom Barbush and Greg Coll for all the
grilling; Gloria Rayman and her brother John who moved paper supplies; food and beverage; Doug Lucas
who personally patted out all the burgers; John Burton who secured the wine and beer; Howard Brokenbek
for moving tables and trucking supplies back to the office. Several others helped with setting up and
cleaning up, and since I did not keep a list that day I cannot list everyone. Thank you to all the helpers.
Hugh McKelvy was born in 1817 in Wilkinsburg, and was raised in Allegheny City (now the Northside) from the age of three. McKelvy probably grew up near the present site of Allegheny General Hospital, as his obituary reported that he attended a log school building that stood on or near the hospital’s present site.
Hugh and Sarah McKelvy were married by the early 1840s. Sarah McKelvy was born in 1821 in Pennsylvania. Wesley McKelvy, the first child of Hugh and Sarah McKelvy, was bom in 1844. He was followed by William in 1847, Emma in 1852, Ella in 1856, Dale in 1858 and Hugh Jr. in 1860.
By 1850, Hugh McKelvy was employed as an engineer, and lived with his wife and children on Reedsdale Street (then Rebecca Street) in Allegheny City. McKelvy became a riverboat captain within a short time. The McKelvy family moved from Reedsdale Street to a house that Hugh and Sarah McKelvy owned at 208 West North Avenue (then an un-numbered house on Allegheny City’s North Commons) in the mid-1850s.
In 1859, McKelvy became a partner in Burgess & McKelvy, grocers, located on Forbes Avenue (then Diamond Street) in Downtown Pittsburgh. McKelvy’s partner was John Burgess of Sandusky Street in what is now the Allegheny Center Mall area. McKelvy remained in that business until 1862.
The 1860 census of population enumerated seven members of the McKelvy family – Hugh, 43, Sarah, 39, Wesley, 16, William, 13, Emma, eight, Ella, four and Dale, two – in their home on the North Commons. The census reported that Hugh McKelvy owned real estate worth $4,000, probably the value of the McKelvy family’s home, and had a personal estate of $1,200.
The 1863 Pittsburgh city directory listed Hugh McKelvy as a steam boat captain, and as a partner in two businesses: McMahon & McKelvy, oil refiners, of 44th Street at the Allegheny Valley Railroad in Lawrenceville, and McKelvy & Moore, barrel manufacturers, of Diamond Street in Allegheny City. McKelvy may have found the oil refinery to be more profitable than his other enterprises, and ended his involvement in riverboats and barrel manufacturing by 1864.
Hugh McKelvy’s 1863 entry into the oil industry came four years after the discovery of oil at Titusville in northwestern Pennsylvania. McKelvy and thousands of other men intent on profiting from extracting, transporting, refining, and selling oil invested their time and available capital in this industry. Pittsburgh shared in the oil boom as a center of river transportation and as the site of several refineries. During that time, a number of Pittsburgh men traveled to growing northwestern Pennsylvania communities such as Titusville, Franklin, Oil City, and Pithole to participate in the oil business. Hugh McKelvy appears to have enjoyed moderate success in the highly risky and capital-intensive oil industry, and was not among those who made or lost fortunes.
In 1864, the McKelvy family lived at 1203 Boyle Street in Allegheny City. The family moved to a new house they had built at 846 Western Avenue in 1865. By 1865, Hugh McKelvy operated an oil depot or refinery at Ninth Street and Fort Duquesne Boulevard, Downtown.
In 1866, the Pittsburgh city directory listed Hugh McKelvy as an oil dealer on Fort Duquesne Boulevard, but with no home listing. It appears likely that McKelvy’s work in the oil industry may have caused him to leave the city in order to tend to his business interests in Pennsylvania’s oil towns for a short time. McKelvy returned to Allegheny City by 1867, when he was appointed Allegheny City postmaster. He held that position while living at 942 Western Avenue in 1868 and 1869. McKelvy could walked to work in the Allegheny City Post Office, in the city hall on Diamond Square in the present Allegheny Center Mall area, or could have taken one of the horse-drawn streetcars that passed in front of his house.
