Ormsby Street

From Pittsburgh Streets
For other streets that have been named Ormsby Street, see Ormsby Street (disambiguation).
Ormsby Street
Neighborhoods Mount Oliver, St. Clair
Origin of name John Ormsby

Many place names on the South Side and in the South Hills recall members of the Ormsby family, who were some of the first European settlers in the area.

The first Ormsby to come to Western Pennsylvania was John Ormsby, born in Ireland in 1720, the son of Oliver Ormsby and Deborah Barry. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and came to America in 1752. Offered a captain's commission in General Braddock's army in 1755 (see Braddock Avenue), he was prevented from accepting by a malarial fever that lasted nearly three years. In 1758 he came to the Forks of the Ohio as the commissary of provisions of General John Forbes' expedition which captured Fort Duquesne. He was the paymaster for the construction of Fort Pitt in 1759–1760, after which he left the military to trade with the Native Americans. Three years later, during Pontiac's Rebellion, his employees were killed and much of his own property was destroyed; he sought shelter in Fort Pitt and aided in its defense. In 1764, Ormsby married Jane McAllister (1747–1799) and moved to Bedford, Pennsylvania, where he ran a general store and where he and his wife had three children: John, Jr.; Oliver; and Jane. The Ormsby family returned to Pittsburgh in 1770. Ormsby had been granted land for his military service, and he purchased more from the Penns; altogether he owned over 2,400 acres on the south bank of the Monongahela, between today's Smithfield Street Bridge and Becks Run Road. On this land he established his estate, which he named Homestead Farms. He operated the first ferry across the Monongahela River and kept a tavern in Pittsburgh on Water Street (today's Fort Pitt Boulevard). The Ormsbys had two more children in Pittsburgh: Joseph and Sidney. Ormsby was an active citizen in the young town through the 1780s and supported the pro-government side during the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. Late in life he gave away or sold at a low price most of his land on the South Side, much of it going to his daughters Sidney and Jane. He died in 1805 and is buried in the churchyard of Trinity Cathedral with the ashes of his wife.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Little is known of John Ormsby, Jr. (1765–1795), except for an event that took place during the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. He rode with Presley Neville and Marshall David Lenox, all armed, to the house of General John Neville in an attempt to prevent the insurgents from burning it. But young Ormsby was recognized as the son of his father, who was well known as a supporter of the government, and some of the mob turned on him; he barely escaped.[3][6]

John Ormsby's son Oliver (1767–1832) was a merchant with trading stores spread as far as Niagara and Erie to the north and Cincinnati to the west. His store in Pittsburgh supplied Commodore Perry's fleet on Lake Erie. He owned a steam flour mill in Cincinnati; a cotton factory and ropewalk in Chillicothe; and mills, forges, and an iron furnace in what is now Beaver Falls. He was a member of the board of managers of the Monongahela Bridge Company, a director of the Pittsburgh branch of the United States Bank, and a vestryman and warden of the Trinity Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. In 1802 he married Sarah Mahon (1781–1825), and they had ten children: Jane, Sarah, Sidney, Caroline, Mary, John, Caroline (the elder Caroline having died in childhood), Oliveretta, Josephine, and Oliver. After the elder Oliver's death in 1832, his daughters Josephine, Sidney, Sarah, Mary, and Oliveretta lived in five houses on five tracts of land between today's South 21st and South 24th Streets. His son Oliver studied medicine and lived in Ormsby Manor on the hillside above his sisters.[7][1][8][9][2][3][5][6] Sidney, Sarah, Jane, Mary, and Josephine Streets are named after Oliver Ormsby's daughters.[7][9][10] Mount Oliver is named after the younger Oliver Ormsby.[7][1][8][2][11]

John Ormsby's daughter Jane (1769–1790) married Dr. Nathaniel Bedford, eponym of Bedford Avenue. In 1811, he laid out the street plan for Birmingham, today's South Side between South Sixth and South 17th Streets.[1][3][6][12]

John Ormsby's son Joseph was shipwrecked and drowned in 1803 while on a trading voyage from Jamaica to Norfolk, Virginia.[3][6]

John Ormsby's daughter Sidney (born 1774) married Isaac Gregg, who owned a factory on the South Side, operated a ferry, and kept a store in Pittsburgh. He laid out the town of Sidneyville in 1812, named in his wife's honor.[3][6] Sidneyville was later absorbed into Birmingham; its boundaries were today's Uxor Way and South 17th Street.[6][10] South Seventh Street was originally called Gregg Street.

