George H. (George Henry) Thurston.

Allegheny county's hundred years online

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ter, Harry Oliver, John H. Shoenberger, General J. B. Sweitzer, J. G. Siebeneck,
Richard Smythe, Charles E. Speer, B. F. Jones, Simon Beymer, Mark W. Watson,
Joseph S. Morrison, Samuel S. Brown, Thos. Fawcett, Hill Burgwin, James Little,
James B. Reed, M. Swartz welder, Henry Floyd, William Rea, Reuben Miller, Jr.,
T. B. Atterbury, A. F. Dalzell, S. S. Marvin.

While the mob had been so far restrained by the action of the committee, yet
they were, although dispersed as a body, holding meetings, and sullen in their
■demeanor. The strike had spread to the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago
Railroad, and its trains were for two or three days virtually stopped. In other
sections of the country the railroad troubles were increasing and the committee
thought best to call Major General Joe Brown and Colonel Guthrie, of the Eigh-
teenth National Guards, into consultation. Under their advice a camp was formed
of the military at East Liberty, to be held in readiness for any further outbreak.
Mayor McCarthy enrolled five hundred extra police, and issued a proclamation in
which he said, "I have determined that peace, order and quiet shall be restored to
the community, and to this end call upon all good citizens to come forward at
-once to the old City Hall and unite with the police and military now organizing.
I call upon all to continue quietly at their several places of business and refrain
from participating in excited assemblages."

A proclamation had also been previously issued by Governor Hartranft, and he
had come to Pittsburgh to address the rioters, and subsequently some two or three
thousand troops were ordered by him to Pittsburgh, and were encamped near East
Liberty for several days. Under these vigorous measures quiet was in a few days
restored, and the railroad riots of Pittsburgh were a thing of the past, although
the Committee of Public Safety continued to hold sessions and to take steps not
only to prevent any further demonstrations, but to arrest and bring to punishment
a number of the prominent rioters. The mistake of allowing a collection of
thieves and similar vagabonds to assimilate themselves with a mere handful of


strikers and thus become the mob it did was the first error in the eflTorts to control
the mob. The next was calling out the military before the civil authorities had
exhausted their power, and the greatest of all was the bringing of the troops from
the east.

Every step taken until the Committee of Public Safety took charge of affairs
only tended to enrage the working classes, instead of quieting them to a point of
reason. It gave demagogues and bad men the opportunity to play upon the
passions of the masses, and what was a mere, in one sense, harmless strike of a
few dissatisfied railroad employes, who intended no violence, became the terrible
riot for which claims were made on Allegheny county for damages to the amount
of $4,100,000, which the Commissioners settled for |2,772,349.53. Of this sum
$1,600,000 went to the Pennsylvania Railroad, whose claim for $2,312,000 was-
setfled for that sum. The public learned the danger of sympathizing with mobs
to gratify 'feelings of private hostility ; the county and city a lesson it will not
care to have repeated.

In addition to the buildings already specified as burned, there were 1,383
freight cars, 104 locomotives and 66 passenger coaches destroyed. Twenty-five
persons in all were killed.

From 1878 to 1888.

From 1878 to 1888 the year that completes the hundred years of Allegheny
county's organization a remarkable era of growth and prosperity has year with
year accompanied the county's progress. Although labor strikes from time to
time in that decade disturbed the smooth running of the manufactories, there was,.
in Allegheny county, no repetition of the notorious element of 1877. The disagree-
ments between employee and employer being settled quietly a»d peacefully^
by concessions and arbitration. The great riot of the employees at the coke man-
ufactories occurring in another county is not part of the history of Allegheny county
only so far as it relates to that portion of her business interests known as the coke
trade, and as such finds its proper mention in the chapter illustrative of the growth
of that business interest. The decade is one too close to the present day to be his-
torically reviewed, and there are are in it few occurrences of great public import-
ance beyond those that belong to the growth of the industries of the county, and
those are embraced in the chapters devoted thereto. From a commercial point of
view the most important event of the decade was the introduction and general use
of "Natural Gas" in the factories and households of the city and county. Of
this and tlie entire enterprise in that direction the narrative is made in a subse-
quent chapter. In each decade of the county's history there is some one event^


'which, while prominent over all others, seems to have had a permanent influence
on its growth and business developments.

