J. (Jacob) Bowman Sweitzer was born on Independence Day, 1821, in Brownsville, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, along the Monongahela River. Sweitzer, of Swiss descent, was a son of Henry Sweitzer, a manufacturer and Ann Elliott Bowman Sweitzer.
After graduating from Jefferson College in Canonsburg and studying law with a Washington County attorney, J. Bowman Sweitzer became an attorney in 1845. In 1846, Sweitzer moved to Pittsburgh, living at 115 Third Avenue. Sweitzer was appointed United States Attorney for Western Pennsylvania by 1850.
J. Bowman Sweitzer, 30, married Mary Holmes Stevenson, 24, on June 15, 1852. Mary Holmes Stevenson was a daughter of Dr. Henry Stevenson of 99 Fourth Avenue in Pittsburgh, and a granddaughter of early Pittsburgh residents Dr. George Stevenson and John Darragh. The Sweitzers began living at 101 Fourth Avenue. The Sweitzer and Stevenson homes were located on the northern side of Fourth Avenue, between Wood and Smithfield Streets, on or close to the present location of the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania at 337 Fourth Avenue.
The 1860 manuscript census enumerated J. Bowman and Mary Sweitzer, their two children, and three servants in
their Fourth Avenue home. The census reported that J. Bowman Sweitzer, 38, was an attorney at law who owned real estate valued at $2,000 and had a personal estate of $1,000. Mary Sweitzer had no occupation. The couple had two children: Annie B., four, and Henry S., two.
The Sweitzers’ servants in 1860 were Ann Sauls, 16, Mary Ward, 20, and Hannah Dougan, 25, all born in Ireland.
In 1861, J. Bowman Sweitzer left his position as United States Attorney and entered the Union Army. Sweitzer served with distinction in the Civil War through 1864, and his activities were described extensively an entry in Biographical Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania, accompanying this report.
J. Bowman Sweitzer returned to his family in Pittsburgh in 1864, at age 43. Sweitzer and his wife Mary, still living at 101 Fourth Avenue, had two additional children after Sweitzer’s return from the battlefield. Sweitzer was retired until 1869, when he was appointed Supervisor of Internal Revenue by the federal government.
The 1870 manuscript census shows that the Sweitzers’ children were Annie, 13, Henry, 11, both attending school, and J. Bowman Jr., four, and O’Hara Denny, two. The census enumerated no servants living with the Sweitzer family.
The 1870 manuscript census shows that J. Bowman Sweitzer owned real estate worth $20,000 and had a personal estate of $10,000.
J. Bowman Sweitzer was appointed Prothonotary of the Supreme Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in November 1873.
The Sweitzer family lived at 101 Fourth Avenue until 1884, when J. Bowman Sweitzer bought 81 Beech Avenue.
In the late 1880’s, J. Bowman Sweitzer Jr. became an attorney and began working as a clerk in the office of the Prothonotary of the Supreme Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Harry S. Sweitzer became a partner in Dean & Sweitzer, insurance agents, located at 401 Wood Street in Pittsburgh. Sweitzer’s partner was George W. Dean of 20 Arch Street, in what is now the Allegheny Center Mall area.
J. Bowman Sweitzer died at home on November 9, 1888. Sweitzer’s death was attributed to blood poisoning caused
by kidney disease. The Pittsburg Press carried his obituary on its front page.
The 1890 manuscript census, which would provide information on residents of 842 Beech Avenue in that year, was destroyed in a fire following its completion.
The 1900 manuscript census does not provide information on residents of 842 Beech Avenue, suggesting that the house was temporarily vacant or skipped by the census taker.
Mary Sweitzer lived at 842 Beech Avenue through 1910, when the census enumerated Mary Sweitzer and her son Harry S. Sweitzer, an insurance salesman, living at 842 Beech Avenue with no other family members or servants. Mary Sweitzer apparently lived outside the Pittsburgh area between 1911 and her death in 1912.
After the death of Harry S. Sweitzer in about 1911, the last member of the Sweitzer family to live at 842 Beech Avenue was O’Hara Denny Sweitzer, who was listed as living in the house in 1912.
The children of J. Bowman and Mary Sweitzer maintained 842 Beech Avenue as rental property between 1913 and 1925, when they sold the house.
Robert M. Gibson was born in Taylorstown, Washington County, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 1828. His parents were Robert MacDowell and Sallie Wishart Gibson, both born in Pennsylvania. Gibson was educated at Watrings Academy in or near Taylorstown. As a young adult, Gibson taught school in Washington County and Illinois and worked in a Washington County attorney’s office, and then became an attorney himself without having attended college or law school.
