George H. (George Henry) Thurston.

Allegheny county's hundred years online

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brief line as to its eventful history . Chartered by Legislature in 1810, the charter
was suffered to lapse, but renewed in 1816. It was opened for public travel on
December 31st, 1818, having cost |102,460. In January, 1831, the first pier on the
Pittsburgh side gave way and precipitated the span into the river. In the great
fire of 1845, it was burned and replaced by a wire suspension bridge under the
direction of John A. Eoebling, the builder of the great East Eiver bridge, N. Y.

In 1880, the bridge had become unsafe for public travel, and a new bridge was
decided on, which was commenced in 1881, on the plans of Mr. G. Lindenthal, and
completed August, 1883, and the total cost of the bridge being $458,000. In 1816
was also organized the Allegheny Bridge Co., William Kobinson, Jr., being elected
president. He was the first child of white parentage, in what is now the city of
Allegheny, having been born on the 17th of December, 1785, in the first log house
erected on the present site of that city. His father was the ferryman who con-
veyed the people over the Allegheny in those early days. General Eobinson, as


he was called, acquired the title through a commission in the State militia. He
was the first president of the Ohio and Pennsylvania E. K., and the first president of
the Exchange Bank, and at one time a member in the State Legislature. He died
in 1868, on the 25th of February, having continued to reside on the grounds where
he was born, although tli^ log cabin had many years before given place to a hand-
some residence. The bridge of which he was, as before stated, president, cost
180,000 to build. In 1860 it was replaced by a: wire suspension bridge, built under
contract by John A. Koebling, at a cost of $250,000. The State of Pennsylvania
owned |40,000 of the stock in the first bridge. This stock was sold in 1843 by the
State, realizing over |30 per share on a par value of |25.00.

In 1816, was also laid out that portion of the city of Pittsburgh, now its ninth
tenth and twelfth wards, by George A. Bayard and James Adams, and long known
as Bayardstown. Lots were sold in perpetual lease at $1.25 to $2.50 per foot.
Shortly afterwards a portion of the second ward, from Eoss street running out
Second avenue, was laid out by William Price and was then known as Pipetown.

The town appears to have continued to gradually acquire increased import-
ance as a manufacturing center, and in January, 1817, an account of the manufac-
tures of the city was taken by order of the Councils, by which it was ascertained
there were 248 factories of various descriptions, employing 1,280 hands, and pro-
ducing goods to the value of $1,896,366, and there were 111 other industries,
entitled trades, employing 357 hands and producing goods to the amount of

In the same year Morris Brikbecker, in his notes on a Journey in America,
writes of Pittsburgh, "Here I expected to have been enveloped in clouds of smoke,
issuing from a thousand furnaces, and stunned with the din of a thousand hammers
I confess I was much disappointed by Pittsburgh. A century and a half ago per-
haps, Birmingham might have admitted a comparison with Pittsburgh.

" Yet taken as it is, with rhetorical description, it is truly a very interesting
and important place. Establishments which are likely to expand and multiply as
the small acorn, planted in a good soil and duly protected, is to become the majestic
oak that 'flings his giant arms amid the sky.' At present the manufacturers are
under great difficulties and many are on the eve of suspending their operations,
owing to the influx of depreciated fabrics from Europe." Mr. Brikbecker, judging
from this paragraph, was and would have been to day a full fledged "Tarifl'

It is also evident from his remarks, that free trade was then, as it is to day, a
hindrance and positive injury to the industries of Pittsburgh. Mr. Brikbecker
seems to have been shocked at the spendthrift habits of the workmen, and writes,
" Journeymen in various branches, shoemakers, tailors, &c., earn $2 a day. Many
of them improvident, and thus they remain journeymen all their days. It is not,
however, in absolute intemperance and profligacy that they, in general, waste their
surplus earnings, it is in excursions and entertainments. Ten dollars spent at a
ball is no rare result of the gallantry of a Pittsburgh journeyman.''


Mr. Brikbecker writes further, " Tins evening I heard delightful music from a
piano made in this town, where a few years ago stood a fort from which a white man
durst not pass without a military guard on account of the Indians, who were then
the hostile lords of this region."