There is none, however, that has wrought such a complete transformation in
the county's business characteristics nor one whose effect will probably be so national
as the utilizing of natural gas by the people of Allegheny county. It has been point-
ed out in several instances in these pages how strikingly Allegheny county has been
a pioneer in business enterprises, manufacturing advances and political movements,
which have been national in their benefits or their effects, but there seems to be
none which in its results will possibly create such national manufacturing changes
-and results as the adoption, as a fuel, of natural gas by the people of Allegheny
county. Its adoption to all uses whether of the factory or the dwelling is too close
jto to-day to have yet risen to the attitude of history in its strictest sense, but in
-after years all that pertains to Allegheny county's pioneer enterprise therein will
become a most interesting historical record.

Among the purely local public enterprises of the decade is the building of the
magnificent Court House of which a fine engraving is one of the illustrations of
this volume.

On Sunday morning, May 7th, 1882, the Court House, which had been con-
structed in 1838-40, by Coltart & Dilworth, was discovered to be on fire. As the
records of the county were there and the building was not fire-proof in any of its
departments, great excitement ensued. Fortunately, although the building was
<destroyed, the records were all saved. The building, of which an illustration
accompanies this volume, while at the time of its erection considered, as it was, a
handsome edifice, had, under the rapid growth of the county and its consequent,
enormous increase of its dof^umentary and other legal business, became so overcrowded
in its departments, that it was insufficient for the accommodation of the various courts
and the county officials. The question of a new Court House had already been dis-
cussed. Its burning, while a monetary loss, was therefore only hastening its
replacement^by a new building and resulted in the county of Allegheny possessing
to day, what is claimed to be not only the best arranged Court House interiorly
but externally, and architecturally the most beautiful edifice of its kind in the
United States, and some claim in the world.

The sudden destruction of the building thus leaving the immense legal business
of the county without shelter, threw an immediate and unforeseen duty and re-
sponsibility upon the County Commissioners then in ofl&ce, R. E. Mercer, Geo. Y.
McKee and Daniel McWilliams. The energy, business ability and official integ-
rity with which they at once proceeded to rehabilitate the courts of law and the
county authorities, deserves more than a passing record. For while the edifice will
long remain a monument to the genius of the architect, the facts of its construc-
tion should, in this age of so much bargain and sale and official corruption true or
charged, be a monument to the Commissioners under whom it was planned and
built, without the taxpayers having been burdened with a heavy debt or a whisper
of corruption in its contracts, although the sum expended has been so great and


the opportunities for what, in the political slang of the day is called "jobs," many.
On the Monday morning after the fire the Commissioners at once began negotia-
tions with the trustees for the purchase of the Western University building, and

completed the purchase in June , at a cost of $80,000. Some of the courts

immediately occupied it. The Commissioners proceeded without loss of time to
improve it for the other courts and several of the county offices, and it was soon
fully ready, including a complete system of heating at an expense of |22,000. The
building not being large enough for all the county business, they purchased the
lot on George's alley and Old avenue, 75x115 for |16,000, and erected a two story
brick building at a cost of $27,000, with fire-proof apartments for the prothonotary.
The Commissioners having thus, in two months time, at a cost of $123,000, pro-
vided substantially and comfortably for the entire legal business of tlie county, were
ready to consider the question of erecting a new Court House.

