908 Beech Avenue
Local historical records indicate that John and Jane Sterritt had 908 Beech Avenue built in or shortly before 1868. The Sterritts appear to have had the house built while its site was still owned by Elizabeth F. Denny, who subdivided land along Beech Avenue into building lots in the mid-1860s. They took title to the 4000 square foot lot in 1872, paying $2200.
The Sterritts had 908 Beech Avenue built in the Italianate style, which is shown in the house’s projecting front door surround with brackets and decorative panels, projecting window hoods, and paired brackets that are below the box gutter and within the east gable. The Italianate style was the most popular architectural style in the Pittsburgh area between approximately 1860 and 1885. Later owners William P. and Margaret Price were responsible for the construction of the two-story rear brick building at 908 Beech Avenue, built in 1895 for $600.
John Sterritt was a real estate agent in Allegheny City for many years. He was born in Virginia, and Jane Sterritt was born in Ireland. The Sterritts had at least two children, William and Robert, who lived at 908 Beech Avenue. Rachel Stewart, an unmarried sister of Jane Sterritt, and a servant, Amanda Hopkins, also lived in the house. John Sterritt died in 1876, and Jane Sterritt sold 908 Beech Avenue for $8500 in 1886.
William P. and Margaret McC. Price were the second owners of 908 Beech Avenue. William P. Price was a real estate agent and partner in an agricultural implement business before he lived at 908 Beech Avenue, and a manufacturers’ agent, builders’ supplies business owner, and electrical contractor while he lived in the house. He also served on Allegheny City Council, eventually becoming council president. Price lived at 908 Beech Avenue until 1904, when he was struck and killed by a train at West North Avenue and Brighton Road, then an at-grade crossing.
Margaret McC. Price lived at 908 Beech Avenue for several years after she was widowed, then moved to Ben Avon and converted her former home to apartments. She sold the house for $10,000 in 1923. The next owners, members of the Byrnes family, lived at 908 Beech Avenue and shared their home with roomers and tenants.
The former Sterritt house at 908 Beech Avenue has now had a total of 11 owners. Detailed information on the history of the house is contained in the following report.
June 13, 1872
Elizabeth F. Denny of Pittsburgh conveyed the lot at 908 Beech Avenue to John Sterritt of Allegheny City for $2200. The house occupied the lot on which it now stands, measuring 40′ wide along the north side of Beech Avenue by 100′ deep to Butter Cup Alley (now Buttercup Way). The lot was known as Lots 27 and 28 in Block 4 in a plan of lots laid out by Elizabeth F. Denny in the Second Ward of Allegheny City. The lot was part of a larger tract of land known as Out Lot 267 in the Reserve Tract opposite Pittsburgh.
(Deed Book Volume 292, Page 176)
February 1, 1873
John and Jane Sterritt of Allegheny City conveyed 908 Beech Avenue to Robert B. Sterritt of Allegheny City for $10,000.
(DBV 304 P 283)
March 1, 1873
Robert B. Sterritt of Allegheny City conveyed 908 Beech Avenue to Jane Sterritt of Allegheny City for $12,000.
(DBV 304 P 287)
March 1, 1876
Jane Sterritt, widow, of Allegheny City conveyed 908 Beech Avenue to Margaret McC. Price of Allegheny City for $8500.
(DBV 526 P 324)
September 7, 1923
Margaret McC. Price, widow, of Ben Avon, conveyed 908 Beech Avenue to Margaret Byrnes of Pittsburgh for $10,000.
Margaret Byrnes died on July 2, 1931.
(DBV 2163 P 669)
September 16, 1931
Martin C. Mihm, executor of the estate of Margaret Byrnes of Pittsburgh, conveyed 908 Beech Avenue to Anne Byrnes of Pittsburgh for $8000.
(DBV 2463 P 646)
August 28, 1961
Ralph H. Smith Jr., executor of the estate of Hazel P. Jiles of Bellevue, conveyed 908 Beech Avenue to Donald R. and Barbara B. Ruffner for $10,700.
(DBV 3982 P 584)
September 30, 1969
Donald R. and Barbara B. Ruffner of Allegheny County conveyed 908 Beech Avenue to King North Development Corporation for $11,750.
(DBV 4504 P 627)
May 26, 1977
King North Development Corporation conveyed 908 Beech Avenue to Herman D. and Kyle K. Tomer of Pittsburgh for $14,000.
(DBV 5780 P 833)
August 8, 1980
Herman D. and Kyle K. Tomer of Pitsburgh conveyed 908 Beech Avenue to Marc Morley Kane and Barbara Stewart Kane of Pittsburgh for $92,500.
