Pittsburgh Streets

Fifth Avenue

Neighborhoods: Bluff, Central Business District, Central Oakland, Crawford-Roberts, Homewood West, Larimer, North Oakland, Point Breeze, Point Breeze North, Shadyside, South Oakland, Squirrel Hill North, West Oakland

The part of Fifth Avenue from Liberty Avenue to Grant Street has always been named Fifth, back to the original plan of Pittsburgh laid out in 1784 by George Woods (eponym of Wood Street),[29] though it was called Fifth Street until changed to an avenue in 1868.[9, 19] (This is not to be confused with the other Fifth Street, originally Pitt Street, that is now the northern half of Stanwix Street.)

The long stretch of Fifth Avenue from Grant Street to Point Breeze, however, has had many names.

It first appears on a map drawn by George Woods in 1784 showing the farms east of the newly platted town of Pittsburgh; on this map it is labeled “Road leading to 4th St.”[30] (The original intersection with Grant Street was at Fourth Street, now Fourth Avenue.)

Two similar maps of 1795 Pittsburgh, published in the mid-1800s, call it Braddock’s Field Road or Road to Braddocks Field[22, 26] because it led to Braddock’s Field, the site of the disastrous Battle of the Monongahela in 1755. The road followed the present course of Fifth Avenue to what later became Brushton, today part of Homewood, and then turned south along the route of the modern Braddock Avenue to Turtle Creek.[9] Many sources say that Braddock’s Field Road was the original name,[9, 17, 25] but so far I have been unable to find this name in use earlier than the mid-19th century.

A map from 1815 calls it Beelens Road and shows it leading to a house labeled “Beelens” at the mouth of the “Monongahela 2 Mile Run” (near Fifth and Kirkpatrick Street today).[5] This was the homestead of Anthony Beelen.[10]

A city ordinance passed in 1816 refers to it merely as “the lane leading eastwardly from the end of Fourth-street.”[21]

In the 1830s it was called Watson’s Road,[2, 10, 13, 23] for Andrew Watson, past whose farm it ran.[9]

The Pittsburgh and Greensburgh Turnpike Road (today’s Penn Avenue) was built in 1807 along the path of an old dirt road.[9, 17, 23, 25] About 1835, Watson’s Road was improved and became a fork of this turnpike into Pittsburgh, officially known as the Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Turnpike Road[9, 11, 13, 17, 23, 25] but informally called the Fourth Street Road.[8, 9, 10, 12, 17, 23, 24, 25]

In 1847 the city limits were extended eastward so that the road formed part of the boundary, from Miltenberger Street to Jumonville Street at Wyandotte Street. The portion of the road within the city was renamed Pennsylvania Avenue by city ordinance,[3, 4, 8, 9, 15, 16, 17, 23, 25] but the name Fourth Street Road continued to be used colloquially until after the Civil War.[9]

Finally, in 1867, the East End was annexed, and in 1868 the whole road out to Point Breeze was unified under the name of Fifth Avenue.[1, 9, 17, 19, 23, 25]

The point of connection to downtown has also changed over time. The road originally joined Fourth Street (now Fourth Avenue) at Grant Street.[5, 9, 22, 26, 30]

A city ordinance passed in 1816, accepting into the city the eastern addition of James O’Hara and James Ross, authorized them to extend Diamond Street (or Diamond Alley, today’s downtown Forbes Avenue) east to Try Street, one block east of Ross Street, and to close the portion of the road between Diamond Street and Fourth Street.[21] This was done by the early 1830s.[2, 13] Even though the road was now an extension of Diamond Street, it continued to be called the Fourth Street Road.

