Joshua Rhodes was born in England on March 19, 1924, and immigrated to the United States in 1830. Rhodes’ family moved to Allegheny City in 1832.
Eliza Rhodes, formerly Eliza Haslett, was born in May 1833 in Lawrenceville, then a borough near Pittsburgh.
Biographical materials indicate that Joshua Rhodes worked for Benjamin Brown, a grocer, as a teenager and opened a grocery in 1844 at age 20 on First Avenue near Smithfield Street. Rhodes’ store was destroyed in the fire of 1845, and he subsequently rebuilt his store at Fourth Avenue and Smithfield Street.
Joshua Rhodes was listed in the Pittsburgh city directory as early as 1847, when he was listed as a fruiter and confectioner at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Smithfield Street. By 1850, Rhodes formed Joshua Rhodes & Company, fruiterers, at 6 Wood Street. Rhodes lived at 30 Smithfield Street in 1850. By 1852, Rhodes was a cracker baker at 189 First Street and also operated Joshua Rhodes & Company, fruiters and confectioners, at 6 Wood Street.
Joshua Rhodes began operating a brewery, Rhodes & Verner, by 1857. Rhodes and Verner was located at the corner of Penn Avenue and Barkers Alley in Pittsburgh. In 1857, Rhodes lived on First Avenue, and in 1858, he boarded at the Scott House, at Irwin Street and Duquesne Way in Pittsburgh. Rhodes moved to 249 Penn Avenue by 1860.
The 1860 manuscript census indicated that Joshua Rhodes and his family lived in Pittsburgh’s Fourth Ward. Rhodes, 37, was a brewery malster, and his wife Eliza, 31, did not work outside the home. The census showed that Joshua Rhodes owned no real estate and had a “personal estate” of $32,000.
The 1860 census indicated that Joshua and Eliza Rhodes’ children were Lucy B., five, Ida S., four and Charles R., two. Information contained in the 1870 manuscript census suggests that Ida S. was Ida S. Williams, a daughter of Elizabeth Williams, apparently a close relative of the Rhodes family, and that Lucy B. was Lucy Brown, who also lived with the Rhodes family in 1870.
Joshua Rhodes’ mother Elizabeth, 65, and a housemaid, Agatha Durkin, 20, also lived with the family in 1870. Eliza Rhodes had been born in England, and Agatha Durkin had been born in Ireland.
Joshua Rhodes moved to at 10 Hancock Street in Pittsburgh by 1862 and lived at 231 Penn Avenue in 1864 and 1865.
Joshua Rhodes moved to Allegheny between 1865 and 1866. The 1866 city directory listed Rhodes at the corner of Western Avenue and Bagaley Lane (now Bidwell Street). After moving to Allegheny, Rhodes continued operating his brewery in Pittsburgh.
Rhodes was listed as living at Bidwell and Sheffield Streets in Manchester in 1868 and at 156 North Avenue in 1869 and 1870.
The 1870 manuscript census reported that Joshua and Eliza Rhodes and their family lived in the First Ward of Allegheny. Joshua Rhodes, 46, was a malster and Eliza Rhodes, 40, did not work. The census indicated that the Rhodes’ children were William, seven, Mary, five and Annie, five months.
Also living with the Rhodes family in 1870 were Mrs. Lilly (sic) Rhodes, 76, Mrs. Elizabeth Williams, 40, Ida Williams, 14 and Lucy Brown, 15.
The 1870 census indicated that Joshua Rhodes owned no real estate and had a “personal estate” of $15,000. In 1870, Mrs. Lucy Williams owned real estate valued at $20,000 and had a “personal estate” of $1,000.
During the 1870’s, Joshua Rhodes continued to operate his brewery, which became known as the Pittsburgh Brewery. In the late 1870’s, Rhodes became president of the Pennsylvania Tube Works, with offices at 2 Duquesne Alley.
The 1880 manuscript census reported that the family of Joshua and Eliza Rhodes lived at 95 Western Avenue. Joshua Rhodes, 56, was a brewer and Eliza Rhodes, 46, had no occupation. William B. Rhodes, 17, worked as a clerk in a pipe house, Mary H., 15, was a student, Annie, 10, did not attend school and Walter J., eight, attended school.
In 1880, the Rhodes’ servants who lived at 95 Western Avenue were Katie Johns, 27, who had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Germany and Emma Edey, 19, who had been born in Pennsylvania to parents also born in Pennsylvania. Both servants were single.
