806 Western Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

John Irwin & The Rope Walk

John Irwin founded the first rope walk in western Pennsylvania in 1794 on a site near Smithficld Street and the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh. Irwin, who had been wounded in a Revolutionary W ar battle, left the management of the rope walk to his wife, Mary and son, John.

After the elder Irwin’s death in 1808, at age 50, the younger John Irwin purchased his mother’s share in the business and assumed responsibility for its operation.

The younger John Irwin moved the rope walk to Allegheny City in 1813. The rope walk originally occupied a site bounded by what are now Brighton Road, Ridge Avenue, Galveston Avenue and Western Avenue. The site occupied Out Lot 276 in the Reserve Tract Opposite Pittsburgh.

The younger John Irwin brought his son, Henry into the business in 1835, and renamed the business John Irwin & Son. In 1847, John Irwin Jr. (actually the third John Irwin) joined the business, which became known as John Irwin & Sons.

At some point between 1835 and 1847, the rope walk expanded westward onto Out Lot 275 to a point 100′ east of Allegheny Avenue, by leasing land owned by Harmar and Elizabeth F. Denny. In 1847, the Irwins purchased the land they had leased from the Dennys.

An 1852 map shows that the rope walk’s main building was located at what is now the eastern end of North Lincoln Avenue, facing Brighton Road.

The rope walk site contained a small number of homes on Western Avenue that may have housed rope walk employees. Structures that apparently remain from the time of the rope walk are two vernacular Greek Revival style double houses at 831-833 Western Avenue and 843-845 Western Avenue and another building at 903-905 Western Avenue, now known as Allegheny Court.

Pittsburgh city directories of the 1850’s show that Robert Graham of Water Lane (now Western Avenue) managed the rope walk. Graham later built and lived at 840 North Lincoln Avenue (then 67 Lincoln Avenue). Graham also built a house at 842 North Lincoln Avenue (65 Lincoln Avenue) that he rented to tenants.

The rope walk ceased operation in 1858. Subsequently, the younger John Irwin subdivided the rope walk site and sold it as building lots on Ridge, North Lincoln, Western and Galveston Avenues. Irwin lived on Irwin Avenue (now Brighton Road) until about 1859, when he moved to Sewickley.

Henry Irwin, apparently a son of John Irwin, was a salt manufacturer and president of the Manchester Railway Company. He continued to live on Irwin Avenue after John Irwin moved to Sewickley. During the 1870’s, a son, Hemy Jr., became a partner in Irwin & Company, a coal company on Galveston Avenue near the Ohio River. Lewis Irwin, another son, became a partner in Holdship & Irwin, an oil firm, and rented a house at 824 Beech Avenue in the 1880’s.

Lewis Irwin helped change the architectural appearance of Allegheny West in 1887, when he commissioned the firm of Longfellow, Alden & Harlow to design a new residence for him at the southwestern comer of Western Avenue and Brighton Road. The house, with some similarity to Sunnyledge at Fifth and Wilkins Avenues in Squirrel Hill, was dramatically different from nearby homes built in more traditional styles. Irwin also had Longfellow, Alden & Harlow design a double house at the southeastern comer of Western Avenue and Rope Way. The Irwin houses were among the earliest of several Longfellow, Alden & Harlow houses in Allegheny West; those which remain include the Pontefract mansion on North Lincoln Avenue west of Allegheny Avenue, the house at 838 North Lincoln Avenue and the Rosenbach house at 836 Western Avenue.

Members of the Irwin family lived on the former rope walk site until about 1920. Lewis Irwin appears to have been the last family member to live there. After he and other family members relocated to Sewickley, the former Irwin houses were used as apartments and rooming houses. The houses were demolished in the 1950’s.

The Hamiltons

William D. Hamilton was born in November 1854 on Penn Avenue in what is now Downtown Pittsburgh. He was the first of at least six children of William and Mary Hamilton, both Irish immigrants. The elder William Hamilton was employed as a moulder and machinist during the 1850’s and in the first few years of the 1860s. The Hamilton family moved to East Carson Street on the South Side during the 1850’s, and also lived in the West End while William D. Hamilton was a small child.

