John Frazier was born in Pennsylvania in about 1826. Frazier’s father was an Irish immigrant, and his mother was born in Pennsylvania. It is possible that Frazier was born and raised in Butler County, where his wife was raised, or in the Jefferson County, Pennsylvania area, where Frazier and other family members later owned a planing mill. Available records, however, do not identify Frazier’s birthplace.
John Frazier and his wife, Eleanor, were married in or before the early 1850’s. The couple had two children who lived long enough to be enumerated in decennial censuses: Elizabeth, born in 1854, and Ella J., born in 1859.
Eleanor Frazier was born in Portersville, Butler County, in about 1827. She was one of at least six children of Dr. John and Elizabeth Cowden, both Pennsylvania natives.
The Frazier family began living in Pittsburgh by 1856, when John Frazier was listed in the city directory as a carpenter living on Ohio Lane (now Western Avenue) in Manchester. By 1860, John Frazier and one of his brothers founded the firm of John & George Frazier, carpenters, located on an alley near Fulton Street in Manchester.
The 1860 census enumerated the Frazier family at their home on Western Avenue. John Frazier, 34, was enumerated as a master carpenter, and Eleanor Frazier, 33, had no occupation. The couple’s children were Elizabeth, six years, and Ella J., six months.
In 1860, according to census records, John Frazier owned real estate worth $10,173 and had a personal estate of $2,000 At that time, before Civil War-era inflation doubled the value of real estate in Pittsburgh, a typical brick house of eight rooms on a full lot in Frazier’s neighborhood was worth about $3,000.
John Frazier and his brothers, George of Western Avenue and William of North Lincoln Avenue, founded the firm of Frazier Brothers in about 1865. The firm was initially located at the corner of Pitt and Strawberry Alleys in Allegheny City (on the present site ot Divine Providence Hospital). In 1866, Frazier Brothers moved to the corner of Western Avenue and Sedgwick Street in Manchester, where it opened a lumber yard. Frazier Brothers also operated saw mills along the Clarion River near Brookville, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania.
In 1869, Frazier Brothers purchased the lumber yard of another firm on Gas Alley in or near Allegheny West. The lumber yard was destroyed by fire a short time after Frazier Brothers took title to the property. Within a short time, Frazier Brothers moved to Market Street in Manchester (now Metropolitan Street; between Route 65 and the Ohio River).
Frazier Brothers appears to have been well-positioned to take advantage of the thriving post-Civil War economy. The firm constructed houses that were commissioned by Allegheny City homeowners, built other houses as speculative ventures, engaged in lumber sales and land speculation and also constructed landmark homes in Allegheny West and Manchester for its three principals.
Homes built by Frazier Brothers included:
- 824-830 Beech Avenue, Allegheny West, built between 1870 and 1872
- 1130-34 Sheffield Street, Manchester, built before 1872
- a row of 10 houses on Bidwell Street between Decatur and North Franklin Streets, Manchester built before 1872
- 835 North Lincoln Avenue, the home of John Frazier, built between 1864 and 1867
- 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue, Manchester, the home of George Frazier, built 1872-73
- 1414 Pennsylvania Avenue, Manchester, the home of William Frazier, built 1875-1876
Two streets in Manchester were apparently named for Frazier Brothers. An 1872 plat map of Manchester shows that Fontella Street was known as Frazier Street and that Decatur Street was known as Fraziers Alley.
John Frazier’s construction of 835 North Lincoln Avenue, a larger house than most contractors in the Pittsburgh area occupied during the nineteenth century, documents the success of Frazier Brothers during the post-Civil War era. Some years later, in 1886, Pennsylvania Historical Review reported that the firm operated a factory and lumberyard, had 100 full-time employees and was “one of the most active and most extensive [contracting and lumber firms] in this region.”
The Frazier family began living at 835 North Lincoln Avenue by 1867. Dr. John and Elizabeth Cowden, the parents of Eleanor Frazier, began living in the house with the Fraziers in or shortly before 1870.
The 1870 census was the first census taken following construction of 835 North Lincoln Avenue. Census records show that the Frazier home was occupied by six family members: John Frazier, 44, enumerated as a lumber merchant; Eleanor, 43, with no occupation; Ella J., 11; William Frazier, 30, a partner in Frazier Brothers and enumerated as a lumber merchant; and Dr. John and Elizabeth Cowden, both 74.
Three unrelated persons lived with the Frazier family at 835 North Lincoln Avenue in 1870. Amanda McKain, 19 and Betsy Grant, 18, both servants, and Henry Brown, 17, with no recorded occupation.
The 1870 manuscript census, the last census to provide information on assets of persons enumerated, reported that John Frazier owned real estate valued at $120,000 and had a personal estate of $20,000.
The Fraziers and Cowdens lived at 835 North Lincoln Avenue through 1875. In that year, John and Eleanor Frazier sold the house for $48,000 and moved to a house on Sheffield Street in Manchester. Available records do not indicate why the Fraziers sold 835 North Lincoln Avenue. It is possible that the decision to sell the house was associated with an economic depression that diminished home construction between 1873 and 1877.
John Frazier and his family moved from Sheffield Street to West North Avenue in Manchester (then Fayette Street) during the 1880’s. Frazier remained partner in Frazier Brothers until he retired toward the end of that decade.
John Frazier lived on West North Avenue until he died on December 1, 1895 Available records do not indicate when Eleanor Frazier died.