History of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

History of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Pittsburgh stands at the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers come together to become the Ohio River. It is the second most populous city in Pennsylvania, after Philadelphia, and the metropolis of the western part of the state.George Washington visited the Pittsburgh area in 1753 on an expedition dispatched by the governor of Virginia. He reported that the site was wellsuited for a fort. Towards the end of their conflict with the British, the French abandoned and burned the fort in the face of an advance by General John Forbes. The British then built their own fort,which they called Fort Pitt in honor of their prime minister.The first community of settlers was established in 1764 and took the name Pittsburgh. Possession of Pittsburgh was disputed between Virginia and Pennsylvania, but the dispute was resolved in Pennsylvania's favor by a joint commission in 1785.Discontent in Western Pennsylvania came to a boil in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. The uprising was supported throughout the area and the citizens of Pittsburgh were particularly active in it.In 1877, the first great American railroad strike took place. In Pittsburgh, the state militia refused to fire on strikers, so the governor ordered the National Guard fromPhiladelphia to restore order. Those soldiers were willing to fire on the crowd, which they did with a loss of more than 20 lives, including women and children. Eventually, martial law was declared.Pennsylvania law has made it easy for municipalities to be formed and difficult to merge them. Under that law, only a majority of the combined voters was required.The following year, voters in Pittsburgh and Allegheny voted on consolidation, with Pittsburgh favoring it and Allegheny opposing. However, Pittsburgh's numerical superiority meant that a majority was in favor. Allegheny now constitutes the north side of Pittsburgh.The many steel mills and other industrial concerns in Pittsburgh once produced so much smoke and soot that the city earned the title "Smoky City." Efforts to clean up the air began in 1941 and stringent regulations on air pollution, combined with a decline in the industries that produced it, has resulted in Pittsburgh now having air that is clean and healthful.The Allegheny Observatory is a University of Pittsburgh research facility. The Carnegie Science Center boasts an interactive planetarium and a World War II submarine. Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece, offers tours to visitors. Hartwood Mansion, a 629-acre estate park, contains a 16th-century Tudor-style mansion with an original collection of English and American antiques, and a farm and stable complex. The Houdini Museum commemorates the great escape artist's life with memorabilia and a daily show.Pittsburgh's first teaching hospital was Allegheny General Hospital, still in service. Chatham College enjoys a $50-million-dollar endowment, one of the largest per student in the nation. Other higher-education institutions in Pittsburgh include Point Park College and the University of Pittsburgh.

Western Pennsylvania’s Long History of Energy Production

Almost since the nation’s birth, Western Pennsylvania has played an important role in energy production for the country. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, active bituminous coal mines have been in operation in the state since the late 1700s.

The first coal mined in PA was taken at Coal Hill on Mount Washington, across the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh. The coal was transported by canoe to the local military garrison. By the 1830s, Pittsburgh was a major consumer of coal, using more than 400 tons a day for both domestic and industrial use. Bituminous coal mining flourished along with the growth of railroads and the steel industry.

During the last 200 years, more than 10 billion tons of bituminous coal has been mined from the 21 Western Pennsylvania coal-mining counties. This represents a fourth of all the coal ever mined in the country. Pennsylvania still plays a major role in coal production. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, in 2004, 75 million tons of coal was extracted by 7,000 miners employed in the area’s coal fields.

Born in 1983, when Second Avenue was known as the "Depression Corridor,"JaQuay Edward Carter, award-winning historian, is deeply rooted in the Greater Hazelwood neighborhood, stretching back 4 generations. In 2018, he was directed back to his hometown with a passion for history and a commitment to community service.

"His-Story" In The Making

JaQuay Edward Carter was born to serve others, with a long history of community service, military service, and human services advocacy. He is deeply rooted in the Greater Hazelwood community, stretching back four generations to the year 1942. JaQuay was born and raised in this same community during the 1980s and 1990s respectively, when the main drag in Hazelwood was known as the "Depression Corridor."

This derogatory colloquialism was given to Second Avenue as an economic decline of industries related to steel production ceased operations. In the early 1990s, JaQuay and his family moved across the Monongahela River to nearby Homestead, where he was educated within the Steel Valley School District. The community of Greater Hazelwood remained an integral part of his life. He regularly visited family and friends, while remaining an active member of the Hazelwood Presbyterian Church congregation. Upon graduation, he joined the United States Marine Corps - serving as a Logistics/Embarkation Specialist at Albany, Georgia. He was honorably discharged in 2002.

JaQuay began his post-secondary education at the Community College of Allegheny County, earning an associate degree in Ethnic and Diversity Studies. Soon after, he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh, where he received his undergraduate degree in History Education/Africana Studies. He continued to serve his community, working for the Corporation of National and Community Service as a KEYS AmeriCorps Service member at Propel Charter School in Homestead. JaQuay worked in the non-profit sector for the next few years at both the Garfield Jubilee Association’s YouthBuild program and the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh’s East End neighborhood. More opportunities to volunteer his time and talent would follow, including a mentorship at Seeds of Hope Church & Earthen Vessels Outreach in 2012.

In 2015, he started to research the history of his beloved hometown. Mr. Carter began sharing his wealth of knowledge on social media, where he quickly developed a large following. In 2018, JaQuay was directed back to Hazelwood through his passion for history and neighborhood pride. He founded the award-winning Greater Hazelwood Historical Society (GHHS) and Cultural Center in January 2018 with its mission "to preserve pillars of the community's past." This is where passion met preparation and when his life's work began.