During this time public opinion was active in discussing the question of the
character and cost of the new edifice that must be ultimately erected. Some were
for a magnificent and costly structure to cost $5,000,000 ; others advocating one for
less than half a million. Kich and poor, high an(f low, interviewed the Commis-
sioners upon the subject and preferred their advice. The opportunity there was
in the construction of the new Court House and Jail for corrupt contracts, or at
least extortionate cost, brought the schemers, who live by much political plunder
thickly around. It was well for the county that its business was in the hands of a
body of Commissioners whose high personal character, integrity and business
ability were all their subsequent actions proved them to be. Forecasting from the
immense increase in the business of the county for the last two or three decades
what it would in all probability become, they saw that it would be but wasted
money, by the time another decade or two had rolled by, to put up an ordinary
building. To erect the edifice their judgment told them should be built was likely
to cost a large sum of money, perhaps exceeding $3,000,000, thus burdening the
taxpayers witL a heavy debt. These were serious questions to be debated and
solved to the satisfaction of that severe task-master, the taxpayer, out of whose
pockets the money must come, and likewise to their own conscientious conceptions
of their official duty to the public. The wealth of Allegheny county demanded
such an architectural edifice as should do honor to its prominence politically and
commercially in the Nation, while duty to the taxpayers called for such expend-
itures as would avoid any increase of the tax millage or heavy bonded indebt-

That they might have formulated in their own minds the building they might
or should erect, the Commissioners undertook to visit the principal cities east and
west to make a study of the best modern public buildings, and thus thoroughly
inform themselves of all their advantages or defects, and avoid, if possible, mis-
takes in construction. This they did, and were then prepared to consult the
architects and receive plans and proposals for building. Before doing this the


Commissioners consulted all the county officials as to what each would need or
desire as to room or wall space in their respective offices. A pamphlet was then
prepared and mailed, with a circular letter, to a number of the principal home
architects and those of other cities, asking them to furnish plans and estimates a&
to cost, also their own charges. To this circular many replies were received, and
charges of architects varied from |500 to $30,000. It was then decided to select,
five of the architects replying to the circular, one of whom should be a resident
of Allegheny county, two residents in the Eastern States and two in the Western..
Mr. Post, of New York; Mr. Ord, of Philadelphia; Mr. Boynton, of Chicago;
Mr. Meyer, of Detroit, and Mr. Peebles, of Pittsburgh, were selected. About this
time an active interest sprung up among a number of the best citizens in favor of
Mr. Richardson, of Boston, from whom no reply had been received to the circular
sent him. Mr. Post, of New York, having declined the condition of the Com-
missioners that but |2,500 would be paid to each architect for his plan, and that
the plan should be the property of the Commissioners, and to be furnished by
January 1st, 1884, Mr. Kichardson was substituted in his place. The plans were
submitted at the time specified, but only four were presented, Mr. Peebles having
been prevented by circumstances from completing his.

The plans were placed on exhibition in the Welsh church on Boss street on
January 1st, 1884, and the makers were present to explain them. Great interest
was taken in the exhibition by all classes of citizens, many of whom, after several
examinations of the drawings, visited the Commissioners and spoke in favor of the
plans they preferred. The best civil and mechanical engineers, and most promi-
nent manufacturers criticised the plans and gave their opinion as to the strength
of the walls and other matters pertaining to the solidity, durability, architectural
beauty, and adaptibility of the edifice for the purposes for which it was intended.

Fully four fifths gave a preference to the plan of Mr. Richardson, the Com.
missioners being themselves unanimous in the same opinion. Tljeir own judg-
ment being thus indorsed by the decision of the most competent judges in Alle-
gheny county, the Commissioners decided to accept Mr. Richardson's plans. On
the 31st of January, 1884, after consultation with Charles Davis, the county en-
gineer, as required by law, they employed Mr. Richardson, instructing him that
the building when fully equipped, completed and furnished must not cost more
than 12,500,000, and the cost of tie building itself must not exceed $2,250,000.
Previous to this, by which delay was caused in the commencement of the building,
the Board of Prison Inspectors of Allegheny County deciding that the old Court
House lot was not large enough for both Court House and a Jail such as the
health as well as safety of criminals required, parsed a resolution requesting the
Commissioners to pvirchase the property on the east side of Ross street as a Jail
lot. As it was possible under the circumstances that the price of the property
might be extortionately raised on the Commisioners, they had, therefore, as a pre-
caution, an Act of the legislature passed in 1883, that in its operation would pre-