In 1846, a city ordinance redirected Pennsylvania Avenue, as the road was by then known, by straightening its westernmost angle at what was then Chatham Street and continuing the road straight to Ross Street.[20] This had the effect of moving the downtown connection from Diamond Street to Fifth Street (now Fifth Avenue). This change seems to have taken some time to accomplish. The new route does not appear in McGowin’s maps of 1852 and 1856;[15, 16] it is drawn tentatively, as an outline through some buildings, in Beers’ map of 1862;[3] and it appears fully in the G. M. Hopkins atlas of 1872.[1] The old end of the road that joined Diamond Alley was officially renamed Old Avenue in 1868 by the same ordinance that renamed Fifth Street to Fifth Avenue.[19] It became part of Diamond Street in 1899 and is the only part of Diamond Street that exists today.[8, 9, 18, 27]

Over 900 city streets were renamed in 1910 to fix the problem of duplicate street names. As part of this renaming, the Daughters of the American Revolution proposed changing the name of Fifth Avenue east of downtown to Washington Avenue. This was opposed by Mayor William A. Magee, and instead the name Washington was given to a section of Beechwood Boulevard, today’s Washington Boulevard.[7, 14, 28]

In the 1970s, city councilman William R. Robinson proposed renaming Fifth Avenue to honor Martin Luther King Jr. This proposal was met with objections from business owners, who argued that it would be too expensive to update addresses on letterheads and forms.[6]


[1]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.

[2]Barbeau, Jean, and Keyon, Lewis. Map of Pittsburgh and its environs. N. B. Molineux, Pittsburgh, 1830. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0576.

[3]Beers, S. N. & F. W. Map of Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Smith, Gallup & Hewitt, Philadelphia, 1862. LCCN 2012592151; 1862 layer at http://esriurl.com/pittsburgh.

[4]The cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, with parts of adjacent boroughs, Pennsylvania. J. H. Colton & Co., New York, 1855. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0089; 1855 layer at http://esriurl.com/pittsburgh.

[5]Darby, William. Plan of Pittsburg and adjacent country. 1815. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0197, DARMAP0198. Reproduced as “Plan von Pittsburg und Umgebungen” in Bernhard, Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Heinrich Luden, ed., Reise Sr. Hoheit des Herzogs Bernhard zu Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach durch Nord-Amerika in den Jahren 1825 und 1826, vol. II, Wilhelm Hoffmann, Weimar, 1828, following p. 200 (Internet Archive reisesrhoheitdes00bern, reisesrhoheitdes00inbern), and hence occasionally attributed to Bernhard.

[6]Donalson, Al. “Signing in: Names of city streets reflect colorful history.” Pittsburgh Press, Mar. 19, 1985, p. A7. Newspapers.com 146595524.

[7]“Fifth avenue’s name will not be changed: Beechwood boulevard is to be called William Pitt boulevard.” Pittsburgh Post, Jan. 22, 1910, p. 14. Newspapers.com 93557559.

[8]Fleming, George Thornton. History of Pittsburgh and Environs: From prehistoric days to the beginning of the American Revolution, vol. 1. American Historical Society, New York and Chicago, 1922. Google Books 7ctaAAAAYAAJ, ffQMAAAAYAAJ, S88wAQAAMAAJ, tzUafgt-eskC; HathiTrust 011262563; Historic Pittsburgh 01aee9405m.

[9]Fleming, George T. “Old highway is now great avenue: Historic Fourth Street road plays prominent part in story of early Pittsburgh: Opened years ago.” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Jan. 9, 1916, fifth section, p. 2. Newspapers.com 85762432.

[10]Fleming, George T. “Story evolved from plate and map: History of progressive decade in early Pittsburgh is brought out: How town looked.” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Mar. 5, 1916, fifth section, p. 2. Newspapers.com 85900461.

[11]Heastings, E. H. Map of the county of Allegheny, Pennsylvania. 1850. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0090.

[12]Johnston, William G. Life and Reminiscences from Birth to Manhood of Wm. G. Johnston. The Knickerbocker Press, New York, 1901. Google Books N-QEAAAAYAAJ.

[13]Keyon, Lewis. Map of Pittsburgh and its environs. 1835. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0577; 1835 layer at http://esriurl.com/pittsburgh.

[14]“Making a joke of street names: Clerks assigned to wipe out duplications choose any old titles: Hippo, Tumbo, Fortitude!: Also Divinity, Sunday, Starch, Parkhurst, Chianti, Wry and Prudence.” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 28, 1909, p. 2. Newspapers.com 85879633.

