info@alleghenywest.org
806 Western Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

812 Galveston Avenue

812 Galveston Avenue (Front)

Introduction

812 Galveston Avenue is a three story Italianate style red brick house occupying a 19.01′ wide by 96.18′ to 96.19′ deep lot located in the Allegheny West section of the city of Pittsburgh.

Theodore H. Nevin, a bank president and paint manufacturer, had the row of houses that includes 812 Galveston Avenue built between 1881 and 1884. Nevin, who lived in Sewickley, built the row of houses as rental property. Early occupants of 812 Galveston Avenue included the family of John Blue, a boiler setter.

812 Galveston Avenue was originally known as 112 Grant Avenue.

Detailed information on the ownership history, age, first owner, and early occupants of 812 Galveston Avenue follows.

Ownership

  • November 26, 1861
  • August 28, 1863
  • July 7, 1874
  • December 17, 1919
  • February 2, 1920
  • January 31, 1952
  • December 15, 1969
  • July 27, 1982
  • June 29, 1984
  • October 16, 1989

John and Abigail Irwin of the city of Allegheny to Theodore H. Nevin, Robert P. Nevin, and Samuel M. Finley, all of Allegheny County, $1700. This deed conveyed a lot of ground bounded by Tremont Street (later Grant Avenue, now Galveston Avenue), an unnamed 20′ wide alley (later Manilla Street, now Maolis Way), and Central Street (later Lincoln Avenue and Lynndale Avenue, now North Lincoln Avenue). The lot measured 140 ‘9.575″ along Grant Street, 96’5.125″ along the alley, 140’9.575″ along the eastern lot line, and 96’5.125″ along Central Street. The property conveyed consisted of Lots 43, 44, 45, and 46 in John Irwin’s Plan of the Rope Walk, later recorded in Plan Book Volume 2, Page 173.

(Deed Book Volume 165, Page 521)

Samuel M. and Sallie A. Finley of Allegheny County to John Irwin Jr., $967. This deed conveyed the grantors’ one third interest in Lots 43, 44, 45, and 46 in John Irwin’s Plan, and in other property on Western Avenue.

(DBV 166, P 300)

Martha Mary and John Irwin Jr. of Leet Township to Theodore H. Nevin of Sewickley, $15,000. This deed conveyed one third interest in Lots 43, 44, 45, and 46.

(DBV 330, P 318)

Elizabeth A. Nevin, widow, of Sewickley, to James J. Cunningham of the city of Pittsburgh, $1 and other valuable considerations. This deed and subsequent deeds conveyed a 19.01′ wide by 96.18′ to 96.19′ deep lot on the corner of Galveston Avenue and Manilla Way. The lot was known as part of Lots 43, 44, 45, and 46 in John Irwin’s Plan, and contained a three story brick dwelling known as 812 Galveston Avenue, with a brick stable in the rear. Theodore H. Nevin had died and in his last will and testament, dated October 19, 1882, and recorded in Will Book Volume 27, Page 325, left the property to his son Charles Finley Nevin. Charles Finley Nevin died and in his last will and testament, dated August 6, 1896, recorded in Will Book Volume 72, Page 148, left the house to his wife Elizabeth A. Nevin.

(DBV 2023, P 3)

James J. and Mary Cunningham of the city of Pittsburgh to Michael and Katherina Preininger of the city of Pittsburgh, $5850.

(DBV 2010, P 373)

Michael and Katherina Preininger of the city of Pittsburgh to Anthony and Rose Murlis of the city of Pittsburgh, $1 and other good and valuable considerations.

(DBV 3177, P 74)

Anthony and Rose Murlis of the city of Pittsburgh to George and Dorothy Liss of the city of Pittsburgh, $2000. This deed gave the grantees’ residence as 5721 Elgin Street.

(DBV 4517, P 336)

George and Dorothy Liss of the city of Pittsburgh to George Liss of the city of Pittsburgh, in consideration of natural love and affection.

(DBV 6562, P 507)

George Liss, unmarried, to Tulum, Inc., a corporation, $43,000. This deed conveyed 812 Galveston Avenue and 810 Galveston Avenue.

(DBV 6903, P 128)

Tulum, Inc., to Michael J. White, M.D., $85,000. This deed conveyed 812 Galveston Avenue only.

(DBV 8120, P 377)

Age of the House

All available information indicates that Theodore H. Nevin had the row of houses that includes 812 Galveston Avenue built between 1881 and 1884.

