Neighborhood: Central Business District
This alley, running from Liberty Avenue to the Allegheny River between St. Clair Street (today’s Sixth Street) and Irwin Street (today’s Seventh Street), was part of George Woods’ original plan of Pittsburgh of 1784, though that plan did not give it a name. It is also unlabeled in the 1787 plan of lots by John Hills, though one copy of this map has “Barkers Alley” as a later handwritten annotation. It is first labeled Barkers Alley in the 1830 map of Jean Barbeau and Lewis Keyon.
Bruce S. Cridlebaugh suggests that the name may come from Joe Barker, a vehement street preacher, who was jailed in 1849 on charges of obstructing traffic and using “lewd, wicked, scandalous, and infamous words.” While he was still in jail, his supporters ran a mayoral write-in campaign on his behalf. He won the election and served as mayor of Pittsburgh for a year in 1850–1851.[2, 3, 5] Unfortunately, of course, this entertaining story cannot be the source of the name, as the alley was already called Barkers in 1830.
The real origin of the name is probably Abner Barker, who lived on the west side of Penn Avenue between Irwin and St. Clair Streets (i.e., at the location of this alley) in 1815. Compare nearby Cecil Place, Scott Place, Maddock Place, and Irwin’s Alley (today’s Eighth Street), which were similarly named for people living at those locations.
The name was changed from Barkers Alley to Barker Place in 1895; other downtown alleys were similarly renamed. Note the dropping of the possessive S. However, a 1910 ordinance officially establishing the names of streets in Pittsburgh called it Barkers Place, restoring the final S, and this is the name that is seen today.
Barbeau, Jean, and Keyon, Lewis. Map of Pittsburgh and its environs. N. B. Molineux, Pittsburgh, 1830. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0576.
“Barker sentenced.” Daily Morning Post, Nov. 20, 1849, p. 2. Newspapers.com 86641994.
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.
Hills, John. Plan of the lots laid out at Pittsburg and the Coal Hill. Philadelphia, 1787. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0464; LCCN 74692580. Reproduced in Emily M. Weaver, The Fort Pitt Block House, History Press, Charleston, S. C., 2013, ISBN 978-1-60949-933-4, p. 40.
Lambing, A. A., and White, J. W. F. Allegheny County: Its Early History and Subsequent Development. Snowden & Peterson, Pittsburgh, 1888, pp. 106–107. Google Books 6bY-AAAAYAAJ; HathiTrust 008957728, 100693049; Historic Pittsburgh 00aee8946m; Internet Archive centennialhistor00lamb; LCCN 18008828.
“An ordinance changing the names of Cecil alley to Cecil place, Barkers alley to Barker place, Scott alley to Scott place, Maddocks alley to Maddock place, and Garrison alley to Garrison place.” Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1895, no. 386. Passed Mar. 18, 1895; approved Mar. 21, 1895. Ordinance Book 10, p. 227. Reprinted in the Pittsburg Press, Apr. 8, 1895, p. 8 (Newspapers.com 141562334), Apr. 9, p. 7 (Newspapers.com 141562391), and Apr. 10, p. 9 (Newspapers.com 141562481).
“An ordinance establishing the names of the avenues, streets, lanes and alleys in the City of Pittsburgh.” Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1910, no. 716. Passed Mar. 31, 1910; approved Apr. 5, 1910. Ordinance Book 21, p. 359. Google Books doQzAQAAMAAJ. Reprinted in the Pittsburgh Post, Apr. 29, 1910, pp. 12–16 (Newspapers.com 86616256, 86616285, 86616314, 86616333, 86616343), and Apr. 30, pp. 12–16 (Newspapers.com 86616643, 86616672, 86616694, 86616726, 86616748).
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).
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).