Neighborhood: Central Business District
The shortest street in George Woods’ original plan of Pittsburgh from 1784 was Eighth Street, spanning less than 240 feet between Liberty Street (today’s Liberty Avenue) and Grant Street very near their intersection. It seems to have disappeared as a meaningful street about 1862; it was dropped from George H. Thurston’s city street directory between the 1861 and 1862 editions,[34, 35] and it made its last labeled map appearance in S. N. & F. W. Beers’ map of 1862. The 1868 city ordinance that changed First through Seventh Streets into avenues did not mention Eighth Street. In the 1872 and 1882 Hopkins atlases it is drawn but not labeled, possibly because it has essentially been covered by tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad.[2, 3] By 1889 the railroad had forced the relocation of the northernmost block of Grant Street to the west, obliterating the last traces of the original Eighth Street.[4, 16]
Today’s Eighth Street is an entirely different street. Woods’ 1784 plan of Pittsburgh included an unnamed alley running from Liberty Street to the Allegheny River between Irwin Street (today’s Seventh Street) and Hand Street (today’s Ninth Street). James M. Riddle’s 1815 Pittsburgh directory lists Irwin’s Alley between Irwin and Hand Streets, and it also appears as Irwin’s Alley in the 1830 map of Barbeau and Keyon.
The name may refer to James Irwin, who is listed in the 1815 directory as a carpenter on the west side of Penn Street (today’s Penn Avenue) between Irwin and Hand Streets, i.e., at the location of this alley. (Compare nearby Cecil Place, Barkers Place, Scott Place, and Maddock Place, which were similarly named for people living at those locations.) James Irwin was mentioned in a letter from Isaac Craig to James O’Hara, dated June 12, 1797, as the carpenter building the first glassworks in Pittsburgh.[10, 15] Note that Irwin Street was named for John Irwin, a Revolutionary War hero (see Irwin Avenue), so it seems unlikely that Irwin Street and Irwin’s Alley were named for the same person.
Other similar alleys (Cecil Place, Barkers Place, and Garrison Place) remained of minor importance, but Irwin’s Alley was unique—its location directly across Liberty Street from Wood Street meant that it could be part of a link between the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. The portion of Irwin’s Alley from Penn Street to Duquesne Way was opened as Hancock Street in the mid-1840s to provide access to the Allegheny Wharf, perhaps with such a link in mind. This street was named after John Hancock (1737–1793).[11, 20, 24]
In 1850, a petition signed by Pittsburgh citizens was submitted to the Pennsylvania legislature asking for the passage of an act to open Hancock Street between Penn and Liberty Streets to complete the link. The petition read, in part:
[O]wing to the unfortunate original Law of the said City, no one of its streets connects directly the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, as all of said streets might have done. This radical defect of intercommunication, although universally felt and deplored, is now beyond general remedy. But it so happens that near the middle of the City, and of course where most desirable, one thorough avenue can yet be perfected. Wood street commencing on the Monongahela, extends to Liberty st., opposite Irwin’s Alley, now but twenty feet wide, for two hundred and forty feet to Hancock street, which, by the commendable liberality of the adjacent property holders, has been opened as a street. All that is now necessary, is legislative provision for opening said alley, and thus connecting Wood and Hancock streets and through them both said way by an almost direct line across, and through the heart of said City, its trade and business.
This effort was led primarily by John F. Perry, a wholesale grocer who had moved his business to Hancock Street in 1849, and his lawyer T. J. Bigham.[5, 28] The act was passed by the legislature, authorizing a committee of appointed assessors to determine the damages that would be caused by widening the street and to assess those damages against properties that would benefit.[8, 9, 18, 19] However, when the report of the assessors was delivered, public opinion (including many signers of the petition) turned against the project, saying that the signatures had been obtained dishonestly and the taxes to be collected for damages had been assessed unfairly.[5, 23] The act of the legislature was soon repealed, and the project was abandoned.
McGowin’s maps of 1852 and 1856 show Hancock Street between Penn Street and Duquesne Way, and Irwins [sic] Alley between Penn Street and Liberty Street.[21, 22] These seem to be the last maps in which the name Irwin’s Alley appears; later maps generally leave the alley unlabeled.