The 1880 census indicated that no residents of 95 Western Avenue were ill or temporarily disabled.
Joshua Rhodes served as president of the Allegheny National Bank during the 1870’s, and as vice-president of the bank during the late 1800’s.
The 1890 census, which would provide information on residents of 939 Western Avenue in that year, was destroyed in a fire following its completion.
In 1900, the manuscript census reported that Joshua Rhodes, 76, Eliza J. Rhodes, 67, and their family and servants lived at 939 Western Avenue. The census gave Joshua Rhodes’ occupation as “capitalist”. Eliza Rhodes did not work. Eliza Rhodes had had five children, with four still living at the time of the census.
In 1900, three of the Rhodes’ children were single and lived at home. William R. Rhodes, 37, was single and worked as manager of a tube works. Mary H. Rhodes, 34, and Anna J. Rhodes, 29, had no occupation.
In 1900, three servants, all of whom were black, lived at 939 Western Avenue. The servants were Rebecca Stevenson, 38, Lizzie Rowe, 26 and Mazie Brown, 26. Rebecca Stevenson, a cook, had been born in North Carolina to parents born in North Carolina. Lizzie Rowe, a waitress, had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Pennsylvania and Maryland. She had been married three years and had had one child, who had died. Her husband did not live with her. Mazie Brown, a servant, had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Virginia.
The census also reported that all residents of 939 Western Avenue were able to read and write.
Joshua Rhodes died on January 5, 1909.
The 1910 census showed that Eliza Rhodes, 76, lived at 939 Western Avenue with two of her children, a niece, and five servants. Eliza Rhodes’ occupation and that of her daughter Mary was given as “own income.” William B. Rhodes, 46, worked as manager of a pressed steel plant. Eliza Rhodes’ niece Lucy Rhodes (sic), 61, was single and had been born in Pennsylvania to parents born in England. Her occupation was also given as “own income.”
In 1910, the Rhodes’ servants were Katy Rogers, 30, Kate King, 37, Elizabeth Krepler, 26, Sophia Lowrie, 30, and Thomas Northcutt, 43. Katy Rogers, a chambermaid, had been born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States in 1898. Kate King, a cook, had been born in Virginia to parents born in Ireland and Virginia. Elizabeth Krepler, a parlor maid, had been born in Pennsylvania to parents also born in Pennsylvania. Sophia Lowrie, a waitress, had been born in Scotland and immigrated in 1908.
All residents of 939 Western Avenue in 1910 were able to read, write and speak English.
City directories indicate that Eliza Rhodes lived at 939 Western Avenue until her death on September 6, 1912. Her son William B. Rhodes lived at 939 Western Avenue until his death in the 1920’s. Mary Rhodes Van Voorhis lived at 939 Western Avenue until 1933, when the house was sold to the Allegheny Colombian Association.
The 1920 manuscript census will be available for public review in 1992 and should provide information on residents of 939 Western Avenue in that year. Census records are sealed for 72 years to preserve confidentiality.
939 Western Avenue is a three story red brick house occupying a 135′ wide by 125′ deep lot located in the Allegheny West section of Pittsburgh.
939 Western Avenue was constructed in three stages between the mid- to late 1860’s and 1901 by Joshua Rhodes and members of his family. Rhodes, who was a railroad builder and president, brewer, tube works president, and bank president, lived at 939 Western Avenue until his death in 1909. Members of Rhodes’ family occupied 939 Western Avenue through 1933.
Detailed information on the ownership history, age, and first owner of 939 Western Avenue follows.
- June 30, 1864
- February 27, 1875
- September 27, 1888
- February 27, 1901
- April 10, 1902
- May 23, 1933
- April 12, 1990
- August 4, 2005
George W. and Hannah E. Berger of Allegheny County to Mrs. Lucy Rhodes and Mrs. Elizabeth Williams, $3,500. This deed conveyed a lot of ground on the southern side of Western Avenue, otherwise known as Water Lane. The lot was known as Lots 18 and 19 in John Irwin’s Plan of the Subdivision of Out Lot 275 in the Reserve Tract Opposite Pittsburgh, recorded in Plan Book Volume 2, Page 173.