The Hamilton family’s financial position appears to have solidified by 1861, when William Hamilton purchased two adjoining undeveloped lots on Central Street (later Lincoln Avenue; now North Lincoln Avenue) in what is now Allegheny West. By 1865, Hamilton commissioned construction of two houses on the lots: 15 Lincoln Avenue (later 936 North Lincoln Avenue; on the present site of the Rooney garage addition at 940 North Lincoln Avenue) and 17 Lincoln Avenue (demolished in the 1890s to make room for an addition to the Thaw mansion at 930 North Lincoln Avenue). William Hamilton and his family began living at 17 Lincoln Avenue, and Hamilton’s widowed mother and other family members lived at 15 Lincoln Avenue.

In 1864, William Hamilton began manufacturing coffins in premises he rented at the rear of 31 Fifth Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh. By the following year, Hamilton founded the Excelsior Coffin Manufacturing Company, located at the same address. The firm established a factory at 380-382 Penn Avenue, Downtown, and became known as Hamilton, Algeo, Arnold & Company by 1868. William Hamilton’s partners were R.K. Algeo of 39 Robinson Street (now General Robinson Street) in Allegheny City and James T. Arnold of 34 Walnut Street in Temperanceville (now the West End).

Records of the 1870 census, the last census to provide information on assets of persons enumerated, reported that the elder William Hamilton owned real estate valued at $35,000 and had a personal estate of $20,000. In 1870, a typical newer brick house of about nine rooms in Hamilton’s neighborhood was worth about $10,000.

William Hamilton’s firm moved its operations to the foot of Mulberry Street in Manchester, along the Ohio River, and changed its name to Hamilton, Lemmon, Arnold & Company during the 1870s. Hamilton’s partners were Brice Lemmon of 79 Page Street (between Manhattan and Chateau Streets; demolished), James T. Arnold of 121 Sheffield Street (later 1227 Sheffield Street; demolished), J.W. Carnahan of Denniston Avenue in Shadyside, John H. Mower of39 Allegheny Avenue (near Reedsdale Street; demolished) and Adam Ammon of 123 Sheffield Street in Manchester (later 1229 Sheffield Street; demolished).

William D. Hamilton, 25, and Caroline Penney Haney, 21, were married in 1880. Caroline Penney Haney Hamilton, born in McKeesport in August 1859, was a daughter of Lewis and Eliza Penney Haney, both born in Pennsylvania. She later served as regent of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

William D. and Caroline P. Hamilton had no children.

Between the late 1870s and mid-1880s, William D. Hamilton worked for Hamilton, Lemmon, Arnold & Company as a varnisher, clerk and manager. Hamilton was not listed in Pittsburgh city directories published in the late 1880s and early 1890s. It is likely that during this time he worked in New York for Chappel, Chase & Maxwell Co., named in his obituary as a firm for which he worked as a young man. The Hamiltons returned to Pittsburgh in about 1891, when William D. Hamilton became a partner in Hamilton, Lemmon, Arnold & Company.

In the early 1890’s, the Hamiltons began living at 218 Allegheny Avenue (on the eastern side of Allegheny Avenue near Abdell Street; demolished). The couple remained at 218 Allegheny Avenue until 1895, when they moved into their newly constructed home at 940 West North Avenue (then 21 North Avenue).

Hamilton, Lemmon, Arnold & Company was reorganized as the National Casket Company in about 1896. Although available records do not provide information on the reorganization, the name of the new firm suggests it may have been a consolidation of a number of firms in various cities. It should be noted that at the turn of the century, Pittsburgh became the headquarters of several large manufacturing firms that were formed by national or regional consolidations in the steel, glass, aluminum and brewing industries.

