From Pittsburgh Streets

George T. Fleming. "Oakland once beautiful suburb: Much interesting history to be evolved from street names in that district: John Fraser, pioneer." Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Jan. 16, 1916, sixth section, p. 6. 85762578.

Much Interesting History to Be Evolved from Street Names In That District.

We come now to the consideration of the Oakland district in the days prior to the Civil War, the most beautiful suburb of the growing manufacturing city of Pittsburgh.

Oakland in those days was a large district. Like the East Liberty district of today, its bounds were indefinite. Oakland is a name still in use designating the former suburb. This area was once more than half the Pitt township of the 60's, later, about 1867, erected into Oakland township, and upon the consolidation of the eastern territory in 1868, the Fourteenth Ward of the city, which it remained until the recent consolidation of the city of Allegheny, necessitating a re-numbering of the wards.

Most of the former Fourteenth Ward has been incorporated into the new Fourth Ward.

Oakland as a suburb may be said to have had its western boundary at Robinson street, once the township road leading to Minersville. Its eastern boundary was at the old car barns between Atwood and Oakland avenues, its northern line at the summit of Alliquippa street, and its southern at the bluff overlooking the Monongahela.

The "big curve" in the Fourth street road was in Soho and now called the Soho curve. Soho was usually estimated from Seneca street to Robinson between the hills and the river—much of it along Second avenue, once the Braddock Fields plank road.

Church First Bears Name.

The part of Oakland township between Oakland avenue and Neville street after the war, 1861–65, began to be known as Bellefield. Speaking from memory many will recall the name first, as applied to the Presbyterian Church at the corner of Fifth and Bellefield avenues, organized in 1866. The Bellefield school, built a few years later, clinched the name, and the street to which it has also been applied has continued it.

Bellefield had but few landholders. Most of this district comprised the lands of William Croghan, Jr., in the right of his wife, Mary O'Hara, daughter of Gen. James O'Hara, pioneer and Revolutionary patriot and soldier.

He knew all this district now as the Schenley Farms and Schenley Park, the ancestral names Croghan and O'Hara having been planted by the name of a foreign soldier and gentleman who made a most advantageous elopement in 1843 with Mary Elizabeth Croghan, sweet 16, and the only child and heir of the large Croghan estates in Pittsburgh which have been since known as the Schenley estate.

It is well to remember always that Schenley is distinctively an alien name and commemorates a good thing in the way of a runaway marriage.

But this story is beyond Oakland—so to speak.

Soho had originally but a few land holders—Patrick and Mary Murphy and their family line, the Gazzams and Simpsons, and the conveyances the Murphys and their heirs made to James Tustin and Tustin and his heirs made.

Oakland had more land holders. It was a larger district and is yet a memory of many beautiful country homes.

Fine Countrry [sic] Seats.

William G. Johnston in the mention of his frequent rides along the old Fourth Street road, now Fifth avenue, after passing the Green Tree Tavern kept by the McFarlands at Aiken avenue, refers to the dozen country seats of the Third Presbyterian Church colony in Oakland, and says:

These occupied the site of what had been when I first knew the locality, the Chadwick farm, and later, and even yet Oakland. This farm to the east adjoined the extensive lands of Col. Crogham [sic] (now Schenleys) about where the power house has been erected, and extended on both sides of the road to where it is forced to bend toward the Monongahela by Gazzam's Hill.

Well back from the road stood Chadwick's spacious mansion, with its wide porch in front, over which vines clambored at will: while its gable, with a massive chimney abutting, faced the road. There it had stood from the beginning of the century where it was erected by the grandfather of the well-known dairyman, Mr. Samuel Chadwick.

A later residence of the family—occupied afterward by Mr. William Stewart, a merchant of Pittsburgh, and at the time I am more particularly speaking, by Mr. George Breed—stood on the site of what is now the mansion of Mr. Charles H. Zug.

Then on past the colony to the left and overlooking the Monongahela was "Buena Vista," the magnificent country seat of James S. Craft, Esq.

Mr. Johnston's descriptions are to be taken as made when riding into the city. The Zug property lies between the former Ursuline Academy (now the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy) and the John Moorhead property. The Zug mansion will be remembered as "Billy" Sunday's headquarters during his campaign here in January and February, 1914.

Many Family Names.

There are many commemorative names of streets in the Oakland district. Memory calls up at once Craft, Fraser, Semple, Ward, Halket, Boquet, Darrah, etc., and some family names like Crafts from old time property owners. Among these Wilmot, McDevitt and McKee are to be noted.