(Deed Book Volume 173, Page 592)
Mrs. Elizabeth Williams, widow, of Allegheny County, to Mrs. Eliza J. Rhodes, wife of Joshua Rhodes of Allegheny County, $1. This deed conveyed Lots 18 and 19 in John Irwin’s Plan.
(DBV 842 P 343)
Jonathan Neely of the city of Pittsburgh to Eliza Jane Rhodes, wife of Joshua Rhodes, $5,500. This deed conveyed a 22’6″ wide lot known as Lot 20 in John Irwin’s Plan.
(DBV 614 P 245)
Alfred and Hannah M. Campbell and Holland M. and Sarah A. Fletcher of the city of Allegheny to Eliza Jane Rhodes of the city of Allegheny, $8,500. This deed conveyed a 45′ wide lot known as Lots 16 and 17 in John Irwin’s Plan.
(DBV 1102 P 561)
John H. and Kathryn Carroll of the city of Pittsburgh to Eliza Jane Rhodes of the city of Allegheny, $3,800. This deed conveyed a 22’6″ wide lot known as 21 in John Irwin’s Plan.
(DBV 1175 P 480)
Mary Rhodes Van Voorhis, widow, of Sewickley Heights, to the Allegheny Columbian Association, $20,000. This deed conveyed a 135′ wide by 125′ deep lot located on the southern side of Western Avenue, 158’1.625′ east of Allegheny Avenue. The lot was known as Lots 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 in John Irwin’s Plan. Eliza Jane Rhodes had died on September 6, 1912 and by her last will and testament, recorded in Will Book Volume 116, Page 415, devised her entire estate to her children Mary H. Rhodes, Annie J. Rhodes and William B. Rhodes, to be equally divided between them. By a codicil dated March 20, 1909, Eliza Jane Rhodes directed that the name of her daughter Annie J. Rhodes be omitted from articles 12 and 13 of her will with the same force and effect as if she had not been mentioned. William Rhodes died testate on October 20, 1922, and by his last will and testament, dated October 10, 1921, recorded in Will Book Volume 175, Page 439, left his estate to his sister Mary R. Van Voorhis, who married Harvey N. Van Voorhis and died on June 12, 1932.
(DBV 2480 P 690)
The Allegheny Columbian Association, a non-profit corporation, to Benard and Joedda McClain Sampson, $140,000.
(DBV 8226 P 200)
Joedda McClain Sampson sold 939 Western Avenue to Ed Menzer, proprietor of The Parador Inn, a bed and breakfast that now occupies the property.
Age of the House
All available information indicates 939 Western Avenue was built in three stages between the mid to late 1860’s and 1901.
Mrs. Lucy Rhodes and Mrs. Elizabeth Williams apparently had the oldest section of 939 Western Avenue built between 1864 and 1868. The June 1864 purchase of a 5625 square foot lot for $3,500, at 62 cents per square foot, was comparable to sales of other undeveloped lots in the area and suggests that the lot had not been improved. An 1872 plat map of Allegheny’s First Ward shows that a house occupying more than half the width of the 45′ wide lot conveyed had been built on. the lot.
Mrs. Lucy Rhodes was listed in the Pittsburgh city directory at 210 Western Avenue beginning in 1868 and continuing through 1871. Joshua Rhodes was listed at 210 Western Avenue beginning in 1871, and the 1870 manuscript census reported that Joshua and Eliza Rhodes were members of the same household. By 1876, Joshua Rhodes’ address was given as 95 Western Avenue.
Lucy Rhodes was listed at 214 Western Avenue in 1866 and at 19 Western Avenue in 1867. This suggests the possibility that 939 Western Avenue could have been built before 1868, with incorrect street numbers in the city directory or Western Avenue subsequently being re-numbered.
Joshua and Eliza Rhodes apparently had an addition to their home constructed after purchasing an adjacent 22’6″ wide lot in September 1888. An 1890 plat map of Allegheny shows that 939 Western Avenue had expanded beyond the two lots originally purchased by Lucy Rhodes and Elizabeth Williams in 1864.
Joshua and Eliza Rhodes again added to 939 Western Avenue in 1901, shortly after purchasing three more adjacent lots. City of Allegheny building permit dockets, available between 1894 and 1907, show that on May 13, 1901, Joshua Rhodes received a permit to erect a one-story addition to 939 Western Avenue. The addition, which was a library, measured 16’5″ wide by 30′ deep and had a construction cost of $2,000.