The McCracken School

Written by Robert D. Christie
Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine
via the Heinz History Center

A separate and distinct chapter in the history of Allegheny is that of the select school for girls and boys established on Ridge Avenue in the First Ward about 1878. Its sponsors and principal-teachers were the Misses Eliza and Sarah J. McCracken, and it was known as the McCracken School. The street number of
their establishment originally was 366, later changed to 611. It was the house at the western end of a row of six three-story residences named the Paulson Block after a former owner, Charles H. Paulson, dealer in hats, caps and furs at 73 Wood Street, Pittsburgh. The buildings of which this school was a part rose abruptly from the street and offered a pleasing view of the park to the north, but a less pleasing topographical feature was that the entire school-side of the block faced the depressed tracks of the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad across a narrow unused lot. An iron bridge permitted the public to cross those tracks at street level on Ridge Avenue. It might be supposed that the noise and smoke of passing trains would have deterred the location of a fashionable school there, but the pupils literally took it in their stride, often running to stand on the bridge facing approaching trains and being enveloped in sulphurous smoke and showers of cinders.

The first mention of Eliza McCracken in a Pittsburgh and Allegheny directory appeared in the volume for 1878. Her sister Sarah never was listed until the issue for 1890. The “select school” of Miss Eliza disappeared from the directories in 1896. It was from Steubenville, Ohio, that the McCracken ladies and their brother, John H., a clerk in the employ of the Pennsylvania Company in the ’90s, came.

In the middle ’80s the institutional staff of the McCracken School included, besides the two sisters, a widow whose name was Mrs. Nannie Ridgley, who probably had lived at 67 Arch Street, Allegheny; Miss Margaretta Dihm, who subsequently had a private school at 3 North Avenue; and Miss Bertha Floersheim, who almost certainly was a daughter of Berthold Floersheim, 104 Western Avenue. The last mentioned of these ladies became the wife of City Councilman Enoch Rauh and the mother of Richard S. Rauh, founder of the latterday Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and of the Pittsburgh Playhouse, and a director in many Western Pennsylvania corporations as well as a trustee of The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania.

Tuition in the McCracken School was sixty dollars a year. The number of pupils at any given time was about sixty. Hours of instruction were from nine in the morning until noon, Monday to Friday inclusive. The final period of each week was devoted to a special student activity at which parents were welcome to attend. Miss Eliza greeted pupils in person at the front door. She presided over the senior classes, seated in a swivel chair which was, indeed, her throne. As a child psychologist she was unquestionably a superior person and as a disciplinarian she definitely was without a peer. The pupils too had their points in psychology, learning by practice to appraise at the entrance to the school the emotional weather they might expect inside. If Miss Eliza were cheery, all was well, but if not, one’s breathing scarcely was permitted to be heard. When she admitted a headache, the day was termed “silent” and no one spoke, every pupil having recourse to writing. On normal days recitations were silenced automatically by the passing of locomotives on the Fort Wayne, and the school regularly was showered with cinders but the dirt was unnoticed by Miss Eliza’s charges.

The first exercise of each day consisted of Scripture reading in which pupils as well as teachers participated. Naturally, the three R’s were basic, with Miss Eliza specializing in grammar with emphasis being placed on parsing in a form of game, more familiar in spelling bees, in which the pupils were seated on open benches at the front of the room and moving up or down as answers justified.

A specialty of Miss Dihm, remembered as a gentle and not too exacting person, was mental arithmetic, which successively involved addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, applied to a single problem. One of her pupils, who enjoyed her special favor, was Ed Thaw; and in a bedlam of answers she frequently was heard to say, “Now, listen to Ed.”

Miss Floersheim, regarded with great popularity, was instructor in elocution, and a matter to which she devoted much effort involved a gesture whose value was enhanced by the idea that it had been imported from Paris. This consisted of a sweep of a hand, partly open, but the essential feature, supposed to give it grace and elegance, lay in the separation of the second and third fingers, while the others remained in contact. Her instruction registered to such an extent that after sixty-seven years one of her pupils, though unconvinced of its artistry, still could demonstrate it. On Fridays, at eleven a.m., a chosen group of pupils was called upon to display their histrionic abilities not only before the school but often before their parents. The field of endeavor was divided into four categories of which each pupil, advised in advance, might make selection — namely: (1) Recitation of a selection of prose or poem from memory; (2) Selection, a chosen reading; (3) Facts, the narration of actual occurrences; (4) Anecdotes, stories of a biographical nature.