McKelvy returned to the oil business in 1870, as a partner in McKelvy, Brother & Company, at Fort Duquesne Boulevard and Eighth Street. McKelvy’s partners included his brother, William M. McKelvy, of 44th Street in Lawrenceville. After selling 942 Western Avenue in early 1870, the McKelvy family began renting a house at 846 Beech Avenue. The 1870 census, the last census to provide information on assets of persons enumerated, shows that Hugh McKelvy owned no real estate and had a personal estate of $1,000.
Hugh McKelvy and his wife and children lived in a house they owned at 910 Beech Avenue, or in an earlier house on the site, between 1871 and 1874. Hugh McKelvy was listed in directories as an oil broker and oil merchant during that time. McKelvy did not appear in Pittsburgh city directories published after 1874. Available records do not document where the McKelvy family went immediately after leaving Pittsburgh.
Hugh McKelvy died on May 24, 1894, at the home of a daughter on Linden Street in Allegheny City. An obituary published in the Pittsburgh Press stated that McKelvy had been a resident of Parker’s Landing, Armstrong County, a center of oil production.
Hugh McKelvy, the postmaster of Allegheny City (now the Northside), and his wife, Sarah McKelvy, commissioned construction of 942 Western Avenue in 1868. The couple had the house built on a double lot that Sarah McKelvy had purchased for $2,500 in December 1867. The house, whose front section originally had a side-gabled roof, was constructed in the Italianate style, as shown in its arched, projecting window hoods and front door surround.
The McKelvy family lived at 942 Western Avenue for no more than two years, selling the house for $11,850 in 1870. The next owner, wholesale liquor dealer Frederick Andriessen, was probably responsible for the construction of the first rear addition to the house in the early or mid-1870s. Charles G.B. Weihl, also a wholesale liquor dealer, purchased 942 Western Avenue in 1881, and was likely responsible for the second rear addition to the house, built by 1884. Either Weihl or his widow, Katherine, updated and enlarged the house with the addition of its mansard roof and front porch in 1887 or 1888.
Members of the Weihl family owned 942 Western Avenue until 1921, although they began to use the house as a rental property by 1900. The Weihls’ tenants in the early 20th century are typical of the changing residential nature of Allegheny West during that time. In 1900, 942 Western Avenue was rented to Leon S. Klein, the last wholesale liquor dealer known to have been associated with die house. By 1910, 942 Western Avenue was divided into apartments and was rented to tenants of lower socioeconomic status.
The house at 942 Western Avenue deteriorated later in the 20th century. It stood empty for a number of years before it was purchased by Eric Kukura and Dru Imler in 2001, and renovated.
Detailed information on the history of 942 Western Avenue is contained in the following report.
- December 10, 1867
- March 2, 1870
- June 15, 1881
- April 23, 1887
- June 27, 1898
- June 7, 1921
- April 14, 1923
- June 25, 1969
- January 3, 1980
- February 26, 2001
- October 2, 2002
Elizabeth F. Denny of Pittsburgh conveyed the present site of 942 and 944 Western Avenue to Sarah McKelvy of Allegheny City (now the Northside) for $2,500. The property that was conveyed was located on the northern side of Western Avenue, 106′ east of Allegheny Avenue, and measured 48′ wide along Western Avenue by 120′ deep to Pasture Alley (now Douglas Way). The property was known as Lots 6 and 7 in Block No. 2 in a plan of lots laid out in the Second Ward of Allegheny City by Mrs. Elizabeth F. Denny (Plan Book Volume 6, Page 193). Lot 7 contained the present site of 942 Western Avenue, and Lot 6 contained the present site of 944 Western Avenue.
(Deed Book Volume 228, Page 207)
Sarah and Hugh McKelvy of Allegheny City conveyed Lots 6 and 7 to Frederick Andriessen of Allegheny City for $11,850. The property contained 942 Western Avenue and the present site of 944 Western Avenue.
