From Pittsburgh Streets

James M'Cully, Henry Sterling, J. & R. Floyd, and Samuel M'Clurkan. "Hancock street again." Daily Pittsburgh Gazette, Apr. 16, 1852, [p. 1]. 86449509.


Hancock Street Again.—We observe in the Gazette and Post of the 6th inst., a communication signed T. J. Bigham, which appears to be an appeal to the public to enlist their sympathies in his behalf, or (as he intimates) on behalf of some of his clients, on account of the repeal of the law extending Hancock street.

We think this rather a ridiculous step of Mr. Bigham and his coadjutors, after they have been whipped at their own game. But as men have a right in this country even to make themselves ridiculous, we do not censure them for it. Since, however, Mr. Bigham has made us appear as signers to a petition in favor of this wild scheme, we have thought proper to trouble you with a brief explanation.

Jno. F. Perry called on us to sign a petition to the legislature to pass a law to authorise the widening and extending of Hancock street, at the same time assuring us that the expense attending it would be met by the city, or the holders of property on that street, which would be greatly enhanced in value thereby—and on those conditions alone our signatures were given, and many of the other petitioners were, as we are informed, entrapped in the same way.

Mr. Perry did not go among the property holders, or persons to be assessed, to sign his petition—but went quitely [sic] among persons who had no interest in the matter, and many of whom don't own proporty [sic] in Pittsburg or elsewhere. There are fifty-four names to his petition, and among the whole number there are only fourteen persons who are assessed to pay for this project; therefore forty of the signers had no right to sign it, and had no interest in it and among the fourteen signers who are assessed, we believe there is not one man (excepting Mr. Perry himself,) who have ever moved in this matter; or asked for it—and most, if not all of them, are opposed to it.

The proceeding on the part of Mr. Bigham and Mr. Perry, from beginning to end, has been conducted with great unfairness; the names were obtained to the petition unfairly, and the law was framed and passed unfairly. The law gave unlimited power to seven men, to allow any price they might please for the property taken for the street, and to assess the price (in the shape of damages) on as many persons, or whatever persons, and in any amount they might determine—and all this without any accountability on their part, or appeal, or review, or remedy whatever, on the part of persons aggrieved. It also provides:

"That the damages assessed upon the lots shall be and continue to be a lien upon said lots, until paid; and if not paid within six months after the approval by the Court, process may issue in the nature of a writ or writs of sciere [sic] facias upon a morgage [sic], and be prosecuted to trial, judgment and execution, for the amount of damages, with interest and cost."

Under this law, the viewers first decided they would give $12,448 for twenty feet of the Schweppe property; although Jno. Iriwn [sic], the trustee and administrator, had previously offered the whole property for $12,000, and could obtain $3,000 for the remaining ten feet, making $15,448 for what was only worth $12,000. They also decided they would give Mr. Tomlinson $3,500 for a lot of twenty feet, at the corner of the alley and Penn street. In order to pay these sums, they assessed $540 on the heirs of P. Mowry, and not one cent on the property adjoining on the West; $225 on Alex. Laughlin, and not one cent on the property on the East; $300 on Alex. M'Clurg, and not one cent on the property on the East—and made other assessments equally disproportionate and oppressive. They extended their assessments along Wood street to the Mononghela [sic] river, nearly a mile from the proposed street; they might as well have extended them across the river to Coal Hill.

The viewers seemed to labor under the idea that they were obliged, under the act of Assembly, to report in favor of opening the street,—and finding that it would cost more than it was worth, to those who owned property along Irwin's alley and Hancock street, and who alone would be benefitted, they came to the conclusion to assess the outsiders who would not be benefitted, since the property to be taken must be paid for in some way, or the project could not be carried out; and when complaint was made to the viewers, of the harshness and injustice of the Act of Assembly, they replied that with that they had nothing to do—and however much they might disapprove of it, or of the mode prescribed by it, it was nevertheless the Act of the Legislature, and they were appointed and felt t [sic] imperative on them to carry it out.