From its inception, the GHHS has worked closely with the local community development corporation, Hazelwood Initiative (HI). GHHS provided historical content for the Hazelwood Homepage newspaper, distributed by HI. At the beginning of February, GHHS had begun a campaign to save the Historic Carnegie Library of 1899.

By the end of February, GHHS had raised over $1700 in grassroots funds assembled a Board of Trustees gained over 550 petition signatures established rapport with URA met with Councilman O’Connor and assembled a preservation team. GHHS was awarded a Neighborhood Investment Fund grant from Hazelwood Initiative. Hazelwood Initiative was a sponsor, along with the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, in a GHHS event to honor the 150th Anniversary of Hazelwood's founding. JaQuay and GHHS were featured prominently in a June 2018 front-page Post-Gazette profile.

On October 5, 2018, JaQuay was awarded the Dr. Dan Holland Promise Award by the Young Preservationists Association (YPA) “for his work in creating the Greater Hazelwood Historical Society and for igniting interest in preserving the old Hazelwood Carnegie Library.” JaQuay traveled with YPA to Woodbridge, Virginia as a facilitator of an historic preservation lecture at the Creighton’s Corner FUTURA Center. In December of 2018, the GHHS was awarded a $25,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments in partnership with Propel Hazelwood Charter School and the Heinz History Center. In February 2019, GHHS was profiled for WESA’s 90 Neighborhoods, 90 Good Stories in celebration of people making a difference in Pittsburgh. In August of 2019, GHHS was featured in the Heinz Endowments’ “h” magazine. GHHS has contributed scholarship and historical research to artists, developers, students, residents, stakeholders, and the community-at-large.

GHHS has also worked with the Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC) and the Hazelwood Green development Rivers of Steel Center of Life the Greater Hazelwood Community Collaborative. GHHS, in collaboration with Duquesne University’s Center for Community-Engaged Teaching and Research, will exchange knowledge and resources related to public service initiatives, teaching, programming, and research.

The "H" is Back!

The new official spelling was resisted by many people in the city. The Pittsburgh Gazette refused to adopt the Board's decision, as did the Pittsburgh Stock Exchange and the University of Pittsburgh. Official city documents continued to use the old spelling. Responding to mounting pressure, the Board reversed the decision on July 19, 1911, and the Pittsburgh spelling was restored after 20 years of contention.

Many cities across the United States named after the city of Pittsburgh, such as Pittsburg, Kansas and Pittsburg, California continue to use the "Pittsburg" spelling in their names. Other independent municipalities, such as the borough of East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, reflect the modern spelling.

Historic homes have getting demolished on the off-the-beaten-path Voskamp Street

The off-the-beaten-path Voskamp Street in Spring Garden is rich in architectural treasures.

&ldquoHistoric homes along Voskamp Street and High Street with Italianate architecture offer strong opportunities for preservation,&rdquo the city of Pittsburgh noted in the Spring Garden section of its 2012 Cultural Heritage Plan.

The city&rsquos 1994 Pittsburgh Register of Historic Places survey found much worth preserving there, too.

The register identified 12 buildings in the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Voskamp. In 1994, much of the urban canyon of 1870s and 1880s Italianate homes on both sides of the narrow street remained intact. It had been laid out in 1860 by the Voegtly family when it was part of Allegheny City.

The authors of both the register and the Heritage Plan recommended preserving the buildings they identified.

But little has been done to follow their recommendations.

In 1994, just after the city approved the register as an official document, three homes noted in the register were demolished, two of them by the city. And then, at about the time city researchers were exploring Spring Garden in 2010 and 2011 for the Heritage Plan, the city tore down four more register homes. In all, seven of the 12 homes identified in the register are now gone. And another six homes in the same blocks &mdash which, although not included in the register, contribute to what&rsquos left of the urban canyon &mdash are on the city&rsquos condemnation list.

Longtime neighbors said that some of the homes had become hazards and may have had to come down. But some in the neighborhood said that often when the city puts a building on a path to demolition, it gets torn down even if someone might be able to save it.

&ldquoThey just wanted to get rid of it,&rdquo said Joe Valorie, 60, about 1112 Voskamp St., which the city demolished in 2010. &ldquoI wanted to save it,&rdquo said the 34-year resident of the street, who previously owned the home, only to lose it to foreclosure. &ldquoIt wouldn&rsquot have taken much.&rdquo

His neighbor across the street, Marian Miksic, 93, has lived in her home on Voskamp for nearly 70 years. Though she is one of those who thinks some of the homes had to be demolished, 1112 Voskamp was not one of them.

&ldquoNow, that one could have been saved,&rdquo she said, noting it still had original wood ornamentation over its windows and doors and structurally appeared worthy of renovation. &ldquoYou&rsquod think [the city] would be willing to sell these houses so people could build something back up instead of tearing them down.&rdquo

That&rsquos what Mr. Valorie &mdash whose wife and adult sons own multiple homes along the street &mdash said he was trying to do in 2010. He had reached out to the then-owner, Affordable Housing Revocable Trust No. 1, a company out of Van Buren, Ariz., that was trying to sell the home.

&ldquoI was in touch with the guys from [Arizona who owned the home] trying to buy it when they took it down,&rdquo he said.

It was a shock when the home, and another three-story home at the back of the property on Wesler Way, came down in early March, 2010, he said.

