Try Street

From Pittsburgh Streets
Try Street
Neighborhood Central Business District

Try Street is one of the most hidden streets in Pittsburgh. It is a small, dark, covered passageway running from Second Avenue to First Avenue under the Panhandle Bridge. It is so hard to find that a 1983 article in the Pittsburgh Press declared that it no longer existed, despite an accurate description of its location ("one block east of Ross Street").[1] But it is also one of the oldest streets in Pittsburgh east of Grant Street. It appears in William Darby's 1815 map of Pittsburgh,[2] and it was officially accepted into the City of Pittsburgh in 1816 as part of the eastern addition of James O'Hara and James Ross, the first extension of the city limits.[3]

I have spent many hours trying to uncover the origin of the name Try Street, but so far I have been completely unsuccessful. It seems to be an odd name. Most streets recall a person or place (e.g., Penn Avenue or Gettysburg Street), or their names are nouns (Market Street) or sometimes adjectives (Shady Avenue). But, of course, the word try is most commonly a verb. Even ignoring its part of speech, it seems strange to name a street after a word that means "attempt," especially in the early days of Pittsburgh when the number of existing streets was not so large as to make the invention of distinct new street names difficult. So it seems likely to me that the name is not, in fact, the common verb try. Could it be a surname? Possibly, but I cannot find a record of any early Pittsburgher by that name. Could it be some sense of the word try used as a noun? Perhaps, though there are no obvious candidates. In addition to the meaning "attempt," the noun try can mean "a trial, test," "a sieve for grain," or "a play in rugby or football," but obviously the last is too recent to be the source of the street name. The verb try can also mean "to render oil from blubber," from which sense come compounds such as try-pot, tryworks, and tryhouse, but the whaling industry never came anywhere near Pittsburgh. A trysail is a strong sail used in heavy weather, a try square is a carpenter's tool used to make right angles, and a try plane or trying plane is a carpenter's plane used to smooth the edges of pieces to be joined, any of which could conceivably be related to the early Pittsburgh shipbuilding industry (see below), but this would be wild conjecture, and in any case such a hypothesis would not explain why the street is called just Try.[4][5] Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, there are Try Streets in Monongahela (Washington County) and Manorville (Armstrong County), and there is a Try Road in Beaver Springs (Snyder County), which suggests that the word may have a regional meaning that I do not know.

Try Street originally ran through a ravine, the lower reaches of a stream called Suke's Run, which drained what is now the Hill District and emptied into the Monongahela River.[2][6] This run was said to be named for a woman named Susan, nicknamed Suke, who either hanged herself in a thicket of plum trees there or drowned herself in the run.[7][8] Leland D. Baldwin says that there was a whiskey distillery at Suke's Run in 1775.[9]:87–88 The area around the mouth of the run was an important early shipbuilding center.[9]:131 William Masson's 1805 map of Pittsburgh shows William Greenough's shipyard there;[10][11] this was probably where Meriwether Lewis's keelboat was built, in which he and William Clark set off on their famous expedition into the West in 1803.[12] This was also where the first steamboat on western rivers, the New Orleans, was built in 1811.[9]:141[13][14] Somewhat later in the nineteenth century, many butchers established slaughterhouses along the run, because large rains would turn the run into a torrent and thoroughly flush it out.[15]

The mouth of Suke's Run served as the Monongahela River terminus of the Pennsylvania Canal, constructed in the second half of the 1820s. The canal, which came down the northern side of the Allegheny River, was originally designed to end in the town of Allegheny (today's North Side), but the citizens of Pittsburgh demanded that the terminus be in their city. So an aqueduct was built to carry the canal across the Allegheny River, entering Pittsburgh near 11th Street and Penn Avenue, where a basin was constructed to receive canal boats. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was planned to reach Pittsburgh via the Monongahela River, so at great expense a tunnel was built to take the canal through Grant's Hill, and a series of four locks along Try Street connected the southern end of this tunnel to the Monongahela. As it turned out, the C & O Canal never even crossed the Allegheny Mountains, so the tunnel and locks fell into disuse and were eventually closed.[16][9]:193–194[17][18][19][20]:37–42[21][22][23][13][24]