An 1872 plat map of part of Allegheny shows that the lot on which 808-812 Galveston Avenue and 850-858 North Lincoln Avenue were later built contained a long and narrow building at the corner of Galveston and North Lincoln Avenues and four small structures, apparently stables, on Maolis Way. The stables may have been used by Theodore H. Nevin’s paint factory.

An 1881 plat map shows a brick and frame building at the corner of Galveston Avenue and Maolis Way. The 1881 map also shows that 850-858 North Lincoln Avenue had been built.

An 1884 plat map shows that 808-812 Galveston Avenue had been built.

Allegheny County mortgage records contain no record of any mortgage taken by Theodore H. Nevin for construction of 808-812 Galveston Avenue.

The July 7, 1874 sale for $15,000 of one-third interest in the 13,577 square foot lot that contained 808-812 Galveston Avenue and 850-858 North Lincoln Avenue, at $3.31 per square foot, indicates that 850-858 North Lincoln Avenue had been built.

Through the Years


 

Owner & Residents

The Nevins

U.S. census records, Pittsburgh city directories, and biographical materials provide information on Theodore H. Nevin, the builder of the row of homes that includes 812 Galveston Avenue.

Learn More
 

Early Occupants

An 1890 plat map of Allegheny shows that 812 Galveston Avenue was known as 112 Grant Avenue.

The 1890 manuscript census, which would provide information on occupants of 812 Galveston Avenue in that year, was destroyed in a fire following its completion.

The 1900 manuscript census shows that 812 Galveston Avenue was rented to a family headed by John Blue, a boiler setter.

John Blue and his wife Lizzie, both 55, had been born in Pennsylvania to parents also born in Pennsylvania. In 1900, John and Lizzie Blue had been married 25 years and had had five children, with all of their children living at the time of the census.

The Blue family’s children were Clara, 24, Stella, 22, John J., 19, Harry, 16, and Eva, 14. John and Harry Blue worked as boiler setters, and Eva Blue attended school. All of the children had been born in Pennsylvania.

 
The 1900 manuscript census also reported that all residents of 812 Galveston Avenue were able to read and write and that no working members of the Blue family had been unemployed during the previous year.

The 1910 manuscript census contains no record of residents of 812, 810 or 808 Galveston Avenue in that year.

The 1920 manuscript census will be available for public review in 1992 and should provide information on residents of

812 Galveston Avenue in that year. Census records are sealed for 72 years to ensure confidentiality.

Supplementary Materials

The following materials accompany this report:

  • a copy of an 1852 plat map of part of Allegheny, including Tremont Street
  • a copy of an 1872 plat map of part of Allegheny, including Grant Avenue
  • a copy of a 1910 plat map of part of the North Side, including Galveston Avenue
  • the obituary of Theodore H. Nevin, from the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, May 1, 1884
  • biographical information on Hannah I. Nevin, from The Social Mirror
  • the obituary of Hannah I. Nevin, from the Bulletin-Index, September 23, 1899

A Researched History
By: Carol J. Peterson

all photos by Chris Siewers, unless otherwise noted

Workshop: Vegetable Gardening

Saturday, May 26, 2015
6:00 pm — 7:30 pm

Growing your own food is one of the most satisfying forms of gardening. Vegetable gardening provides the opportunity to select varieties you like, plus it provides your family with fresh produce that is free from harmful pesticides. This class will cover the basics of planning your vegetable garden, preparing the soil, selecting plant and seed varieties (including hybrids and heirlooms), starting plants from seed, planting, tending your plants, troubleshooting problems, extending the season, and getting the most out of small plots.

About the presenter: Martha Swiss is a garden writer, designer, and speaker. She is a regular contributor to Pennsylvania Gardener magazine and the publications editor for the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden. Her articles have also appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Fine Gardening. She is a graduate of Chatham University’s landscape design program and a Penn State master gardener.

Landmarks Preservation Resource Center
744 Rebecca Avenue
Wilkinsburg, PA 15221

This workshop is free to PHLF Members. Click here for more information about PHLF membership and please join! Non-members: $5

RSVPs are appreciated. Contact:

Mary Lu Denny – (412) 471-5808 x 527 

The Hamiltons

William D. Hamilton was born in November 1854 on Penn Avenue in what is now Downtown Pittsburgh. He was the first of at least six children of William and Mary Hamilton, both Irish immigrants. The elder William Hamilton was employed as a moulder and machinist during the 1850’s and in the first few years of the 1860s. The Hamilton family moved to East Carson Street on the South Side during the 1850’s, and also lived in the West End while William D. Hamilton was a small child.