Craft avenue was easily remembered from the beautiful mansion and grounds at Forbes street called "Alicia" and owned and occupied for many years by the late Charles J. Clarke. Across Forbes street was the $100,000 cow pasture on which Clarke's Jersey's contentedly cropped the herbage as though browsing on the rented pasturage of Yost Ruch.

On part of the cow pasture there now stands St. Peters' Protestant Episcopal Church, transferred stone by stone from its old location at Grant and Diamond streets in 1900, and rebuilt as it was.

The former beautiful "Alicia" has gone to make way for the barns and buildings of the Pittsburgh Railways Company.

Across Craft avenue was the fine home of Thomas Fawcett, well known as a river coal operator and shipper. Adjoining was "Elsinore," the mansion of William E. Schmertz, a name once well known as Pittsburgh's leading shoe manufacturer.

In the point at Emily street was the home of James S. McCord, another Pittsburgh merchant. Next below was Charles E. Speer, banker, then George K. Stevenson, and then Graham Scott's homestead, which brought one to Halket street.

Across Craft avenue was E. L. Porter's spacious mansion and grounds opposite McCord and Speer and adjoining Schmertz's, with Niagara street between Porter's and A. A. Anderson's home below.

Some Other Homes.

Charles J. Clarke owned another plot back of Porter's at Carolina and Niagara streets.

McCord's and Speer's grounds extended east to Emily street, but back of Stevenson's and Scott's were the Roberts holdings in the bend of Halket street.

Christopher L. Magee's home and grounds adjoined "Alicia" on Forbes street and the long stretch across Halket street was owned by Richard S. Waring. The Magee holdings and the recent erection of the Margaret Steel Magee Memorial Hospital on them have been but lately adequately written of.

Just at present Craft avenue history is to be mentioned; but it is mainly a legal history, celebrated in the jurisprudence of Pittsburgh as the story of the adjudication of the "Craft patent." The value of the tract involved in the litigation can be judged today when looking over the ground covered by the patent.

In the latter years of the eighteenth century the land in this section of Pennsylvania was taken up by settlers and speculators. An applicant would have a warrant issued to him by the state's Land Office, which warrant authorized a survey of a tract not exceeding 400 acres, the warrant merely approximating the location of the land.

The official surveyor then surveyed the desired quantity in the location selected providing it did not interfere with older surveys, and made a return to the Land Office. The applicant would then make the final payment to the state and a patent would be issued to him.

It often happened that possession was taken of the land and title claimed under the return of the survey alone and final payment not made for years afterward, often not until the title had changed many times.

In some cases patents were never issued and the land is still subject to the commonwealth's lien for the purchase money, but this lien can be released under recent provisions of the Legislature.

The Old Craft Patent.

The first 13 wards of Pittsburgh (prior to 1907) and a great part of the old Fourteenth lie within the bounds of Penn's manor of 5,766 acres surveyed in 1769. Adjoining the manor line on the east and in a general way bounded by Fifth avenue on the north, Boundary street and Frazier street on the south, is a tract containing about 150 acres, which was known as the Juliet Semple survey or Craft patent.

Litigation in regard to this tract began in 1820 and continued for 31 years until adjudicated in the United States courts.

The tract included much of the Oakland district and a portion of smoky Soho, and maybe better known by the appellation bestowed in the 90's, the "Red Dust district"—a new source of litigation.

This tract was surveyed on a warrant dated April 17, 1788, granted in the name of Juliet Semple, then 8 years old, daughter of Samuel Semple, the innkeeper at Ferry and Water streets with whom Washington stopped in 1770 when he testified that Semple "kept a good house."

Apparently Semple was the real owner of the land, but had taken out the warrant in his daughter's name, as he had already one warrant. He had the survey made in his own name for the tract between the Craft or Juliet patent and the river.

Juliet at the age of 21 married her cousin, Steele Semple, a lawyer, but later a sot and a victim of the drink habit. He must have amounted to something in his profession, for Judge Agnew mentions him as an able lawyer, an eloquent advocate and a finished scholar, and the traditions of the local bar bear this out.

Suits for Land Common.

Disputes as to land titles and ejectment suits accordingly were common in those days and took up the time of the courts with all the lawyers busy. John Woods, Henry Baldwin, James Ross, Walter Forward and other noted legal lights were prominent.