The fact that pianos were at that date manufactured at Pittsburgh might be
doubted, especially as the enumeration made by order of the councils make no
mention of such a factory. From an advertisement in the Pittsburgh Gazette, in
1814, it appears that one Charles Kosenbaum had established himself as a maker
of pianos, and offers those instruments at from $250 to $350 each, and also to con-
tract for the building of grand pianos for those who desire them, on such terms as
may be agreed on.

In this year, 1817, the building of a theatre was agitated, and it was erected
and completed during the succeeding twelve months. Pittsburgh had not, how-
ever, been without dramatic amusements. The advertisements in the Gazette pre-
vious to that show that strolling companies from time to time gave musical,
dramatic and other similar entertainments, the old Black Bear tavern, in the
north east corner of the Diamond, being where these entertainments were most
frequently held.

The boards of the theatre of 1817 were trodden by citizens of Pittsburgh dis-
tinguished then and famous in latter days, among whom were Richard Biddle^
Morgan M. Murray, Matthew Magee, Morgan Neville, Charles Shaler, James B.
Butler, Alexander Breckenridge, Sidney Mountain, William Wilkins, J. S. Craft
and George Beale. The persons just mentioned were members of a Thespian
society, whose object was to create a fund for the relief of the suffering poor. The
distribution of the funds thus raised was managed in so anonymous a manner that
the recipients were uninformed of the source from whence it came. This organi-
zation was succeeded by a second Thespian society, many of the members of which
were students of the Western University. This society continued for about six
months, when it was suddenly brought t© a close by the faculty of the University.
The lot upon which this first temple of the drama was built is the Third street
end of the lot occupied by the Dollar Savings Bank. It is the westerly half of a
lot marked 310 in the general plan of the city, which was conveyed to Robert
Smith by the Penns in September, 1790. The building was demolished in 1828
by Henry Holdship, who at that time purchased it.

In 1817 the city began to feel the effects of the reaction of the inflation of the
war of 1812-14. During that period the city had enjoyed much prosperity, owing
to the business created by its ability to furnish munitions of war and the collateral
trade incident thereto.

At all times, whenever the nation has engaged in war, Pittsburgh has been a
center for the supply and manufacture of munitions; and it is singular that a
point so secure from attack, so central in position, so full of resources to furnish
both naval and military armaments, and from which they could be so easily dis-
tributed to all quarters of the nation, has been neglected by the government as


the site of a National Arsenal. To some extent this seems to have been consid-
ered in the erection of what is now known as the Allegheny Arsenal, in 1813-14,
which was completed in April, 1814. The site of this arsenal was selected by
Colonel Woolsey and W. B. Foster, Esq., the father of Stephen C. Foster, the
eminent composer of songs and music, and of Hon. Morrison Foster, the Chairman
of the Committee on celebrating the Centennial of Allegheny County.

In 1818, on March 3d, an Act was passed by the Legislature of Pennsylvania
providing for the erection of a State's prison in Allegheny County. Messrs.
James Eoss, Walter Lowrie, David Evans, William Wilkins and Dr. George
Stevenson were appointed Commissioners to select a site. The town of Allegheny
donated the plot where the Western Penitentiary was built, at what is now the
corner of Sherman avenue and the present Allegheny City Park. This building
was completed in 1826, and the first prisoner received July 22d of that year. Up
to 1823 the city and, of course, the whole county, was nearly at a standstill from
the disastrous reaction of the war of 1812-14. In 1817 many factories stopped
for want of business, and there was a continual downward tendency in business
and the value of property. In 1821 the distress reached its height; manufac-
tures, trade and industry were all prostrated. In May of that year flour was
only one dollar per barrel, boards two dollars a thousand feet, whisky fifteen cents
a gallon, sheep and calves one dollar a head. It required a bushel and a half of
wheat to buy one pound of coffee, and twelve barrels of flour to purchase a yard
of superfine broadcloth. From this it will be seen that all agricultural products
were of compai-atively little value, while imported goods were dear. It was an
exemplification of free trade eflfects under the result of peculiar local causes. The
manufactories being closed, or nearly so, labor was without the means to purchase
freely, and in consequence the prices of agricultural products declined to the ex-
treme low rates quoted, while foreign products were dear from the prices that had
to be paid for them in the depreciated values of home products.