(DBV 252 P 427)
Frederick and Louisa Andriessen of Allegheny City conveyed Lots 6 and 7 to Charles G.B. Weihl of Pittsburgh for $9,000. The property contained a 942 Western Avenue and the present site of 944 Western Avenue.
(DBV 418 P 366)
Charles G.B. Weihl died on April 23, 1887. Weihl left his estate in equal thirds to his widow, Katharine J. Weihl, so long as she remained his widow, and daughters, then Clara L. Weihl and Ettie Mathilda Weihl (Will Book Volume 31, Page 468). Katharine J. Weihl declined to accept the terms of the will, and filed her intention to take under the intestate laws of Pennsylvania.
Edward H. and Clara L. (Weihl) Swindell and Charles W. and Ettie M. (Weihl) Ridinger, all of Allegheny City, conveyed their interest in 944 and 942 Western Avenue to Kate J. Weihl, widow, of Allegheny City for $5. This deed also conveyed interest in other property in the Woods Run section of Allegheny City, on Penn Avenue in East Liberty, and on East Carson Street on the South Side.
(DBV 1005 P 153)
Katherine J. Weihl, widow, Clara L. and Edward H. Swindell, and Ettie M. and Charles W. Ridinger, all of Pittsburgh, conveyed 942 Western Avenue to John Andrews of Pittsburgh for $8250. This deed and subsequent deeds conveyed Lot 7 in the Denny plan, measuring 24.08′ wide by 120′ deep.
(DBV 2106 P 409)
John Andrews of Pittsburgh conveyed 942 Western Avenue to William H. and Emma Burnett of Pittsburgh for $9,500.
(DBV 2157 P 210)
The estate of William H. Burnett conveyed 942 Western Avenue to John F. Sweetman. The house was valued at $22,500. This deed also conveyed a house at 232 Langley Avenue on the North Side, valued at $12,300.
(DBV 4502 P 468)
John F. and Emma Elder Sweetman conveyed 942 Western Avenue to Jon-Rock Two, a limited partnership, for $50,000.
(DBV 6208 P 835)
Jon-Rock Two, a limited partnership, Paul D. Zavarella, executor of the estate of Jonathan Mills Westin, general partner, and John E. Roney, limited partner, conveyed 942 Western Avenue to Mary Dru Imler and Eric W. Kukura for $15,000.
(DBV 11065 P 464)
Kukura, Simeone & Associates purchased 942 Western Avenue from Mary Dru Imler and Eric W. Kukura on October 2, 2002.
(DBV 11471 P 543)
Age of the House
Hugh and Sarah McKelvy had 942 Western Avenue built in early 1868, shortly after Sarah McKelvy purchased property containing the site of the house.
Sarah McKelvy purchased a double lot containing the present site of 942 and 944 Western Avenue on December 10, 1867. McKelvy paid $2,500 for the double lot, which measured 48′ wide along Western Avenue by 120′ deep to Douglas Way. This purchase, at 43 cents per square foot, was comparable to prices paid for other undeveloped lots in Allegheny West at the time, and indicates that 942 and 944 Western Avenue had not yet been built.
The 1868 Pittsburgh city directory listed Hugh McKelvy, the husband of Sarah McKelvy, as living at 203 (now 942) Western Avenue for the first time. Sarah and Hugh McKelvy sold the same lot for $11,850 in 1870. The significant increase in price is consistent with a house having built on the lot. An 1872 plat map shows that the house at 942 Western Avenue had been built, and the site of 944 Western Avenue remained undeveloped.
Two rear additions to 942 Western Avenue bring the house’s rear wall to approximately 25′ from Douglas Way at the rear of the lot. The first fire insurance map of the area around the house, published in 1884, shows that both additions had been built. An 1872 plat map, with somewhat less detail than the 1884 map, does not make clear whether the first addition had been built, and indicates that the second addition had not been built.
