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.
1830 to 1870
Letitia Holmes was born in May 1830. She was the daughter of John and Letitia Caldwell of the town of Allegheny. John and Letitia Caldwell’s other children included William A. Caldwell, who lived with his sister Letitia Holmes at 719 Brighton Road for over three decades.
Allegheny County records show that in May 1828, John and Letitia Caldwell were granted Lots 27, 28, and 29 in the eastern liberties of the town of Allegheny by William Anderson of the city of Pittsburg (sic). William Anderson granted the lots “in consideration of the love, good will and affection which I bear to my son and daughter John Caldwell and Letitia his wife.” Each lot measured 50’9″ wide by 140′ deep. The lots were part of Lot 146 in the Reserved Tract called the town of Allegheny.
William Anderson had opened Liberty and Washington Streets, each 50′ wide, through Lot 146 in a deed dated May 27, 1826 and recorded in Deed Book Volume 36, Page 79.
James Holmes, the husband of Letitia Caldwell Holmes, was born in about 1815 in Maryland. He was the son of Sarah Holmes, whose other children included William B. Holmes, a meat packer and banker, and Jane Holmes, a philanthropist. James, William B. and Jane Holmes were cousins of Jane Holmes, whose will provided for the founding of Holmes Hall for Boys.
The Holmes family settled in Pittsburgh by the late 1830’s, living on Penn Avenue near Hay Street in what is now Downtown Pittsburgh. Later directories gave the family’s address as 96 Penn Avenue, and subsequently 324 Penn Avenue.
1872 and 1890 plat maps of what was then Pittsburgh’s Fourth Ward shows that 96 Penn Avenue was located on the southern side of Penn Avenue, three houses west of Fourth Street. The house measured 24′ wide by approximately 85′ deep. Immediately to the east of the Holmes home was 98 Penn Avenue (later 326 Penn Avenue), owned by the Caldwell family. The Caldwell home measured 24′ wide by about 75′ deep.
The Holmes and Caldwell houses occupied part of the present site of Gateway Center. Plat maps and city directories indicate that 324 Penn Avenue existed until 1950 or 1951. In later years the house was used as a rooming house and was surrounded by stores and other businesses.
The Caldwell home at 326 Penn Avenue was later converted to commercial uses, housing a dry cleaning business until it was demolished in about 1950.
The 1850 manuscript census enumerated families headed by Sarah Holmes and James Caldwell, Letitia Caldwell Holmes’ brother, consecutively, suggesting that the families lived next to one another. The census enumerated the Caldwell family in dwelling house 493 and the Holmes family in dwelling house 494 in Pittsburgh’s Fourth Ward.
Sarah Holmes, 60, had no occupation. Living with her were William B. Holmes, 40, who had no occupation and owned real estate valued at $14,000, James Holmes, 33, who had no occupation, and Jane Holmes, 37, who had no occupation. All members of the Holmes family had been born in Maryland. William B. Holmes was the only Holmes family member who owned real estate. No members of the Holmes family had amassed a “personal estate.”
Also living with the Holmes family was Jane Nicklin, 19, who had been born in England and was reported to have no occupation. Jane Nicklin may have been a servant.
James Caldwell, 30, who had been born in Pennsylvania, worked as a tanner and currier, and owned no real estate. Mary Caldwell, 24 and a native of Ohio, had no occupation and owned real estate valued at $12,000. Sarah Caldwell, seven months old, had been born in Pennsylvania.
Ellen May, 25, who had been born in Ireland, and Sarah Davis, 10, who had been born in Pennsylvania, also lived with the Caldwell family.
The 1850 manuscript census apparently did not emumerate Letitia Caldwell (later Letitia Caldwell Holmes) in Pittsburgh or Allegheny.
Local marriage records of the 1800’s contain no information on the wedding of James Holmes and Letitia Caldwell.
James Holmes appeared in the Pittsburgh city directory as early as 1850, when he was listed as living on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh. The 1850 directory did not give Holmes’ occupation. In 1856, James Holmes was a partner with William B. Holmes in William B. Holmes & Brother, a pork packing company located at 12 Market Street in Pittsburgh. Both James and William B. Holmes lived at 96 Penn Avenue in 1856.
The May 9, 1881 obituary of William B. Holmes also reported that James and William B. Holmes were partners in a pork packing business. The 1893 obituary of Holmes’ sister Jane mentioned William B. Holmes and Sarah Pusey, a sister, but not James Holmes.
Sarah Holmes died October 24, 1859, at age 70. Her funeral, according to the Pittsburgh Gazette, took place at the Holmes family residence at 96 Penn Avenue.
The 1860 city directory listed James Holmes as proprietor of James Holmes & Company, pork packers and provision dealers, located at the corner of First and Market Streets in Pittsburgh. By 1860, Holmes had moved to Colonade Row on Federal Street in Allegheny. William B. Holmes, James Holmes’ brother and former business partner, had become president of the Mechanic’s National Bank and still lived at 96 Penn Avenue.