&ldquoWhen they took it down, it kind of hurt,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI had owned it, had lived in it, and the inside was original. It had the pocket doors, the marble mantles, the high ceilings.&rdquo

When told of the situation with 1112 Voskamp, Maura Kennedy, director of the city&rsquos Permits, Licensing and Inspections Department since 2014, said prior administrations may not have tried to differentiate among the homes on a demolition list, but that the city does now.

&ldquoThose are exactly the type of properties we want to save,&rdquo she said of 1112 Voskamp. &ldquoStructures that contribute to a neighborhood, we want to save, particularly in strong communities like Spring Garden where there is a lot of neighborhood involvement and investment happening, we want to preserve them and work with the community and work with our colleagues in government to rehab them and occupy them, is the goal.&rdquo

The aim, she said, is to make demolitions less random and to make more deliberate decisions about why a building should or should not be torn down.

&ldquoSo that&rsquos why we&rsquove standardized our process for what our criteria is to how we evaluate a property. We&rsquore now tracking the list. We share with the public. We invite scrutiny. We audit it regularly ourselves,&rdquo she said. &ldquoThis administration, and myself personally, have no desire to demolish structures that are salvageable and that are contributing to the neighborhood. Our No. 1 goal is a) always to hold the owner accountable and have them take the necessary steps to invest in their property. And then, b) if we can&rsquot do that, make sure that we are taking whatever abatement actions we can with the city to preserve the structure so a qualified owner can redevelop it.&rdquo

Mr. Valorie, who lives just three doors down from 1112 Voskamp, said one reason he was stunned when the home came down was that the city never posted a demolition permit or notice on the building before it was removed.

Mr. Valorie said the property had a lot of problems &mdash taxes were delinquent, there were multiple code violations, and a condemnation order had been issued in 2008. But the biggest impediment to preserving the house, he said, turned out to be a Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority lien for a past-due, $7,000 water bill.

&ldquoThey wouldn&rsquot work with me and refused to budge on the lien,&rdquo Mr. Valorie said. If the amount had been lowered, the property would have been more affordable, and he might have been able to buy it, he said.

The PWSA said it has no records that would indicate whether the agency refused to work with Mr. Valorie. But Will Pickering, PWSA&rsquos spokesman, said in an email: &ldquoI cannot speak to previous PWSA management philosophy, but current leadership will work with potential buyers of vacant or distressed properties so that they can be returned to productive use.&rdquo

Three years after the city tore the home down, in 2013, the city took ownership at a city treasurer&rsquos sale because of the back taxes owed on the property.

And three years after that, Mr. Valorie finally got what he wanted. He bought 1112 Voskamp and a lot next to it at 1114 from the city for just $400. No. 1114 is vacant now and used as a side yard for a home his son, Frank, owns next door.

&ldquoI think this neighborhood is coming back,&rdquo Mr. Valorie said. &ldquoI always wanted to have a bunch of homes here for my family. Now we do.&rdquo

&ldquoThe thing that developers feared the most was finding a good site, planning a project, buying the land, and then all of the sudden getting what the developers viewed as radical, zealot preservationists coming along and nominating their property for historic designation and all of the sudden throwing a monkey wrench into the developers plans,&rdquo he said.

Mr. DeSantis and the commission hoped the register would, essentially, warn developers whether a building had historic merit.

The effort was led by the city&rsquos historic planner at the time, the late Mike Eversmeyer, who died in 2009, and then-senior preservation planner Lauren Uhl, who is now the Heinz History Center&rsquos museum project manager.

&ldquoWhen I came to Pittsburgh [in 1986] I was stunned how beautiful the buildings were,&rdquo she said. &ldquoBut no one seemed to care about them. They were so concerned with the loss of the steel mills.&rdquo

Mr. DeSantis hoped the register would be used as a guide &mdash by city planners, building inspectors, developers, homeowners, preservationists and others &mdash to prevent the kind of squabbles that led to preservation battles in the past.

But he acknowledges that the register rarely was used as it was intended &ldquoand it began gathering dust on the shelf.&rdquo

Not one of more than 40 owners of demolished and remaining buildings in the register contacted by the Post-Gazette had ever been told that their buildings were included on the list. Several said it would have made a difference in determining whether to tear a building down or not.

&ldquoI did ask if it was on some historic register because if it was, I wouldn&rsquot want to buy it,&rdquo said Ron Samsone, who bought and tore down in 2016 a register-listed, Queen Anne-style home that sat at the corner of Grandview Avenue and McArdle Roadway to make way for a new, modern home for him and his family. &ldquoI did get some assurances that it was not on some preservation list.&rdquo

Much to some preservationists’ chagrin, the commission in 1994 did not propose any city historic designations with the list, or even varying levels of protection to the buildings and historic districts on the list.

&ldquoWe didn&rsquot do a levels-of-protection for a reason: At least if it was on the list we felt that that was a sufficient statement that there was historic value of some sort,&rdquo Mr. DeSantis said.

Because it has largely been forgotten, some preservationists downplay the register&rsquos value to the city.

The city&rsquos preservation planner, Sarah Quinn, said the register &ldquowas just one of many surveys that have been done by the city and it&rsquos just one point in time.&rdquo

There have been other surveys by the city. But they have all involved a more generalized search by taking suggestions from community leaders, or cataloging prominent public buildings like schools or churches. The register remains the only time in the city&rsquos history that it has gone street-by-street to look at every single structure.

