A series of vicissitudes overwhelming the original building of the Episcopal church home on Fortieth street has wiped out of existence a place teeming with early Pittsburg history. A year ago an army of rats, living in its cellars, forewarned by their special providence or feeling that the erection of the new home nearby naturally imperiled the existence of the old, went forth among the neighbors seeking boarding and lodging. They got out none too soon, for the hindmost tail was scarcely clear of the cellar before the first rafter was pulled down.
The house, not the enlarged, improved structure familiar to the present generation, but the early red brick germ, was built during Andrew Jackson's presidency by Alba Fisk, the first master armorer at the Pittsburg arsenal, and was consequently nearly 60 years old when it ceased to be masonery [sic] and became an historical recollection. It was the first homestead of the Fisk family, and stood in the eastern limits of the grounds which extended along the lower side of the Greensburg pike—now Penn avenue—from the present Main street to a point opposite Samuel McKee's house near the "Forks of the Road." To comprehend even in a measure how lovely this country side was half a century ago one must efface the present prosperous and unromantic Lawrenceville from his memory. Fortieth street, more musically called Covington by our ancestors, looked very unlike what it is to-day. Unskilled engineering had given it one grade for about a third of its length, after which it dropped and reached Butler street with great precipitation. There was no main street, and Fisk revived old associations only seven years ago. About the middle of Fisk street, and to the northeast of the Fisk home (afterward the church home), was a great ravine spanned by a bridge, and this, with another bridge thrown across a defile on the neighboring Fortieth street, made a continuous road whereby the dead of the town passed to its last resting place in the little graveyard where now stands the Washington sub-district public school. Long ago Pittsburg outgrew its graveyard, and those people who were able carried off what could be found of their relatives to the Allegheny cemetery. What remained was heaped into a 'composite,' and as there had been much fighting blood laid away there, it was looked upon as a military one, and a storied granite to that effect was erected and stands in the playground of the school to-day.
At every turn thereabouts you can trace the footprints of the Fisk family. Alba Fisk, himself, who came to Pittsburg from Springfield, Mass., in 1818, did not cease erecting homesteads until there were four recorded to him. Of these only one is standing to-day, where his son-in-law, the Rev. John G. Brown, now an extremely old man, lives. It is one of the landmarks of Lawrenceville, and what, with its little turrets and gable ends, and the picturesque grounds bordering on Fortieth street, in which it stands, there are few more interesting cradles of early Pittsburg life. The traces of the other three houses are now lost, the last to go being the original homestead, which for a quarter of a century had been the only home for orphan children of the Protestant Episcopal persuasion in Pittsburg.
In 1855, and from that time until 1863, the Fisks living in one or more of their other residences, their original homestead became a ladies' seminary. It was called Locust Grove seminary, seemingly for the same reason that moved David Copperfield's father to dub the scene of his honeymoon and David's birthplace the Rookery. There never was a locust tree on the place, though maples were there in abundance, and a long line of them were marshaled on the Fortieth street side, of which a few veterans remain to the present time. All Pittsburg families of any social pretensions sent their daughters to Locust Grove as day pupils; the boarders came from a wider range, and even as far south as North Carolina people had heard of the fame of this Episcopal institution. Our mothers could not command the services of the Penn avenue cable in those times, and, instead, an omnibus brought them to school in the morning, and returned them to their homes in the evening. Most of the agreeable recollections of those old-time pupils appear to be centered in the omnibus and its driver, whose name has long since faded from their memories. The archives of Locust Grove, if it ever had any, have gone the way of much waste paper, and a roll call compiled from the rather uncertain source of an old lady's memory must be, necessarily, incomplete. Such as it is, the list is as follows, and gives in each required instance the married name of the pupil as well:
Sarah Tomlinson, Mrs. Samuel Lindsay, Pacific avenue; Rachel Tomlinson, Nannie Johnson, Elizabeth F. Johnson, Mrs. W. G. McCandless, Agnes Scott, the late Mrs. Dick, of Meadville; Nannie A. Scott, Mrs. D. A. Stewart, Allegheny; Rebecca Denny, Mrs. Verdi, Washington, D. C.; Rebecca B. McClure, Mrs. Flandrau, St. Paul; Martha Bakewell, Mary VanDusen, Mrs. Audley Gazzam, New York; Kate Baum, Mrs. Shellito, Eliza Darlington, Edith Simington, Margaret D. McCandless, Mrs. R. H. Emerson, Mary von Bonnhorst, Juliet Denny, Mrs. Gibson, Chicago; Matilda Saunders, Mrs. Tom Scott, Sophia Sedden, Mrs. Rogers, Philadelphia; Sarah McCullough, Mrs. O'Brien, Cornelia Craft, Mrs. Isaac Sproull, and afterward Mrs. McClure, Washington, D. C.; Elizabeth Edgar, Mrs. Duff, Mrs. Foote, afterward Mrs. Charles Robb; Lizzie Barr, Mrs. David and Miss Mary McCandless.
It does not seem that these pupils were more brilliant than are similar parcels of school girls anywhere else, though a number of them have achieved great social distinction since then. Of all the school reputations made and lost, the only one that remains belongs to Mrs. Samuel Lindsay. Her schoolmates testify that Sarah Tomlinson's compositions were the pride of Locust Grove seminary, and that she could write on any and all subjects, such as school girls rush into, with a pen that was amiable, facile and likewise entertaining. When the school went out of existence, as it did soon after, the Fisks returned to their old home for a while. Then they passed out across its threshhold [sic] forever, and the tenantry of the orphans began. When the home was pulled down a year ago the ground where it stood was so straightened out that if Alba Fisk were to walk in the flesh on earth again he would doubtless be much puzzled to tell just where his own latch string had hung out.