Rhodes hired G.A. Cochrane to build the addition. City directories of the early 1900’s show that Cochrane was a contractor whose business was located at 1210 Washington Avenue (now Columbus Avenue) in Manchester. Cochrane lived at 1612 Sedgwick Street in Manchester.
G.A. Cochrane built a two story brick house on Manilla Street (now Maolis Way) for Joshua Rhodes in 1908, at a cost of $2,000.
Cochrane also built three small structures at 939 Western Avenue in 1913 for Mary Rhodes. On February 26, 1913, Mary Rhodes received a permit to erect a one-story brick dwelling at 937 (sic) Western Avenue. The house was to measure 16′ wide by 29′ deep and have a construction cost of $2,500. On July 30, 1913, Mary Rhodes received a permit to erect two one-story brick dwellings at 939 Western Avenue at a cost of $1100. The houses were to measure 11′ wide by 17′ deep.
Building permit dockets show that G.A. Cochrane also served as contractor for the William Penn Snyder house at Ridge and Allegheny Avenues, constructed in 1910-11 at a cost of $125,000, and for a three story brick house constructed for Joshua Rhodes Jr. on Lincoln Avenue near Galveston Avenue in 1903 at a cost of $35,500.
The Home Today
Photos by Roy Engelbrecht
U.S. census records, Pittsburgh city directories, and biographical materials on Joshua Rhodes, a brewer, tube works president, railroad builder and president and bank president, and members of his family.
The following materials accompany this report:
- an 1852 plat map of part of Allegheny, including Water Lane (now Western Avenue)
- John Irwin’s Plan of the Subdivision of Out Lot 275
- 1872, 1882, 1890 and 1900 plat maps of part of Allegheny, including Western Avenue
- a 1910 plat map of part of the Northside, including Western Avenue
- biographical information on Joshua Rhodes, from History of Pittsburgh and Environs
- Joshua Rhodes’ obituary, from the Bulletin Index, January 9, 1909
- biographical information on Eliza Rhodes, from The Social Mirror
- profile of the home as owned and restored by Joedda Sampson from the May 10, 1992 edition of the Pittsburgh Press
A Researched History
By: Carol J. Peterson
all photos by Chris Siewers, unless otherwise noted
843 Western Avenue was constructed no later than 1860, and probably as early as about 1850. The house was designed in a transitional architectural style that incorporated elements of the Greek Revival and Italianate styles.
The Irwin family, who owned property on Western Avenue between Brighton Road and Allegheny Avenue, was responsible for construction of 843 Western Avenue. The Irwins had the house built on the site of a rope walk, or factory, where members of the family supervised the production of rope between 1813 and 1858. The Irwin family then lived in a mansion facing Brighton Road, and never occupied 843 Western Avenue. It is possible, however, that 843 Western Avenue, which was probably built while the rope walk was still in operation, originally housed upper-level rope walk employees.
In 1860, the Irwin family sold 843 Western Avenue for $3000. The purchaser, George Elliott, did not live in the house, but used it as a rental property. His tenants included the family of Benjamin Oppenheimer, a merchant tailor.
843 Western Avenue has now had a total of 17 owners.
Detailed information on the history of 843 Western Avenue is contained in the following report.
- March 17, 1790
- November 2, 1813
- March 9, 1816
- March 5, 1858
- May 10, 1860
- January 26, 1901
- August 10. 1903
- September 2, 1903
- September 11, 1903
- June 15, 1906
- December 5. 1916
- May 29, 1925
- August 31, 1936
- October 20, 1937
- June 10, 1947
- June 3, 1950
- June 22, 1950
- August 4, 1950
- August 18, 1951
- March 19, 1953
- December 19, 1961
- October 16, 1980
Charles Wilkins, merchant, of the town of Pittsburgh conveyed property that included the present site of 843 Western Avenue to John Irwin, esquire, of the town of Pittsburgh for 30 pounds. This deed conveyed Out Lot 276 in the Reserve Tract opposite Pittsburgh, and Lot 69 in the town of Allegheny. Out Lot 276 was a 10-acre tract situated on the western side of land laid out for a common, and bounded by what are now Brighton Road, Ridge Avenue, Galveston Avenue and Western Avenue. Out Lot 276 included the present site of 843 Western Avenue. Lot 69 in the Town of Allegheny was a 60′ wide by 240′ deep lot at the comer of Ohio Street and Sandusky Street, measuring 60′ wide on Ohio Street and 240′ deep along Sandusky Street to Strawberry Alley.