In 1868, Pittsburgh’s modern sequence of numbered streets was created by renaming all the streets perpendicular to the Allegheny River; Hancock Street became Eighth Street. The renaming ordinance did not mention Irwin’s Alley. (Eighth Street’s origin as an alley is the reason that the Three Sisters bridges—the Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol, and Rachel Carson Bridges—are on Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Streets, even though they are equally spaced.)
Irwins [sic] Alley was still listed in Thurston & Diffenbacher’s 1875 street directory, but it no longer appeared in the 1876 edition. At some point, Eighth Street was extended to Liberty Avenue: Diffenbacher’s 1881 street directory lists “Eighth, from Penn ave. to Duquesne way, 4th ward,” while the 1882 edition lists “Eighth, from Liberty ave. to Duquesne way, 4th ward.” In the Hopkins atlases of 1889, 1900, 1903, and 1910, both parts of the street, on either side of Penn Avenue, are labeled “8th St.”[1, 4, 31, 32] But as late as 1903, “Irwin alley” was still in use at least occasionally.
In 1910 a city ordinance renamed over 900 streets, including Third through Ninth Streets. Eighth Street, “from Liberty av. to Duquesne way,” was renamed Ellesmere Street. Perhaps this name was inspired by Robert Peary’s 1906 expedition to Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic. But just four years later, in 1914, Ellesmere Street was changed back to Eighth Street.
In the late 1990s, the portion of Eighth Street between Penn and Liberty Avenues (i.e., the old Irwin’s Alley) was named Tito Way for Tito Capobianco, artistic director of the Pittsburgh Opera.
Atlas of Greater Pittsburgh. G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1910. http://historicpittsburgh.org/maps-hopkins/1910-atlas-greater-pittsburgh; 1910 layer at http://esriurl.com/pittsburgh.
Atlas of the cities of Pittsburgh, Allegheny, and the adjoining boroughs. G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1872. http://historicpittsburgh.org/maps-hopkins/1872-atlas-pittsburgh-allegheny; 1872 layer at http://esriurl.com/pittsburgh.
Atlas of the cities Pittsburgh and Allegheny. G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1882. http://historicpittsburgh.org/maps-hopkins/1882-atlas-pittsburgh-allegheny; 1882 layer at http://esriurl.com/pittsburgh.
Atlas of the city of Pittsburgh, vol. 1. G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1889. http://historicpittsburgh.org/maps-hopkins/1889-volume-1-atlas-pittsburgh; included in the 1890 layer at http://esriurl.com/pittsburgh.
Ballinahinch. “Hancock street.” Daily Morning Post, Apr. 10, 1852, p. 3. Newspapers.com 86643483.
Barbeau, Jean, and Keyon, Lewis. Map of Pittsburgh and its environs. N. B. Molineux, Pittsburgh, 1830. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0576.
Bigham, T. J. “In the matter of opening Hancock street, City of Pittsburgh.” Daily Morning Post, Apr. 6, 1852, p. 2. Newspapers.com 86643432.
“City intelligence: Hancock street.” Daily Morning Post, Sept. 12, 1851, p. 3. Newspapers.com 86642522.
Craig, Neville B. The History of Pittsburgh: With a brief notice of its facilities of communication, and other advantages for commercial and manufacturing purposes. John H. Mellor, Pittsburgh, 1851. Google Books cE0OAAAAIAAJ; HathiTrust 001263103.
Cridlebaugh, Bruce S. “Field notes: Changing Pittsburgh street names—from downtown to Lawrenceville.” Pghbridges.com: Bridges & tunnels of Allegheny County & Pittsburgh, PA, Feb. 9, 2000. http://pghbridges.com/articles/fieldnote_pghstnames.htm.
Diffenbacher, J. F. J. F. Diffenbacher’s Directory of Pittsburgh & Allegheny Cities for 1882–’83: Embracing a general directory of residences of citizens, full classified business directory, register of public institutions, benevolent societies, and city government; directory of the streets, secret societies, schools and churches, twenty-sixth [sic] annual issue. Diffenbacher & Thurston, Pittsburgh, 1882. Historic Pittsburgh 31735051650889.
☞ Recently changed street names, pp. 29–32 (Historic Pittsburgh 31735051650889).
☞ Street directory, pp. 36–54 (Historic Pittsburgh 31735051650889).