Singularly, during this period of depression two newspapers were started l^he
Commonwealth and the Pittsburgh Weekly Recorder.

It was a period that would seem to offer but little encouragement to such en-
terprises, and affords a striking illustration of the hopefulness of those who catch
the editorial and publishing fever, which has under similar circumstances carried
at times, newspapers to success, yet made wrecks of so many others.

It was during this period of depression, in 1822, that the Western University
of Pennsylvania began its work as a college, and is the alma mater of many of
Allegheny County's most distinguished citizens in the liberal professions as well
as in its manufacturing and commercial pursuits. There is in connection with
this and other enterprises undertaken during this period of depression a marked
trait of the people of Allegheny County that runs through all the vicissitudes of
its progress from the earliest days. The persistence with which, when they have
once undertaken an enterprise, they adhere to its fortunes, and ultimately achieve
its success.


Always slow to embark in new enterprises, once engaged tliey are loyal to
their matured convictions. Founded among the hazardous days of the French
?ind Indian wars, and largely populated by the Scotch-Irish, in which the Coven-
anter element of Scotland was largely represented, the strong religious convictions
of that faith, and the frugal, conservative habits have left so deep an impress on
the succeeding generations that conservatism, self-reliance and the courage of
their convictions is still a characteristic of the men of Allegheny County of to-
day. What the Puritan was to New England in that section, the Scotch-Irish
have been to Western Pennsylvania

Allegheny County, possessing resources that are and always have been remark-
able, even in the strongest sense of the word, might, perhaps, with a more
sanguine and impulsive population, have made more rapid progress, but while its
advance in all things has been slow, it has never taken a step backward, and has,
as the history of its local manufactures and its national movements show, still
been in the forefront of progress, and stands to-day in the eyes of the world as
the most marked county of the United States. From its small acorn seed the
oak grows slowly, but it grows solidly, and lasts its thousand years, while more
quickly maturing woods decay. Allegheny County is a grand oak in the many
that in the growth of the Nation have come into jDolitical and commercial

In 1825 the city began to acquire fresh energy, and manufacturing, which has
always been the motive force of Allegheny County, began to thrive once more.
As of those industries in all its various commercial enterprises are, in this
epitome of Allegheny County's Hundred Years, more satisfactorily portrayed to
those interested in special chapters devoted to the respective classes of its business
enterprises than if scattered in chronological detail through the compendium of
its general history, the further recording of which is more closely confined to the
leading events in the county's progress.

1824 is also an important date in Allegheny County's history, marking the
first national movement in the construction of the Pennsylvania canal, so long an
important factor in the transportation facilities of Allegheny County. The move-
ment in New York State to connect its tide waters with Lake Erie having awak-
ened an emulative feeling in Pennsylvania, revived the idea that as early as 1762
existed, when it was proposed to connect the waters of the Ohio and Lake Erie
with the Delaware. As it was supposed that this would require a greater amount
of capital than could be obtained through a joint stock company, a successful effort
was made to enlist the State in the enterprise.

On the 27th of April, 1824, an Act was passed appointing three commissioners
to examine the various routes for the proposed canal. On the 11th of April, 1825,
five commissioners were authorized by an Act of Legislature to examine routes for
a canal. These commissioners appointed by the Governor were William Darling-
ton, John Sargent, Eobert Parkinson, David Scott and Abner Lacock. The re-
port of this board was favorable, and on the 25th of February, 1826, an Act
authorizing the construction of the canal was passed.


In 1825 the Western Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church was
formed aijd established in 1827 in Allegheny City. A full account of this is
given by Judge Parke in his " KecoUections of Seventy Years," published in 1886.

In 1828, by an Act of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, " on April 14th,"
the town of Allegheny was chartered as a borough, and in 1829, John Irwin, who
w^as a son of Colonel John Irwin of the Kevolutionary army, was chosen its first
burgess, which office he held until 1834, when he was succeeded by Hugh Davis,
and he in 1838 by John Morrison, who held office until 1840, when the borough
fcecame a city.