(Deed Book Volume 2, Page 97)
William F. Irwin of the borough of Pittsburgh, one of the sons and heirs of John Irwin, rope maker, conveyed property that included the site of 843 Western Avenue to John Irwin of the borough of Pittsburgh, another of the sons and heir s of John Irwin, rope maker, for $1,772. This deed conveyed Out Lots 276, 263 and 168 in the Reserve Tract, containing 10 acres each, and property on Liberty Street in the borough of Pittsburgh. John Irwin had died intestate and was survived by his widow Mary and four children, Margaret, John, William, and Elizabeth.
(DBV 19 P 127)
John and Hannah Irwin of the town of Allegheny conveyed property that included the present site of 843 Western Avenue to Elizabeth Irwin and Margaret Irwin of the town of Allegheny. This deed conveyed Out Lot 276 in the Reserve Tract and other property in the borough of Pittsburgh. This deed was an amicable and full and equal deed of partition of the estate of John Irwin.
(DBV 22 P 189)
John and Abigail Irwin of Allegheny City conveyed property on Western Avenue to John Irwin Jr. of Sewickley for $8,000. This deed conveyed property on the southern side of what is now the 800 block of Western Avenue (then Water Lane), measuring 349′ wide along Western Avenue by 125′ deep to an alley (later Manilla Alley, now Maolis Way). The property was known as Lots 23 through 38 in a plan of lots laid out by John Irwin (later recorded in Allegheny County Plan Book 2: 173).
(DBV 131 P 495)
Martha Mary and John Irwin Jr. of Sewickley conveyed 843 Western Avenue to George Elliott of Beaver County for $3,000. The house occupied the lot on which it now stands, measuring 27.5′ wide along Western Avenue by 125′ deep to an alley. The lot was known as parts of Lots 34 and 35 in a plan of lots laid out by John Irwin. This deed stated that the property that was conveyed contained a two-story brick dwelling house.
(DBV 143 P 484)
The heirs of George Elliott, deceased, conveyed their interest in 843 Western Avenue to Andrew A. Adams, also an heir of George Elliott, for $10,000. Grantors named in this deed were Andrew A. Adams, unmarried; John and Emma B. Adams; Thomas E. and Hattie Adams; Christiana and John Q. Adams; Nancy E. and Iredell B. Rush, all of Whitley County, Indiana; Andrew Adams Jr., unmarried, of El Paso County, Colorado; John Elliott, unmarried, of Jackson County, Missouri; Laura Elliott, widow, of Centre County, Pennsylvania; George M. Elliott, unmarried, of Marion County, Missouri; William W. Elliott, unmarried, of San Francisco, California; Joseph W. and May V. Elliott of Clinton County, Pennsylvania; John H. and Blanche W. Elliott of Grayson County, Texas; and Jane and James H. Doherty and Margaret Elliott, unmarried, of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
(DBV 1112 P 365)
Andrew A. and Lois A. Adams of Columbia, Indiana, conveyed part-interest in 843 Western Avenue to John H. and Margaret G. Dailey of Allegheny City for $5,000.
(DBV 1298 P 214)
James Harris of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, guardian of the person and estate of Elliott Vandeventer, a minor child of Kate Vandeventer and heir of George Elliott, conveyed the remaining part-interest in 843 Western Avenue to John H. Dailey of Allegheny City for $166.66.
(DBV 1288 P 217)
John H. and Margaret G. Dailey of Allegheny City conveyed 843 Western Avenue to Mary J. Armstrong for $5,500.
(DBV 1288 P 212)
Mary J. Armstrong of Pittsburgh conveyed 843 Western Avenue to George C. Lecky of Allegheny City for $5,850. George C. Lecky died in October 1913.
(DBV 1451 P 594)
Catherine Dallas Lecky, widow, of Pittsburgh conveyed 843 Western Avenue to the Home Mutual Building & Loan Association of Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, for $1 and other good and valuable considerations.
(DBV 1854 P 523)
The Home Mutual Building & Loan Association of Allegheny City, Pennsylvania conveyed 843 Western Avenue to Anna C. Lecky of Pittsburgh for $6,350. Anna C. Lecky died on December 18, 1933.