The 1860 manuscript census reported that James and Letitia Holmes lived in Allegheny in a household headed by Letitia Caldwell. Letitia Caldwell, 62, had been born in Pennsylvania and had no occupation. She owned no real estate and had a “personal estate” of $400. William Caldwell, 30, worked in a boat store. Charles Caldwell, 21, was a clerk. Kate Caldwell, 17, and Nelly Caldwell, 13, did not work.
The census reported that James Holmes, 40, had been born in Pennsylvania and had no occupation. Letitia Holmes, 35, also had no occupation. Neither James or Letitia Holmes owned real estate or had a personal estate. The family’s servants were Catherine Creadiel, 23, and Lizzie Creadiel, 17, both born in Germany.
Pittsburgh city directories listed James Holmes at 18 South Commons in Allegheny through 1862. On May 17, 1862, the Pittsburgh Gazette reported:
DIED: HOLMES – On Friday morning, at 1 1/2 o’clock, Mr. James Holmes, in, the 47th year of his age.
His funeral will take place TO-DAY (Saturday) at 4 o’clock p.m., from his late residence, South Commons, Allegheny City. The friends of the family are invited to attend.
The Pittsburgh Daily Dispatch reported the same information on James Holmes.
Letitia Holmes was listed as the widow of James Holmes and living at 64 Union Avenue in Allegheny beginning in 1863. Letitia Holmes was listed at 31 Federal Street from 1865 to 1867. She did not appear in the directory again until 1876, when she was listed as the widow of James Holmes and living at 48 Irwin Avenue. The 1870 census did not enumerate Letitia Holmes in Allegheny or Pittsburgh.
Letitia Holmes’ brother William Caldwell was listed at 31 Federal Street between 1863 and 1869. William Caldwell next appeared in the city directory in 1871, when he was listed as president of the Monongahela Insurance Company and living at 48 Irwin Avenue.
The 1870 manuscript census apparently enumerated William A. Caldwell in Allegheny’s First Ward with other family members. Caldwell, whose age was given as 35, worked as president of a fire insurance company. The census, which gave Caldwell’s name as William F. Caldwell, indicated that he owned no real estate and had a “personal estate” of $5000.
Living with William A. Caldwell in 1870 were Louisa (sic) Caldwell, 79, who had no occupation, Agnes Caldwell, 30, who kept house, Kate Caldwell, 27, “at home,” and two servants. The Caldwells’ servants were Elizabeth Alexander, 28, and Elizabeth Fay, 19.
The census reported that all residents of the Caldwell home had been born in Pennsylvania.
Neither the 1870 census or the 1870 city directory indicated William A. Caldwell’s residence. However, the 1870 manuscript census enumerated the Caldwell family near families living at 126, 128, and 130 Robinson Street in Allegheny.
1870 to 1914
Pittsburgh city directories listed Letitia Holmes as the widow of James Holmes and living at 48 Irwin Avenue in 1876 and in most subsequent years. City directories never indicated that Letitia Holmes had an occupation.
In 1880, the census enumerated Letitia Holmes, 44, living at 48 Irwin Avenue with other family members and servants. The census reported that Letitia Holmes was a widow who had no occupation. Her brother William A. Caldwell, 60, was listed as the head of the household.
In 1880, the census reported that William A. Caldwell was single and was president of a fire insurance company. Letitia Holmes’ daughter Letitia C., 18, was a student. Asister, Agnes Caldwell, 65 (sic), also lived at 48 Irwin Avenue. Agnes Caldwell was single and had no occupation.
Servants who lived at 48 Irwin Avenue in 1880 were Sarah Campbell, 26, Maggie Coll, 26, and Maggie McCue, all born in Ireland, and William Remensnyder, 13, who had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Germany and Pennsylvania.
On March 19, 1886, the Pittsburgh Gazette reported on the wedding of Letitia Caldwell Holmes’ daughter Letitia C. Holmes and George P. Hamilton Jr. at 48 Irwin Avenue. Hamilton, an attorney, had previously lived at 187 Ridge Avenue. His father, George P. Hamilton, was also a prominent attorney. The Hamiltons’ daughter Elizabeth was born in 1887.
City directories listed George P. Hamilton Jr. at 48 Irwin Avenue beginning in 1887. George and Letitia Hamilton lived at 48 Irwin Avenue until Letitia Hamilton’s death on October 5, 1898. George P. Hamilton Jr. continued to live at 48 Irwin Avenue until his death on August 15, 1901.
In 1886, The Social Mirror, a book about wealthy and accomplished women of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, estimated Letitia Holmes’ fortune at $500,000 or more. The book also estimated Letitia Holmes Hamilton’s worth at $200,000.