It appears likely that the first addition to 942 Western Avenue was constructed not long after Frederick Andriessen purchased the house in 1870, and the second addition was constructed between 1881, when Charles G.B. Weihl purchased the house, and 1884. The brief period of ownership of the house by Hugh and Sarah McKelvy, between early 1868 and March 1870, suggests it is unlikely that they had the first addition constructed. Pittsburgh city directories indicate that Frederick Andriessen lived at 942 Western Avenue immediately after he purchased the house in 1870, but moved away and began to rent the house to tenants by about 1875. Andriessen, a wholesale liquor dealer on East Ohio Street, would probably have been more likely to commission a significant expansion of the house while it was his home than when he no longer lived there.
The house became owner-occupied again in 1881, when it was purchased by Charles G.B. Weihl. The nearly flat roof of the second addition to the house supports the likelihood that Weihl had the second addition built. Houses built on narrow urban lots in Pittsburgh in the 1880s were more likely to have rear ells with nearly flat roofs, like the second addition to 942 Western Avenue, rather than shed roofs with steeper slopes, like the house’s first addition.
Roof and Porch Addition
The front section of 942 Western Avenue had a side-gabled roof until the house’s mansard roof was added, most likely in 1887-1888. The house’s front porch appears to have been added at the same time.
An 1884 fire insurance map shows that the front section of 942 Western Avenue then had a side-gabled roof, rather than the mansard roof that the house now has. The house also had no front porch. The house next door at 944 Western Avenue, whose mansard roof and front porch are nearly identical to those of 942 Western Avenue, had not been built, and its site was the side yard of 942 Western Avenue. Local historical records indicate that 944 Western Avenue was constructed in 1887-1888. The double lot was owned between 1881 and 1921 by members of the Weihl family. The nearly identical mansard roofs and front porches of 942 and 944 Western Avenue, together with the joined ownership of the houses, strongly suggests that the mansard roof and front porch of 942 Western Avenue was added at or very close to the time that 944 Western Avenue was built.
The next fire insurance map of the area around 942 Western Avenue, published in 1893, confirms that the mansard roof and front porch of 942 Western Avenue had been added.
Charles G.B. Weihl, who purchased 942 Western Avenue in 1881, may have commissioned construction of the mansard roof and front porch of 942 Western Avenue and the new house at 944 Western Avenue before his death in April 1887. Weihl, a wholesale liquor dealer in Downtown Pittsburgh, left the property to his wife, Kate Weihl, and daughters, Clara and Ettie. Kate, Clara and Ettie Weihl would have been responsible for the mansard and porch if they were added after Charles G.B. Weihl’s death.
Stable at Rear of Lot
Plat maps published between 1872 and 1901 depict a two-story stable at the rear of the lot at 942 Western Avenue. The stable was of wood frame construction, and measured approximately 24’ wide by 15′ deep. The stable was demolished between 1901 and 1906.
The house at 942 Western Avenue was constructed in the Italianate style, as shown in its arched, projecting window hoods and front door surround. The house would have originally had brackets beneath its box gutters, like a number of houses in Allegheny West, rather than the egg-and-dart brickwork with which 944 Western Avenue was built approximately 20 years later. In urban neighborhoods like Allegheny West, most Italianate houses built on narrow lots were constructed with front sections with side-gabled roofs, like 942 Western Avenue. Interior details of Italianate homes often included four-panel doors with porcelain knobs and ornamented cast iron hinges, marble, marbleized slate, or wood mantels with arched openings, flared newel posts and spindles and non-symmetrical door and window trim with diagonally mitered comers.
The ornate details of the mansard dormer and front porch of 942 Western Avenue show the influence of the Queen Anne style, which became popular locally around 1885 and remained in favor for a decade.
Known records do not identify an architect who is credited with design of 942 Western Avenue or the historic alterations to the house.
Historic plat maps and fire insurance maps show that Western Avenue had three house numbering systems before the modem present house numbers were put in place in 1899. The house at 942 Western Avenue was numbered 203 immediately after it was built for Hugh and Sarah McKelvy in 1868. The number 203 remained in use until 1880-1881, when the house was renumbered 100 Western Avenue. The house number was changed to 247 in the mid-1880s. That number remained in use until the present Northside house numbering system was put in place in 1899.