(DBV 2253 P 274)
W.C. and Jane C. Lecky Bender, Nielsen Lecky Smith, Trevanion and Adelia R.P. Lecky, all of Pittsburgh, conveyed 843 Western Avenue to John S. Phipps, Henry C. Phipps and Howard Phipps, as trustees under the Phipps Pennsylvania Land Trust, for $1 (tax stamps suggest a price of $5,000).
(DBV 2638 P 350)
John S. Phipps, Henry C. Phipps and Howard Phipps, as trustees under the Phipps Pennsylvania Land Trust, conveyed 843 Western Avenue to D.C. and Agnes Mae Greene of Pittsburgh for S3,000.
(DBV 2577 P 192)
D.C. and Agnes Mae Greene of Pittsburgh conveyed 843 Western Avenue to Stephen Kovacs of Pittsburgh for $1 and other good and valuable considerations (tax stamps suggest a price of $5,000).
(DBV 2945 P 655)
Stephen Kovacs of Pittsburgh conveyed 843 Western Avenue to James P. Casey of Pittsburgh for $1 and other good and valuable considerations (tax stamps suggest a price of $6,500).
(DBV 3100 P 22)
James P. and Marie W. Casey of Pittsburgh conveyed 843 Western Avenue to Patrick B. and E. Blanche Hart of Pittsburgh for $1 and other good and valuable considerations (tax stamps suggest a price of $7,500).
(DBV 3091 P 721)
Patrick B. and E. Blanche Hart of Pittsburgh conveyed 843 Western Avenue to Walter F. Johnson of Pittsburgh for $1 and other good and valuable considerations.
(DBV 3101 P 554)
Walter F. Johnson of Pittsburgh conveyed 843 Western Avenue to Joan and David Burrows Jr. of Crafton for $1 and other good and valuable considerations (tax stamps suggest a price of $7,500).
(DBV 3158 P 230)
Joan and David Burrows Jr. of Crafton conveyed 843 Western Avenue to Greeta L. Harbaugh of Pittsburgh for $13,000.
(DBV 3249 P 608)
Albert E. and Greeta L. Harbaugh Boyer of Pinellas County, Florida conveyed 843 Western Avenue to McClurg H. and Frances A. Shelton of Allegheny County for $10,500. McClurg H. Shelton died on April 15, 1970.
(DBV 3924 P 660)
Francis John Schmitt Jr. purchased 843 Western Avenue from Frances A. Shelton, widow.
(DBV 6309 P 954)
Age of the House
All available information indicates that members of the Irwin family had 843 Western Avenue built no later than 1860, and possibly as early as about 1850.
Maitha Mary and John Irwin Jr. of Sewickley conveyed 843 Western Avenue to George Elliott on May 10, 1860. This deed stated that the lot that was conveyed contained a two-story brick house. Exterior architectural features of 843 Western Avenue are consistent with construction in or before 1860, and indicate that the present house is the same that was conveyed by the 1860 deed. The purchase price of S3 000 is also consistent with the size, brick construction, and location of 843 Western Avenue.
An 1852 map that includes Allegheny City is the earliest map of the area that depicts structures. The map shows a structure in the approximate location of 843-845 Western Avenue. An 1858 plan of lots on the former rope walk site (Allegheny County Plan Book Volume 2, Page 173) also depicts double houses on the southern side of the 800 block of Western Avenue. It should be noted that the westernmost double house in the 1858 plan of lots is not depicted as occupying the lots on which 843-845 Western Avenue stand. However, as it is unlikely that the Irwins demolished and rebuilt the double houses between 1858 and 1860, it appears likely that 843-845 Western Avenue was the structure depicted in the 1852 map and 1858 subdivision plan.
843 Western Avenue was built with elements of the Italianate and Greek Revival styles.
Italianate features of 843 Western Avenue include the house’s side-gabled shape with rear shed-roof ell and its wood brackets. The house, as an early example of this style, does not display the arched, projecting window hoods that were common in Italianate homes built after the Civil War. The pediment that joins the front door entablatures of 843 and 845 Western Avenue is a Greek Revival feature, and supports the likelihood that 843-845 Western Avenue was built closer to 1850 than to 1860.
The Greek Revival style was used in construction of houses and commercial and institutional buildings in the Pittsburgh area between about 1830 and the 1850’s. The Italianate style was the prevailing architectural style for homes and commercial and institutional buildings constructed in the Pittsburgh area between about 1860 and 1885.