The Hamilton family’s financial position appears to have solidified by 1861, when William Hamilton purchased two adjoining undeveloped lots on Central Street (later Lincoln Avenue; now North Lincoln Avenue) in what is now Allegheny West. By 1865, Hamilton commissioned construction of two houses on the lots: 15 Lincoln Avenue (later 936 North Lincoln Avenue; on the present site of the Rooney garage addition at 940 North Lincoln Avenue) and 17 Lincoln Avenue (demolished in the 1890s to make room for an addition to the Thaw mansion at 930 North Lincoln Avenue). William Hamilton and his family began living at 17 Lincoln Avenue, and Hamilton’s widowed mother and other family members lived at 15 Lincoln Avenue.

In 1864, William Hamilton began manufacturing coffins in premises he rented at the rear of 31 Fifth Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh. By the following year, Hamilton founded the Excelsior Coffin Manufacturing Company, located at the same address. The firm established a factory at 380-382 Penn Avenue, Downtown, and became known as Hamilton, Algeo, Arnold & Company by 1868. William Hamilton’s partners were R.K. Algeo of 39 Robinson Street (now General Robinson Street) in Allegheny City and James T. Arnold of 34 Walnut Street in Temperanceville (now the West End).

Records of the 1870 census, the last census to provide information on assets of persons enumerated, reported that the elder William Hamilton owned real estate valued at $35,000 and had a personal estate of $20,000. In 1870, a typical newer brick house of about nine rooms in Hamilton’s neighborhood was worth about $10,000.

William Hamilton’s firm moved its operations to the foot of Mulberry Street in Manchester, along the Ohio River, and changed its name to Hamilton, Lemmon, Arnold & Company during the 1870s. Hamilton’s partners were Brice Lemmon of 79 Page Street (between Manhattan and Chateau Streets; demolished), James T. Arnold of 121 Sheffield Street (later 1227 Sheffield Street; demolished), J.W. Carnahan of Denniston Avenue in Shadyside, John H. Mower of39 Allegheny Avenue (near Reedsdale Street; demolished) and Adam Ammon of 123 Sheffield Street in Manchester (later 1229 Sheffield Street; demolished).

William D. Hamilton, 25, and Caroline Penney Haney, 21, were married in 1880. Caroline Penney Haney Hamilton, born in McKeesport in August 1859, was a daughter of Lewis and Eliza Penney Haney, both born in Pennsylvania. She later served as regent of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

William D. and Caroline P. Hamilton had no children.

Between the late 1870s and mid-1880s, William D. Hamilton worked for Hamilton, Lemmon, Arnold & Company as a varnisher, clerk and manager. Hamilton was not listed in Pittsburgh city directories published in the late 1880s and early 1890s. It is likely that during this time he worked in New York for Chappel, Chase & Maxwell Co., named in his obituary as a firm for which he worked as a young man. The Hamiltons returned to Pittsburgh in about 1891, when William D. Hamilton became a partner in Hamilton, Lemmon, Arnold & Company.

In the early 1890’s, the Hamiltons began living at 218 Allegheny Avenue (on the eastern side of Allegheny Avenue near Abdell Street; demolished). The couple remained at 218 Allegheny Avenue until 1895, when they moved into their newly constructed home at 940 West North Avenue (then 21 North Avenue).

Hamilton, Lemmon, Arnold & Company was reorganized as the National Casket Company in about 1896. Although available records do not provide information on the reorganization, the name of the new firm suggests it may have been a consolidation of a number of firms in various cities. It should be noted that at the turn of the century, Pittsburgh became the headquarters of several large manufacturing firms that were formed by national or regional consolidations in the steel, glass, aluminum and brewing industries.

940 W North Avenue

940 W North Avenue (Front)

Introduction

William D. Hamilton, a second-generation coffin manufacturer, commissioned construction of 940 West North Avenue in 1895. Hamilton had the house built at an estimated cost of $10,000, on a lot that he had purchased for $8000 earlier the same year. Perry Hilltop building contractor Robert J Graham constructed 940 West North Avenue in an eclectic manner that incorporated elements of several late nineteenth century architectural styles.