These exercises were not without their occasional surprises. One of the McMurtry boys — Ed or Burt — was capable of performances looked forward to with expectation of originality and he did not fail. His entire declamation, devoid of gesture, could be: “It rained Friday. That is a fact.” The same young man is remembered as the youthful genius who applied his newly acquired knowledge of electricity to wiring the kitchen doorknob in order that he, having provoked his playmates to pursuit, could dart through and slam the door so that it offered a surprising shock to any youngster who grasped it. He also was the inventor of a form of bicycle which departed from all accepted standards in that it had a small wheel in front and handlebars which were behind the rider seated upright.

On another Friday a performer presented a descriptive bit which included a takeoff of the names of physicians, such as Dr. Thinman, an authority on diet, and Dr. Merriman, whose name was a signal for hearty laughter, to which Miss Eliza, not having followed the narrator closely, called an instant halt, demanding the cause of such mirth. When it was explained that the script called for merriment, she responded: “I understand. Proceed with your laughter.” — which was then impossible.

Another pupil, George Thompson by name, acquired a reputation which did not exactly endear him to the school at large. It was alleged that he never was late and that he never missed a day’s attendance. What he may have lacked in scholarship was, in the estimation of certain teachers, compensated for by this virtue and when his academic errors were about to incur the derision of fellow students Miss Eliza solemnly would say: “Remember, George has never been late!”

There once was some intimation that the pupils might find a calendar helpful at school, with the result that Al Bissell promptly brought a huge one to be hung on the wall of the study room. In modern times such a calendar would seem appropriate enough, but not so in those days. Al’s contribution peremptorily was ruled out on the ground that if all pupils were to be allowed to bring in such calendars the whole wallsoon would be completely covered with them.

Somewhat novel was a bulletin board consisting of a slate and pencil outside the study door. If a pupil had occasion to leave the room, his name was inscribed thereon to be erased when he returned. This gave his absence official sanction without undue notice or discussion.

A two-way flag was used as an incentive to inspire girls or boys as the case might be. One side of it was blue and the other side was red, and if the girls had excelled on a given day the blue side was displayed while if the boys were deserving of commendation the red side was exposed to the student body as a signal of masculine superiority.

No search for a record book of the McCracken School students has been successful but among the names of pupils recalled are:

Oliver McClintock
Marshall Bell
Arthur Bell
Dallas Byers
Alex Byers
John Frederick Byers
Ed Byers
Margaret Thaw
Ed Thaw
Jo Thaw
Julia Horne
Amy Scaife
George Thompson
Mary Bell
Al Bissel
Henrietta Logan
Austin Moorhead
Sarah Lindsay
Olive Fleming
Harmar Denny
Alex Laughlin
Louise Woods
Blaine Robinson
Bill Robinson
Frank Houston
Mary Painter
John Ricketson
Lily Palmer
Annie Rhodes
Alan Wood
Carroll Fitzhugh
Mary Laughlin
Agnes Dickson
Martha Dalzell
Anna Scott
Eleanor Painter
Gladys Painter
Marian Chambers
George B. Logan
Katherine Scott
Hester H. Singer
Bessie C. Hamilton
Ed McMurtry
Burt McMurtry

In 1949 Anna Scott wrote:

“The row of houses where the school was located was very old … My impression of the schoolrooms [is] that they were very dark. There was a large front room on the second floor, where most of the students sat. Then we went down two or three stairs into the back room where a Mrs. Fulton presided over the little children. On the third floor front there was a smaller room for the older students. I do not remember the teacher in charge there, though I think she was very popular.

“I think the yearIattended … must have been 1893 because I remember Miss McCracken went to the World’s Fair in Chicago and gave us a very vivid report of it.”

This account of the McCracken School is basically a result of interviews with Carroll Fitzhugh and John Ricketson.

A & S Wilson

The firm was located at 541-551 Third Avenue, Downtown. It was a partnership of Adam Wilson of 318 North Neville Street, Oakland, J. Charles Wilson of 320 N Neville Street, and W.P. Clyde of 147 Auburn Street in East Liberty.