Pittsburgh city directories, an obituary, and U.S. census records provide information on Hugh and Sarah McKelvy, the first owners of 942 Western Avenue.
The 1870 Census
Records of the 1870 census do not provide information on occupants of 942 Western Avenue, suggesting that the house was temporarily vacant.
The census was taken a few weeks after Frederick Andriessen purchased 942 Western Avenue from Hugh and Sarah McKelvy, and it appears likely that Andreissen had not yet moved to the house.
The 1880 Census
The 1880 census enumerated a family headed by Moses Herzog at 942 (then 203) Western Avenue. Moses Herzog, 35, was a Bavarian immigrant and the owner of a store that sold gentlemen’s furnishings, dry goods and trunks and satchels on Wood Street in Downtown Pittsburgh. His wife, Mollie, 28, was an immigrant from Baden, Germany. The couple’s children were Daisy, eight, and Mary, two, both born in Pennsylvania.
The Herzog family employed two servants who lived at 942 Western Avenue. Their servants were Mary Garris, 15 and M. Swatshartell, 25, both born in Pennsylvania to German immigrants.
The 1890 Census
Records of the 1890 manuscript census, which would provide information on occupants of 942 Western Avenue in that year, were destroyed in a warehouse fire following the completion of the census.
The 1900 Census
In 1900, according to census records, 942 Western Avenue was rented to Leon S. and Jessie Klein. Leon S. Klein was a 27-year-old wholesale liquor dealer, and Jessie Klein, 22, had no occupation. Both had been born in Pennsylvania to German immigrants.
The Kleins had been married for one year, and had no children. They employed one servant who lived at 942 Western Avenue: Maggie DeCoursey, 22, who had immigrated from Ireland in 1897.
The 1910 Census
In 1910, 942 Western Avenue contained two apartments, which were rented to families headed by Frank Ressler and Elmano Da Costa.
Frank Ressler was a 39-year-old grocery salesman who had been bom in New York State to parents bom in Germany and Pennsylvania. His wife, Margaret, 35, was born in Pennsylvania to parents bom in Ireland and
Pennsylvania. The Resslers had been married for 12 years, and had no children.
Elmano De Costa, 25, had immigrated from Portugal in 1905, and worked as a bookkeeper for a construction company. Mary, his wife, had come to the United States from Canada in 1905. The couple, married three years, had no children. They shared their apartment with Alipio E. Da Costa, 19, a brother of Elmano. Alipio Da Costa had immigrated earlier in 1910, and had no occupation at the time of the census.
The 1920 Census
S.G. Gurley, a railroad brakeman, was enumerated as the head of the household at 942 Western Avenue in the 1920 census. Gurley, 32, had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Pennsylvania. His wife, Blanche, 36, had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Iowa and Pennsylvania. The couple had no children, and took in boarders.
Two boarders, Isadora Weber and Agnes D. Camp, lived with the Gurleys when the census was taken. Weber, 67, was a widow born in Ohio, and Camp, 63, was an unmarried Pennsylvania native. Neither had an occupation.
The 1930 Census
William and Emma Burnett, who had purchased 942 Western Avenue in 1923, were enumerated in the house with their two children and four roomers in the 1930 census.
In 1930, William Burnett, 42, was employed by a publishing company as an office manager. A native of Northern Ireland, he had come to the United States in 1905. Emma Burnett, 42, was the proprietor of the rooming house at 942 Western Avenue. She had been bom in Pennsylvania to German immigrant parents. Their children were William Jr., 17, born in New York State, and Emma, 13, born in Pennsylvania.
Boarders living at 942 Western Avenue in 1930 were R.E. Young, 35, an unmarried salesman working in a paint factory, and Pennsylvania native; Mary Pacer, 55, a widowed German immigrant employed as a wrapper in a candy factory; and Matilda Pacer, 22, a telephone operator, and Edward Pacer, eight, both born in Pennsylvania. Although the last three roomers were apparently members of a single family, census records indicate that they and R.E. Young occupied the same dwelling unit as the Burnett family.
