From Pittsburgh Streets
Executive Council in 1788 Fixed Lot Prices and Furnished Names for Streets and Alleys

The early annals of Pennsylvania are not exceedingly prolific of references to the formation of the city of Allegheny, which has just become an integral part of Greater Pittsburg, but here and there among the interesting records of the past one comes across illuminating glimpses of the manner of the creation of "Alleghany Town," as it was then known, and the men who gave the place its start over a century ago.

As the land on which the town was located belonged to the State of Pennsylvania, naturally the arrangements for the laying out of the town and the purchase of the lots, etc., had to be done in accordance with the directions of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, which met at Philadelphia. Just who started the idea of laying out a plan of lots on the ground across the Allegheny river opposite Pittsburg is not known, but doubtless the growth in the extent and importance of Pittsburg and the steady increase of pioneer settlers to Western Pennsylvania, and also the travel over the old Franklin and other roads which led to Pittsburg by way of the site of the future Allegheny city, made the desirability of a town opposite the parent city a matter of convenience, if not of necessity. Anyhow, we read in the minutes of a meeting of the Supreme Council at Philadelphia, November 28, 1787, this record:

"An order was drawn upon the Treasurer, in favor of the Honorable David Redick, Esquire, for one hundred pounds, for defraying the expence of laying out a town, &c., on the reserved tract opposite Pittsburgh, for which sum he is to be accountable."


But there are earlier notices of the new town than that. That petition of Martha Boggs to the council must always go with any recital of the establishment of Allegheny. It was presented in the year 1785, a year in which the records of the executive council show numerous interesting events, as for instance, we read, August 15, 1875 [sic], that "a letter was written to John Ormsby, Michael Huffnagle, Thomas Galbreath and Robert Galbreath, Esquires, Commissioners for Pennsylvania, directing them to take possession of Fort Pitt, in behalf of the Commonwealth, upon its being relinquished, such possession to be taken without prejudice to private rights of property."

And in the records of the next meeting, August 16, 1785, we read this quaint record:

"An order was drawn in favor of Robert Turner for four pounds specie for hoisting and taking care of the State flagg for two years, ending 26th of July, 1785."


The petition of Martha Boggs was sent to the Supreme Council and is spread upon the minutes of the meeting of March 4, 1785, as follows:

"A petition from Martha Boggs, relict of James Boggs, late of the county of Westmoreland, stating that under the indulgence and directions of Brigadier General Irvine, her husband, the aforesaid James, had made some small improvements upon the reserved tract of land opposite the town of Pittsburg; that this indulgence was given for the purpose of securing the public property; that since the death of her husband she has continued to live upon the premises, and that they have now become the only means of her future subsistence; that she has lately been warned to depart therefrom by Colonel William Butler, who lays claim to them under an act of the General Assembly; that she humbly conceives a just execution of this Act will leave her an undisputed possession, and therefore, praying that Council may take some order thereon: Upon which it was

"Resolved, That Colonel Butler be advised of the directions of Council that Martha Boggs be left in possession of the aforesaid premises, free from all disturbance, until return be made into the Surveyor General's office of the lott upon the west side of Alleghany river, granted to him by act of Assembly and confirmation by Council."


The matter of fixing a price for the lots and the manner of their sales was an important matter for the supreme council and the minutes indicate that there was no small difficulty in adjusting these things.

The minutes of the meeting of November 18, 1788, give the following:

"It was moved by Colonel Miles, recorded by Vice President, 'to postpone the sale of the lots in the reserved tract of land opposite Pittsburgh, if it shall appear that the same will not sell at or near their value.' On consideration, the same was referred to the Vice President, Mr. Woods and Mr. Redick, who were requested to report in the afternoon, specially on the subject."

At the afternoon session of the same day, the hour of convening being 3 o'clock, the following minutes now of especial interest, as giving an idea of the original value of land in the original site of Allegheny City were adopted:


"The committee to whom was referred the motion of Colonel Miles relative to the sale of lots in the reserved tract of land opposite Pittsburgh, reported a valuation of parts of the said tract; whereupon it was

"Resolved, That a letter of instructions containing the said valuation be written to Colonel Francis Johnston, Receiver General of the Land office in the following words, vizt [sic]:

"In Council, Phildelphia, Nov. 19, 1788.

"Sir:—Council are of opinion that the River lots opposite Pittsburgh and contained in the reserved tract are worth, generally thirty shillings, specie (or an equivalent in certificates) per acre.

"That the Town lots on an average are worth forty shillings, specie or an equivalent in certificates.

"The second, third, fourth and fifth farms are worth seven shillings and six pence per acre in certificates.

"That the first farm beginning at No. 210, is worth twenty shillings specie per acre, or an equivalent in certificates.

"That farm number 6, is worth fifteen shillings specie or an equivalent in certificates per acre.

"That the lots number 242 to 271 inclusive, and contained in a square, are worth twenty shillings specie or an equivalent in certificates per acre.

"The lots number 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 176, 177, 178, 179, 180, 181, 182, 183, 184, 185 and 186 have not been valued.

"It is the direction of Council that you proceed in the sale of the lots according to the advertisement, and have them struck off to the gighest [sic] bidder, provided they will bring the prices above mentioned or nearly so, but not otherwise.

"The lots which have not been valued you will have struck off to the highest bidders.