Robert Gibson and his wife Eliza were married in the 1850’s. Eliza Gibson had been born in Pennsylvania to parents who were natives of Pennsylvania.
Robert Gibson practiced law in Washington County between 1853 and 1868, when he moved to the Pittsburgh area, opening an office at 103 Fifth Avenue in what is now Downtown Pittsburgh. Gibson and his family rented a home at Wilson and Liberty Streets in Pitt Township (now 32nd Street and Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Strip District) in 1868 and 1869. In September 1869, Robert Gibson bought a lot containing two houses at the southwestern corner of Beech Street (now Beech Avenue) and Freemont Street (later Grant Street, now Galveston Avenue) for $18,000. Gibson and his family began living in one of the houses, then known as 148 Grant Street.
The 1870 manuscript census enumerated Robert Gibson and his family at 148 Grant Street. The census reported that Robert Gibson, 41, was an attorney and that Eliza Gibson, 34, kept house. In 1870, the Gibsons had six children: John, 11, Sallie, 11, Lucy, nine, Amanda, five, Robert Jr., five and Barnett L., one.
The 1870 manuscript census, the last census to provide information on assets of persons enumerated, reported that Robert Gibson owned real estate worth $25,000 and had a personal estate of $2,000.
One servant lived with the Gibson family at 148 Grant Street in 1870: Mary Snyder, 21, who had been born in Pennsylvania.
In 1870, Robert Gibson formed a partnership, Weir & Gibson, attorneys, with H.W. Weir of Bidwell and Sheffield Streets in Manchester. The firm was located at 100 Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh. Robert Gibson and his family lived at 148 Grant Street until 1875, when the Gibsons moved to their newly built home at 81 Beech Street.
The 1880 manuscript census enumerated the Gibson family and their servants at 81 Beech Street. Five of Robert and Eliza Gibson’s children lived at home in 1880: Sallie, 20, Lena, 18, Amanda, 15, Robert Jr., 14 and Barnett L., 12.
Four servants lived with the Wilson family at 81 Beech Street in 1880. Amanda Holmes, 47, was an African-American woman who had been born in Virginia to parents born in Virginia. Amanda Holmes was reported to be married, but not living with her husband. Her sons Silas, 15, and Burnett, 11, both born in Texas, were also servants of the Gibson family. Sarah Thompson, 40, was a white woman who had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Pennsylvania. Like Amanda Holmes, Sarah Thompson was married but not living with her husband.
The census also reported that Amanda and Burnett Holmes were not able to read or write, and that Silas and Burnett Holmes did not attend school.
Robert M. Gibson died at home at 81 Beech Avenue at age 54 on November 26, 1882. His death was attributed to lung disease and overwork. Within a few months after Gibson’s death, Wilson Beall of Wellsburg, West Virginia,
instituted foreclosure proceedings against Gibson’s widow Eliza.
Eliza Gibson was listed as the widow of Robert Gibson and living at 81 Beech Avenue in the 1883 Pittsburgh city directory. She was not listed in subsequent directories, indicating that she and her children had left the Pittsburgh area.
842 Beech Avenue is a large three-story brick Italianate style house occupying a 43’9-3/4″ wide by 100′ deep lot located in the Allegheny West section of Pittsburgh’s Northside.
842 Beech Avenue was built between late 1873 and 1874 for Robert M. Gibson, an attorney who had gained prominence despite never having attended college or law school. Robert M. Gibson lived with his family and servants at 842 Beech Avenue, then known as 81 Beech Street, between 1875 and 1882, when he died from lung disease and overwork. Shortly after Gibson’s death, his widow Eliza lost 842 Beech Avenue through foreclosure.
J. Bowman Sweitzer, an attorney and decorated Civil War veteran, bought 842 Beech Avenue in 1884. J. Bowman Sweitzer lived at 842 Beech Avenue for only four years before his death in 1888, but members of his family occupied 842 Beech Avenue until 1912 and owned the house until 1925.
The Sweitzer family maintained 842 Beech Avenue as rental property between 1913 and 1925.
Detailed information on the ownership history, age, and first owner of 842 Beech Avenue follows.