&ldquoThe register stood as a document of what is significant in our community that we are not protecting,&rdquo Mr. DeSantis said. &ldquoIt&rsquos time for us to start protecting it. . How much more are we willing to throw on the fire until nothing is left?&rdquo

When Gilbert and Katie Porr bought the small, three-story Queen Anne-style home in Perry South in 1974, it was a bargain.

They paid just $3,000 for the two-bedroom home at 1953 Perrysville Ave. because they were friends with the previous owner, Louise Lindheimer, whose family had lived there for nearly 50 years.

Mr. Porr, a truck driver, and Mrs. Porr, a Pittsburgh Public Schools security guard, still had four of their six kids at home at the time and the location let them stay in the neighborhood where they had raised their family.

But about a decade later, Mr. Porr&rsquos health declined and the Porrs moved in with a daughter in 1992. Maintenance on the home suffered so much that it was condemned by the city in 1995, the same year Mr. Porr died.

&ldquoThe family walked away from it after that,&rdquo said Kim Porr, who was married to the Porrs&rsquo youngest son, Arch, and for a time lived in the home with them in the late 1980s.

The next year the family stopped paying taxes on the home, and with no one maintaining the property, it became completely overgrown. Katie Porr died in 2002 after moving to McKees Rocks. But by then, the future of the home adorned with gingerbread woodwork around the windows and doors &mdash once distinctive enough that it was included in the city&rsquos Register of Historic Places as a home worth saving &mdash was already written.

In 2005, the home was torn down by the city, which paid a contractor $9,000 for the work. In 2015, 20 years after the city first noticed it was declining, the city acquired the now-vacant lot at a city treasurer&rsquos sale for $10,465 in back taxes.

The case of the Porr&rsquos home is not unusual.

When it was adopted by the city as an official document in 1994, the Pittsburgh Register of Historic Places identified 1,889 individual buildings and 15 newly proposed historic districts with hundreds of additional structures, as having historic, architectural or cultural merit that made them worth saving.

A total of 299 are now gone. And two of the 15 historic districts have lost so many buildings since 1994 that they would never be considered for official city historic status.

The city was involved in more than a third of the demolitions and knew of the buildings&rsquo deteriorating conditions long before they were demolished &ndash just like the Porrs&rsquo home.

Many preservation advocates say, though private developers and homeowners have a role to play, it is the city that is in the best position to prevent the loss of even more structures in the register, as well as other buildings that contribute to the city&rsquos neighborhood fabric.

&ldquoI think it&rsquos a joint effort&rdquo between the city and private owners and developers, said Lucia Aguirre, an architect and chairwoman of the city&rsquos Historic Review Commission. &ldquoBut the city could probably be the first step.&rdquo

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said, &ldquoThe goal of our administration is to preserve whenever, however possible.&rdquo And preservationists do praise Mr. Peduto for his pledges to try to preserve more of the city&rsquos built heritage. But they also would like to see the city be more aggressive in protecting buildings that are deteriorating.


One goal of various preservationists &mdash and even preservation-minded developers and investors &mdash has been to get the city to intervene sooner.

An idea that has floated around for more than a decade is what Arthur Ziegler of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation calls &ldquocore-and-shell.&rdquo

Instead of spending the money to tear down a building, the city would seal it up &mdash put a new roof or gutters on, seal all the windows and doors &mdash and make sure it doesn&rsquot deteriorate any further until a new buyer is ready to renovate the building.

&ldquoWe believe a lot of houses could be done if we could find the legal means and the money, subsidy money, to do what we call &lsquocore-and-shell,&rsquo&rdquo Mr. Ziegler said. &ldquoYou fix up the exterior. You clean the interior. And then you put it on the market. And someone buys and finishes it. Some we&rsquod like to buy and finish and keep affordable.&rdquo

Ernie Hogan, Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group executive director and former Historic Review Commission board member, said he proposed a similar idea to former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl&rsquos administration and suggested having a community group do the stabilization work.

&ldquoThey were very interested in figuring it out,&rdquo Mr. Hogan said. &ldquoBut we couldn&rsquot get through the Law Department&rsquos concerns of liability. Because the city owned [the buildings], the city was like &lsquoWhat happens if the worker gets hurt? We&rsquove got to make sure the insurances are in place. How are we going to do all of that?&rsquo Typical, like all the reasons why you couldn&rsquot do it, not how do we figure this out.&rdquo

Mr. Peduto said he would like to go even another step further and seal up homes that the city does not yet own that are clearly abandoned and deteriorating &mdash even at the risk of technically violating state property laws that prevent the city from doing more than board up doors and windows to prevent access to a home if it is abandoned.

&ldquoBut again, the likelihood of getting sued is minimal. The people that own the property may not even be around, or if they are, they may be in a different state.&rdquo Mr. Peduto said. &ldquoAs I&rsquove said to my city solicitor, &lsquoLet them sue us.&rsquo If you&rsquore going to be able to benefit the neighborhood and be able to preserve a building, I&rsquod rather put a blue tarp on the roof and be sued for doing it rather than lose that building.&rdquo

Mr. Peduto said that in an interview a year ago during early reporting on this story.