A & S Wilson built houses and other buildings for a number of Pittsburgh’s manufacturing and social elite in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Work by the firm in Allegheny West included the construction of a large carriage house at 705 Brighton Road.

Other work by A & S Wilson included construction of:

  • Downtown: the headquarters of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company at 200 Ross Street
  • Squirrel Hill: houses at 1130 Shady Avenue and 1405, 1415, and 1427 Squirrel Hill Avenue
  • Shadyside: the Spencer House at 719 Amberson Avenue; houses at 5131 Ellsworth Avenue,
    653 Morewood Avenue, 5131 Pembroke Place, and 512-514 Shady Avenue; and a carriage
    house at 400 Devonshire Street
  • Highland Park: a house at 5655 Stanton Avenue

William Ross Proctor

William Ross Proctor was born April 5, 1863 in New York City. He was one of three children of William Fash Proctor (1826-1902) and Vouletti Theresa Singer (1840-1913). His siblings were Charles Edward and Ada Olive. His mother was one of the children of Isaac Merritt Singer (1811-75), founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company.

Proctor graduated from the Columbia College School of Mines in 1884 with an engineering degree and moved to Pittsburgh in December of the same year. Shortly thereafter, he began the practice of architecture and also met Elizabeth Singer to whom he was married June 9, 1886. The wedding took place in the grand Allegheny home of the bride’s parents, William Henry and Hester Laird Singer.

While little has been written about Proctor’s architecture career, he appears to have had a successful practice. Research suggests that he was adept in an eclectic array of building types, including residential, commercial, ecclesiastical and public works. He was also skilled in the design of ornamental iron and bronze architectural elements. More than once he beat out a number of more prominent architects for important commissions, including the North Presbyterian Church (1896) and Western Pennsylvania Hospital (1897, unbuilt). The former once stood a block from the Willock House on the southeast corner of Lincoln and Galveston Streets. Other important designs include The Stevenson Building in East Liberty and the Pumping Station on the Allegheny River (off Freeport Road near the Waterworks Mall).
Proctor lived in Allegheny near many of his wealthy clients at 934 Ridge Avenue. For a time he had partners in his practice, with certain commissions being attributed to Proctor & Wass and others to Proctor, Wass & Tufts. For a time, he was also associated with Thorsten E. Billquist, who designed the Allegheny Observatory (1900). Proctor is known to have had offices at various times in the Hamilton Building, the Stevenson Building and at 341 Sixth Avenue.

After his father’s death in 1902, Proctor retired from the architecture profession to take charge of the family estate in New York. He later became a stock broker and special partner in the New York Stock Exchange firm of Barbour & Co. In 1915 he became a special partner in the firm Abbott, Hoppin & Co.

He held memberships in over thirty clubs and societies, among which were the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Architectural League of New York, the Union League Club, the Society of Colonial Wars in the United States and the New England Genealogical Society. He was Vice President of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society where he was instrumental in overseeing the construction of their new building in 1929. He died at Harbor Hospital in New York on February 6, 1930 from pneumonia.

For more detailed biographical information about William Ross Proctor, including family trees and historic photographs, see (the source of much of the biographical information above).

The Willocks

William Walter Willock was born in Allegheny City (now the North Side of Pittsburgh) on March 9, 1863. He was one of at least four children of John S. Willock, a coal merchant, and Josephine Hays Willock, born in Pennsylvania to American-born parents. When William W. Willock was born, his family lived in a house that John and Josephine Willock owned at 73 Isabella Street in Allegheny City. The Willock home was near the present site of the Andy Warhol Museum, and was directly across a narrow alley from the Eagle Cotton Mills, which occupied an entire city block.

In 1873-1874, the Willock family moved from Isabella Street to 905 (then 44) Beech Avenue in what is now Allegheny West. The family’s move was part of a post-Civil War movement of middle-class and wealthy families from neighborhoods with commercial and industrial components, such as Downtown Pittsburgh and lower Allegheny City, to neighborhoods or streets that were at least generally residential. William W. Willock lived at 905 Beech Avenue until he was married.