Persons who are aggrieved and oppressed wished relief; and what relief was for them, since the Act of Assembly did not provide for a review of appeal? Under the law itself, there was really none, they filed exceptions to the report of the viewers, but as the Act did not place any restrictions on them, the court as a matter of course confirmed their report, and the Supreme Court below. So much for the "146 lines, partaking of the nature of judgments, solemnly passed upon and ratified by the Court of Common Pleas and Supreme Court."

But here we will correct an error of fact which through inadvertance the court of Common Pleas fell into, viz: (as Mr. Bigham states it,) "that the number who remonstrated were less than one-third in number, and a little over one-fourth in value, of all the assessed." The court was led astray in this point, in this way. About the time the matter came before the court for argument, a remonstrance was prepared for the inspection of the court, and a person named George W. Bunn was employed to take it around and obtain the signatures of these remonstrating. Instead [sic] of taking the list of all the persons assessed, he took the list containing the names of one class of the assessed, viz: those assessed in the largest amount, this list only contained about one third of the whole number of persons remonstrating, and after they signed the remonstrance it was handed up to the court without examination, but the mistake was not discovered until after the court had passed upon it. This, however, was only a mistake, and Mr. Bigham, should not have taken advantage of it in his appeal to the public, since he certainly knew it was a mistake. If he does not know, he can easily ascertain from Mr. Bunn, who is the deputy Sealer of Weights and Measures. But the fact that, of the whole number assessed, (being about one hundred and forty persons,) every individual, with the exception of eight or ten, remonstrated to the legislature, and protested against the law, should have been sufficient to convince Mr. Bigham.

We cannot conceive how any injury has been done to the heirs of Mr. Schweppe, or to Mr. Tomlinson, or any body else. Not one inch of their property has been taken away or touched; they have all that was ever theirs, and we do not want it—never wanted it—and refused to take it; then why do they insist that we shall pay for it? Their property has been occupied until this very day; but if there has been any abatement of rent on account of this project remaining in suspense, or if any property has changed hands at advanced prices with a view to this speculation, it is the fault of Mr. Bigham and Mr. Perry, and they should be held accountable. But perhaps Mr. Irwin is disappointed, because the Schweppe property has not been taken at some $3,500 more than it is worth, and perhaps Mr. Tomlinson finds a similar disappointment?

Among the persons assessed are many widows and orphans, the property of some of whom would have been sold by the sheriff to pay these assessments, to enrich Mr. Perry, Mr. Bigham, and one or two others. What, then, was their only alternative? It was to have this disgraceful and oppressive law repealed—and the Legislature have been wise enough to have it repealed—and if we are not mistaken, it will forever stay repealed.

But Mr. Bigham says "that hired borers and secret letters, had done the work." Has Mr. Bigham so soon forgotten that this infamous law was passed by secret letters and hired borers? We think Mr. Bigham should never again allude to hired borers—after the part he has taken in this transaction; if our Legislature was ever corrupt, it was before the present session; it has been the glory of our present Legislature to redeem the character of that body, by annulling the impositions practiced upon their predecessors. By an act, passed June 16th, 1836, the City Councils have power to open, widen, or extend any streets, lanes, or alleys within the city. If the widening Irwin's Alley into Hancock Street be an improvement or convenience to the city, let the Councils do it, and the city pay for it—or, if it be a benefit to Mr. Perry or Rev. Mr. Smith, let them pay for it—but it will not benefit us, and so long as we can prevent it, we will not pay for what will enrich them.

In conclusion, we would say to Mr. Bigham and his coadjutors, that they have been foiled in their attempt to enrich themselves at the expense of the widow and orphan, and the less they say about Hancock street the better.

James M'Cully, J. & R. Floyd,
Henry Sterling, Samuel M'Clurkan.