Steele Semple and Judge Baldwin were witnesses of the cowhiding of Ephraim Pentland by Tarleton Bates, an attorney, and, with Baldwin, Semple signed a statement of the facts in the case.

In this connection Semple's name is involved with the famous duel between Thomas Stewart and Bates, resulting in the death of Bates a few hours after the duel.

But this, while Oakland history, can come in under the head of the history of Bates street.

Note that we have Juliet street and Semple street also in the Oakland district, and Pentland street in front of The Gazette Times Building at Gazette square.

Steele Semple in these days would be termed "a good fellow." His convivial habits kept him tarrying over his cups until late at night, and one night very late, in the dark Pittsburgh of that era thoroughly "soused" as we would say now, more politely "too much elated to walk a chalk line," he started for his home.

On Wood street his erratic steps tumbled him into an open cellar and here confined within the insurmountable ramparts of the walls he lay for a long time crying from time to time in good Latin, "De Profundis Clamabo," and well he could.

However, some other convivial night-wanderer, not so thoroughly drenched, came along and heard his cries and rescued Semple from the profound depths from which he clamored.

Samuel Semple's Will.

Semple lived—and probably built the house in which he lived—on Second street, now avenue, at the corner of Chancery lane and next door to the Branch Bank of the United States. Both buildings were destroyed in the "big fire" of April 10, 1845.

Samuel Semple died in 1808 and devised all his property to his son-in-law, Steele Semple.

Samuel Semple had by a previous marriage two children, one of whom, Catherine, wife of John Williams, survived him, and left several children at her death.

Juliet Semple died in 1808, and left two children. One died in infancy and the other, Sarah, became the wife of Joel Payne.

Steel [sic] Semple died intestate in 1813.

From these facts can be noted the creation of two conflicting claims of title—Sarah claiming the entire estate as sole heir of her mother, Juliet Semple, the warrantee, and the heirs of Catharine Williams claiming the one-half interest as heirs of Steele Semple, devisee of Samuel Semple, who claimed the equitable title to the whole tract.

How these conflicting claims were settled, what lawyers were prominent in the cases and how James S. Craft came into possession is a long and interesting story—too long to proceed with in the remaining space today.

It will have been noted that Frazier street is mentioned as one of the boundaries of the Craft patent, and this recalls a notable career of an early Indian trader in this region and a man well known to Washington, Gist, Braddock, Forbes, Bouquet and all the pioneers of our colonial history.

Edgar W. Hassler says the name is Fraser. It is found spelled Frazer, Frazier and Fraser, the latter the Scottish form and the one used by John Fraser's ancestors.

Licensed in Pennsylvania.

In Scotland the Frasers were adherents of the Stewarts and there is ground for believing that John Fraser came to America a refugee after the suppression of the rebellion of 1745, as some writers say that he participated in it.

This is Hassler's surmise also, but he finds Fraser licensed as an Indian trader by the government of Pennsylvania in 1748.

Fraser began business with the Senecas and Muncys on the upper Allegheny and built a log cabin at the mouth of French Creek on the site of the town of Franklin. The French called this place Venango and later built a hut there.

He was forced to flee in 1749 at the coming of Celeron, who claimed all the territory of the Ohio and its tributaries for the French. Chabert de Joncaire, as Indian agent of the French, took possession of Fraser's cabin here, hoisted the French flag over it and maintained possession for several years.

John Fraser then came to the Monongahela and built a cabin at the mouth of Turtle Creek. The French domination made it unsafe for him to live on either the Allegheny or the Ohio, but the post at Turtle Creek was near enough the Indian villages for his trading purposes.

Washington in his terrible winter journey to the French forts on the Upper Allegheny stopped at Fraser's cabin at Turtle Creek, both going and returning. The first time on November 22, 1753, and the second on December 30, as he records in his journal.

After Washington and Gists' [sic] dip in the Allegheny on their return, at Wainwright Island (opposite Thirty-sixth street), they made their way to Fraser's abode as he was the nearest English speaking person in all the wild region about the Forks.

All the talk and writings about settlers and "farmers" in those years, with lovely daughters living in the cabins now remaining in Schenley Park and on what is now Joncaire street is pure romance.

Washington is Silent.

Washington would have heard of any such settlers from Fraser on the way out and sought such near succor in his distress. He tells what happened in his journal, their narrow escape from drowning, their sufferings from cold and hunger, but never a word of any cabins in the wilderness save Fraser's and Gist's miles beyond the Yough at Mt. Braddock.