Diffenbacher, J. F. J. F. Diffenbacher’s Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Cities, 1881–82: Embracing a general directory of residences of citizens, full classified business directory, register of public institutions, benevolent societies and city government; directory of the streets, secret societies, schools and churches. Diffenbacher & Thurston, Pittsburgh, 1881. Historic Pittsburgh 31735038317693.
☞ Street directory, pp. 36–45 (Historic Pittsburgh 31735038317693).
“Expense of opening streets in Pittsburgh.” Daily Morning Post, Feb. 7, 1854, p. 2. Newspapers.com 86658936.
Fleming, George T. “Isaac Craig is honored by city: Street name recalls deeds of revolutionary hero, patriot and pioneer: His stirring story.” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Aug. 29, 1915, fifth section, p. 2. Newspapers.com 85764563.
History of Allegheny County Pennsylvania: Including its early settlement and progress to the present time; a description of its historic and interesting localities; its cities, towns and villages; religious, educational, social and military history; mining, manufacturing and commercial interests; improvements, resources, statistics, etc.: Also portraits of some of its prominent men, and biographies of many of its representative citizens. A. Warner & Co., Chicago, 1889, p. 482. Internet Archive historyofalleghe1889cush.
Lane, Nicholas. “Eighth Street is deep-sixed: Let us sing a song of regret for a little piece of city history whose number was up.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Apr. 11, 1998, p. A-15. Newspapers.com 90667844.
“Local matters: Court of Common Pleas.” Daily Morning Post, Dec. 14, 1850, p. 2. Newspapers.com 86643176.
“Local matters: Decision.” Daily Morning Post, Jan. 6, 1851, p. 3. Newspapers.com 86642615.
Love, Gilbert. “How names came.” Pittsburgh Press, Aug. 11, 1952, p. 11. Newspapers.com 141584890.
McGowin, R. E. Map of the cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny and of the boroughs of South-Pittsburgh, Birmingham, East-Birmingham, Lawrenceville, Duquesne & Manchester etc. Schuchman & Haunlein, Pittsburgh, 1852. Hanging in the Pennsylvania Room of the Main (Oakland) Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
McGowin, R. E. Pittsburgh: Engraved from R. E. McGowin’s map for Geo. H. Thurston. Wm. Schuchman & Bro., Pittsburgh, 1856. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0091.
M’Cully, James; Sterling, Henry; Floyd, J. & R.; and M’Clurkan, Samuel. “Hancock street again.” Daily Pittsburgh Gazette, Apr. 16, 1852, [p. 1]. Newspapers.com 86449509.
Miller, Annie Clark. Early Land Marks and Names of Old Pittsburgh: An address delivered before the Pittsburgh Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution at Carnegie Institute, Nov. 30, 1923. Pittsburgh Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution, 1924, pp. 23–24. Historic Pittsburgh 00awn8211m; Internet Archive earlylandmarksna00mill.
“An ordinance changing the name of Ellesmere street, in the Second ward, between Liberty avenue and Duquesne way, to ‘Eighth street.’” Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1914, no. 223. Passed June 30, 1914; approved July 1, 1914. Ordinance Book 26, p. 161. Reprinted in the Pittsburgh Post, July 9, 1914, p. 8 (Newspapers.com 86509927), and July 10, p. 10 (Newspapers.com 86509947).
“An ordinance changing the names of certain avenues, streets, lanes and alleys in the City of Pittsburgh.” Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1910, no. 715. Passed Mar. 31, 1910; approved Apr. 5, 1910. Ordinance Book 21, p. 342. Google Books doQzAQAAMAAJ. Reprinted in the Pittsburgh Post, Apr. 19, 1910, pp. 10–11 (Newspapers.com 86611990, 86612022), Apr. 20, pp. 10–11 (Newspapers.com 86612278, 86612297), and Apr. 21, pp. 10–11 (Newspapers.com 86612601, 86612625).
“An ordinance changing the names of streets.” Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1868. Passed Aug. 31, 1868. Reprinted in the Pittsburgh Gazette, Sept. 2, 1868, p. 5 (Newspapers.com 86347563), Sept. 3, p. 3 (Newspapers.com 86347623), and Sept. 4, p. 3 (Newspapers.com 86347714).
Perry, John F. “Removal.” Daily Morning Post, Mar. 27, 1849, p. 2. Newspapers.com 86641141. This advertisement was repeated in every issue for over a year.