William D. Hamilton was a partner in Hamilton, Lemmon, Arnold & Company, which manufactured coffins in Manchester, when he had 940 West North Avenue built. His father, William Hamilton, had helped found the business in the l860’s. William D. Hamilton became president of the firm, renamed the National Casket Company, in about 1908.

William D. Hamilton and his wife, Caroline P. Hamilton, lived at 940 West North Avenue until 1908. Census records show that the couple, who had no children, employed two servants who lived at 940 West North Avenue. In 1908, around the time that William D. Hamilton became president of the National Casket Company, the Hamiltons sold 940 West North Avenue and moved to Fifth Avenue in Shadyside.

Between 1908 and 1929, 940 West North Avenue was owned by a series of owners who used it as a rental property. During at least part of this time, the house was rented to Iona T. McAfee, a widow who lived there with her grown children and took in lodgers.

Edward and Barbara Schindler and other members of the Schindler family owned 940 West North Avenue between 1929 and 1947. Although the Schindlers used 940 West North Avenue as a six-unit apartment building for a brief time in the early 1930s, they lived in the house during most of the time that they owned it. Edward Schindler was the owner of Eddie’s Smoke Shop, a cigar store and billiard hall, in the present Allegheny Center Mall area.

Ownership

  • January 9, 1895
  • February 20, 1895
  • January 10, 1908
  • August 17, 1908
  • December 31, 1924
  • October 3, 1925
  • June 28, 1927
  • June 30, 1927
  • November 30, 1927
  • April 8, 1929
  • April 21, 1933
  • May 7, 1940
  • August 5, 1942
  • May 2, 1946
  • August 22, 1947
  • October 31, 1950
  • June 1, 1952
  • April 1, 1990
  • September 23, 1991
  • December 18, 1993

Harmar D. and Elizabeth B.M. Denny of Pittsburgh conveyed the lot on which 940 West North Avenue now stands to William J. Prentice of Pittsburgh for $6860. The lot measured 40′ wide by 100′ deep and was known as Lots 10 and 11 in Block 6 of the Plan of Property made for Robert Mc.Knight and William M. Paxton, executors of the estate of Elizabeth F. Denny (Plan Book Volume 6, Page 193). This deed included the requirement that any building constructed on the lot be set back the same distance from North Avenue as houses occupying adjoining lots.

(Deed Book Volume 892, Page 385)

William I. and Eveline B. Prentice of Pittsburgh conveyed the lot on which 940 West North Avenue now stands to William D. Hamilton of Pittsburgh for $8000.

(DBV 893 P 585)

William D. and Caroline P. Hamilton conveyed 940 West North Avenue to Stephen H. Lloyd of Pittsburgh for $1 and other good consideration.

(DBV 1526 P 568)

Stephen H. and Mary Wilson Lloyd of Pittsburgh conveyed 940 West North Avenue to Leonard Rauwolf of Pittsburgh for $1 and other valuable considerations.

(DBV 1597 P 577)

Leonard and Veronica B. Rauwolf of Pittsburgh conveyed 940 West North Avenue to Eugene P. Rauwolf, Marie C. Rauwolf and Robert J. Rauwolf, all of Pittsburgh, as trustees, for $1 and other good and valuable considerations. This deed also conveyed property in Downtown Pittsburgh, East Liberty, Garfield, McKeesport, Lawrence County, Manchester, Baldwin and Washington County.

(DBV 2246 P 592)

Leonard Rauwolf died on October 3, 1925.

Veronica Rauwolf conveyed her interest in 940 West North Avenue to Eugene P. Rauwolf, Marie C. Rauwolf, and Robert J. Rauwolf on June 28, 1927.

Eugene P. Rauwolf, Marie C. Rauwolf, and Robert J. Rauwolf, all of Pittsburgh, as trustees, conveyed 940 West North Avenue to Joseph Solomon of New Kensington, Westmoreland County, for $1 and other valuable considerations.

(DBV 2327 P 482)

Joseph Solomon of New Kensington conveyed 940 West North Avenue to Isaac Reck of Pittsburgh for $1 and other good and valuable considerations.

(DBV 2354 P 101)

Isaac and Gussie Reck of Pittsburgh conveyed 940 West North Avenue to Edward Schindler of Pittsburgh for $1 and other good and valuable considerations.

(DBV 2391 P 172)

Edward and Barbara M. Schindler of Pittsburgh conveyed 940 West North Avenue to Louis A. Schindler of Pittsburgh for $1.

