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The Holmeses

Charles Holmes was born in or near Pittsburgh in September 1835. His father, Thomas Holmes, was a bricklayer who had been born in England. His mother, Jane, was from Ireland. Records of the 1850 census show that Thomas Holmes owned real estate valued at $3,700, roughly comparably to $300,000 today, indicating that the family lived comfortably. Thomas Holmes may have been a bricklaying contractor rather than an employee, a distinction that was sometimes not made in city directories and census records. In 1850, the Holmes family lived on Decatur Street in the lower Hill District.

The Holmes family left Pittsburgh during the first half of the 1850s, and Charles Holmes’ residence and activities during young adulthood are not known. Holmes returned to the city in or shortly before 1862, when he was listed in the city directory for the first time. He worked as a clerk, and boarded on Liberty Avenue, Downtown.

In about 1863, Holmes established C. Holmes & Company, a grocery store at the northwest corner of Third Avenue and Smithfield Street. He owned the store, later at the southeast corner of Second and Smithfield, until the late 1870s. He was still single, and boarded at various addresses around Downtown.

Holmes married Sarah “Sallie” A. Gilfillan Mastisson, about 36, a native of West Alexander, Washington County, on July 3,1879. Her parents were Silver Gilfillan, a carpenter and cabinet maker, and Marie Gilfillan, both born in Pennsylvania in the late 1790s. She had previously been married, but was a widow when she married Charles Holmes. She had no children during either of her marriages.

At around the time that he married, Charles Holmes left the grocery business and became a partner in the firm of Keller Morris & Holmes, sand and gravel dealers, on Water Street (now Fort Pitt Boulevard), Downtown. Holmes became a partner in the Keystone Sand Company in about 1881, and in the Monongahela Sand Company, possibly a successor firm, about 1884. The Monongahela Sand Company was located at 1825 Wharton Street on the South Side. Holmes remained with the latter business until about 1892, serving as its secretary and treasurer in the late 1880s and early 1890s.

In 1890, Holmes parlayed his gains from the sand and gravel business as a founder of the Mercantile Trust Company of Pittsburgh, at 413 Wood Street, Downtown. He left the Monongahela Sand Company in 1892 or 1893, when he became the Mercantile Trust Company’s bookkeeper. He was vice-president of the trust company by 1896. He also helped found the First National Bank of McKees Rocks in 1898, and was that institution’s first president. He served as vice-president of the Mortgage Banking Company after that firm was established in 1902.

Charles and Sallie Holmes lived at 425 and 435 Liberty Avenue, in the present Gateway Center area, between the early 1880s and early 1890s. In about 1891 they moved to 1617 Locust Street, in the present UPMC Mercy Hospital area. They remained at that address until they moved to 851 Beech Avenue in 1899.

Records of the 1900 census list Charles Holmes, 64, and Sallie Holmes, 56, as the only residents of 851 Beech Avenue. Census records also show that 851 Beech Avenue was not mortgaged.

While living on Beech Avenue, Charles and Sallie Holmes belonged to the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh on Sixth Avenue, Downtown. Charles Holmes had been a church deacon since 1874, was a member of the finance committee, and served as the congregation’s treasurer.

Pittsburgh directories published during the first several years after Charles and Sallie Holmes moved to Beech Avenue listed Holmes simply as a banker, possibly because of his association with more than one financial institution. Holmes retired in 1905. Census records from 1910 gave his occupation as “own income”, meaning that he was able to support himself without working.

In 1910, Charles and Sallie Holmes employed a private nurse, Sadie Taylor, who lived at 851 Beech Avenue. Taylor was a 33-year-old divorcee who was at least a second-generation Pennsylvania native. She probably cared for Sallie Holmes, who died in 1911,

Charles Holmes sold 851 Beech Avenue in 1913, and was not listed in subsequent Pittsburgh directories. When he died at Columbia Hospital in Wilkinsburg in 1916, his obituary reported that he had been living with a nephew in Ohio.

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