The 1930 census is the most recent census that provides detailed information on occupants of 942 Western Avenue. Manuscript census records are withheld from the public for 72 years, to protect the privacy of persons enumerated.
The house at 942 Western Avenue was built a few years 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 developed with a mixture of mansions and middle-class housing.
The following materials accompany this report:
- a copy of part of an 1852 map depicting Allegheny City
- copies of parts of plat maps of the area around 942 Western Avenue, published in 1872 and 1901
- copies of parts of fire insurance maps of the area around 942 Western Avenue, published in 1884, 1893 and 1906
- the obituary of Hugh McKelvy, from the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, May 26, 1894
A Researched History
By: Carol J. Peterson
all photos by Chris Siewers, unless otherwise noted
Joshua Rhodes was born in England on March 19, 1924, and immigrated to the United States in 1830. Rhodes’ family moved to Allegheny City in 1832.
Eliza Rhodes, formerly Eliza Haslett, was born in May 1833 in Lawrenceville, then a borough near Pittsburgh.
Biographical materials indicate that Joshua Rhodes worked for Benjamin Brown, a grocer, as a teenager and opened a grocery in 1844 at age 20 on First Avenue near Smithfield Street. Rhodes’ store was destroyed in the fire of 1845, and he subsequently rebuilt his store at Fourth Avenue and Smithfield Street.
Joshua Rhodes was listed in the Pittsburgh city directory as early as 1847, when he was listed as a fruiter and confectioner at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Smithfield Street. By 1850, Rhodes formed Joshua Rhodes & Company, fruiterers, at 6 Wood Street. Rhodes lived at 30 Smithfield Street in 1850. By 1852, Rhodes was a cracker baker at 189 First Street and also operated Joshua Rhodes & Company, fruiters and confectioners, at 6 Wood Street.
Joshua Rhodes began operating a brewery, Rhodes & Verner, by 1857. Rhodes and Verner was located at the corner of Penn Avenue and Barkers Alley in Pittsburgh. In 1857, Rhodes lived on First Avenue, and in 1858, he boarded at the Scott House, at Irwin Street and Duquesne Way in Pittsburgh. Rhodes moved to 249 Penn Avenue by 1860.
The 1860 manuscript census indicated that Joshua Rhodes and his family lived in Pittsburgh’s Fourth Ward. Rhodes, 37, was a brewery malster, and his wife Eliza, 31, did not work outside the home. The census showed that Joshua Rhodes owned no real estate and had a “personal estate” of $32,000.
The 1860 census indicated that Joshua and Eliza Rhodes’ children were Lucy B., five, Ida S., four and Charles R., two. Information contained in the 1870 manuscript census suggests that Ida S. was Ida S. Williams, a daughter of Elizabeth Williams, apparently a close relative of the Rhodes family, and that Lucy B. was Lucy Brown, who also lived with the Rhodes family in 1870.
Joshua Rhodes’ mother Elizabeth, 65, and a housemaid, Agatha Durkin, 20, also lived with the family in 1870. Eliza Rhodes had been born in England, and Agatha Durkin had been born in Ireland.
Joshua Rhodes moved to at 10 Hancock Street in Pittsburgh by 1862 and lived at 231 Penn Avenue in 1864 and 1865.
Joshua Rhodes moved to Allegheny between 1865 and 1866. The 1866 city directory listed Rhodes at the corner of Western Avenue and Bagaley Lane (now Bidwell Street). After moving to Allegheny, Rhodes continued operating his brewery in Pittsburgh.
Rhodes was listed as living at Bidwell and Sheffield Streets in Manchester in 1868 and at 156 North Avenue in 1869 and 1870.
The 1870 manuscript census reported that Joshua and Eliza Rhodes and their family lived in the First Ward of Allegheny. Joshua Rhodes, 46, was a malster and Eliza Rhodes, 40, did not work. The census indicated that the Rhodes’ children were William, seven, Mary, five and Annie, five months.
Also living with the Rhodes family in 1870 were Mrs. Lilly (sic) Rhodes, 76, Mrs. Elizabeth Williams, 40, Ida Williams, 14 and Lucy Brown, 15.