(DBV 2481 P 171)

Louis A. Schindler of Pittsburgh conveyed 940 West North Avenue to Edward W. Schindler of Pittsburgh for $1.

(DBV 2647 P 662)

Edward W, and Barbara M. Schindler of Pittsburgh conveyed 940 West North A venue to Bertha M. Schindler of Pittsburgh for $1 and other valuable considerations.

(DBV 2727 P 641)

Bertha M. Schindler of Pittsburgh conveyed 940 West North Avenue to Edward W. Schindler of Pittsburgh for $1 and other valuable considerations.

(DBV 2891 P 310)

Edward W. Schindler of Pittsburgh conveyed 940 West North Avenue to Frank and Laura Louis of Pittsburgh for $1 and other good and valuable considerations (tax stamps suggest a price of $15,000).

(DBV 2969 P 271)

Frank and Laura Louis of Pittsburgh conveyed 940 West North Avenue to William O. Smith of Pittsburgh for $1 and other good and valuable considerations (tax stamps suggest a price of $20,000).

(DBV 3106 P 637)

William O. and Patricia B. Smith of Mount Lebanon conveyed 940 West North Avenue to Carmela Bianconi of McKeesport for $27,500.

(DBV 3230 P 12)

The City and School District of Pittsburgh and County of Allegheny acquired 940 West North Avenue as a result of unpaid property taxes.

(Treasurer’s Deed Book Volume 15 P 210)

Eric W. and Douglas A. Kukura purchased 940 West North Avenue from the City of Pittsburgh on September 23, 1991.

(DBV 8615 P 85)

Eric W. Kukura acquired Douglas A. Kukura’s interest in the house on December 18, 1993.

(DBV 9121 P 509)

Age of the House

Construction

William D. Hamilton had 940 West North Avenue built in 1895.

Plat maps and fife insurance maps of the Allegheny West area published in 1893 and in earlier years show that 940 West North Avenue had not yet been built. William D. Hamilton purchased the lot on which the house now stands on February 20, 1895. Hamilton paid $8000 for the lot, which measured 40′ wide along West North Avenue by 100′ deep. This purchase, at $2 per square foot, was comparable to prices paid for other undeveloped lots in Allegheny West and Manchester at the time, and indicates that 940 West North Avenue had not yet been built.
Allegheny City building permit dockets show that on May 6, 1895, William D. Hamilton received a permit for construction of a brick house on North Avenue (now West North Avenue) near Grant Street (now Galveston Avenue). The house was to measure 37′ wide by 60′ deep.

William D. Hamilton was listed in the 1896 Pittsburgh city directory as living at 21 North Avenue (now 940 West North Avenue) for the first time.

Construction Cost

The estimated construction cost of 940 West North A venue was $10,000. Costs of other houses built in Allegheny City in the l890’s included:

  • 901 Haslage Avenue, Spring Hill, 1899 – $2,000
  • 4017 Northminster Street, Brighton Heights, 1895 – $3,200
  • 3504 Perrysville Avenue, Observatory Hill, 1897 – $3,650
  • 1235 Page Street, Manchester, 1898 – $5,000
  • 930 West North Avenue, Allegheny West, 1895 – $5,317
  • 2014 Osgood Street, Fineview, 1894 – $5,400
  • 3344 Perrysville Avenue, Observatory Hill, 1896 – $8,400

The Contractor: Robert J. Graham

William D. Hamilton hired Robert J. Graham to construct 940 West North Avenue. Robert I. Graham, an Irish immigrant, was a building contractor who then lived at 510 Ridgewood Avenue in the Perry Hilltop area.

Other work by Robert J. Graham included construction of:

  • a house at 1019 North Highland Avenue, Highland Park, 1884
  • houses at 1163 and 1165 Murray Hill Avenue, Squirrel Hill, 1899
  • a commercial and residential building at 4812 Hatfield Street, Lawrenceville, 1903

Architectural Style

William D. Hamilton had 940 West North Avenue constructed in an eclectic form that incorporated elements of a number oflate nineteenth century architectural styles. The house’s comer tower is a component of the Queen Anne style, which had been popular in Pittsburgh for a decade when the house was constructed. The arched, pointed windows are similar to windows used in construction of Gothic Revival houses that were built in Pittsburgh and other urban areas during the mid-nineteenth century. The ornate columns flanking the front entry are similar to those used in classical revival buildings at the turn of the century. The use of flat stone sills and lintels, paired windows, a hipped dormer, and a gabled dormer was typical of middle-class homes built in various styles in Pittsburgh during the l890s.
It should be noted that the appearance of940 West North Avenue when newly constructed was made more unusual by the use of yellow brick, which then had been used only rarely in construction of houses in Pittsburgh.