Asked more recently if the city has begun such a program, his spokesman, Tim McNulty wrote in an email that the city has yet to implement such a program. &ldquoThe mayor would like it as an option but it would still have to be studied by the Law Department.&rdquo

The processes currently in place are:

City treasurer's sale

  1. Either the government, a community development group or a private individual says it or s/he wants to acquire a tax delinquent property.
  2. The lists are made six months out, and Jordan Tax Service makes a list of properties that can be in the treasurer's sale. (One year)
  3. The city sends a letter to warn the owner that his/her/its property is on the list, and the city begins checking for any tax liens, utility liens or other delinquency. (Three months)
  4. Thirty days later, the city sends a Selection Letter to the registered owner warning him/her/it that the property is up for sale. (30 days)
  5. The city mails certified and regular mail notices to the owner giving him/her/it 30 days to pay. (30 days)
  6. A cut-off date is set for advertising and posting notice on the property that the property is up for sale, and advertising begins that the property is up for sale both three and two weeks prior to the sale. (21 days)
  7. Sale day.
  8. If the property does not sell&mdashwhich is the goal of the treasurer's sale so the city can acquire the property to give to the entity that requested it&mdashthe Redemption Period begins, in which the owner can still pay and get the property back. (90 days)
  9. The city moves to acquire the property in a Certified Treasurer's Sale process to get a judge to approve the city's acquisition of the property by proving that the city did everything right by notifying all those who had an interest in the property. (Time can vary from 90 days to four months.)
  10. The city then attempts to complete the "Quiet Title" action&mdashdesigned to rid the property of any and all back taxes or other money owed to utilities, governments, anyone&mdashby further researching anyone or any government or entity that might have had a financial interest in the property and notifying them that the city is acquiring the property. (Time can vary from 90 days to four months.)
  11. Once the city has a list of financially interested parties, it presents the list to the judge, and then has to send certified letters to each and everyone of them. They have 30 days to respond. (30 days)
  12. Once the 30-day period expires, the city heads back to court with an affidavit of notices and a final order and deed, which the judge signs, giving the city ownership of the property. (30 days)
  13. The city then moves to close on the property, put it in the city Reserve program and eventually transfer it to either the URA, a community development group, a private individual or keep it in the city's ownership. The closing process then runs similarly to a private sale. (Time can vary up to three months.)

Allegheny County sheriff's sale

Pro: Takes less time than a city treasurer's sale.
Con: Goal is to get back tax money, not get city control of the property.

  1. The county selects properties it proposes be sold at a sheriff's sale based on back taxes owed on them and sends notices to registered land owners. (Two or three months)
  2. The county files a complaint in state court for the tax lien for the back taxes owed on a property. (One month)
  3. Service of the complaint is attempted upon the registered owner either by the sheriff if local, or through mailing if located out of state. (One to three months or longer)
  4. If a complaint can't be served by the sheriff, the county has to ask the judge to agree to have the property posted or mailing it to the registered owner. (One to three months or longer)
  5. If no one responds to either the sheriff's service, or the posting or mailing within 30 days, the county can request a judgment to be entered for the sale. (One month)
  6. The county sends a final notice to the registered owner before the sheriff's sale. (One month)
  7. The county orders a title search of the property to find anyone who has either a lien or an ownership interest in the property and then notifies everyone whose name comes up in the title search that the property is being sold. (One month)
  8. If no one responds to the notifications within 30 days, the property is listed for sheriff's sale&mdashpaying all back taxes or more&mdashabout two months from the filing by the sheriff, and notice of the sale is provided to all parties identified on the Tax Information Certificate. (Two months)
  9. Sheriff's sale day.
  10. If the property does not sell, the county has to move to sell the property "free and clear" of any taxes and liens by pursuing a court petition. (Three months)
  11. .A second sheriff's sale is attempted at a reduced sales price for the property because it is now "free and clear" of the taxes and liens.

The city&rsquos Urban Redevelopment Authority has stabilized and sealed 14 buildings in the city that it owns in the last two years, said Bethany Davidson, the URA&rsquos manager of land recycling.

&ldquoWhen we hear a building is part of the fabric of a neighborhood, we try to preserve it,&rdquo he said.

Stiffer enforcement of a law by the Allegheny County Department of Health may make such a program even more feasible.

In late 2016, the health department reached an agreement with the city that it had to do an asbestos survey for more building demolitions. That small change led to a dramatic increase in the cost of demolitions done by the city, from an average of $9,100 for each building torn down in 2016, to about $39,000 so far in 2019, according to the city&rsquos online building demolition database.

This has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of demolitions by the city, dropping from 233 buildings in 2016 to only 42 in 2017 and 73 in 2018. This year, the city has torn down just 12 buildings through April 5, the last date of a demolition in the city&rsquos online database.

But the health department&rsquos change also has the added impact of making a program like Mr. Ziegler and Mr. Hogan proposed even more feasible, they believe.

&ldquoWhat we wanted the mayor to consider was, instead of spending then $8,000 for a demo, why not spend $5,000 and put a roof on the house to stop a water leakage, do any structural update, board it and take care of the yard for the next 10 years till we need the house,&rdquo Mr. Hogan said. With increased demolition costs, &ldquoI think it makes the idea even more possible.&rdquo

Another factor that makes demolitions done by the city so costly is that, though the city does place liens on each demolished building hoping to recover the cost of demolition, the reality is that it almost never recovers those demolition costs.

City records show that between 2016 and 2018, property owners paid off only two demolition liens for a total of $18,500 between the two cases, while the city spent more than $8 million on demolitions during the time period.


Another obvious measure is to get to the properties more quickly, before they fall apart.