The 1870 census indicated that Joshua Rhodes owned no real estate and had a “personal estate” of $15,000. In 1870, Mrs. Lucy Williams owned real estate valued at $20,000 and had a “personal estate” of $1,000.
During the 1870’s, Joshua Rhodes continued to operate his brewery, which became known as the Pittsburgh Brewery. In the late 1870’s, Rhodes became president of the Pennsylvania Tube Works, with offices at 2 Duquesne Alley.
The 1880 manuscript census reported that the family of Joshua and Eliza Rhodes lived at 95 Western Avenue. Joshua Rhodes, 56, was a brewer and Eliza Rhodes, 46, had no occupation. William B. Rhodes, 17, worked as a clerk in a pipe house, Mary H., 15, was a student, Annie, 10, did not attend school and Walter J., eight, attended school.
In 1880, the Rhodes’ servants who lived at 95 Western Avenue were Katie Johns, 27, who had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Germany and Emma Edey, 19, who had been born in Pennsylvania to parents also born in Pennsylvania. Both servants were single.
The 1880 census indicated that no residents of 95 Western Avenue were ill or temporarily disabled.
Joshua Rhodes served as president of the Allegheny National Bank during the 1870’s, and as vice-president of the bank during the late 1800’s.
The 1890 census, which would provide information on residents of 939 Western Avenue in that year, was destroyed in a fire following its completion.
In 1900, the manuscript census reported that Joshua Rhodes, 76, Eliza J. Rhodes, 67, and their family and servants lived at 939 Western Avenue. The census gave Joshua Rhodes’ occupation as “capitalist”. Eliza Rhodes did not work. Eliza Rhodes had had five children, with four still living at the time of the census.
In 1900, three of the Rhodes’ children were single and lived at home. William R. Rhodes, 37, was single and worked as manager of a tube works. Mary H. Rhodes, 34, and Anna J. Rhodes, 29, had no occupation.
In 1900, three servants, all of whom were black, lived at 939 Western Avenue. The servants were Rebecca Stevenson, 38, Lizzie Rowe, 26 and Mazie Brown, 26. Rebecca Stevenson, a cook, had been born in North Carolina to parents born in North Carolina. Lizzie Rowe, a waitress, had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Pennsylvania and Maryland. She had been married three years and had had one child, who had died. Her husband did not live with her. Mazie Brown, a servant, had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Virginia.
The census also reported that all residents of 939 Western Avenue were able to read and write.
Joshua Rhodes died on January 5, 1909.
The 1910 census showed that Eliza Rhodes, 76, lived at 939 Western Avenue with two of her children, a niece, and five servants. Eliza Rhodes’ occupation and that of her daughter Mary was given as “own income.” William B. Rhodes, 46, worked as manager of a pressed steel plant. Eliza Rhodes’ niece Lucy Rhodes (sic), 61, was single and had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in England. Her occupation was also given as “own income.”
In 1910, the Rhodes’ servants were Katy Rogers, 30, Kate King, 37, Elizabeth Krepler, 26, Sophia Lowrie, 30, and Thomas Northcutt, 43. Katy Rogers, a chambermaid, had been born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States in 1898. Kate King, a cook, had been born in Virginia to parents born in Ireland and Virginia. Elizabeth Krepler, a parlor maid, had been born in Pennsylvania to parents also born in Pennsylvania. Sophia Lowrie, a waitress, had been born in Scotland and immigrated in 1908.
All residents of 939 Western Avenue in 1910 were able to read, write and speak English.
City directories indicate that Eliza Rhodes lived at 939 Western Avenue until her death on September 6, 1912. Her son William B. Rhodes lived at 939 Western Avenue until his death in the 1920’s. Mary Rhodes Van Voorhis lived at 939 Western Avenue until 1933, when the house was sold to the Allegheny Colombian Association.
The 1920 manuscript census will be available for public review in 1992 and should provide information on residents of 939 Western Avenue in that year. Census records are sealed for 72 years to preserve confidentiality.