Pittsburgh Streets

Rope Way

Neighborhood: Allegheny West

Named for a rope factory, founded by Mary Pattison Irwin in 1794 and run by the Irwin family, that existed on the site between 1813 and 1858.[1, 3]

John Irwin, born in Ireland in 1752, came to Philadelphia in 1772 and became a hero in the Revolutionary War. He survived 22 bayonet wounds in the Battle of Paoli and was present with George Washington at the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781. (For more about Irwin, see Irwin Avenue.) After the war he returned to Ireland, where he met Mary Pattison at a St. Patrick’s Day ball at Dublin Castle in 1784.[2, 4, 6]

Mary was born in 1754 in Cookstown, County Tyrone, Ireland. By 1784 she was engaged to a doctor, but after she and John met they quickly fell in love, married, and sailed back to the United States. They lived in Philadelphia for a year and Chester County for another year before they moved to Pittsburgh, where John had been granted land as partial payment for his service in the Revolution. There they settled and had four children.[1, 2, 6]

Mary recognized that the young city’s growing river trade would demand rope. In 1794 she founded a rope factory near Smithfield Street and the Monongahela River. Because of his wounds, John was unable to help with the operation of the business, which was handled by Mary, later with the help of their son John. Mary’s key role was reflected in the name of the firm, John Irwin and Wife, unusual at a time when women were not typically acknowledged professionally. (After the elder John’s death in 1808, the firm became Mary Irwin and Son.)[1, 2, 4, 7]

The rope was made from hemp grown in western Pennsylvania. The factory required space for a ropewalk: a long, straight path where the hemp was laid and twisted into rope. The factory was moved several times before its relocation to Allegheny City in 1813, on a site bounded by what are now Brighton Road, Ridge Avenue, Galveston Avenue, and Western Avenue. It was later expanded westward nearly to Allegheny Avenue.[1, 3, 6, 7]

The Irwins’ rope factory became one of Pittsburgh’s first major industries. It produced the rope used for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s fleet on Lake Erie during the War of 1812, and probably also that used for Lewis and Clark’s keelboat, which was built in Pittsburgh in 1803.[1, 4, 7]

John Irwin was the eponym of Irwin Street (today Seventh Street) and Irwin Avenue on the North Side.[2, 5]

References

[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.

[7]Pollom, Leon J. “Pittsburgh’s pot past.” Now Then, Pittsburgh: Interesting historical bits. https://www.nowthenpgh.com/?p=683.