- December 27, 1872
- September 1, 1873
- December 19, 1883
- February 19, 1884
- March 27, 1925
- June 6, 1947
- June 6, 1947
- December 27, 1963
- July 23, 1973
- February 1, 1991
- October 28, 1992
Elizabeth F. Denny of the city of Pittsburgh to Robert M. Gibson of Allegheny City, $5,000. This deed conveyed a 40′ wide lot in the Second Ward of Allegheny City (now in the 22nd Ward of the city of Pittsburgh) The property was located on the northern side of Beech Street (now Beech Avenue), 180′ east of Grant Avenue (now Galveston Avenue), and extended 100′ to Buttercup Alley (now Buttercup Way). The property was known as Lots 10 and 11 in Block 3 of a plan of lots laid out by Elizabeth F. Denny and recorded in Plan Book Volume 6, Pages 193 and 194.
(Deed Book Volume 299, Page 357)
Elizabeth F. Denny of the city of Pittsburgh to Robert M. Gibson of Allegheny City, $667.18. This deed conveyed a 3’9-3/4″ wide lot on the northern side of Beech Street, bordering and immediately to the east of the 40′ wide lot that Robert M. Gibson had purchased on December 27, 1872. The property was known as part of Lot 12 in Block 3 of the plan of lots laid out by Elizabeth F. Denny. With this purchase, the lot on which 842 Beech Avenue stands took on its present dimensions.
(DBV 315 P 539)
Allegheny County Sheriff William McCallin to Wilson Beall, $6,500. The property was sold at sheriff’s sale as the result of a suit filed by Wilson Beall against Robert M. Gibson, resulting from an unpaid debt of $14,268.76. The deed stated that the lot contained “a brick dwelling house, 26′ front on Beech Street and 84′ deep, the front to the extent of 38′ being three stories high and the back being two stories high with an attic.”
(DBV 483 P 18)
Wilson and Mary J. Beall of Wellsburg, West Virginia to J. Bowman Sweitzer of the city of Pittsburgh, $15,500.
(DBV 487 P 143)
Anna B. and Peter S. Duncan of Hollidaysburg, Blair County, Pennsylvania, Elizabeth S. Park, widow, of Westbury, New York and Samuel S. and Mary Sweitzer Pierce of East Williston, Long Island, New York, to William G. Fullerton of the city of Pittsburgh, $13,000. J. Bowman Sweitzer had died and in his will left 842 Beech Avenue to his wife, Mary Holmes Sweitzer, who died on May 15, 1912. In her will, dated September 21, 1911, Mary Holmes Sweitzer left one-quarter interest in the house to her daughter Anna B. Duncan, one-quarter interest to her daughter Elizabeth S. Park, one-quarter-interest to her son J. Bowman Sweitzer, and one-quarter interest to the Union Trust Company of Pittsburgh, in trust for her son O’Hara Denny Sweitzer. Mary Holmes Sweitzer’s son J. Bowman Sweitzer died intestate, unmarried and without issue, in New York City on or about July 14, 1915, vesting his one-quarter interest in Mary Holmes Sweitzer’s other heirs. O’Hara Denny Sweitzer died intestate in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, on or about July 13, 1916, survived only by his daughter Mary Stevenson Sweitzer, now of full age and the wife of Samuel S. Pierce.
(DBV 2231 P 510) (Will Book Volume 34, Page 180) (WBV 116 P 128)
William G. and Stella S. Fullerton of the city of Pittsburgh to Alberta Shipe of Whitaker, Allegheny County, $1.
(DBV 2967 P 91)
Alberta Shipe of Whitaker, Allegheny County, to William G. and Stella S. Fullerton of the city of Pittsburgh, $1.
(DBV 2967 P 92)
Stella S. Fullerton, widow, of the city of Pittsburgh to Henry R. Byers of the city of Pittsburgh, $22,000. William G. Fullerton had died on November 17, 1955.
(DBV 4112 P 184)
F.E. Rose and the Virginia Trust Company, co-executors of the estate of Henry R. Byers, deceased, to Thomas Lapinski, unmarried, of the city of Pittsburgh, $16,000. Henry R. Byers had died on October 25, 1972.
(DBV 5262 P 693)
Rita O’Brien, administratrix of the estate of Thomas Lapinski, late of the city of Pittsburgh, to Michael R. Bozzone, $37,900. Thomas Lapinski had died on February 20, 1990.
(DBV 8418 P 6)
Michael R. Bozzone, unmarried, by his attorney-in-fact Frederich E. Liechti, to Stanton H. and Kathryn G. McKibbin, $53,000.
(DBV 8839 P 47)
Age of the House
All available information indicates that 842 Beech Avenue was built between 1873 and 1874.
The December 27, 1872 sale of a 40′ wide by 100′ deep lot on Beech Avenue for $5000, at $1.25 per square foot, was comparable to other sales of undeveloped property in Allegheny West and nearby and indicates that the lot did not contain a house. An 1872 plat map of the Beech Avenue area also shows that the lot was undeveloped.