&ldquoIn my opinion, if they took ownership of these dilapidated buildings and offered them for sale to the public quicker, a lot of them would be saved,&rdquo said Ken Reilly, whose demolition company tears down a lot of buildings for the city and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and who also buys and renovates homes in North Side neighborhoods.

The advantage to the city acquiring property is not just that it can control its condition. When it sells the property, it can sell it &ldquofree-and-clear&rdquo of any back taxes that are owed, which can often be $10,000 or more &mdash a figure large enough to scare away new owners who might otherwise be willing to spend money to renovate a home.

&ldquoI&rsquom more willing to invest in a building I don&rsquot have to pay back taxes on,&rdquo Mr. Reilly said.

Currently the city acquires nearly all of the property it owns through quarterly city treasurer&rsquos sales. This troubled, byzantine process can take a long time &mdash two years or more &mdash is complicated, and ultimately is not a guarantee the city will own the tax delinquent properties it has targeted because anyone can bid to buy them.

The county has a more efficient process called the Vacant Property Recovery Program. The program uses eminent domain and gives the county control over who ultimately owns the property. It is used by 77 other municipalities and can take as little as one year before the property is transferred to a new owner.

The possible solutions to the problem are spelled out below:

Philadelphia County sheriff's sale

Pro: Takes half the time as the Allegheny County process.
Con: Not typically used.

  1. The city of Philadelphia files a lien against property owners who owe back taxes and send notices. (One to three months)
  2. The city selects properties for sheriff's sale and prepares a Tax Information Certificate to identify all liens and judgments against the property. (One month)
  3. The city prepares a petition filed in state court to sell the property "free and clear" of liens and schedules a hearing. (Within two to three months of filing)
  4. The city mails notices to everyone identified in the Tax Information Certificate. (One month)
  5. If no one responds to the notice, the county files a petition, and then a judge issues a decree allowing the property to be sold at a sheriff's sale. (Six to eight weeks)
  6. The city mails a final notice before the sheriff's sale is scheduled. (One month)
  7. If taxes remain unpaid, the property is scheduled for a sheriff's sale and notice is sent to all parties identified in the Tax Information Certificate. (Two months)
  8. If the property does not sell at the first sheriff's sale, the city can attempt to sell it again for a reduced price below the taxes and fees owed on the property at the next available sheriff's sale. (One month)

City's land banking process

Pro: Lets governments have a treasurer's sale without being required to have a competitive bid.
Con: Pittsburgh's Land Bank lacks the money to be effective.

  1. Follow the steps of the city treasurer’s sale and bid the "upset price," that is, the amount of back taxes owed. You don't have to outbid any bidders. (Two years or longer)

Allegheny County's Vacant Property Recovery Program

Pro: Quick and no one can outbid the targeted buyer.
Con: Pittsburgh is not a participant.

  1. An application is submitted to the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County and reviewed. (Time varies widely.)
  2. Completed applications are sent to the municipality in which the property is located for review. The property is then presented to the Vacant Property Review Committee to determine if it is "blighted." The county notifies the property owner of the "blight" determination, and the owner has 15 days to cure the condition. If there is no response, the county reviews the application and approves the possible sale. (Minimum four months)
  3. A sales agreement is sent to the applicant, and the applicant returns the agreement with payment. (Time varies widely.)
  4. The county performs a title search. Following the search, the county notifies the court and the property owner and any other interested parties that it is condemning the property. The county then petitions the court to accept the payment on the property, and the court orders all existing liens on the property eliminated. (Minimum six months)
  5. The sale closes, and the property is turned over to applicant (Minimum one month)

Though Pittsburgh does not participate in the program, City Treasurer Margaret Lanier, who has been trying to improve the treasurer&rsquos sale process, said she wants to look into the county program.

Mr. Ziegler said PHLF has worked with both programs and it has been a night-and-day experience.

&ldquoThere is a problem: The county has a very good, expeditious way of disposing of tax delinquent properties if, let&rsquos say, someone like us wants them. We&rsquoll go in and say, we&rsquod like to have those properties. They&rsquore tax delinquent. They will acquire them and hold them until we&rsquore ready to take them, and they sell them to us for a couple thousand dollars at cost,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThe city&rsquos process is very cumbersome and can take years. And because of that they are more and more delinquent and the buildings department says they&rsquore a public safety hazard and takes them down.&rdquo

Mike McCabe, an attorney whose firm handles legal work for both the Allegheny County Sheriff&rsquos Sale, and the city treasurer&rsquos sale, also happens to do work for the Philadelphia Sheriff&rsquos Sale, which takes about half the time to get a property sold compared to Allegheny County.

He&rsquod like the state Legislature to change state law so that Allegheny County and Pittsburgh could sell tax delinquent properties quicker, just like Philadelphia.

&ldquoLet&rsquos assume the Legislature says we&rsquod like to use the Philly model for Allegheny County and Pittsburgh,&rdquo he said. &ldquoIf they wanted to do that, they could use [Pittsburgh&rsquos] land bank process to get ahold of the property without competitive bidding.&rdquo

Five years ago, the city approved making use of a 2012 state law allowing municipalities to create &ldquoland banks.&rdquo

Employing the land bank, the city still would enter the treasurer&rsquos sale process. But when a property is put up to bid, only the city could bid.

