Project:Frequently asked questions

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How did Pittsburgh Streets start?

I moved to Pittsburgh in 2009 and, naturally, started to learn the names of streets so that I could find my way around. As I did so, I began to wonder idly where some of the names came from. Some were fairly obvious: Penn Avenue, for example, is clearly named for William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. Others were stranger—what kind of macabre event happened on Woolslayer Way?

A couple of years later, I was in a library researching something (now I don't remember what), when somehow I stumbled across a newspaper filler article from 1942 saying that Tokio Street and Japan Way had been renamed amid the anti-Japanese fervor of the day. I thought this was an interesting little bit of trivia. Today Pittsburgh signposts say Tokay Street—how many people know that this street used to be Tokio?

Several more years went by. One day I left my apartment on Thomas Boulevard and walked to the bus stop at the corner of Fifth Avenue and McPherson Boulevard, as I had done almost every day for years. But that day, for whatever reason, it suddenly occurred to me that Thomas and McPherson were both names of Union generals in the Civil War. And immediately afterward I realized that nearby Meade Street completes the set!

So I decided to see what else I could find about the origins of Pittsburgh street names, and that became the start of this project.

How do you do your research?

I use a number of helpful resources.

  • Pittsburgh Historic Maps is a great place to start, to see roughly when a street first appeared and how it has evolved over time. Many of the maps also show the names of landowners and the people who laid out plans of lots, which can be valuable clues to the origins of street names.
  • Other historical maps are listed in Project:Maps.
  • Newspapers.com includes over 200 years of Pittsburgh newspapers, fully searchable.
  • The Pittsburgh Municipal Record on the Internet Archive has records of the Pittsburgh City Councils from 1868 to 1999, including ordinances and resolutions.
  • City Council records since 2000 are available from the Legislative Information Center.
  • Historical city directories and street guides are listed in Project:City directories and street guides.
  • George T. Fleming was a prolific local historian from the early 20th century who was also interested in the history of street names. He wrote a weekly column for the Pittsburgh Gazette Times, which I have collected in Project:George T. Fleming's newspaper columns.
  • Annie Clark Miller wrote Early Land Marks and Names of Old Pittsburgh in 1923: see Source:Miller.
  • Bob Regan wrote The Names of Pittsburgh in 2009: see Source:Regan.

The full set of sources I have used are categorized under Category:Sources.

How can I contact you?

Email me at brian@zifyoip.com.

I welcome questions, feedback, and additional information. If you'd like to know the origin of a street name that I don't have yet, let me know, and I'll try to dig something up.