John Irwin was born in the borough of Pittsburgh, July 1st, 1787, and became
a rope manufacturer when he attained the years of manhood, having acquired
a, knowledge of the business when a mere lad, under the teachings of his father
who carried on the business under the style of " John Irwin and Wife." They
were the successors of the firm who established the first rope walk in Pittsburgh,
which Judge Park says in his Reminiscences was in 1794, was on the present site
of the Monongahela House. The works were, in 1795, according to Judge Park,
removed to the square bounded by Liberty, Third and Fourth streets, and Kedoubt
alley, and subsequently removed to the beach of the Allegheny river, between
Marbury street and the point, where the entire rigging of Perry's fleet was pre-
pared. In 1813, the erection of the rope walk on a more extensive scale was
begun in Allegheny town. Mr. Irwin died on June 30th, 1863, at his residence,
Sewickley, Pa., in his 76th year. He was tendered many places of political perfer-
ment but firmly declined such distinctions. He was, for a number of years before
his death, a director of the Bank of Pittsburgh, his reputation as a business man
ranking high in the community, being remarkable for his strict integrity.

Plis father, Colonel John Irwin, died May 5th, 1808, in the fiftieth year of his
age, and his remains were interred in the First Presbyterian burying ground with
military and Masonic honors.

The decade from 1830 to 1840, is filled with local historical dates pertaining to
the continued growth of the county and its industries. While as an exhibit of the
individual enterprise, this data is illustrative of the business energy that was ac-
creting, it is not strictly public movements, only so far as they are indications of
the increasing importance of the county in the development of the west.

To mention a few of the individuals or enterprises in general history would be
invidious where all were on the same plane of action equally deserving. To give
all in detail would be cumbersome. Such data finds more fitting presentation in
the statistical exhibits made of the progress of the various branches of the coun-
ty's industries.

Pittsburgh had at this time acquired the title of the Iron City and a popula-
tion, in 1840, of 38,931. Some of the more prominent minor public events are
here noted as of interest to the local readers.

In this decade, on July 15th, 1831, the Duquesne Greys were organized by the
election of Major Kufus L. Baker U. S. A., then in command of the Allegheny


Arsenal. This military organization, having prominence in after events of the
county, calls for the record of its formation as an historical datum. On the 4th of
May an Act of Assembly was signed by Gov. Wolf, creating the "Infantry Corps of
the Duquesne Greys" as an independent volunteer company. On July 2nd, they
made a march from Pittsburgh to Greensburg, and on October 12th made their
first public review parade. On October 10th, 1834, they were under arms for the
preservation of the peace of the city, the occasion being the first actual service of
the Greys. Major Baker was succeeded in the command of this company by Jonas-
R. McClintock, in 1833. He by John Birmingham, in 1835. He by Capt. George
Hays, afterwards Col. of Eighth Penna. Eeserves, 1836 and he, in 1837, by John
Herron, son of Eev. Francis Herron, pastor of the First Presbyterian church.
While under the command of Capt. Herron the Greys volunteered for the Mexi-
can war.

The year 1832, is notable as the date when, perhaps, the first public protest
was made against slavery in Allegheny county. On the evening of January 16th,
1832, the colored citizens of Pittsburgh assembled in the African church, organ-
ized as a society and adopted a preamble and constitution in which they declared
that " ignorance is the sole cause of the present state of londage of the people of
color in these United States, and for the purpose of dispersing the moral glocm
that has so long hung around us have, under Almighty God, associated ourselves
together — which association shall be known as the Pittsburgh African Education

To the constitution adopted are signed the names of John B. Vashon, President^
Job. B. Thompson, Vice President, Lewis Woodson, Secretary, Abraham D. Lewis,
Treasurer, Richard Bryans, William J. Greenly, Samuel Bruce, Moses Howard,
Samuel Clingham, Board of Managers.

That ultimately the enormity of the national crime of slavery would have
brought about the same results, there can be no question. It was so utterly for-
eign to the Constitution, and so repugnant to all reflecting minds, that its contin-
ued existence under the progress of civilization in the United States was impossible.

That the public protest of the colored men of Allegheny at a time, so long be-
fore the abolition of slavery, was not without its influence in shaping subsequent
events, admits of no question, considered in the philosophy of cause and efl^ect, and
the many instances in the history of men and nations, of remote primary causes
leading up to great public reforms. The foregoing action of the colored people of
the . county is, therefore, interesting historically in view of the prominent part
Allegheny county, a few years after this, took in the abolition of slavery, and as
the birth place of the Republican party.