Available records do not identify an architect who is credited with design of940 West North Avenue.

Residents

The Hamiltons

Pittsburgh city directories, U.S. census records, obituaries, and other materials provide information on William D. and Caroline P. Hamilton, the first owners of 940 West North Avenue.

Learn More

Neighborhood Development

Residential development of Allegheny West began by the middle of the nineteenth century. An 1852 map shows that a number of houses stood on both sides of present Western Avenue between Brighton Road and Allegheny Avenue. A few buildings had been constructed along Brighton Road between Ridge and Western Avenues, on what was then the grounds of the Rope Walk.

Learn More


A Researched History
By: Carol J. Peterson

all photos by Chris Siewers, unless otherwise noted

Free Tickets for Northsiders: The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years

Presented by Front Porch Theatricals
May 24th and 28th

A Powerful Musical…

An emotionally powerful and intimate musical about two New Yorkers in their twenties who fall in and out of love over the course of five years. The Last Five Years’ unconventional structure consists of Cathy, the woman, telling her story backwards while Jamie, the man, tells his story chronologically. Here’s the twist, though — the two characters only meet once!

You’re Invited

Thanks to the generous support of the Buhl Foundation, Northside residents are invited to attend The Mousetrap for free. A limited number of tickets are available online. Reserve your seat today!

 Sunday, May 24 at 2:00 pm  Thursday, May 28 at 8:00 pm

Lecture: Transit as a Development Tool

Thursday, May 19, 2015
6:00 pm — 7:30 pm

Nationwide, people are driving less and taking more about transit.  It’s not a fluke – it’s now a 10-year-long trend. Why?  And, more importantly, what does it mean to the historic preservation movement and community development?  In this lecture, we’ll explore the huge shift in national transportation trends, their positive urban revitalization impacts, Pittsburgh-area development and the streetcar, its implications for our neighborhoods’ continual rebirth today, and how both everyone from DIY-ers and large-scale investors can identify and capitalize on quality transit assets.

About the presenter: Chris Sandvig is the regional policy director for the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG). He works on regional and state issues impacting PCRG’s member communities and manages its GoBurgh program. He is a long-time transit advocate, Morningside resident, and commutes to work via bike or bus almost every day. Prior to PCRG, Chris spent nine years in corporate business development for industrial and commercial engineered HVAC systems. He holds Industrial Engineering and Public Policy degrees from Penn State and Carnegie Mellon University.

Landmarks Preservation Resource Center
744 Rebecca Avenue
Wilkinsburg, PA 15221

This lecture is free to PHLF Members. Click here for more information about PHLF membership and please join! Non-members: $5

RSVPs are appreciated. Contact:

Mary Lu Denny – (412) 471-5808 x 527 

The McCracken School

Written by Robert D. Christie
Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine
via the Heinz History Center

A separate and distinct chapter in the history of Allegheny is that of the select school for girls and boys established on Ridge Avenue in the First Ward about 1878. Its sponsors and principal-teachers were the Misses Eliza and Sarah J. McCracken, and it was known as the McCracken School. The street number of
their establishment originally was 366, later changed to 611. It was the house at the western end of a row of six three-story residences named the Paulson Block after a former owner, Charles H. Paulson, dealer in hats, caps and furs at 73 Wood Street, Pittsburgh. The buildings of which this school was a part rose abruptly from the street and offered a pleasing view of the park to the north, but a less pleasing topographical feature was that the entire school-side of the block faced the depressed tracks of the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad across a narrow unused lot. An iron bridge permitted the public to cross those tracks at street level on Ridge Avenue. It might be supposed that the noise and smoke of passing trains would have deterred the location of a fashionable school there, but the pupils literally took it in their stride, often running to stand on the bridge facing approaching trains and being enveloped in sulphurous smoke and showers of cinders.

The first mention of Eliza McCracken in a Pittsburgh and Allegheny directory appeared in the volume for 1878. Her sister Sarah never was listed until the issue for 1890. The “select school” of Miss Eliza disappeared from the directories in 1896. It was from Steubenville, Ohio, that the McCracken ladies and their brother, John H., a clerk in the employ of the Pennsylvania Company in the ’90s, came.