William Willock, according to his obituary, attended Allegheny City public schools, the Chester Military Academy (predecessor of Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania), and the Western University of Pennsylvania (predecessor of the University of Pittsburgh). In the early 1880s, Willock began working for the Third National Bank of Pittsburgh on Wood Street at Virgin Way, Downtown, as a messenger. He advanced to a position as a clerk in about 1884 and held that job for over a decade.

On April 16, 1889, William Willock, 26, married Alice B. Jones, 23. Alice Jones was born on April 18, 1866 in Downtown Pittsburgh. Her parents were Benjamin Franklin Jones, a prominent iron and steel manufacturer, and Mary McMasters Jones. B.F. Jones was a founder of Jones & Laughlin (later the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company; later the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation), which operated iron and steel mills in and near Pittsburgh. During approximately the last three decades of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, the Jones family lived in a mansion at the northwestern corner of Brighton and North Lincoln Avenues.

William and Alice Jones Willock lived with the Jones family for approximately the first four years after they were married. Their first child, Franklin Jones Willock, was born in January 1891. The Willocks moved from the Jones residence to their newly constructed house at 705 Brighton Road in 1892 or 1893.

William Willock worked as a clerk until about 1894, when he became the general manager of the Monongahela Connecting Railroad. The Monongahela Connecting Railroad was a subsidiary of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company, and was headquartered in the parent company’s offices at Third Avenue and Try Street, Downtown. The railroad crossed the Monongahela River on the Hot Metal Bridge near South 29th Street, connecting Jones & Laughlin’s Soho Iron Works and its Hazelwood operations on the northern side of the river with its American Iron and Steel Works on the South Side.
William W. Willock

William W. Willock (far right. courtesy University of Pittsburgh)

William W. Willock Jr., the Willocks’ second and last child, was born in the early 1900s.

William Willock was the general manager of the Monongahela Connecting Railroad until 1901, when he became its vice president. He joined the board of directors of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company in 1902.

The Willocks became the owners of a summer home, Gladmore Farm in Sewickley Heights, in about 1901. In about 1905, they began using Gladmore Farm as their primary residence. The Willocks continued to own 705 Brighton Road.

A 1912 social directory listed three addresses for the Willocks: their Pittsburgh residence at 705 Brighton Road, their summer home at Gladmore Farm and a winter home called Billswood on Forest Avenue in Lakewood, New Jersey. Although the 1912 social directory listed 705 Brighton Road as the family’s first address, Pittsburgh and Sewickley directories published after 1906 consistently listed William Willock’s home as Sewickley Heights. Willock was listed in Pittsburgh directories sporadically after 1910, suggesting that he may have been semi-retired or that he spent much of his time at the family’s Lakewood, New Jersey home. The Willocks later had a second home at 998 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and a summer home in Syosset, Long Island.

The Willock family began to rent 705 Irwin Avenue to tenants at some point between 1912 and 1919. Their first known tenants at 705 Brighton Road were Charles F. Patterson, an attorney, and his family. The house remained a single-family home through at least 1923. It became a rooming house by 1927-1928, when the Willocks rented it to Anna E. Barbe, an established North Side rooming house operator. Anna Barbe lived at 705 Brighton Road and used the property as a rooming house until the early 1940s. Pittsburgh directories show that William Willock maintained an office in room 1926 of the Oliver Building, Downtown, in the 1920s and 1930s.

William Willock served on the board of directors of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation until he died on March 8, 1939. Willock died at age 76 in Syosset, Long Island, at or near his summer home there.

Alice Jones Willock survived her husband by less than three months. She died on May 30, 1939, at age 73. Her executors sold 705 Brighton Road in 1944.

Henry Hobson Richardson

Henry Hobson Richardson (September 29, 1838 – April 27, 1886) was a prominent American architect who designed buildings in Albany, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and other cities. The style he popularized is named for him: Richardsonian Romanesque. Along with Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, Richardson is one of “the recognized trinity of American architecture”.