vent extortion by the sellers of the property in question. After which the Com-
missioners proceeded to purchase from some 15 or 16 owners after much negoti-
ation, at a cost of $170,000, the ground on which the jail was built. Mr. Richard-
son furnished his working plans about July 1st, 1884. These plans were put in
one of the Court rooms of the county building, and bids for construction to be sub-
mitted August 16th, 1884, were advertised for, for three weeks in the papers of
New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, and for two weeks in the official
papers of Allegheny county. On August 18th the bids were opened, and referred
to the County Controller and the County Engineer for examination, being as fol-
lows : Booth & Flinn, Worster granite, |2,475,000, sand stone, $2,220,724 ; Fred-
erick Gwinner, Mt. Desert granite, $2,572,000 ; Butts & Schriner, Red Westerly
granite, $2,695,556 ; New England Granite Company, Fox Island granite, $2,260,-
000, Red Westerly, $2,350,000 ; Norcross Bros., Worster granite, $2,198,000, Red
Westerly, $2,207,000 ; Red Mlssan, $2,248,000, Red Beech, $2,233,000, Golds-
borough, $2,234,000.

The Commissioners, as by their specifications were allowed to make certain
addenda, which were named. When the bids were examined they concluded to
adopt them. These additions increased the bid of Norcross Bros. $45,000, making
their bid, of $2,198,000 for Worster granite, amount to $2,243,000. The same items
or addenda in the bids of the other competing parties increased the cost from
$50,000 to $100,000 respectively.

On the first day of September the Commissioners called in the County Conp-
troller to consider in consultation with them the bids opened on August 18th.
The bid of Norcross Bros, for $2,243,024 was accepted, and on September 10th,
1884, the contract was signed.

The Norcross Bros, began their work almost immediately and the completed
Court House and Jail was turned over to the Commissioners in April, 1888. The
contractors would have completed their contract before the day required, which
was in three years and six months from the date of its signing, but the Commis-
sioners delayed the finishing of the tower from October to April by the advice of
the architect, to allow the masonry to set.

The jail was ready for occupation in May of 1886, but the Commissioners in
the interest of the health of the prisoners did not allow it to be occupied until
September 1st, of 1886, so that it, being of stone, might be thoroughly dried.
While the plans were being prepared the taxpayers were apprehensive that the
building would be extravagantly constructed, and fearful of a large increase of tax
rate, steps were taken by some of the heavy taxpayers to enjoin the Commissioners
from proceeding with the plans decided on.

The Commissioners semi-officially assured the public that the increase of the
bonded indebtedness of the county would not exceed $1,200,000. On the 8th day
of February, 1884, the Commissioners made a levy for all purposes of four mills
on the county valuation of $226,000,000, and one mill for a poor tax, which is
only collected in the boroughs and townships. That levy was continued in 1885-



86 87-88, but only three-fourths of a mill was levied for poor tax in 1887, and
none in 1888, as a surplus had accumulated, so that none was needed for poor
purposes that year.

On September 7th, 1886, they made provision, in accordance with Act of As-
sembly, to issue 11,500,000 of Sh per cent, twenty-year bonds, if necessary, and
authorized the sale of $500,000 of those bonds. They were sold, $387,500 to the
Dollar Savings Bank at par; $100,000 at 2 per cent, premium, and the balance in
small lots at from f to 1 per cent, premium. On the 4th day of June the Com-
missioners agreed to issue $300,000 twenty-year bonds bearing 4 per cent, interest.
These were sold at a premium of 2 per cent. Thus the Commissioners had only
increased the bonded indebtedness $800,000, as against the $1,200,000 they had
semi-officially promised the taxpayers would be the limit to which the building
©f the magnificent Court House would increase the county's bonded indebtedness.

During the course of the construction of the Court House and Jail the Com-
missioners found the necessity of making twenty-six alterations. While some of
them increased the original contract others decreased it, but the aggregate increase
was but $14,000. The plans for the furnishing and equipping of the Court House
were conducted on a similar system and with the same conservative care as the
building itself. There were a number of bids from eastern and western cities and
home contractors. The contract was awarded to the Norcross Bros, for $103,760.

