From Pittsburgh Streets

Thomas C. Dickson. "One man's recollections of Pittsburgh covering three quarters of a century." Pittsburgh Sunday Post, July 7, 1907, seventh part, p. 1. 86614808.

One Man's Recollections of Pittsburgh Covering Three Quarters of a Century

THAT one man's recollections of Pittsburgh should cover 75 years is decidedly remarkable, and when that man is able to write them down interestingly the result is bound to be a valuable contribution to written history. "The Sunday Post" to-day publishes the first installment of these reminiscences of a man who has been a resident of Pittsburgh for three-quarters of a century.


The Pittsburgh of Long Ago.

THROUGH the courtesy of the invitation committee of the trustees of the Carnegie institute and the Technical schools who kindly sent me cards of invitation and tickets of admission, I was permitted to be present on the occasion of the founders' day and of the dedication of the new addition to the former library building, just completed. I gazed on the beauty and grandeur of the great building and saw the large array of notable men assembled there, men of world-wide fame in science, literature and the arts, all gathered there to do honor to the Pittsburgher who had so lavishly poured out his wealth to create and give his townsmen this great gift by which means they might acquire useful knowledge and have easy access to attractions which would add much to their entertainment and enjoyment.

I was lost in wonder and could scarcely believe that this was really the little old Pittsburgh of 75 years ago, when I, a small lad, in 1832 was brought along with my father's family from Philadelphia to this city, where I have resided continuously ever since. It is wondrous the changes and progress that have been made during these years.

And while thus pondering on these changes and what has happened in this time, I thought I would jot down from memory some of the scenes and events that have come directly under my observation and mention some of the names of people who were prominently known and have taken an active part in public affairs and who have long since passed away.

At the time I was brought to Pittsburgh there were only three means of transportation from the East to this city namely: by stage coach, by public road wagon and by private conveyance. My father chose the latter mode. It took 11 days after leaving Philadelphia to reach Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania canal, then under construction, was not entirely finished. Several gaps were still open, which rendered continuous travel upon it impossible. The aqueduct, a covered wooden structure, to bring the water of the canal across the Allegheny river, was not quite finished and the workmen were engaged in building and forming the slips, or basins as they were called. These basins were short branches of the main line and were for the canal boats to lie in when loading or unloading.

The canal after leaving the aqueduct ran along what is now called Eleventh street, and under the bridges at Penn and Liberty avenues. It then took a slight turn, running along the south side of old Grant street, passing under a bridge at Seventh avenue and thence about 300 feet, where it entered the tunnel. The tunnel ran in about the same direction as the present Panhandle tunnel, the outlets of both being at about the same place. The canal tunnel is at a lower level than the Panhandle. The old one is still there, but the mouths are covered with earth filling.

The canal, after leaving the tunnel outlet, was lowered by a system of locks to the level of the Monongahela river. There were three basins or slips. The first on the right of the canal after leaving the aqueduct was owned by the David Leech line. The other two were located between Penn and Liberty avenues, the one on the right reaching old Wayne, or new Tenth street; the other one on the left to Slocum alley. The slips on both sides were lined with large warehouses belonging to the different lines of boats. Those fronting on Liberty street were the William Bingham & Co. line and the Clarke and Thaw line, and those on Penn avenue by the John B. McFadden & Co. line. This line used section boats, that were built in three separate and equal parts and could be separated and put on trucks and taken over the mountains by steam railroad, and thence again by canal to Philadelphia without breaking bulk.

The canal along Grant street was made wider than usual so that boats could have room to load and unload at the warehouses lying on the south side of the canal there. The lines were the Graffe, the Taffe, O'Connor and the Kier and Jones' line. Mr. Jones of the firm was B. F. Jones, who afterward established the large iron and steel plant on the Southside, now known as Jones and Laughlin's.

The upper side of the acqueduct [sic] was used exclusively as a tow path for the horses towing the boats. The lower side was for foot passengers who could use it by paying the usual toll of two cents per passage. A foot bridge was constructed for the use of foot passengers and those who wished to cross the river by way of the acqueduct [sic].

The city at that time, 1832, contained about 13,000 inhabitants and was divided into four wards, named East, West, North and South. The territory of the present Fifth ward is part of the East ward. The boundary of the city was as far east as Washington street and along that to the Fourth street road, now Fifth avenue, thence along Fourth street road to about the line of Ross street to the river, and on the other two sides by the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers.

After the completion of the canal and when in full operation, Pittsburgh was a very busy city. It was in the direct line of communication between the East and West, by reason of the canal and rivers. The Monongahela wharf was constantly crowded with steamboats from the mouth of Smithfield to Ferry streets, discharging and receiving freight. The hauling of freight through the streets was then all done with two-wheeled vehicles, called drays, drawn by one horse. These drays were built very strong and sat low; they had skids behind slanting down almost to the ground which made it easy to roll on casks or hogsheads or barrels, or to tumble up bales and bundles and boxes into the body of the dray. The skids had plates of heavy sheet iron to protect the wood part and render them easy to load or unload. A hogshead of sugar or tobacco or two bales of cotton or hemp, five barrels of molasses or eight barrels of flour was considered a fair load for one of these drays. We never see one of these handy vehicles on the street now, but I have often seen in busy times a string of these all loaded reaching from the Monongahela wharf along Wood and Liberty streets to Tenth street with scarcely 10 feet space between them. The Monongahela wharf was not paved until the late thirties. When this was done they drove down long piles at low water mark and laid heavy oak timber as a curb, against which they based their boulder stone pavement. This added much to the appearance of the wharf and comfort of those who had business to transact upon it.