Henry Hobson Richardson

Henry Hobson Richardson,

Richardson is one of few architects to be immortalized by having a style named after him. “Richardsonian Romanesque”, unlike Victorian revival styles like Neo-Gothic, was a highly personal synthesis of the Beaux-Arts predilection for clear and legible plans, with the heavy massing that was favored by the pro-medievalists. It featured picturesque roofline profiles, rustication and polychromy, semi-circular arches supported on clusters of squat columns, and round arches over clusters of windows on massive walls.

Learn More About Richardson on Wikipedia

The Hoffstots

Gideon Norton Hoffstot was born in York County, Pennsylvania, on February 13, 1812. His parents, John and Mary Norton Hoffstot, had immigrated from Germany and England, respectively. His wife, Mary Cannon Hoffstot, was born in October 1822 in Ohio, to parents born in Pennsylvania.

The Hoffstots were married on October 25, 1838. They lived in Ohio in the 1840s and early 1850s, and settled in Allegheny City by I 856, renting a house at the corner of Lacock and Morgan Streets. In 1856, Gideon N. Hoffstot was a partner in Wilkinson & Hoffstot, leather goods dealers, located at 217 Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh. His partner was William Wilkinson of Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh.

Gideon Hoffstot and his family moved to the corner of lsabella and Anderson Streets in Allegheny City in the late l850s. At about the same time, Hoffstot terminated his partnership in Wilkinson & Hoffstot and opened a leather goods store on Liberty Avenue near Ninth Street.

Records of the 1860 census show that Gideon and Mary Hoffstot had three children: Ada, 20, DeWitt, 18, who was employed as a clerk, and John, seven. The 1860 census reported that Gideon Hoffstot owned no real estate and had a personal estate of $5000, comparable to around $400,000 in the early 21st century.

The last Hoffstot child, Frank Norton, was born in 1861. The Hoffstot family moved to Ninth Street in Pittsburgh in about 1866. They remained there until Gideon and Mary Hoffstot had 841 North Lincoln Avenue built in 1879-80.

In 1859, Gideon N. Hoffstot was among the founders of the Second National Bank of Pittsburgh, with which he remained associated for the rest of his life. He supported the bank’s founding as a stockholder, and subsequently joined the board of directors. He became vice president of the bank in around 1890. Hoffstot’s ability to build wealth for himself and his family and his prominence in the Pittsburgh business community were probably as much a result of his roles with the bank as his leather goods business.

It is also possible, if not likely, that Hoffstot was among the many Pittsburgh businessmen who profited from government contracts to sell goods to be used in the Civil War effort.
Gideon N. and Mary Hoffstot were 68 and 57 years old when they had 841 North Lincoln Avenue built in 1879-1880. The house was intended as a mansion, although it was not among the largest in its wealthy neighborhood.

Records of the 1880 census shows that the Hoffstot family and two servants lived at 841 North Lincoln Avenue. Gideon N. Hoffstot was a leather merchant, and Mary Hoffstot had no occupation. Two of the Hoffstot children lived in the house: Ada, 32, with no occupation, and Frank, 19, attending school. The family employed two servants who lived with them: Ida Nichols, 18, who had been born in Pennsylvania to English immigrant parents, and Albert Lawson, 20, a carriage driver born in Virginia.

In about 1885, Gideon N. Hoffstot became chairman of the Union Foundry and Machine Company. The company had offices on Fort Pitt Boulevard, Downtown, and its shops were in the Woods Run area of Allegheny City. Hoffstot continued in that position until he died on August 2l, 1894.

Records of the 1890 manuscript census, which would provide information on residents of 841 North Lincoln Avenue in that year, were destroyed in a warehouse fire in Washington, D.C. in the 1920s.

The 1900 manuscript census reported that Mary and Ada Hoffstot and two servants lived at 841 Lincoln Avenue. The Hoffstots’ servants were Minnie Bluemke, 18, who had immigrated from Germany in 1884, and William Dickson, 27, an African-American man who had been born in Pennsylvania. Dickson was a coachman and lived in the Hoffstot carriage house.

Mary Hoffstot died at home at 841 Lincoln Avenue on September 26, 1900. Ada Hoffstot lived at 841 Lincoln Avenue until she sold the house in 1903.