In the middle ’80s the institutional staff of the McCracken School included, besides the two sisters, a widow whose name was Mrs. Nannie Ridgley, who probably had lived at 67 Arch Street, Allegheny; Miss Margaretta Dihm, who subsequently had a private school at 3 North Avenue; and Miss Bertha Floersheim, who almost certainly was a daughter of Berthold Floersheim, 104 Western Avenue. The last mentioned of these ladies became the wife of City Councilman Enoch Rauh and the mother of Richard S. Rauh, founder of the latterday Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and of the Pittsburgh Playhouse, and a director in many Western Pennsylvania corporations as well as a trustee of The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania.

Tuition in the McCracken School was sixty dollars a year. The number of pupils at any given time was about sixty. Hours of instruction were from nine in the morning until noon, Monday to Friday inclusive. The final period of each week was devoted to a special student activity at which parents were welcome to attend. Miss Eliza greeted pupils in person at the front door. She presided over the senior classes, seated in a swivel chair which was, indeed, her throne. As a child psychologist she was unquestionably a superior person and as a disciplinarian she definitely was without a peer. The pupils too had their points in psychology, learning by practice to appraise at the entrance to the school the emotional weather they might expect inside. If Miss Eliza were cheery, all was well, but if not, one’s breathing scarcely was permitted to be heard. When she admitted a headache, the day was termed “silent” and no one spoke, every pupil having recourse to writing. On normal days recitations were silenced automatically by the passing of locomotives on the Fort Wayne, and the school regularly was showered with cinders but the dirt was unnoticed by Miss Eliza’s charges.

The first exercise of each day consisted of Scripture reading in which pupils as well as teachers participated. Naturally, the three R’s were basic, with Miss Eliza specializing in grammar with emphasis being placed on parsing in a form of game, more familiar in spelling bees, in which the pupils were seated on open benches at the front of the room and moving up or down as answers justified.

A specialty of Miss Dihm, remembered as a gentle and not too exacting person, was mental arithmetic, which successively involved addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, applied to a single problem. One of her pupils, who enjoyed her special favor, was Ed Thaw; and in a bedlam of answers she frequently was heard to say, “Now, listen to Ed.”

Miss Floersheim, regarded with great popularity, was instructor in elocution, and a matter to which she devoted much effort involved a gesture whose value was enhanced by the idea that it had been imported from Paris. This consisted of a sweep of a hand, partly open, but the essential feature, supposed to give it grace and elegance, lay in the separation of the second and third fingers, while the others remained in contact. Her instruction registered to such an extent that after sixty-seven years one of her pupils, though unconvinced of its artistry, still could demonstrate it. On Fridays, at eleven a.m., a chosen group of pupils was called upon to display their histrionic abilities not only before the school but often before their parents. The field of endeavor was divided into four categories of which each pupil, advised in advance, might make selection — namely: (1) Recitation of a selection of prose or poem from memory; (2) Selection, a chosen reading; (3) Facts, the narration of actual occurrences; (4) Anecdotes, stories of a biographical nature.

These exercises were not without their occasional surprises. One of the McMurtry boys — Ed or Burt — was capable of performances looked forward to with expectation of originality and he did not fail. His entire declamation, devoid of gesture, could be: “It rained Friday. That is a fact.” The same young man is remembered as the youthful genius who applied his newly acquired knowledge of electricity to wiring the kitchen doorknob in order that he, having provoked his playmates to pursuit, could dart through and slam the door so that it offered a surprising shock to any youngster who grasped it. He also was the inventor of a form of bicycle which departed from all accepted standards in that it had a small wheel in front and handlebars which were behind the rider seated upright.

On another Friday a performer presented a descriptive bit which included a takeoff of the names of physicians, such as Dr. Thinman, an authority on diet, and Dr. Merriman, whose name was a signal for hearty laughter, to which Miss Eliza, not having followed the narrator closely, called an instant halt, demanding the cause of such mirth. When it was explained that the script called for merriment, she responded: “I understand. Proceed with your laughter.” — which was then impossible.

Another pupil, George Thompson by name, acquired a reputation which did not exactly endear him to the school at large. It was alleged that he never was late and that he never missed a day’s attendance. What he may have lacked in scholarship was, in the estimation of certain teachers, compensated for by this virtue and when his academic errors were about to incur the derision of fellow students Miss Eliza solemnly would say: “Remember, George has never been late!”