Available records do not identify an architect who is credited with design of 843 Western Avenue.
Owners & Residents
George Elliott purchased 843 Western Avenue from John Irwin Jr. and his wife, Martha Mary Irwin, on May 10, 1860. The 1860 census, taken on June 15 of that year in Allegheny West, enumerated George Elliott and his family in the Second Ward of Allegheny City, indicating the family did not live at 843 Western Avenue. Western Avenue was the boundary between Allegheny City’s First and Second Wards, with the First Ward located to the south and the Second Ward to the north.
George Elliott was listed in the 1861 Pittsburgh directory for the first time in 1861. Elliott was listed as a gent living on Western Avenue near the lead works in 1861, and as a gent living on Western Avenue near the West Commons in 1862. Neither he or other members of his family appeared in directories published in 1863 and in later years.
George Elliott and his heirs owned 843 Western Avenue until 1903.
1875 and Earlier
Pittsburgh city directories provide the only means of identifying residents of 843 Western Avenue before 1875, the year that the family of Benjamin Oppenheimer is known to have rented the house. Directories listed nearly all residents of Pittsburgh and Allegheny City alphabetically, making it necessary to read directories to determine occupancy of 843 Western Avenue and other houses that were occupied by tenants.
Homes on the 800 block of Western Avenue were assigned numbers in about 1867. Identification of tenents before this time is probably impossible.
The 1880 census enumerated Benjamin Oppenheimer and his family at 43 (now 843) Western Avenue. Benjamin Oppenheimer, 46, was enumerated as a merchant tailor. He had been bom in Germany and his wife, Eva, had been bom in Poland.
Benjamin and Eva Oppenheimer had three children who lived with them at 43 Western Avenue: Jacob, 21, and Samuel, 17, both store clerks, and Nora, 11.
The Oppenheimer family employed one servant who lived at 43 Western Avenue. Julia Kier, 23, had been bom in Pennsylvania to German immigrant parents.
Pittsburgh city directories show that the Oppenheimer family lived at 843 Western Avenue between 1876 and 1880. Benjamin Oppenheimer’s shop was located on Market Street, Downtown.
843 Western Avenue was built over a decade before the Allegheny West area began to develop as a genteel alternative to sections of Allegheny City like the east and south commons and the Anderson Street area, which were crowded and contained mixed residential, commercial and industrial uses by the end of the Civil War. While Ridge Avenue and Brighton Road became the home of some of the wealthiest residents of the Pittsburgh area, and Beech Avenue homes were built for middle-class families, Western Avenue developed as a somewhat unlikely mixture of mansions, homes of middle-class and working-class families, and small industrial sites. North Lincoln Avenue was developed with a mixture of mansions and middle-class housing.
835 North Lincoln Avenue occupies part of the site of a rope walk, or factory, that was operated by members of the Irwin family until 1858.
The following materials accompany this report:
A Researched History
By: Carol J. Peterson
all photos by Chris Siewers, unless otherwise noted
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.
We’re delighted to announce that beginning this spring and summer we will be adding hanging flower baskets to Western Avenue!
Thank You: Charter Sponsors
- Gary Otto in Honor of Donna Otto (1 basket)
- Annette Trunzo (1 basket)
- The Burton Family (1 basket)
- Anonymous neighbor & business owner (1 basket)
- Allegheny West Civic Council (4 baskets)
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) will provide the baskets, flowers, installation, watering and maintenance, “take-down” and storage of the baskets. We currently have 15 baskets sponsored, but with 32 poles, there is room for others to help in this worthy endeavor! We want to ensure that all who would like to participate be given the chance to do so. The deadline to sponsor a basket for 2015 is February 28, 2015.
In 2015, the WPC is providing a discounted rate of $325/basket for the initial year, which includes purchase of the basket. Future years will be assessed at a $275/basket rate for planting and maintenance. Sponsoring a basket this year doesn’t require a commitment to continue to sponsor in the following years.
Sponsors of a full basket will be recognized with a sign on the basket. Contributors of smaller amounts—to be combined for full baskets or for future years’ maintenance – will be recognized on the AWCC website and in our newsletter.
Sponsor or Donate Today
We can accept payment for a basket online or by sending a check made out to AWCC to 806 Western Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15233. Please include a note with the wording for the acknowledgement sign.
We will be in touch shortly to confirm your donation. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give Trish a call at (412) 523-9402.