Category: History

  • John White Alexander

    A good number of artists have been born in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area, and some of them even have large museums here dedicated to their works. (Father Pitt is thinking, of course, of the John A Hermann, Jr., Memorial Art Museum in Bellevue. What were you thinking of?) But we could argue that the one who made the most lasting contribution to the city of his own free will was John White Alexander, whose mural composition Apotheosis of Pittsburgh covers thousands of square feet in the splendid Grand Staircase in the Carnegie. Alexander was born in Allegheny in 1856, and the Grand Staircase was his last significant work, so we can say that he began and ended his work here. A rather fawning (but perhaps justifiably so) 1908 article in The International Studio describes the high position he had reached in the world of art, and gives us good monochrome reproductions of a number of Alexander’s works, especially portraits. Here is an album of those pictures, in tribute to one of Pittsburgh’s great artists.

    Portrait of Mrs. H.

    Portrait of Fritz (Frits) Thaulow.

    Portrait: Sisters.

    Portrait of Walt Whitman.

    Portrait of Miss R.

    Pen Sketch of Mark Twain.

    Portrait of Miss B.

    Portrait of Mrs. R.

    Fragment of Decoration, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh.

  • Moving a House Straight Up

    Raising a Full House

    An update: “Zak” has kindly left a comment telling us that this house burned in 1913; it would have been on the Pittsburgh side of the river opposite where the Waterfront is now. Follow the link in Zak’s comment to see another good picture of the relocation project.

    From the Booklovers Magazine in 1904. Can anyone identify this house or its exact location? The text below is all Father Pitt has to go on, which tells us that it is somewhere in the Mon Valley near Pittsburgh, but not exactly where. We do not know, for example, whether “about ten miles from Pittsburgh” means ten miles along the river or ten miles as the crow flies. Ten miles along the river would put the house in Homestead or thereabouts.

    Raising a Full House text

  • The Building of Pittsburgh

    A whole issue of the Architectural Record in 1911 is devoted to “The Building of Pittsburgh.” It is a treasury of information on many of the splendid buildings still standing here, as well as a few that have vanished.

  • Old St. Luke’s

    Father Pitt is especially fond of Old St. Luke’s, partly for its history (its congregation was at the center of the Whiskey Rebellion), but mostly for its situation in a picturesque country churchyard.

  • Woodville Plantation

    Under layers of later accretions is a Revolution-era house that belonged to the Neville family. When General Neville, an old Washington crony, was appointed collector of the Washington administration’s very unpopular whiskey tax in 1794, the Whiskey Rebellion broke out: rioters burned Bower Hill, General Neville’s home, and he fled for his life to this house, which belonged to his son.

    This was a southern gentleman’s house: the Nevilles were from Virginia, and settled here in Yohogania County when Virginia claimed this part of the world. They kept slaves in the 1700s; Pennsylvania abolished slavery in stages.

    The house has been lovingly restored and is now a museum open Sunday afternoons. Inside, among many treasures, is an original 1815 Clementi pianoforte, bought for the house in 2006.

  • The Great Floyd Gun, Cast at the Fort Pitt Foundry, Pittsburgh

    From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, February 25, 1860. —Knapp, Rudd, & Co. cast this thing, which was considered one of the wonders of the age.

  • Old St. Luke’s

    This colonial-era congregation in what is now Scott Township found itself at the center of the Whiskey Rebellion, which began when General John Neville, a church member and an old pal of President Washington’s, was appointed tax collector. The current stone building was put up in 1852, but the congregation was founded in 1765.

  • Brewer’s Block, Fifth Avenue


    This imposing (for 1860) edifice seems to have stood at the lower end of Fifth Avenue. From a Directory of Pittsburg and Allegheny Cities for 1860-1861.

  • Pittsburgh in 1860


    pittsburgh-schuchman-sAdvertising William Schuchman’s lithography, from  a Directory of Pittsburg and Allegheny Cities for 1860-1861.

  • Washington Crossing the Allegheny, 1753

    From American Scenery, 1854 (almost exactly a century after the event depicted here). —Young Washington’s raft capsized on the way over, and he nearly drowned. He could have just used the Fortieth Street Bridge, but George had to do everything the hard way.