John Fraser accompanied Washington to see Queen Aliquippa in the Forks of the Yough—now part of McKeesport. The trip was made in one of Fraser's canoes.

Washington has given us a full account of this visit also, and of his relations with Fraser and historian Isaac D. Rupp has incorporated it in his "History of Western Pennsylvania and the West," "Appendix No. VI."

In January, 1754, William Trent a Pennsylvania trader was appointed by the Governor of Virginia, Lord Dinwiddie, to the command of the volunteer forces that came to build a fort at the Forks of the Ohio, known for the many years since as "The Point" in Pittsburgh.

Forty-one men composed the little force. John Fraser was lieutenant and Edward Ward ensign. Fraser accepted the appointment on condition that he be granted permission to spend part of his time at his plantation at Turtle Creek and to visit the work at the Forks at stated intervals.

Fraser removed to the Tuscarora valley in Pennsylvania and made a settlement there. In October, 1755, three months after Braddock's defeat, a band of Delawares raided this valley and captured two members of Fraser's family.

One of these was a girl named Jennie McClain, raised by Fraser and generally called Jennie Fraser. The girl was in a field with some laborers and when the Indians came upon them Jennie mounted behind a man on one of the horses. The horse was hit with a bullet and, springing aside, threw the girl off.

The animal recovered and carried his male rider to safety, but Jennie was made a prisoner.

She was taken to Kush-Kush-Kee on the Beaver River and after a captivity of more than two years escaped.

On account of the desolation of the border after Braddock's defeat Fraser fled to Fort Cumberland, now Cumberland, Md., and here he was appointed to look after that frontier arsenal. He was a practical gunsmith and on this account had found favor with the Indians, especially of Venango, because competent to mend their guns.

During the ensuing French and Indian War he served as an express rider for Washington. When the provincial troops belonging to Forbes' army built Fort Bedford at Raystown in the summer of 1758 Fraser moved to Kaystown, since called Bedford. He built the first cabin outside of the British fort there.

Post Sees Rescued Girl.

In November, 1758, Christian Frederick Post, the Moravian missionary, passed through Bedford on his way to the Indians on the Ohio River on his second peace mission from Gov. Denny of Pennsylvania.

Post was accompanied by several Indians, among them a Delaware named Pisquetumen, a war captain from Kushkushkee. This Indian was with Post on both journeys.

He recognized Jennie Fraser and Post records in his journal that "Pisquetumen spoke to the girl rather rashly," no doubt scolding her for running away, but in the morning they made up and parted friends.

John Fraser spent the rest of his life of a farmed [sic] in Bedford. In 1773 he was appointed a justice of the peace for Bedford county, his name occurring first in the Governor's Commission.

A son of John Fraser's named William, born in 1759, had the distinction of being the first white native of Bedford county. The county, however, was not formed until 1771. William Fraser lived to an advanced age.

Charles A. Hanna, in his voluminous work, "The Wilderness Trail," has frequent mention of Fraser "or Frazier." He says Fraser first lived in Paxtang township, then in Lancaster county, near the Susquehanna in 1737 and that he removed to the Allegheny soon after that date and established the post at Venango, and that he established another post at the mouth of Turtle Creek and took a prominent part in the events preceding Braddock's defeat.

In August, 1753, Fraser wrote to the Virginia authorities from his post at the Forks of the Monongahela that Capt. Trent had been there viewing the ground on which the fort projected by the Ohio Company was to be built.

This language would seem to signify at the mouth of the Yough. Evidently the Forks of the Ohio or our Point is referred to.

Hanna Chronicles [sic] also that George Croghan, Trent and several other traders at Pine Creek on May 7, 1753, received a letter from Fraser, then at Venango, announcing the approach of the French from Niagara.

Croghan and Trent were partners in the Indian trade and had a storehouse above the mouth of Pine Creek in what is now Etna or Sharpsburg.

Fraser got his information from some Mingos and it was good. The French previous to coming here under Contracoeur made careful and ample preparations.

George Croghan's journals make mention of Fraser and he was one of our sturdiest and most daring frontiersmen.

Under the head of "The Indian Trade and Pennsylvania Traders," Mr. Hanna lists "Fraser or Frazier," as licensed in 1747; and that he settled at Venango in 1753, and at the mouth of Turtle Creek in 1753–4. He adds that Fraser was one of Bouquet's guides in 1758 and also one of the messengers sent to warn off the settlers at Redstone in 1786, which date Hanna questions. Redstone is now Brownsville.