In the gully of Suke's Run arose a shanty town known as Hardscrabble, with people living on both sides of Try Street. In 1921, George T. Fleming wrote, "Original Hardscrabble extended to the jail wall and along Old avenue [today's Diamond Street] to Boyd street. Shingiss street was the eastern line on Forbes. The extension of Forbes street to Diamond, the building of the jail in 1882 and the demands of the railroads for yard room changed the character of all this lower part of the old Eighth Ward."[21] In December 1817, an Irishman named John Tiernan, who lived near Turtle Creek, killed his housemate Patrick Campbell, robbed and concealed the body, and came to Pittsburgh. He was arrested, and in January he was tried and convicted of murder and publicly hanged on Try Street. This was the second execution for murder in Allegheny County.[25][26]

In 1856, a fire started in the flint-glass works of Phillips, Best & Co. on Try Street; it destroyed fifty houses and left one hundred families homeless, but the loss was estimated at only $20,000.[27] Sometime after 1863, the lower part of Suke's run was converted into a large underground sewer, and the ravine was filled in.[6][15][28]

The first Panhandle Bridge was constructed in the 1860s, and connecting tracks were laid along Try Street. The current bridge, the third, was built in 1903.[20]:55–56[28][29]

The portion of Try Street south of Water Street (today's Fort Pitt Boulevard, which formerly continued parallel to First Avenue to Try Street) was vacated in 1956 to make way for the Parkway East.[30]


