I moved to Pittsburgh in 2009 and, naturally, started to learn the names of streets so that I could find my way around. As I did so, I began to wonder idly where some of the names came from. Some were fairly obvious: Penn Avenue, for example, is clearly named for William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. Others were stranger—what kind of macabre event happened on Woolslayer Way?
A couple of years later, I was in a library researching something (now I don’t remember what), when somehow I stumbled across a newspaper filler article from 1942 saying that Tokio Street and Japan Way had been renamed amid the anti-Japanese fervor of the day. I thought this was an interesting little bit of trivia. Today Pittsburgh signposts say Tokay Street—how many people know that this street used to be Tokio?
Several more years went by. One day I left my apartment on Thomas Boulevard and walked to the bus stop at the corner of Fifth Avenue and McPherson Boulevard, as I had done almost every day for years. But that day, for whatever reason, it suddenly occurred to me that Thomas and McPherson were both names of Union generals in the Civil War. And immediately afterward I realized that nearby Meade Street completes the set!
So I decided to see what else I could find about the origins of Pittsburgh street names, and that became the start of this project. I’ve learned a lot about the history of the city and its neighborhoods, and I am still finding interesting new facts all the time. My job has since taken me to Munich, Germany, but I still love the city of Pittsburgh. It is fascinating how much of the city’s history can be found behind the names of its streets.
I welcome questions, feedback, and additional information. If you’d like to know the origin of a street name that I don’t have yet, let me know, and I’ll try to dig something up. You can e-mail me at [my first name] [cochleiform symbol] zifyoip.com.