(DBV 6284 P 5)
January 30, 2017
Gregory M. Kobulnicky purchased 908 Beech Avenue from Marc Morley Kane and Barbara Stewart Kane on January 30, 2017.
(DBV 16686 P 324)
Age of the House
Historical records suggest that John and Jane Sterritt had 908 Beech Avenue built in or shortly before 1868.
The June 13,1872 sale of the lot on which 908 Beech Avenue stands for $2200, at 55 cents per square foot, is consistent with the lot being undeveloped. However, Pittsburgh city directories listed John Sterritt and his son William H. Sterritt at 53 Beech Street (now 908 Beech Avenue) beginning in 1870. In 1868 and 1869, before houses on Beech Avenue received numbers, directories listed John and William Sterritt as living on Beech Avenue near Grant Avenue (now Galveston Avenue).
An 1890 plat map shows that 908 Beech Avenue was known as 53 Beech Street. Most older North Side neighborhoods received their current street numbers in 1899.
John Sterritt’s occupation as an Allegheny City realtor suggests that Sterritt may have entered into an unrecorded agreement with Elizabeth F. Denny, from whom he bought the lot, enabling Sterritt to erect a house on the lot before he became the owner of the property. The price that Sterritt paid for the lot also supports that possibility. Allegheny County records show rising prices for undeveloped Beech Avenue lots between the late 1860s, when few homes had been built on the street, and 1872, when more than 20 houses had been built. The 55 cents per square foot that John Sterritt paid in 1872 was closer to the prices that Beech Avenue lot buyers paid in the late 1860s than in the early 1870s.
John and Jane Sterritt had 908 Beech Avenue built in the Italianate style. The style is shown in the house’s projecting front door surround with brackets and decorative panels, in the facade’s projecting window hoods, and in the paired brackets that are below the box gutter and within the east gable.
Interior details of Italianate houses often included flared newel posts and spindles, marble or wood mantels with arched openings, four-panel doors with porcelain knobs and ornamented cast iron hinges, and non-symmetrical door and window trim. In the Pittsburgh area, many Italianate houses were built with stairways that incorporated landings located about three steps below the main level of the second floor. Most local Italianate houses also featured two-over-two double-hung windows, although some later or larger examples were constructed with one-over-one double-hung windows.
The Italianate style was the most popular architectural style for houses and commercial buildings constructed in the Pittsburgh area between about 1860 and 1885.Known records do not identify an architect who is credited with the design of 908 Beech Avenue, or a construction firm that built the house.
The two-story brick building at the rear of 908 Beech Avenue was constructed in 1895, with construction possibly extending into 1896. The building was apparently constructed for storage of electrical supplies.
Fire insurance maps published in 1884 and 1893 depict a two-story wood frame stable at the rear of the property at 908 Beech Avenue. Allegheny City government began to require building permits for new construction, additions, and alterations in 1894. Allegheny City building permit records show that on November 19,1895, Margaret McC. Price received a permit for the construction of what was described as a two-story brick storage building on Buttercup Alley. The building was to measure 15’ by 25’, and had an estimated construction cost of $600. George L.W. Price, a son of Margaret McC. Price, was to construct the building.
Street Name and Numbering
The house at 908 Beech Avenue was known as 53 Beech Avenue between about 1870 and 1899. It was renumbered 908 Beech Avenue in 1899, when Allegheny City government put in place the Northside’s modern street numbering system.
Pittsburgh directories, U.S. census records, and other sources provide information on John and Jane Sterritt.
The second owners of 908 Beech Avenue were William P. Price, a native of Allegheny City, and his wife Margaret.
The 1920 Census
Records of the 1920 census show that 908 Beech Avenue was rented to families headed by Glen Dean, David Ford, Henry Lutz, and Gerald Latshaw. A total of 14 people lived in the house.
Glen Dean, 39, was an auto repairman who had been born in Ohio. His wife Mary, 37, had been born in Pennsylvania. The couple had four children: Forrest, 14, Rowan, 13, Bessie, eight, and James, six.
David Ford was a 22-year-old box maker who had been born in New Jersey. His wife Maria had been born in New York. The Fords’ only child was Maria, 18 months.
Henry Lutz, 40, was a steel mill laborer. He and his wife Evelyn, 37, had both been born in Pennsylvania and had no children.
Gerald Latshaw, a native of Pennsylvania, was a 24-year-old chauffeur who worked for a private family. His wife Helen, 22, had been born in New York State. The couple had a five- year-old daughter, Germaine.