The first omnibus seen on the streets of Pittsburgh was introduced about this time. It was owned by James Dean, who was connected with the Leech line of canal boats and was used principally to convey passengers to and from the canal and steamboat landing. There were two lines of canal packets, one called Leech's or Pioneer line, the other the Good Intent line, and each had an arrival and a departure daily. They made the trip from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia in three days and in the same time returning.


Hotels of Early Days.

The city then contained three principal hotels, one the Exchange hotel, situated on the site the Anderson hotel now occupies; a second one was the City hotel on the corner of Fifth and Wood streets. This building was torn down and a business block erected in its stead. The Pittsburgh Post for many years occupied this building as their office and printing rooms. The First National Bank now stands on the old site. This City hotel was quite popular in its day. I can remember that in 1835, Black Hawk, a famous Indian chief of the Sacs and Foxes tribe, with his escort of warriors put up at this hotel for a few days when on his way home from Washington after visiting President Jackson. I, along with some other boys shook hands with the old chieftain. His face was of a yellow hue, not copper colored like most of the Indians' complexions. It was very much wrinkled, his eyes were piercing black, he wore the usual Indian costume and over all an Indian blanket. Someone had presented him with a tall black stovepipe hat that came down to his ears and rather detracted from his otherwise warlike appearance.

Another hotel was the United States, situated on the corner of Penn avenue and the canal. One of the passenger lines of canal packets landed at this hotel. There was a broad balcony that hung partly over the canal, with a few stops leading down to the top or deck of the boat, by which passengers could go aboard or come ashore with ease and safety.

The other line landed their boats at the corner of Liberty street and the canal, and had the same kind of an arrangement for their passengers. There was always great excitement and commotion on the landing of these boats by runners from the different steamboats shouting and soliciting patronage for their particular boats.

J. D. Crossan was proprietor of the Exchange Hotel, and afterwards when the Monongahela House was built he took charge of it. Benjamin Weaver ran the City Hotel, and was at one time sheriff of Allegheny county. His son, Henry A. Weaver, filled the office of mayor of the city one term. I don't remember the name of the proprietor of the United States Hotel.

The city had before my time a system of water supply in operation. The reservoir was situated on Grants Hill, and was embraced in the block bounded by Fifth avenue, Grant street, Cherry alley and Diamond street. There were two pumping houses located on the bank of the Allegheny river, at the foot of Cecil alley, one on each side of the alley. Only one was kept in service at a time. Grants Hill was a high, barren knob, and the reservoir was placed upon its highest point. The hill, a short distance beyond where Diamond street is, sloped abruptly down to Fourth avenue. It also sloped, though gradually, on the east side toward Sixth avenue. At the foot of the slope was what they called the "pond." This pond was a receptacle for all kinds of rubbish from the houses of people living in that vicinity. When I first saw it, it was nearly filled up with this kind of filling. The pond extended from a point near Grant street and Strawberry alley to Virgin and Cherry alleys. Thence, by its outlet, diagonally across Smithfield street, striking Diamond street just below Weyman's tobacco store, and thence on in the same direction toward Wood street, and finally in an open wooden sewer down the river bank to the Monongahela river.

The ground running from Fifth avenue to Diamond street, on the north side of Smithfield street, was owned and occupied by Abner Uptegraff, upon which he had a blacksmith shop that had been built on the bed of the run, the roof of which was not two feet above the pavement. The boys used to gather at this place to play marbles and the crowd of boys not engaged in the game would sit on the roof of the shop, watching it. Then old Mr. Uptegraff would come out and chase us away, complaining we were breaking the roof of his shop.

On the opposite corner from Uptegraff's on Fifth avenue and Smithfield street was the Pittsburgh foundry of Bollman & Garrison. It covered the ground from Fifth avenue to what is now Oliver street. The floor of this building was also below the level of the street. Fifth avenue was then only paved to Smithfield street, and could only be used for vehicle travel as far up as Cherry alley, the steep hill preventing in that direction, except by foot travel.

For some time after the passage of the public school laws the wards of the city rented such places as they could get, in which to hold their schools, and many of them were but illy adapted for school purposes. In 1835 the board of school directors of the East ward secured ground on Grants Hill upon which to erect a building for their schools. The ground selected was on the corner of Diamond and Cherry alleys. A portion of the top of the hill was graded off for their intended building, and early in the spring of 1836 a modest brick structure, three stories in height, was finished and ready for occupancy. The first story was allotted to the infant school, the second for the boys' school and the third for the girls' school. There was but one room in each story, and the attendance in each was about 200. But one teacher was allowed to each room, but afterwards the number was increased to two for each room.

Just to think that now 35 to 40 pupils are as many as one teacher can manage!

Isaac Whittier and his young wife, who came from one of the New England States, were the first two honored teachers in the new East ward school building, and their memory is held tenderly and sacredly dear by the few pupils still living. Both of these dear teachers have passed away, Mr. Whittier many years ago and Mrs. Whittier only a few years ago. This school building was the first one erected in Western Pennsylvania for the sole and only purpose of public school teaching.

(To be continued next Sunday.)