  1. Kathleen Stauffer. "Pittsburgh rich in postal history, stamp exhibit shows." Pittsburgh Press, Aug. 25, 1983, Weekender, pp. D-1, D-8. 146368160, 146368494. [view source]rich-in-postal-history
  2. 2.0 2.1 Wm. Darby. Plan of Pittsburg and Adjacent Country. R. Patterson and W. Darby, Philadelphia, 1815. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0197, DARMAP0198. Reproduced in John W. Reps, The Making of Urban America: A history of city planning in the United States, p. 207, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N. J., 1965 (LCCN 63023414); and in Bruce J. Buvinger, The Origin, Development and Persistence of Street Patterns in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, p. 24. Also reproduced as "Plan von Pittsburg und Umgebungen" in Bernhard, Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (Heinrich Luden, ed.), Reise Sr. Hoheit des Herzogs Bernhard zu Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach durch Nord-Amerika in den Jahren 1825 und 1826, vol. II, following p. 200, Wilhelm Hoffmann, Weimar, 1828 (Internet Archive reisesrhoheitdes00bern, reisesrhoheitdes00inbern). [view source]darby
  3. "An ordinance respecting sundry new streets in the eastern addition to Pittsburgh." Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1816, no. 22. Passed Sept. 28, 1816; re-enacted by ordinance no. 114, passed Apr. 14, 1828; recorded Mar. 13, 1828. Ordinance Book A, p. 125. In By-Laws and Ordinances of the City of Pittsburgh, and the Acts of Assembly Relating Thereto: With notes and references to judicial decisions thereon, and an appendix, relating to several subjects connected with the laws and police of the city corporation, pp. 127–128, Johnston and Stockton, Pittsburgh, 1828 (Google Books sfxOAAAAYAAJ, 3n9hAAAAcAAJ). [view source]ordinance-1816-22
  4. William Allan Neilson, Thomas A. Knott, and Paul W. Carhart, eds. Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language: Second edition, unabridged, pp. 2727–2728. G. & C. Merriam Co., Springfield, Mass., 1947. [view source]mw2
  5. Philip Babcock Gove, ed. Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, pp. 2457–2458. Merriam-Webster, Springfield, Mass., 1993, ISBN 0-87779-201-1. [view source]mw3
  6. 6.0 6.1 George T. Fleming. "Bits of biography—the boyhood of Henry Marie Brackenridge: Pathetic story of infancy and rescue from want by a noble woman—boy taken to country home of step-father-in-law, tells of barring out of a rural schoolmaster in Washington County: On acquiring vernacularly the German tongue on return from farm, the boy is sent, at the age of 7, to Louisiana Territory, now Missouri, to learn French in a similar manner—grief of 'Joe,' erstwhile nurse and first protector of the future author and jurist: Bon voyage as boat shoves away from the Monongahela's muddy banks in 1793: Autobiography up to twenty-fourth year replete with history of early Pittsburgh: Author's characterization of his distinguished father noted and commented on: Young Brackenridge a prodigy, learning to read when two years old—notes of his 'recollections' and some contemporary history—phases of an eventful life." Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Oct. 26, 1919, second section, pp. 8–9. 85670580, 85670581. [view source]fleming-brackenridge
  7. "Interesting reminiscences: West Pennsylvania at the beginning of the century: Pittsburgh fifty-five years ago." Pittsburgh Post, Mar. 22, 1862, [p. 3]. 87580278. [view source]interesting-reminiscences
  8. "A visit to Pittsburg: Observations in this city early in the present century: More of Cuming's sketches: Believed this an unexcelled place for trade and manufacture: Noteworthy people and places." Pittsburg Post, June 9, 1895, p. 19. 86400199. [view source]visit-to-pittsburg
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Leland D. Baldwin. Pittsburgh: The story of a city. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 1937. HathiTrust 001263101. [view source]baldwin
  10. George T. Fleming. "Early annals of the port of Pittsburgh: In the days of shipbuilding—curious old map evokes much history—Pittsburgh in 1805 revealed—Stephen Quinon's story of our ocean commerce—the little square riggers that sailed from Pittsburgh: Some pages from the book of a French savant: Pittsburgh as F. A. Michaux saw it in 1802: Our river commerce of that time—his story of our sailing and other vessels—his meeting with the Chevalier Dubac." Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 2, 1922, fifth section, p. 2. 85856279. [view source]fleming-port
  11. William Masson. Plan of Pittsburgh: With the Allegany and Monongohaley Rivers: Shewing there connection into the ohio: Likewise the different vessels built at Pittsburgh: Octor 10th, 1805. 1805. Reproduced in George T. Fleming, "Early annals of the port of Pittsburgh: In the days of shipbuilding—curious old map evokes much history—Pittsburgh in 1805 revealed—Stephen Quinon's story of our ocean commerce—the little square riggers that sailed from Pittsburgh: Some pages from the book of a French savant: Pittsburgh as F. A. Michaux saw it in 1802: Our river commerce of that time—his story of our sailing and other vessels—his meeting with the Chevalier Dubac," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 2, 1922, fifth section, p. 2 ( 85856279); in George T. Fleming, "History from an old map: William Masson's map of Pittsburgh in 1805 studied and explained—seagoing vessels outlined and old-time residences marked; the vacant tracts outside borough lines noted—a rugged topography indicated; the many ferries of the period," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 9, 1922, fifth section, p. 2 ( 85913400); in Charles Henry Ambler, A History of Transportation in the Ohio Valley: With special reference to its waterways, trade, and commerce from the earliest period to the present time, p. 95, Arthur H. Clark Co., Glendale, Calif., 1932 (HathiTrust 001108773); in Stefan Lorant, Pittsburgh: The story of an American city, 5th (Millennium) ed., p. 75, Esselmont Books, Pittsburgh, 1999, ISBN 0-967-41030-4 (LCCN 99-066641); and in David Halaas and Andrew Masich, "Rediscovering Lewis & Clark," Western Pennsylvania History, vol. 86, no. 4, winter 2003–04, pp. 12–21 ( [view source]masson