The 1890 census, which would provide information on Letitia Holmes and other residents of 719 Brighton Road in that year, was destroyed in a fire after its completion.
Neither the censuses of 1870, 1880, and 1900, or biographical information on William A. Caldwell indicate that Caldwell was ever married or had a child. However, a photograph album dated Christmas 1886 and inscribed “To William A. Caldwell Sr. from William A. Caldwell Jr.” suggests Caldwell had a son.
An index of local deaths during the 1800’s and early 1900’s also provides no information on William A. Caldwell Jr.
The 1900 manuscript census reported that William A. Caldwell was the head of the household living at 719 Brighton Road. Caldwell, 76, was reported to be single and president of an insurance company. Letitia Holmes, 70, was a widow who had had three children. None of her children were alive at the time of the census.
George P. Hamilton Jr., 38, a nephew, was a widower and a lawyer. His daughter Elizabeth Hamilton, 13, attended school.
Five servants lived at 719 Brighton Road in 1900. They were Malinda L. Lieb, 25, Margaret Higgins, 47, Annie McCarthy, 23, Annie M. O’Hare, 30, and Ellen Mulligan, 24.
Malinda L. Lieb, a cook, had been born in Ohio and was of German descent. Margaret Higgins, a nurse, had been born in Vermont to parents born in Ireland. Annie McCarthy, a waitress, had been born in Ireland, and immigrated to the United States in 1894. Annie M. O’Hare, a chambermaid, had been born in Ireland and immigrated in 1896. Ellen Mulligan, a chambermaid, had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Ireland.
The census also reported that all adult residents of 719 Brighton Road were able to read and write, and that no employed residents of 719 Brighton Road had been unemployed during the previous year.
The 1910 manuscript census shows that Letitia Holmes, 75, lived at 719 Brighton Road with her granddaughter Elizabeth Hamilton, 23, and four servants. The census indicated that Letitia Holmes had had three children, and that none of her children were alive. The occupation of Elizabeth Hamilton was given as “own income.”
In 1910, servants living at 719 Irwin Avenue were Anne O’Hare, Anne Sweeney, Nora Cook, and Margaret Miller.
Anne O’Hare, 40, was a childless widow who had been born in Ireland and immigrated in 1882. Anne Sweeney, 19, was single and a native of Ireland, and had immigrated in 1904. Nora Cook, 40, was a childless widow who had been born in Ireland and immigrated in 1886. Margaret Miller, 23, was single and had been born in Pennsylvania.
In 1910, all residents of 719 Brighton Road except Anne O’Hare were able to read and write English.
City directories listed Letitia Holmes at 719 Irwin Avenue through 1913, the year before her death on March 1, 1914.
1914 to the Present
Letitia Holmes’ granddaughter Elizabeth Hamilton married Percy E. Donner during the early 1910’s. Neither Allegheny County marriage license applications or listings of newspaper wedding announcements provide information on this wedding.
Percy E. Donner was born in Indiana on November 18, 1878. As a young man, Donner began working for the newly formed United States Steel Corporation, managing the company’s Monessen, Pennsylvania mill. Subsequently, Donner was involved with the Pittsburgh Air Brake Company and Monessen real estate activities.
A 1900 rendering of Monessen shows that one of Monessen’s streets was named Donner Avenue.
Directories of the early 1900’s show that Percy E. Donner lived on Morewood Avenue near Fifth Avenue in Shadyside between 1905 and 1908. Donner maintained offices in the Frick Building in 1905, in the Frick Building Annex in 1907, and in the Union Bank Building in 1910.
Percy E. Donner was first listed at 719 Irwin Avenue in 1911, when he was a partner in Donner, Childs and Woods, brokers, located on the second floor of the Union Bank building. Donner’s partners were Clinton L. Childs of 653 Morewood Avenue and Charles W. Woods of 816 Ivy Street, both in Shadyside.
Following Letitia Holmes’ death, directories listed Percy Donner at 719 Irwin Avenue through 1921. Donner was listed as president of the Pittsburgh Power Reverse Gear Company in the late 1910’s and early 1920’s, and as secretary-treasurer of the Pittsburgh Air Brake Company in the late 1910’s.
The 1920 manuscript census, which should provide information on residents of 719 Brighton Road in that year, will be available to the public later in 1992. Census records are sealed for 72 years to ensure confidentiality.
Percy and Elizabeth Donner moved to Edgeworth by 1923, the year that Elizabeth Donner sold 719 Brighton Road to the Holmes Hall for Boys. Percy Donner died in 1926.
Elizabeth Donner lived in Sewickley until shortly before her death in 1968. The Donners had a daughter, Letitia Caldwell Donner, who died at age five, and a son, Frederick H. Donner, born in about 1920, who is a resident of Sewickley and Delray Beach, Florida.
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