The engraving accompanying this volume gives a pictorial idea of the exterior
proportions of this building, but a personal inspection is required to obtain a full
conception of its massive grandeur, architectural beauty, and its admirable in-
terior arrangements and finish. It will come to be considered one of the famous
buildings. The history of its building is thus given so fully that it shows a busi-
ness ability not usually displayed by public officers, and an eflbrt not only to guard
the public money from the inroad of corrupt schemers, but at the same time in a
broad, generous expenditure, give the county of Allegheny a public building
commensurate with its wealth commercially, its manufacturing fame, its historical
dignity and political importance. This the Commissioners have done, and accom-
plished in their difficult task the expenditure of a large sum of public money to
the satisfaction of the entire public, without the tongue of political scandal having
once dared to attribute "jobbery" or corruption in any form.

There is in the building 157,222 feet of foundation stone, 96,774 feet of iron
pipe, 11,680 feet of brass pipe, 14,322,140 brick, 1,187,136 pounds of rolled iron
beams, 87,346 feet of granite ashlar, 81,299 hollow brick, 260,651 feet of granite,
1,308,817 pounds of cast iron, 2,580,909 pounds of wrought iron, 617,198 tile in
roof, 1,145,120 brick in floors, arched, 3,008 square feet copper gutters, 24,500
enameled brick, 16,500 squares of terre cotta partitions, 56,861 yards of plaster-
ing, 28,197 feet of plate glass, 8,795 feet of marble wainscoating, 38,464 feet of
tile floor. These are some of the principal bulks comprising the building, and
give some idea of its bulk.


The narrative tells of a community which has risen from a cluster of squalid
bark cabins around a frontier garrison, and a few Indian traders, to the dignity,
architectural and social elegance of one of the most important cities in the nation,
with a population closely approaching half a million, having taxable property to
the value of over $300,000,000. It tells of a people founding on the frontier edge,
€re the war whoop of the savage had ceased to echo amid its forests, the germs of
manufacturing industries that have grown to be the dominant force in the manu-
facturing interests of the country, and held as a successful rival in respectful con-
sideration by the oldest manufacturing nations of the earth. It tells of a com-
munity growing solidly, but slowly, adding year after year to its industries, in-
creasing from decade to decade, in the magnitude of its immense business, un-
til it ranks the eighth in the Union in its daily monetary transactions. It tells of
a people rich in their educational facilities, their business enterprise, and mechan-
ical skill. Wealthy in furnace, forge and mill, and a thousand factories, yet
retaining the industrial habits of the forefathers of the country. It tells of a people
loyal under all circumstances to the precepts of the constitution of the nation.
Of a people who have through years of persistent toil demonstrated, by practical
results, the necessity of protection to American labor, and thereby the enrichment
of the country and the elevation of its workman, and a similar outgrowth from
its Scotch-Irish settlers that New England has enjoyed from its Puritan pilgrims.


Boat Building in Allegheny County.

Allegheny county is more than historically connected in a general way with
the history of steamboat building. Elizabeth is the point wheie was built, at the
close of the eighteenth century, the first sea going vessel to navigate the western
waters, and Pittsburgh as the place where the first practical steamboat was con-
structed. Where the first iron steamboat was built in the United States, and as
building iron and steel ships and steamboats for the United States government and
for navigating the rivers of some foreign countries, beside originating the form of
steamboats that it was found advisable to adopt for the navigation of others.

To day there is no point that can rival Allegheny county in boat building,
although from the increase of railway transportation and the neglect of the gov-
ernment to improve the navigation of the Ohio, its boat and ship building business
has fallen off". Water highways are of all burden carriers the cheapest, and the
increasing bulks of transportation will necessitate a return to them.

While Allegheny county claims the honor of being the place of construction
and successful building of the first steamboat, it would seem from the following
extract from a diary kept by one James Kenny, a Quaker trader at Fort Pitt in


1761, that Pittsburgh has some claims to being the place where the first germs of
the idea of a steamboat originated, says the diary :

"1761, 4th mo: 4th. — A young man called Wm. Ramsey has made two little

Online LibraryGeorge H. (George Henry) ThurstonAllegheny county's hundred years → online text (page 13 of 43)