Category: History

  • Burning of the Union Depot in 1877


    The Railroad Riots of 1877 destroyed millions of dollars in property in Pittsburgh, not least of which was the main Pennsylvania Railroad station. The railroad commissioned Daniel Burnham to design the new station, a masterpiece that is still with us today, but also a big fat raspberry to the rioters, telling them to their faces that the railroad only grew stronger in the face of their opposition. This print (which old Pa Pitt has cleaned up a bit) comes from a book called Pen and Pencil Sketches of the Great Riots, which is a history of all the famous urban riots in America up to 1882.

  • Mills by Night


    This painting by H. A. Bailey was probably made in the 1940s or early 1950s. It has never been published before, so here is a rare privilege for old Pa Pitt’s readers.

  • Pittsburgh Skyline a Century Ago


    Old Pa Pitt does not have an exact date for this old postcard, but it appears to be from about 1915 or so, to judge by the buildings. In those days, Pittsburgh was one of the three great homes of the skyscraper, along with New York and Chicago.

  • St. Mary’s Church, Sharpsburg



    From the magazine Stone, “devoted to the quarrying and cutting of stone for architectural uses.”

  • Pittsburgh in 1916


    From the Rotarian magazine, May, 1916. Note the skyline filled with beaux-arts classical towers, most of which are still here today, although they are dwarfed by more modern skyscrapers..

  • Mary Roberts Rinehart Lived Here


    The Circular Staircase was one of the greatest bestsellers of all time, and Mary Roberts Rinehart lived here when she wrote it—just half a block up Beech Avenue from the house where Gertrude Stein, a writer with a somewhat different style, was born. The success of The Circular Staircase made Mary Roberts Rinehart one of the most powerful literary figures in America, and her good business sense consolidated that power into a publishing empire for her family.

  • Thirteen Stars, Thirteen Stripes


    Those plucky colonials have raised their rebel flag over the blockhouse at Fort Pitt, Britain’s most important Western fort.


  • “Pittsburgh,” by E. M. Sidney

    PittsburghFrom Graham’s American Monthly Magazine of Literature and Art, Vol. XXX (1847), p. 249.


  • The Old Pike

    A very interesting book on the subject of the National Pike has just appeared at Project Gutenberg. The National Pike (now U.S. Route 40, and for substantial stretches Maryland Route 144) brought the East to the West, and passes through what are now the southern suburbs of Pittsburgh. Many milestones of the sort seen in the photograph still exist, and are lovingly maintained.

    The idea of a federally funded highway to the West was a product of the Jefferson administration; the right wing, of course, denounced it as a pinko plot. (The word for “pinko” in those days was “Jacobin.”)

    The author of the book, Mr. Thomas B. Searight, was the son of the Searight who operated a tollhouse west of Uniontown. That tollhouse is still there; it is built to the standard octagonal plan of the tollhouses on the National Pike.

    The Old Pike. A History of the National Road, with Incidents, Accidents, and Anecdotes Thereon. Illustrated. By Thomas B. Searight. Uniontown, Pa: Published by the Author. 1894.

    The same book scanned from the original at Google Books.

  • Pittsburgh Businesses in 1819

    Pittsburgh was already a thriving small city nearly two hundred years ago, as we can see from a directory to the city published in 1819. A few of the advertisements from the back of the book give us a good picture of the commercial landscape of the place.


    Taverns were common, of course, and what traveler would not be reassured by the name of this one?


    We are almost certainly meant to read this as “Spread Eagle Tavern.” Rebuses were common in advertisements throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. Note the address, by the way. There were no address numbers in the Pittsburgh of 1819; advertisers had to give explicit directions relative to notable landmarks.


    We have forgotten in our days of central heating how important a good bellows used to be.


    As Pittsburgh grew more prosperous, homeowners kept up with the latest fashions. One popular fashion was to have mural wallpapers installed in the largest rooms of the house, and Pittsburgh was apparently not only a consumer but also a supplier of such decorations.”Third street,” by the way, is what we now call “Third Avenue.” Our numbered “avenues” were called “streets” in those simpler days; the numbered “streets” on our current map had individual names in 1819.


    Of course, the reason Pittsburgh existed in the first place was because the site controlled the access to the West by way of the Ohio River, and much of the business here catered to travelers embarking for the new countries to the west. Grocers like Mr. Cotter kept everything you would need to stock your boat for a long trip.