The 1930 Census
Records of the 1930 census list Margaret Byrnes as the head of the household at 908 Beech Avenue. Byrnes, 66, was a widow who had been born in Northern Ireland and arrived in the United States in 1888. Her occupation was listed as landlady of a rooming house. She had four children and six roomers who lived with her. Byrnes’ children who lived with her, all unmarried, were William, 30, a news dealer at a newsstand, Paul, 28, a detective with a detective agency, Anne, 26, with no occupation, and Regis, 23, with no occupation.
The roomers who lived at 908 Beech Avenue in 1930 were:
- Charles Anderson, 45, a steel mill laborer
- Joanna Anderson, 45, with no occupation; Charles Anderson’s wife
- William Lang, 40, a laborer in a pressed steel works
- Grace Lang, 40, with no occupation; William Lang’s wife
- Charles Brown, 28, a cabdriver
- Mary Brown, 25, with no occupation; Charles Brown’s wife
All of the roomers living at 908 Beech Avenue in 1930 were at least second-generation natives of Pennsylvania.
The 1940 Census
In 1940, according to census records, Thomas and Ann Byrnes owned and lived at 908 Beech Avenue. Thomas Byrnes, 40, had been born in Ireland, was a high school graduate, and was employed as a street foreman with the city Bureau of Highways. He had worked 48 hours in the week before the census. In 1939, he had worked seven weeks and earned $245. His wife, Ann, 38, was also a high school graduate, and did not work outside the home. She had been born in Pennsylvania. They had three children: Thomas Jr., six, Ann, four, and Charles, one.
Thomas and Ann Byrnes rented apartments at 908 Beech Avenue to Earl and Hilda Brant, Angelo Festi, Norman and Elizabeth Currie, and George W. Richardson.
The Brants rented their apartment for $27 per month. Earl Brant, 21, was a dispatcher with a motor freight company. He was a Pennsylvania native who had completed three years of high school. In the week before the census he had worked 48 hours, and in 1939 he had worked 52 weeks and earned $1500. Hilda Brant, 56, was listed, probably incorrectly, as Earl’s wife. She had been born in Pennsylvania, was a high school graduate, and had no occupation.
Angelo Festi, 46, rented for $18 per month. He had been born in South America, had an eighth grade education, and worked in building construction. In 1939, he had worked 22 weeks and earned $1040. He was married, but was living apart from his wife. He shared his apartment with his son, Vincent, who was 19 years old. Vincent Festi had been born in Italy and had an eighth grade education. He was employed as a candy maker in a candy factory. He had worked 40 hours in the week before the census, and in 1939 he had worked 38 weeks and earned $646.
Norman and Elizabeth Currie, both natives of Scotland, paid $26 monthly rent. Norman Currie, 45, was a high school graduate and an instructor at a golf club. He had worked 48 hours in the week before the census, and in 1939 he had worked 32 weeks and earned $960. Elizabeth Currie, 40, had completed the eighth grade and did not work outside the home. The couple had two children: Helen, five, and Mary Elizabeth, three.
George W. Richardson rented for $12 per month. He was 81 years old and a widower with an eighth grade education. He had been born in Pennsylvania, and was retired. He had income other than from salary or wages.
In 1940, 908 Beech Avenue had an estimated value of $1500. The house’s value was estimated at $8000 in 1930, before the Great Depression affected property values throughout the Pittsburgh area and in other regions of the United States.
The 1940 census is the last census that provides information on occupants of 908 Beech Avenue. Manuscript census records are withheld from public view for 72 years, to protect the privacy of persons who were enumerated.
The following materials accompany this report:
- a copy of an 1872 plat map of the area around 908 Beech Avenue
- copies of parts of fire insurance maps of the area around 908 Beech Avenue, published in 1884, 1893, 1906
- “A Pair of Industrious Young Thieves in the Clutches of the Law” from the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, January 26, 1877
- a notice regarding a parlor bazaar to be held at 908 Beech Avenue by the Young Girls’ Benevolent Club, from the Pittsburgh Press, March 9, 1894
- “William P Price Killed by Train” from the Pittsburgh Gazette, October 26, 1904
- “Teacher Choked by Thief; Allegheny Woman Awakened to be Throttled by One of Pair of Burglars” from the Pittsburgh Press, June 9, 1906
- “Northsider Claims New Air Motor is Big Auto Success” from the Pittsburgh Press, March 28, 1926
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all photos by Chris Siewers, unless otherwise noted