  12. David Halaas and Andrew Masich. "Rediscovering Lewis & Clark." Western Pennsylvania History, vol. 86, no. 4, winter 2003–04, pp. 12–21. [view source]halaas-masich
  13. 13.0 13.1 Lois Mulkearn and Edwin V. Pugh. A Traveler's Guide to Historic Western Pennsylvania, pp. 30–32. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 1954. Historic Pittsburgh 31735057894978. [view source]mulkearn-pugh
  14. George Swetnam. "Pittsburgh's first steamboat: Sidewheeler New Orleans made riverboat history 150 years ago this week, but Lydia Roosevelt was the attraction." Pittsburgh Press, Oct. 15, 1961, Pittsburgh's Family Magazine, pp. 4–6. 149296972, 149296990, 149297129. [view source]swetnam-steamboat
  15. 15.0 15.1 George T. Fleming. "Reisville now forgotten name: Once thriving suburb called after a pioneer has long been incorporated into City of Pittsburgh." Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Dec. 19, 1915, fifth section, p. 2. 85762040. [view source]fleming-reisville
  16. George H. Thurston. Allegheny County's Hundred Years, p. 244. A. A. Anderson & Son, Pittsburgh, 1888. Google Books 7mq5vRa_l_IC, na2TNhB3BuAC; HathiTrust 008651472; Historic Pittsburgh 00adg8023m; Internet Archive alleghenycounty00thurgoog, alleghenycountys00thur. [view source]allegheny-hundred
  17. Jean Barbeau and Lewis Keyon. Map of Pittsburgh and Its Environs. N. B. Molineux, Pittsburgh, 1830. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0576; [view source]barbeau
  18. By-Laws and Ordinances of the City of Pittsburgh, and the Acts of Assembly Relating Thereto: With notes and references to judicial decisions thereon, and an appendix, relating to several subjects connected with the laws and police of the city corporation, pp. 185–187. Johnston and Stockton, Pittsburgh, 1828. Google Books sfxOAAAAYAAJ, 3n9hAAAAcAAJ. [view source]by-laws
  19. T. J. Chapman. Old Pittsburgh Days, p. 186. J. R. Weldin & Co., Pittsburgh, 1900. HathiTrust 100551464; Historic Pittsburgh 00hc03930m. [view source]chapman
  20. 20.0 20.1 ASCE Pittsburgh Section 100th Anniversary Publication Committee. Engineering Pittsburgh: A history of roads, rails, canals, bridges & more. History Press, Charleston, S. C., 2018, ISBN 978-1-5402-3599-2. LCCN 2018942435. [view source]engineering
  21. 21.0 21.1 George T. Fleming. "Early public schools of Pittsburgh: The old Eighth Ward and School, after 1868 the Forbes School—annexation changed ward numbers, hence Forbes Sub-School District of the Sixth Ward—Sub-districts abolished when North Side came in: Principal L. H. Eaton with 31 years' service: His report to city superintendent in 1870: Sketch of a long and distinguished career: Forbes School notes and notables—Boyd's Hill and Pipetown." Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 8, 1921, fifth section, p. 2. 85825538. [view source]fleming-schools-eighth
  22. Lewis Keyon. Map of Pittsburgh and Its Environs. Johnston & Stockton, Pittsburgh, 1835. Historic Pittsburgh DARMAP0577; 1835 layer at Pittsburgh Historic Maps ( [view source]keyon
  23. Sarah H. Killikelly. The History of Pittsburgh: Its rise and progress, pp. 169–170. B. C. & Gordon Montgomery Co., Pittsburgh, 1906. HistPgh1909M; Google Books kXmloex-vr8C, poRU0YjqrzsC; HathiTrust 100122020; Historic Pittsburgh 00adc8925m; Internet Archive historyofpittsbu00kill, historypittsbur00killgoog. [view source]killikelly
  24. "Few changes in city's topography: Grant's hill lower than when Pittsburgh was laid out by the Penns: 'Red' Pond, too, is gone: And 'Vale of Soho,' where lovers strayed amid flowers, has vanished forever." Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Aug. 6, 1911, second section, p. 7. 85726053. [view source]topography
  25. George T. Fleming. "Old highway is now great avenue: Historic Fourth Street road plays prominent part in story of early Pittsburgh: Opened years ago." Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Jan. 9, 1916, fifth section, p. 2. 85762432. [view source]fleming-highway
  26. William G. Johnston. Life and Reminiscences from Birth to Manhood of Wm. G. Johnston, pp. 298–299. Knickerbocker Press, New York, 1901. Google Books N-QEAAAAYAAJ; Historic Pittsburgh 00adj9508m; Internet Archive lifereminiscence00john. [view source]johnston
  27. Erasmus Wilson, ed. Standard History of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, p. 917. H. R. Cornell & Co., Chicago, 1898. Google Books 1dcwAQAAMAAJ; Historic Pittsburgh 00hc03974m; Internet Archive standardhistoryo00wils. [view source]wilson-erasmus
  28. 28.0 28.1 George T. Fleming. "Water street and Monongahela wharf: Protracted litigation necessary to give city clear title to tract along this highway, once an aristocratic thoroughfare of Pittsburgh." Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Dec. 20, 1914, second section, [p. 4]. 85909712. [view source]fleming-water-street
  29. Atlas of the Cities of Pittsburgh, Allegheny, and the Adjoining Boroughs. G. M. Hopkins & Co., Philadelphia, 1872.; 1872 layer at Pittsburgh Historic Maps ( [view source]hopkins-1872
  30. "An ordinance vacating Try street, in the First Ward of the City of Pittsburgh, from the northerly line of Water Street southwardly to the northerly line of the property of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." Pittsburgh city ordinance, 1956, no. 236. Passed June 18, 1956; approved June 26, 1956. Ordinance Book 60, p. 525. Reprinted (as bill no. 774) in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 19, 1956, p. 17 ( 90900128), and May 26, p. 15 ( 90818637); and in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, June 2, 1956, p. 11 ( 523901843). Reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 28, 1956, p. 29 ( 91071766), and June 29, p. 30 ( 91072283); and in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, June 30, 1956, p. 11 ( 524023092). [view source]ordinance-1956-236