Allegheny County mortgage records show that on November 3, 1873 (Mortgage Book Volume 170, Page 240), Robert M. Gibson borrowed $11,365 from Wilson Beall of Wellsburg, West Virginia against the lot on which 842 Beech Avenue now stands. This loan, which was to be repaid in three years, indicates that 842 Beech Avenue was about to be built.
Robert M. Gibson was listed in the Pittsburgh city directory as living at 81 Beech Street (now 842 Beech Avenue) beginning in 1875.
Pittsburgh city directories, U.S. census records and biographical materials provide information on Robert M. Gibson and his family.
The Sweitzer family lived at 101 Fourth Avenue until 1884, when J. Bowman Sweitzer bought 81 Beech Avenue.
In January 1884, Wilson Beall advertised 81 Beech Avenue in the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette:
FOR SALE – THAT FINE RESIDENCE,
lot 44×100 feet, No 81 Beach street, near
the Parks, Allegheny, the property formerly of
the late R.M. Gibson, deceased. An excellent
residence, substantially built, modern in all its
parts; will be sold at public sale on Thursday,
January 17, at 2 o’clock P.M., on the premises.
Terms and full information from JAS. W.
DRAPE & CO., Auctioneers and Real Estate Agents,
98 Fourth Avenue, Pittsburgh, or GEO. ALEXANDER &
CO., 134 Federal street, Allegheny.
Occupants in 1920
The 1900 manuscript census shows that 842 Beech Avenue had been divided into two apartments. One apartment was rented to Anna M. Price, a widow who took in boarders, and the other to John E. Fairfield, assistant manager of a coke company.
Anna M. Price, 43, was a native of Germany who had immigrated to the United States in 1886. She was not a naturalized citizen. The census gave her occupation as lodging house keeper. Three of her sons lived with her: Harold C., 18, who had no occupation, Meyer C., 16, an advertising clerk, and Edward, 12, attending school.
The Price family shared their quarters at 842 Beech Avenue with three single boarders at the time of the 1920 census. Harry Wentz, 38, was a salesman who had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Pennsylvania. Arthur Rutgers, 31, was a street car conductor who had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Ohio. James McGivern, 42, was an accountant who had been born in Pennsylvania to Irish immigrant parents.
John E. Fairfield, 48, had been born in Illinois to parents born in Massachusetts and New Jersey. His wife
Seana C., 47, was a native of New York. Her parents had been born in Connecticut and New Jersey.
One child lived with John E. and Seana C. Fairfield at the time of the 1920 census: John E. Jr., 14, who did not attend school. John E. Fairfield Jr. had been born in Ohio.
842 Beech Avenue was built a few years after Beech Avenue and nearby streets began to develop as a genteel alternative to sections of Allegheny City like the east and south commons and the Anderson Street area, which were crowded and contained mixed residential, commercial and industrial uses by 1870. Most of the original residents of the houses of the type that line Beech Avenue were merchants or owners of small manufacturing firms who previously lived in older sections of Allegheny City. Many had moved to Allegheny City from Downtown Pittsburgh around the time of the Civil War.
The following materials accompany this report:
- a copy of an 1852 map of Allegheny City and adjacent areas
- a copy of an 1872 plat map of part of the Allegheny West area
- a copy of a 1910 plat map of part of the Allegheny West area
- information on Allegheny West, from Landmark Architecture of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County
- information on Robert M. Gibson, from The Twentieth Century Bench and Bar of Pennsylvania
- the obituary of Robert M. Gibson, from the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, November 27, 1882
- “The Bar Action on R.M. Gibson’s Death“, from the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, November 28, 1882
- an advertisement for the sale of 81 Beech Street (842 Beech Avenue), from the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, January 1884
- information on Mary Holmes Sweitzer and 842 Beech Avenue, from The Social Mirror
- information on J. Bowman Sweitzer, from Biographical Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania
- information on J. Bowman Sweitzer, from The Twentieth Century Bench and Bar of Pennsylvania
- the obituary of J. Bowman Sweitzer, from the Pittsburg Press, November 9, 1888
- the obituary of Mary Holmes Sweitzer, from the Pittsburgh Bulletin-Index, March 16, 1912
- information on J. Bowman Sweitzer Jr., from The Twentieth Century Bench and Bar of Pennsylvania
A Researched History
By: Carol J. Peterson
all photos by Chris Siewers, unless otherwise noted