[15]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.

[16]McGowin, R. E. Pittsburgh: Engraved from R. E. McGowin’s map for Geo. H. Thurston. Wm. Schuchman & Bro., Pittsburgh, 1856. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0091.

[17]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, p. 34. Historic Pittsburgh 00awn8211m; Internet Archive earlylandmarksna00mill.

[18]“An ordinance changing the name of Old avenue to Diamond street.” Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1899, no. 116. Passed June 26, 1899; approved June 27, 1899. Ordinance Book 12, p. 451. Reprinted in the Pittsburg Post, July 8, 1899, p. 7 (Newspapers.com 86443786), and July 10, p. 3 (Newspapers.com 86443812).

[19]“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).

[20]“An ordinance for extending Pennsylvania Avenue, and widening Fifth street, between Grant and Wylie.” Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1846. Reprinted in the Pittsburgh Morning Post, Apr. 30, 1846, p. 2 (Newspapers.com 88168053).

[21]“An ordinance respecting sundry new streets in the eastern addition to Pittsburgh.” Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1816, no. 22. Passed Sept. 28, 1816; re-enacted by ordinance no. 114, passed Apr. 14, 1828; recorded Mar. 13, 1828. Ordinance Book A, p. 125. Google Books sfxOAAAAYAAJ, 3n9hAAAAcAAJ.

[22]Pittsburgh 1795. 1869. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0203. Reproduced in George T. Fleming, Fleming’s Views of Old Pittsburgh: A portfolio of the past, Crescent Press, Pittsburgh, 1932, p. 16; in 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. 484 (Internet Archive historyofalleghe1889cush); and in Bob Regan, The Names of Pittsburgh: How the city, neighborhoods, streets, parks and more got their names, The Local History Company, Pittsburgh, 2009, ISBN 978-0-9770429-7-5, p. 57.

[23]Regan, Bob. The Names of Pittsburgh: How the city, neighborhoods, streets, parks and more got their names. The Local History Company, Pittsburgh, 2009, p. 55. ISBN 978-0-9770429-7-5.

[24]Sidney & Neff and McRea, S. Map of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, with the names of property-holders. Philadelphia, 1851. LCCN 2012592150.

[25]“Street names sketch history of city: Tribute to many pioneers dimmed by time.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 26, 1936, anniversary section IV, p. 16. Newspapers.com 88921069.

[26]Thurston, George H. Fort Pitt in 1795. 1856. In George H. Thurston, Directory for 1856–’57, of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Cities, Birmingham, East Birmingham, South & West Pittsburgh, Temperanceville, Manchester, Duquesne and Lawrenceville Boroughs, East Liberty, and Parts of Pitt and Collins Townships, Pittsburgh, 1856, preceding p. iii (Historic Pittsburgh 31735038289074). Reprinted with small variations in Annie Clark Miller, 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, p. 35 (Historic Pittsburgh 00awn8211m; Internet Archive earlylandmarksna00mill). For additional copies with small variations, lacking clear publication information, see Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0201, DARMAP0202.

[27]“Vale Old avenue: A change in name will soon completely destroy its identity: It has had quite a history: Reminiscences of the thoroughfare and district: How the name was given.” Pittsburg Press, July 9, 1899, p. 10. Newspapers.com 141922241.

[28]“Want names retained of old city streets: Citizens object to changes in time-honored appellations: Speedy action is urged: Committee of councils asked to hasten task of eliminating duplicates.” Pittsburgh Post, Jan. 12, 1910, p. 7. Newspapers.com 93557403.

[29]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).

[30]Woods, George. A general draught of the farms and out lots in the Manor of Pittsburgh, situate between the Alleghany and Monongahela Rivers, laid out by order of Tench, Fransis, Esqr. Attorney for John Penn, Jr, and John Penn. 1784. Reproduced in plate 17 of Atlas of the cities of Pittsburgh, Allegheny, and the adjoining boroughs, G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1872 (Historic Pittsburgh 1872p017).