Tag: Great Fire

  • One of the Oldest Buildings Downtown

    Pittsburgh is a colonial-era city, but downtown has been rebuilt so many times that not much is left from before the Civil War. This building probably dates from the late 1840s, making it one of the oldest remaining downtown. It probably came after the Great Fire of 1845, but it appears in this engraving of the Diamond as it appeared before 1852, which was the year the old courthouse in the middle was torn down.

    The building in the background, with smoke rising from its chimneys, is clearly meant to be this one. There are eleven columns of windows in the engraving instead of the nine columns of windows we see today, but old Pa Pitt suspects the engraver was working from a rough sketch and simply gave us his best guess.

  • The Great Fire of Pittsburgh, 1845

    View of the Great Fire of Pittsburgh, by William C. Wall (1846)

    In 1845 a catastrophic fire swept through the booming Western city of Pittsburgh. Much of the city was destroyed, including the covered wooden Monongahela bridge, where the Smithfield Street Bridge is now. William C. Wall, a local painter of some skill, saw an artistic and financial opportunity and painted small views of the destruction, which seem to have been reproduced as prints (prints of great catastrophes being very popular among some of the more morose and sentimental Victorians). The next year he created a larger painting with a view of the fire; though he obviously did not have the fire in front of him as he painted, he seems to have depicted fairly accurately the extent of the conflagration—note the area to the west of the bridge that was spared the flames, an area that included the Burke Building, which still stands today.

    These three paintings hang together in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s gallery of “European and American Art ca. 1820-1860.” Finding that there seemed to be no good reproductions of them on the Internet, old Pa Pitt took these, which give a fair impression of the pictures as they appear on the wall.

    Pittsburgh After the Fire from Birmingham, by William C. Wall (1845)

    Pittsburgh After the Fire from Boyd’s Hill, by William C. Wall (1845)