Japonica Way

From Pittsburgh Streets
Japonica Way
Neighborhood Shadyside

The 1882 Hopkins atlas shows that the parcel of land on either side of today's Japonica Way, between Ellsworth Avenue and what was then the Pennsylvania Railroad, was owned by James S. Negley (1826–1901).[1] By 1890 the property had been subdivided into lots, quadrisected by Graham Street and Japonica Way.[2] This subdivision, called Irving Place, was laid out by Thomas H. Chapman.[3][4][5]

Negley served in the Mexican–American War and was a Union general in the Civil War, and afterward he was elected to several terms in Congress. At various points in his life he was engaged in manufacturing, railroads, and shipping, but between the two wars he began farming and became a widely regarded horticulturist.[6]:1639–1640 This may be the inspiration for the name Japonica, which by itself often refers to the common camellia (Camellia japonica) but is also a common species name for other cultivated plants. For example, one horticultural journal from 1858 mentions Anemone japonica, Aucuba japonica, Camellia japonica, Cerasus japonica, Cryptomeria japonica, Hydrangea japonica, Kerria japonica, Lonicera japonica, Mahonia japonica, Pyrus japonica, and Taxus japonica.[7]:26,33,45–48,72,85,134,152,161,192,231,238,242,261,315,342,387,436 The same journal also printed two articles by Negley on roses and verbenas; Negley had established a nursery in Pittsburgh and was selling roses and other flowers.[7]:191,225–226,240,243,266–268,434 At the 1856 exhibition of the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society, held in Pittsburgh, Alexander Negley (James's uncle)[6]:1635 won a five-dollar prize for his cultivation of Dioscorea japonica, a species of yam.[8]

Japonica Way was called a "way" from the beginning, and was therefore unaffected by the 1914 city ordinance that renamed all alleys to ways.[9]

Japonica Way belonged to the boys.
It was their very own—
Every loose brick and scattered stick,
Every pebble and stone.
The girls just called it the "back-way home,"
Pretending they didn't care
That they couldn't play in Japonica Way,
For the boys were forever there.

Japonica was made the right size,
Wide and just long enough.
For a baseball game it was the same
As a diamond (in the rough).
The picket fence back of Heizy's house
Had always been first base;
And Bill would shout that a guy was out
If the ball went in Woodsie's place.

Besides baseball, there was much other fun
Essential to Walt and John,
Like hockey on skates or lifting weights
Or a bicycle marathon.
And there were traditions of regular guys
Like Gehrig and Rockne and Conn.
There also was "Tag," with a gay little wag,
To share in the goings-on.

It was the most rugged spot on earth,
Filled with laughter and noise.
Mouth-harps were played; touchdowns were made
And it was alive with boys.
But now, Japonica Way is still.
The boys have grown and gone.
It's lonesome too, for Marty and Sue;
They're missing Buddy and John.

Foozy's in khaki, Bryan's in blue;
Cliff is a bombardier.
But the stars shine blue and hearts stay true,
Keeping their place back here.
Japonica Way is empty now,
And it won't be happy again
Till it's over and done when the war is won
And the boys return home, men.

—Jackie McGee, 1943[10]


  1. 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 Pittsburgh Historic Maps (https://esriurl.com/pittsburgh). [view source]hopkins-1882
  2. Atlas of the City of Pittsburgh, vol. 4. G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1890. http://historicpittsburgh.org/maps-hopkins/1890-volume-4-atlas-pittsburgh; included in the 1890 layer at Pittsburgh Historic Maps (https://esriurl.com/pittsburgh). [view source]hopkins-1890-vol-4
  3. Real Estate Plat-Book of the City of Pittsburgh, vol. 2. G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1899. http://historicpittsburgh.org/maps-hopkins/1899-volume-2-plat-book-pittsburgh-east. [view source]hopkins-1899-vol-2
  4. Atlas of Greater Pittsburgh. G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1910. http://historicpittsburgh.org/maps-hopkins/1910-atlas-greater-pittsburgh; 1910 layer at Pittsburgh Historic Maps (https://esriurl.com/pittsburgh). [view source]hopkins-1910
  5. "Transactions in real estate: Sales by local agents and deeds of transfer recorded." Pittsburg Press, Mar. 26, 1888, [p. 6]. Newspapers.com 141339769. [view source]transactions-in-real-estate
  6. 6.0 6.1 John W. Jordan. Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania Biography, vol. V. Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York, 1915. Google Books PWHQ8QPD0fYC; Internet Archive encyclopediaofpe05jord; https://digital.libraries.psu.edu/digital/collection/digitalbks2/id/2203. [view source]ency-pa-biog-5
  7. 7.0 7.1 J. Jay Smith, ed. The Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste: Devoted to horticulture, landscape gardening, rural architecture, botany, pomology, entomology, rural economy, etc., vol. VIII. C. M. Saxton, New York, 1858. Google Books ECwCAAAAYAAJ; Internet Archive horticulturista04tuckgoog. [view source]horticulturist
  8. Report of the Transactions of the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society: For the year 1856, vol. IV, p. 66. A. Boyd Hamilton, Harrisburg, 1857. Google Books ewcTAAAAYAAJ; Internet Archive reporttransacti08socigoog. [view source]pa-agricultural-society-1856
  9. "An ordinance changing the name 'Alley' on every thoroughfare in the City of Pittsburgh, to 'Way.'" Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1914, no. 402. Passed Nov. 10, 1914; approved Nov. 16, 1914. Ordinance Book 26, p. 360. Reprinted in the Pittsburgh Post, Nov. 23, 1914, p. 11 (Newspapers.com 86505785), and Nov. 24, p. 12 (Newspapers.com 86505809). [view source]ordinance-1914-402
  10. Jackie McGee. "Japonica Way is empty now . . ." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 15, 1943, Daily Magazine, [p. 1]. Newspapers.com 89557140. [view source]mcgee