There once was some intimation that the pupils might find a calendar helpful at school, with the result that Al Bissell promptly brought a huge one to be hung on the wall of the study room. In modern times such a calendar would seem appropriate enough, but not so in those days. Al’s contribution peremptorily was ruled out on the ground that if all pupils were to be allowed to bring in such calendars the whole wallsoon would be completely covered with them.

Somewhat novel was a bulletin board consisting of a slate and pencil outside the study door. If a pupil had occasion to leave the room, his name was inscribed thereon to be erased when he returned. This gave his absence official sanction without undue notice or discussion.

A two-way flag was used as an incentive to inspire girls or boys as the case might be. One side of it was blue and the other side was red, and if the girls had excelled on a given day the blue side was displayed while if the boys were deserving of commendation the red side was exposed to the student body as a signal of masculine superiority.

No search for a record book of the McCracken School students has been successful but among the names of pupils recalled are:

Oliver McClintock
Marshall Bell
Arthur Bell
Dallas Byers
Alex Byers
John Frederick Byers
Ed Byers
Margaret Thaw
Ed Thaw
Jo Thaw
Julia Horne
Amy Scaife
George Thompson
Mary Bell
Al Bissel
Henrietta Logan
Austin Moorhead
Sarah Lindsay
Olive Fleming
Harmar Denny
Alex Laughlin
Louise Woods
Blaine Robinson
Bill Robinson
Frank Houston
Mary Painter
John Ricketson
Lily Palmer
Annie Rhodes
Alan Wood
Carroll Fitzhugh
Mary Laughlin
Agnes Dickson
Martha Dalzell
Anna Scott
Eleanor Painter
Gladys Painter
Marian Chambers
George B. Logan
Katherine Scott
Hester H. Singer
Bessie C. Hamilton
Ed McMurtry
Burt McMurtry

In 1949 Anna Scott wrote:

“The row of houses where the school was located was very old … My impression of the schoolrooms [is] that they were very dark. There was a large front room on the second floor, where most of the students sat. Then we went down two or three stairs into the back room where a Mrs. Fulton presided over the little children. On the third floor front there was a smaller room for the older students. I do not remember the teacher in charge there, though I think she was very popular.

“I think the yearIattended … must have been 1893 because I remember Miss McCracken went to the World’s Fair in Chicago and gave us a very vivid report of it.”

This account of the McCracken School is basically a result of interviews with Carroll Fitzhugh and John Ricketson.

Free Downtown Walking Tours – Fridays in May

12:00 pm — 1:00 pm

With its concentration of major historic buildings and modern skyscrapers, Grant Street is downtown Pittsburgh’s showcase thoroughfare. You’ll explore some of Pittsburgh’s grandest buildings—the Allegheny County Courthouse, City-County Building, Frick Building, Union Trust Building, and William Penn Hotel, among others—and enjoy views from two urban spaces: Mellon Green and Mellon Square. Grant Street is rich in history and full of architectural details that delight the eye.

Grant Street & Mellon Square

Advanced bookings are appreciated. For more information or to make reservations, contact:

Mary Lu Denny – (412) 471-5808 x 527 

You’re Invited: Marriage Equality/Open House Event at Delta Foundation

Delta Foundation Open House

 Join us at Western Pennsylvania’s first and only LGBT community-owned building! Share in our exciting plans that will allow us to serve our community even more and celebrate the anniversary of marriage equality.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015
7:00 – 9:00 pm

911 Galveston Avenue • Pittsburgh, PA 15233

Complimentary beer, wine, soda and light hors d’oeuvres

RSVP by May 15 to www.deltafoundation.us/may20 or call (412) 322-2800

Download, Print and Share the Event Flyer 

AWCC Membership Meeting Agenda – May 12, 2015

7:30 – Guests

  • Bridget Miller, Mary Cassatt Garden
  • Rev. Larry Homitsky, Calvary Church
  • Sarah Sweeney, Artist Model Buhl Grant

7:50 – Historic Preservation Awards

8:00 – Neighbor of the Year

8:05 – Approval of the Minutes from April

8:10 – Treasurer’s Report

8:15 – City Council Grants

8:20 – 2015/2016 Budget Proposal

8:50 – Treewells/Flower Order

8:55 – Upcoming Cleanups

9:00 – Wine Tour Update

9:05 –Upcoming Membership Events

9:10 – Committee Chair Q&A

Send a note to president@alleghenywest.org if you have additional agenda items to add.