“Pittsburgh lots for sale.” Pittsburgh Daily Gazette and Advertiser, Apr. 7, 1845, p. 2. Newspapers.com 95768716.
“Proposals: Department of Public Works, Pittsburg, Pa., June 6th, 1903.” Pittsburg Press, June 16, 1903, p. 17. Newspapers.com 141843224.
Real estate plat-book of the City of Pittsburgh, vol. 3. G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1900. http://historicpittsburgh.org/maps-hopkins/1900-volume-3-plat-book-pittsburgh.
Real estate plat-book of the city of Pittsburgh, supplement to vol. 3. G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1903. http://historicpittsburgh.org/maps-hopkins/1903-volume-3-supplement-plat-book-pittsburgh-central.
Riddle, James M. The Pittsburgh Directory for 1815: Containing the names, professions and residence of the heads of families and persons in business, in the borough of Pittsburgh, with an appendix containing a variety of useful information. James M. Riddle, Pittsburgh, 1815. Internet Archive pittsburghdirect00ridd. Republished by the Colonial Trust Co., Pittsburgh, 1905 (Google Books 9ihRAAAAYAAJ; Historic Pittsburgh 00ach3238m); and by Duquesne Smelting Corporation, Pittsburgh, 1940 (Internet Archive pittsburghdirect00repu).
☞ List of streets, p. 130 (Google Books 9ihRAAAAYAAJ; Historic Pittsburgh 00ach3238m; Internet Archive pittsburghdirect00ridd, pittsburghdirect00repu).
Thurston, George H. Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Cities: And the adjoining boroughs of Birmingham, East Birmingham, Lawrenceville, Manchester, Duquesne, West Pittsburgh, South Pittsburgh, Monongahela, and Temperanceville; also, of the villages of Brownstown, Minersville, East Liberty, Hatfield, Woodville, Troy Hill, Mt. Washington, Spring Garden, East Pittsburgh and Oakland, together with parts of Pitt, Collins, Peebles, St. Clair, M’Clure, Reserve, Chartiers and Shaler Townships, for 1861–62. George H. Thurston, Pittsburgh, 1861. Historic Pittsburgh 31735038288050.
☞ Street directory, pp. 359–362 (Historic Pittsburgh 31735038288050).
Thurston, George H. Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Cities: And the adjoining boroughs of Birmingham, East Birmingham, Lawrenceville, Manchester, Duquesne, West Pittsburgh, South Pittsburgh, Monongahela, and Temperanceville; also, the villages of Brownstown, Minersville, East Liberty, Hatfield, Woodville, Troy Hill, Mt. Washington, Spring Garden, East Pittsburgh and Oakland; together with parts of Pitt, Collins, Peebles, St. Clair, M’Clure, Reserve, Chartiers and Shaler Townships, for 1862–63. George H. Thurston, Pittsburgh, 1862. Historic Pittsburgh 31735038289116.
☞ Street directory, pp. 355–358 (Historic Pittsburgh 31735038289116).
Thurston, George H., and Diffenbacher, J. F. Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny for 1875–76: Embracing a general directory of the residences of citizens; a full classified business directory; a register of public institutions, benevolent societies and city governments; a directory of the streets, secret societies, schools and churches. Thurston & Diffenbacher, Pittsburgh, 1875. Historic Pittsburgh 31735056286960.
☞ Street directory, pp. 5–20 (Historic Pittsburgh 31735056286960).
Thurston, George H., and Diffenbacher, J. F. Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny for 1876–7: Embracing a general directory of the residences of citizens, full classified business directory, register of public institutions, benevolent societies and city governments, directory of the streets, secret societies, schools and churches. Thurston & Diffenbacher, Pittsburgh, 1876. Google Books 8dkCAAAAYAAJ; Historic Pittsburgh 31735038288480.
☞ Street directory, pp. 6–15 (Google Books 8dkCAAAAYAAJ; Historic Pittsburgh 31735038288480).
Woods, George. A draught of the town plat of Pittsburgh, surveyed for John Penn, Jr., and John Penn, by George Woods, May 31st 1784. 1784. Reproduced as “Original plan of Pittsburgh” in plate 19 of Atlas of the cities of Pittsburgh, Allegheny, and the adjoining boroughs, G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1872 (Historic Pittsburgh 1872p019).