But Pittsburgh has had trouble setting up the land bank, which just last year began the process of trying to acquire its first property &mdash a vacant lot in Larimer. The land bank will also be used to acquire buildings to try to prevent their demolition, said Irene Clark, the land bank&rsquos attorney, who has worked on blight issues in the city for three decades.


Mr. Peduto said he would like to make at least one move that would give buildings like 1953 Perrysville Ave. a chance to survive.

The Pittsburgh Register of Historic Places did not provide city-designated historic protection that would have required multiple hearings before an owner could tear down a building &mdash a legal step that has proven incredibly effective in preventing demolition of city-designated historic properties.

Since the register list was created, 44 of the individual structures in the register have been given city-designated historic status. Not one of them has been demolished.

But Pittsburgh lags behind many cities in protecting buildings.

According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation&rsquos 2016 report, The Atlas of ReUrbanism, which compared 50 of the country&rsquos largest cities, Pittsburgh has granted local protection to only about 3,200 buildings, or 2.3% of its 138,000 buildings. That&rsquos about half the average &mdash 4.3% &mdash of the other 49 cities in the survey.

That is about the same percentage of buildings locally designated as Philadelphia has at 2.2%, but far below other comparable cities like St. Louis (which has protected 13% of its buildings) and Baltimore (5.3%) and Denver (5.4%).

Mr. Peduto proposes creating a less-restrictive historic designation that would provide a pause before any of the remaining 1,595 register buildings are torn down.

&ldquoThe Registry at least gives us a baseline of where we should begin&rdquo to save the city&rsquos non-designated structures, he said. &ldquoThe properties that remain, that are still on it, should be given, through legislative action, additional requirements prior to demolition, community notification, extended period of time of posting before the demolition, opportunities for people who want to save and preserve it to be able to rally around it to try to put together a plan to try to do so. It shouldn&rsquot follow the same process of any other property, unless it&rsquos a public safety hazard.&rdquo

The idea is a step below full historic designation, which would require an application and hearings before the city&rsquos Historic Review Committee before it moves on to city council.

&ldquoThis is something a number of other cities have addressed, and are addressing, in a number of different ways,&rdquo said Jim Lindberg, senior policy director for the National Trust, noting that some cities &mdash including Boston, Washington, D.C. and Nashville &mdash have similar demolition-delay ordinances.

&ldquoBut I think what [Mr. Peduto] is proposing is most similar to what Chicago has done,&rdquo he said.

Chicago, which did its own street-by-street survey, which was completed in 1996, built in a color-coding system for buildings it thought were worth protecting, starting with red &mdash the buildings most worth preserving &mdash down through orange, green and yellow. But, like Pittsburgh, Chicago did not provide any additional protection to any of the buildings it listed under any color.

After a battle to save the Chicago Mercantile Exchange building in 2002, the city adopted a demolition-delay ordinance. For any building rated either red or orange in Chicago&rsquos 1996 survey, a demolition permit application triggers a 90-day delay before it can be acted on to give the city&rsquos Landmarks Commission time to consider whether the building should be designated historic, or for other alternatives to be acted on, including restoration.

Mr. Peduto said the idea of something like a demolition-delay ordinance has floated around Pittsburgh city council for years, but has never been enacted. It might have a chance now, given the Post-Gazette&rsquos data on the register, he said.

&ldquoI think that once people start seeing that over 15% of our historic structures have been lost in a quarter century, that might be enough to compel legislation,&rdquo he said.

History of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - History

From it's beginning in 1758 Pittsburgh has been a city of music. Among the early German and English settlers of Pittsburgh were accomplished classical musicians who taught music to the sons of and daughters of the pioneers, formed musical performance societies, opened music stores, establish music publishing companies, and composed classical works. The Harmony Society established an orchestra, built the largest performance hall in the country, commissioned compositions, and performed the first symphony composed in America. These pioneering music teachers, performers, composers, and music businessmen established Pittsburgh's classical music culture "fostering" the birth of American music.

Pittsburgh has been a musical melting pot where classical European music was blended with English parlor ballads, African American blues, jazz, doo-wop, rock, world beat and hip hop to create the new sounds of the melodic ballads of Stephen Foster, the innovative Pittsburgh School of piano jazz, the Be-Bop beat of Blakey and Kenny Clarke, the string backed Doo Wop of the Skyliners, the world beat of Rusted Root, and the hip-hop pop rock mash ups of Girl Talk. Molten hot music pours out of the blast furnace of Pittsburgh’s musical culture.

A young Stephen Foster studied classical music with Henry Kleber, a musician and downtown Pittsburgh music store proprietor. Enjoying the music of the early minstrel shows at Pittsburgh theatres Foster came under the spell TD Rice. Blending Kleber’s classical music with TD Rice’s minstrel music Stephen Foster created a new American sound. His songs gained immediate national popularity, making him America's first Pop music sensation in the 1840s. Credited as the "Father of American music," Foster was the pre-eminent American songwriter of the 19th century. His songs "Oh! Susanna", "Camptown Races", "My Old Kentucky Home", "Beautiful Dreamer" and "Old Folks at Home" remain popular today evidenced by a 2005 Grammy award for an album of his music: “Beautiful Dreamer”.

