Pittsburgh Streets

Irwin Avenue

Neighborhood: Perry South

Named for John Irwin (1752–1808), a Revolutionary War hero and early Pittsburgh settler. He was born in Donaghmore, County Monaghan, Ireland. He emigrated to Philadelphia in 1772 and worked as a carpenter there until the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. He joined the First Pennsylvania Regiment as a lieutenant; he rose to the rank of captain over the course of the war. In January 1777 he was ordered to Quebec. There he became seriously ill but was nursed back to health by Catholic nuns, one of whom left the sisterhood to marry him but died of smallpox before the end of the war. Irwin was present at the Battle of Paoli in September 1777, where he received 22 bayonet wounds but was saved by a book in his breast pocket, containing his military orders, that stopped three thrusts of the weapon. Upon his recovery he was appointed to the staff of General George Washington, in which capacity he participated in the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781.[2, 4, 6]

After the war he returned to Ireland, where he met a woman named Mary Pattison at a St. Patrick’s Day ball in Dublin in 1784. They married and sailed back to the United States. After one year in Philadelphia and another in Chester County, they moved to Pittsburgh in 1786 to take possession of land John had been granted for his service in the war. They settled there and had four children. In 1794, Mary founded a rope factory, called John Irwin and Wife, that became one of Pittsburgh’s first major industries (see Rope Way). John died in 1808 at the age of 56.[1, 2, 3, 4, 6]

Irwin was also the eponym of Irwin Street (today Seventh Street) and the borough of Irwin.[1, 2, 5]


[1]Blackley, Katie. “Rope magnate Mary Irwin operated one of the city’s largest industries.” 90.5 WESA, Mar. 19, 2019. https://www.wesa.fm/post/rope-magnate-mary-irwin-operated-one-citys-largest-industries.

[2]Fleming, George T. “Our revolutionary sires: Additional biographies of Pittsburgh soldiers of the Revolution—John Irwin, Stephen Bayard, George Wallace, the Guthrie brothers and Adamson Tannehill—graphic story of Capt. Irwin’s services—his narrow escape from death at Paoli massacre: Lists of soldiers of Revolution reprinted from D. A. R. Magazine—Allegheny County’s list added to—Butler County patriots enumerated—‘Mackeys’ distinguished—James Mackaye and Aeneas Mackay—turbulent times of notorious Connolly.” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 11, 1924, fifth section, p. 6. Newspapers.com 85854858.

[3]“John Irwin & the Rope Walk.” Allegheny West Civic Council. http://alleghenywest.org/john-irwin-rope-walk/.

[4]Jordan, John W. Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania: Genealogical and personal memoirs, vol. 3. Lewis Publishing Company, New York, 1911. Google Books 9NQ4AQAAMAAJ.

[5]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. 23. Historic Pittsburgh 00awn8211m; Internet Archive earlylandmarksna00mill.

[6]Pollom, Leon J. “Dead two centuries, Mary Irwin inspires today’s women.” Now Then, Pittsburgh: Interesting historical bits. https://www.nowthenpgh.com/?p=2330.