"You will reserve lots number 33, 34 and 35, applied for and now occupied by Colonel William Butler, lots number 36, 37 and thirty-eight, applied for and now occupied by James Robinson, and lots number 23, 24 and 272 applied for, and now occupied by Daniel Elliott.

"The exchange between specie and certificates you will estimate as one to four."


But apparently most of the above values were considered too high and the restrictions as to price, except on the "river lots," were removed; for we find the following in the minutes of the meeting of the council in Philadelphia, November 21, 1788:

"Resolved, That Mr. Woods, Mr. Redick and Mr. Dennison be a committee to consider of and report names proper to be annexed to the several streets, lanes and alleys in the new town opposite Pittsburg.

"Colonel Johnston informed the Board that he had, in obedience to their orders, purchased in three lots, which did not amount to the prices fixed by the Board; whereupon it was determined to take off the restriction on the sale, from every part except the river lots, leaving it to Colonel Johnston's discretion to proceed in the sale or otherwise, as he may think most proper."

Evidently the wise gentlemen who then comprised the Supreme Executive Council of the State discovered that it was a rather difficult matter to place hard and fast values upon land at the remote western end of the State. However, they went about the matter carefully indeed, for at the meeting of November 24, 1788, this motion was agreed to:

"Resolved, That Mr. Woods, Mr. Bird and Mr. Redick be a committee to value, in the reserved tract, the lots occupied by Colonel Butler, James Robinson and Daniel Elliott, and report the same to Council."

Finally, at the meeting of November 27, a definite price was decided upon for at least some of the lots, as the following resolution of that date shows:

"Resolved, That the sum of two hundred and twenty-four pounds two shillings in certificates be paid by the said James Robinson for the lots number 36, 37 and 38, containing in the whole eighteen acres, including the town lots.


Later on the supreme council took up the matter of naming the "streets, lanes and alleys" of the proposed town, as the following from the minutes of a meeting of November 28, 1788, shows:

"Upon the report of the committee to whim it was referred to consider of a proper name for the new town within the reserved tract of land opposite Pittsburg, and also names for the streets, lanes and alleys therein.

"Resolved, That the said town be called Alleghany; that the street [sic] marked in the general draft or platt of said town:

No. 1 be called Federal street,
2 " Ohio street,
3 " Sandusky street,
"And No. 4 " Beaver street.

"That the alleys marked as aforesaid:

No. 1 be called Water Alley,
2 " Gay Alley,
3 " Strawberry Alley,
4 " North Alley,
5 " Middle Alley,
No. 6 " Pitt Alley.

"That the line [sic] leading from Elliott's Ferry be called Ferry Lane; and that laid out along the bank of the river Alleghany, be called Bank Lane."


Important omissions, however, were noted in the resolution of November 28 designating names for streets, lanes and alleys, and at a subsequent meeting of the council on December 12, 1788, this resolution was adopted:

"Resolved, That the Vice President and Mr. Woods, be a committee to consider of and report to Council, names proper for the several lanes and alley's [sic] within the reserved tract opposite Pittsburg, omitted in the last report."

Further on in the same minutes of the session of December 12, 1788, is the following:

"The committee appointed to consider of names proper for the several lanes dividing th eout [sic] lots in the reserved tract of lant [sic] opposite Fort Pitt, omitted in the former report, now reported the following, which were agreed to, vizt [sic]:

"No. 1 to be called Bank lane,
2 " Strawberry lane,
3 " Island lane,
4 " Ohio lane,
5 " Water lane,
6 " Ferry lane,
7 " Spring lane, continued,
8 to be called Chestnut lane,
9 " Huccleberry lane,
10 " Long lane,
11 " East lane,
12 " Sassafras lane,
13 " Pasture lane, and
"No. 14 " Sandusky lane.


It is interesting to note in connection with the above early naming of "Federal street that previous to that the road—for it was then only a road—was known as Franklin road. There was a fort at Franklin, Pa., and a route to that place was early opened. Federal street, being the terminus at the Allegheny river of that road, it was naturally known as "Franklin road," and a ferry from that road to what is now Sixth street connected Pittsburg with that old Franklin route. On this route a stage line was established. The Franklin road followed the present line of Federal street to the hill and thence over the hill and through the country to Butler and Franklin.

In the "History of Allegheny County," this bit of interesting information relative to the formation of "Allegheny town" is given:

"The State, in ordering the town to be laid out, reserved a 'diamond' or public square at the intersection of Federal and Ohio streets, on which the city hall, the market house and the Carnegie Library are now standing. The disposition of the lots was for some time a subject of public controversy. The first intention was to set them apart as a general pasture ground for the cows belonging to the inlot holders, and every attempt to dispose of them separately was met by the courts with a ruling that they were the property, in common, of all the inlot-holders, and no one outlat [sic] could be disposed of without the consent of all the holders.

"After a prolonged controversy the consent of all the lot holders was got to dedicating them for the purpose of a public park. This was the origin of the beautiful public parks of the city. With rare foresightedness, a park commission was made up of prominent citizens, who borrowed money to construct the park on the bonds of the city, and levied a tax for their ultimate redemption. The tax was patiently borne, and thus the city got, at a very cheap rate, considering its real value, as fine (though not as extensive) a park as any western city can boast of; and the ugly, gullied surface of the old commons has been converted into a healthful and beautiful public resort for the citizens."