Oliver Avenue

From Pittsburgh Streets
Oliver Avenue
Neighborhood Central Business District
Origin of name Henry W. Oliver
Virgin Alley (1784–1904)
Origin of name "L'Allée de la Vierge," road from Fort Duquesne to cemetery

Oliver Avenue is named for Henry W. Oliver (1840–1904), a Pittsburgh industrialist.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

Until 1904, Oliver Avenue was called Virgin Alley. This was one of the original streets of Pittsburgh, laid out in the town plan of 1784 by George Woods (namesake of Wood Street).[8] Annie Clark Miller writes that this name dates from the French occupation of Fort Duquesne in 1754–1758. Soldiers who died at Fort Duquesne were buried in a Native American graveyard marked by a mound, at the present location of First Presbyterian Church and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in the block surrounded by Oliver Avenue, Wood Street, Sixth Avenue, and Smithfield Street. The road from the fort through the woods to this burial ground was named "L'Allée de la Vierge," a name that was common in France and other Roman Catholic countries for a street leading to a cemetery.[1][9][7]

Henry W. Oliver worked for many years to widen the alley in order to reduce downtown congestion.[1][2][3][6] He even purchased property on the alley from stubborn owners who refused to agree to the widening.[1][3][4] His persistence paid off, and the alley was widened into a street. The name Virgin Alley was felt to be inappropriate for the newly widened street, and it was proposed to change it to Virgin Avenue. Oliver himself advocated for the name Virginia Street (not to be confused with Virginia Avenue on Mount Washington).[10]

The name Oliver Avenue was suggested by the Pittsburg Press on its front page in 1904, less than two weeks after Oliver's death.[1] Many prominent Pittsburgh citizens supported the renaming proposal.[1][2][4][5] The city ordinance officially changing the name was passed less than a month later.[11] Oliver's name is also preserved in the Oliver Building on Smithfield Street between Oliver Avenue and Sixth Avenue.

Bob Regan says only that Oliver Avenue was named for the inventor of a band for baling cotton.[12] This statement apparently refers to a patent granted to Oliver in 1868.[13] But it is clear from the contemporary newspaper reports that the street was named in honor of Oliver's contributions to the city's development, and his particular connection to this street, not this invention.[1][2][3][4][7] (Compare Aiken Avenue, Dithridge Street, Ward Street, and Wood Street, which Regan also claims were named after inventors.)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 "Avenue as a memorial to H. W. Oliver: Prominent men favor changing name of Virgin alley to Oliver avenue—suggestion made by The Press: He made thoroughfare possible." Pittsburg Press, Feb. 25, 1904, pp. 1, 13. Newspapers.com 141827056, 141827281. [view source]avenue-memorial
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Papers ready for councils: Changing the name of Virgin alley will be pushed: 'Oliver avenue' popular: Many leading business men approve The Press' suggestion: Some of Mr. Oliver's work." Pittsburg Press, Feb. 26, 1904, p. 1. Newspapers.com 141827340. [view source]papers-ready
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Oliver avenue." Pittsburg Press, Feb. 26, 1904, p. 6. Newspapers.com 141827426. [view source]oliver-avenue-19040226
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "An ordinance for new name: The common body receives motion regarding Virgin alley matter: Oliver avenue favored: Leading business men express pleasure at proposal: With surveys committee." Pittsburg Press, Feb. 27, 1904, p. 1. Newspapers.com 141827699. [view source]ordinance-for-new-name
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Committee to hold meeting: Ordinance to change name of Virgin alley to be taken up." Pittsburg Press, Feb. 28, 1904, p. 22. Newspapers.com 141828362. [view source]committee
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Is no longer Virgin alley: Old thorouhfare [sic] given the name of Oliver avenue today: Mayor signed the measure: Approved bill that caused Ostermaier–Willock trouble: Scheme for annexation." Pittsburg Press, Mar. 23, 1904, p. 3. Newspapers.com 141914016. [view source]no-longer-virgin
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "Oliver avenue." Pittsburg Press, Mar. 24, 1904, p. 6. Newspapers.com 141914565. [view source]oliver-avenue-19040324
  8. George Woods. 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). [view source]woods-plat
  9. 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, p. 35. Pittsburgh Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution, 1924. Historic Pittsburgh 00awn8211m; Internet Archive earlylandmarksna00mill. [view source]miller
  10. "New name for Virgin alley: Henry W. Oliver favors calling it Virginia street when it is widened: Gives good reasons: Would perpetuate a name that would bring back memories of incidents around here in colonial days." Pittsburgh Gazette, Mar. 3, 1903, p. 6. Newspapers.com 86212508. [view source]new-name-for-virgin-alley
  11. "An ordinance changing the name of Virgin alley, between Liberty avenue and Grant street, to Oliver avenue." Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1904, no. 464. Passed Mar. 21, 1904; approved Mar. 23, 1904. Ordinance Book 15, p. 643. Reprinted in the Pittsburg Post, Mar. 29, 1904, p. 5 (Newspapers.com 86367651), and Mar. 30, p. 12 (Newspapers.com 86367963); and in the Pittsburg Press, Apr. 1, 1904, p. 3 (Newspapers.com 141920276), Apr. 2, p. 3 (Newspapers.com 141921016), and Apr. 4, p. 7 (Newspapers.com 141922988). [view source]ordinance-1904-464
  12. Bob Regan. The Names of Pittsburgh: How the city, neighborhoods, streets, parks and more got their names, p. 55. The Local History Company, Pittsburgh, 2009, ISBN 978-0-9770429-7-5. [view source]regan
  13. Henry W. Oliver, Jr. "Improved band for baling cotton." U. S. patent 76,238, Mar. 31, 1868. http://pdfpiw.uspto.gov/.piw?Docid=00076238, https://patents.google.com/patent/US76238A. [view source]oliver-patent