On the 1st of October, 1832, the cholera broke out in Pittsburgh, having been
brought to the city by a colored man from Cincinnati. Some twenty persons died
of it, chiefly colored citizens. A few years later Pittsburgh experienced a much
more severe visitation of the disease.

1832 also witnessed the foundation, through the efforts of the women, of one
of the noble charieties of the county, in the organization of the Pittsburgh and


Allegheny Orphan Asylum. A preliminary organization was effected at a meet-
ing held in the First Presbyterian church on April 17th, 1832, at which William
Robinson, Jr., presided. An Act was passed by the Legislature and approved
March 20th, 1834. In this Act there were appointed as managers, Elizabeth
F. Denny, Mary Robinson, Elizabeth Tiernan, Marion Young, Margaret Bruce»
Elizabeth P. Halsey, Susan K. Wade, Anna Halsey, Mary B. Holmes, Mary
Wilkins, Margaret George, Hannah Higby, Mary A. S. Baird, and Isabella
Simpson. The work of the institution was begun with three inmates in a small
house on the bank of the Ohio in Allegheny town.

In 1832, was also laid out the town of Manchester by John Sampson, C. L
Armstrong, Thos. Barlow, Thos. Hazelton, and Samuel Hall. In 1867 it was
annexed to the city of Allegheny, becoming the fifth and sixth wards of that

The year of 1832 is also memorable in the history of the county, as the year
of the great flood, when the waters of the Allegheny rose to the height of 35 feet,
the water extending up Wood street as far as Second, and being from five to six
feet deep in the basement of the Exchange Hotel at the corner of Penn avenue
-and St. Clair (now Sixth) street. In Allegheny town, all below what was called
the second bank was covered with water from six to twelve feet deep.

In 1835, the first public school in Pittsburgh was opened in an old building on
the corner of what was then Irwin street (now Seventh) and Duquesne Way,
where the Robinson House now stands. George F. Gilmore, afterwards a member
of the Bar of Allegheny County, was principal. The school opened with an en-
rollment of five scholars.

On the 8th of April, 1835, the ordinance was passed by councils to erect the
first gas works of the city.

In 1837, the city of Pittsburgh and the borough of Birmingham and adjoining
suburbs, issued scrips, or "shin plasters" as they were called in the slang par-
lance of the day. An ordinance was passed by the city of Pittsburgh, directing
the Mayor, Jonas R. McClintock, to sign them, which he refused to do.

These few occurrences of .purely local interest in the decade of 1830 to 1840,
are sufiicient to furnish a glimpse of the local history of that period. In 1840, the
borough of Allegheny was, by Act of Legislature, on the 13th of April, constituted
-a body politic, under the name and style of the Mayor, Aldermen and citizens of
Allegheny. By the Act an election for municipal ofiicers was ordered, and held
on the 13th of April, 1840. The election resulted in the choice of Gen. William
Robinson, Jr., as Mayor. Gen. Robinson's parentage, birth, and the honorable
positions he held, are mentioned on a previous page.



From 1845 to i860.

In 1845 a great calamity came upon the City of Pittsburgh. As the clocks of
the city indicated the hour of noon, a fire broke out at the corner of Second and
Ferry streets, igniting by some shavings under a wash-kettle in the yard of a
dwelling. The weather had been very dry and warm for the season for some^
weeks previous. The writer witnessed much of the conflagration from its begin-
ning to its close, and can only describe it as a fearful sight. The fire did not pro-
gress from block to block, but great masses of flame were held up by the force of
the wind and arched over the intervening blocks, and thereby the center of a
square was ignited before the houses on either side of a street became evea
scorched. Huge flakes of burning boards were carried far in advance of the fire^
and applied a torch, as it were, to houses squares away. The Third Presbyterian^
Church, in the rear of which the fire originated, was saved by the great exertions^
of the Niagara Fire Engine Company. This, as the wind was then blowing from-
the south, was most fortunate, as once through that barrier it is most probable that
the section of the city which escaped would also have fallen a prey to the flames.

Online LibraryGeorge H. (George Henry) ThurstonAllegheny county's hundred years → online text (page 7 of 43)