Julia Morgan Harding included "Ormsby" in a list of Pittsburgh streets named for "the soldiers and commandants who won the West,"[13] which suggests that Ormsby Street was named particularly for John Ormsby.

Many personal names were shared by different people in the Ormsby family tree, which has led to some confusion in the literature. Annie Clark Miller says that Mount Oliver is named for Oliver Ormsby the son of John Ormsby, but she says "only son," which describes the younger Oliver.[4][5] (The elder Oliver had eight daughters and two sons, but the other son, John, died young.)[6] Chris Potter says that Sidney, Sarah, Jane, Mary, and Josephine Streets were named by Nathaniel Bedford after daughters of John Ormsby,[12] but John had only two daughters, Jane and Sidney.[3][6] Bob Regan mistakenly says Oliver Ormsby was the officer under General Forbes' command in the French and Indian War.[14]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Leland D. Baldwin. Pittsburgh: The story of a city, pp. 245–246. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 1937. HathiTrust 001263101. [view source]baldwin
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Bob Hoover. "A family prospers for generations from early foothold." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug. 10, 2003, p. A-14. Newspapers.com 89905170; https://old.post-gazette.com/localnews/20030810lewisbarr8.asp. [view source]hoover
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Walter T. Kamprad. "John Ormsby, Pittsburgh's original citizen." Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, vol. 23, no. 4, Dec. 1940, pp. 203–222. https://journals.psu.edu/wph/article/view/2173. [view source]kamprad
  4. 4.0 4.1 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. 55. Pittsburgh Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution, 1924. Historic Pittsburgh 00awn8211m; Internet Archive earlylandmarksna00mill. [view source]miller
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Annie Clark Miller. "Old houses and estates in Pittsburgh." Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, vol. 9, no. 3, July 1926, pp. 129–168. https://journals.psu.edu/wph/article/view/1411. [view source]old-houses
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Oliver Ormsby Page. A Short Account of the Family of Ormsby of Pittsburgh. Joel Munsell's Sons, Albany, N. Y., 1892. Internet Archive ashortaccountfa00pagegoog, shortaccountoffa00page; https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Short_Account_of_the_Family_of_Ormsby_of_Pittsburgh. [view source]ormsby
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Ruth Ayers. "Do you know this place—?: Ormsby estate on South Side now cluttered with tenements: Old mansion now only part of overcrowded district: Horses once raced where children romp and play now." Pittsburgh Press, Aug. 16, 1934, p. 21. Newspapers.com 146695755. [view source]ayers-do-you-know
  8. 8.0 8.1 Stuart P. Boehmig. Pittsburgh's South Side, pp. 8, 53. Images of America. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, S. C., 2006, ISBN 978-0-7385-3939-3. LCCN 2005932359. [view source]boehmig
  9. 9.0 9.1 Flashbacks. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 21, 1933, p. 8. Newspapers.com 90310579. [view source]flashbacks
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Tales of old times: When the Southside was a small village amid the woodlands: Memoirs of early residents: The neglected grave of the founder of Birmingham borough: The first church, school and mill." Pittsburg Dispatch, Mar. 1, 1890, second part, p. 9. Newspapers.com 76218651. [view source]tales
  11. C. A. Weslager. "Reminiscences of Beltzhoover and Allentown: Two old-time Western Pennsylvania boroughs." Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, vol. 49, no. 3, July 1966, pp. 251–262. https://journals.psu.edu/wph/article/view/2808. [view source]weslager
  12. 12.0 12.1 Chris Potter. "My husband recently got a job on the South Side, and we noticed there are a lot of streets named after women. How come?" You Had to Ask. Pittsburgh City Paper, Dec. 29, 2005. https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/Content?oid=1337601. [view source]south-side-women
  13. Julia Morgan Harding. "Names of Pittsburgh streets: Their historical significance." Pittsburgh Bulletin, Feb. 15, 1893. Reprinted in Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt: Early names of Pittsburgh streets, 13th ed., pp. 52–60, Fort Pitt Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, 1958 (HathiTrust 007074456). [view source]harding
  14. Bob Regan. The Names of Pittsburgh: How the city, neighborhoods, streets, parks and more got their names, p. 162. The Local History Company, Pittsburgh, 2009, ISBN 978-0-9770429-7-5. [view source]regan