The music culture of Pittsburgh continued to grow with the establishment of required music education, musical societies, and popular entertainment. In 1844 Pittsburgh became the first public school district in Pennsylvania and the fifth in the country to institute required music education. Students were taught singing, harmony, and music theory. The talents of Pittsburgh’s students were showcased three years later in 1847 when vocal teacher D.L. Bingham led a performance of 700 students at Pittsburgh's Anthenaem Hall. Music education was extended to the black schools in 1869 and was continued in the integrated schools. During the 19 th century classical music was performed in Pittsburgh by several music societies including the Appolonians (1807), The Pittsburgh Music Society (1817), the Harmony Society Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Philharmonic Society (1853), the Mozart Club (1878), and the Art Society of Pittsburgh (1873). These societies were forerunners to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) that was formed in 1896. Under the direction of Victor Herbert the PSO became a major American orchestra earning critical comparison to the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony Orchestra. The members of the PSO gave instruction to Pittsburgh’s young musicians and staffed the music facility at Carnegie Tech.

With the growth of the Steel industry and manufacturing in the 1880s Pittsburgh’s population grew rapidly making it the sixth largest city in the U.S. in 1907. Attracted by jobs waves of Eastern Europeans, Italians, and southern African Americans migrated to the Western Pennsylvania area. These new Pittsburghers brought new musical elements and passions to the boiling the cauldron of Pittsburgh’s musical culture. The Eastern Europeans and Italians brought their ethnic folk music, skilled classical musicians and teachers, love of symphonies and opera, and their desire to advance. The African Americans of the great northern migration brought their desire to advance culturally along with the roots of blues, gospel, and jazz.

In the late 19 th and early 20 th century the classical music culture of Pittsburgh fostered the careers of several of the greatest classicial pianists of the great 20 th century including virtuosos Earl Wild, Bryon Janis, Oscar Levant, Norman Frauenheim, Beveridge Webster, and Patricia Prattis Jennings. Pittsburgh has produced conductors Lorin Maazel and Antonio Modarelli oera stars Louise Homer, Florence Wickham and Andrew McKinley composers Adolph Martin Foester, Anna Priscilla Rischer, David and David Stock..

As the Pittsburgh population grew the demand for live musical entertainment grew. There were hundreds of venues for Pittsburgher to hear live music and to perform it. Pittsburghers danced to the music of ragtime and jazz on the riverboat cruises of Fate Marable and Louis Deppe. Vaudeville shows, musicals, and the big bands performed at the downtown theaters such as the Million Dollar Grand, the Nixon, and the Stanley along with the Hill District’s Roosevelt Theater and East Liberty’s Enright Theatre. Music was performed in dozens of clubs in East Liberty and the Hill that were open 24 hours a day catering to the mill shift workers. During the 1920s 25,000 to 30,000 people attended the entertainment venues of Pittsburgh daily. With the birth of broadcast radio in Pittsburgh live music was performed by studio orchestras and bands on KDKA and WCAE. The wealthy industrial elite of Pittsburgh hired local musicians to perform in their homes and at social functions. To accommodate larger classical music audiences the Pittsburgh Symphony moved to the 3,000 seat Syria Mosque. There was a wealth of live music to be heard in Pittsburgh. There were many jobs for Pittsburgh musicians.

In an interview bassist John Heard and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine attributed the success of Pittsburgh musicians to several factors: the investment in music in the school system, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Carnegie Library, and the many concerts held in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh children were exposed to great music. The Pittsburgh area schools required music appreciation classes and supplied students with free instruments and lessons. The schools had excellent music teachers and the university music departments were staffed by members of the Pittsburgh Symphony. Students learned how to perform playing in swing bands, string quartets, orchestra and bands. Other cities did not have these endowments for the arts.

A group of children gifted with natural musical talent was born in the Pittsburgh area or migrated to the area in the early 20 th century. Many learned to play by ear at an early age. Seeing the talent of these youngsters their parents sent them to Pittsburgh’s skilled music teachers to learn the classics. Hearing the wealth of classical and popular music in Pittsburgh’s entertainment venues and on the Pittsburgh’s live music radio stations, these young musicians were inspired to pursue music careers. Many became musicians to escape from grueling jobs in the mills. During the period of the 1920s through the 1950s a wave of instrumentalists and composer/arrangers swept from Pittsburgh to international prominence in piano jazz, big swing bands, be bop ensembles, the movie and television industries, and classical music.

Ragtime and Jazz were introduced to Pittsburgh by pianist and steamboat band leader Fate Marable who performed in Pittsburgh between 1907 to the early 1920s. Hiring a group of New Orleans musicians including a young Louis Armstrong, Fate Marble brought Jazz upriver from New Orleans to Pittsburgh with his steamboat bands. In the off-season he played piano in the clubs of the Hill District laying the foundation for the Pittsburgh school of jazz piano. Louis Deppe who came to Pittsburgh from Kentucky also played jazz on popular river boat cruises and in the clubs of Wylie Avenue. He hired a young pianist Earl Hines who invented modern jazz piano while touring with Deppe’s Seranders.

Earl Hines was the first of the Pittsburgh school of jazz pianists and composer-arrangers that includes Mary Lou Williams, Billy Strayhorn, Erroll Garner, Ahmad Jamal, Horace Parlan, Sonny Clark, Orlando DiGirolamo, Shirley Scott, and Johnny Costa. The Pittsburgh school of jazz piano was based on a foundation of traditional European classical techniques blended with African American music,

“Pittsburgh rivaled New York City in its development of the piano in Jazz…. Pittsburgh’s involvement with the piano was a major cultural phenomenon stimulated by the Great Migration’s thirst for cultural advancement and the traditional respect accorded to harmoniums and pianos in southern black life.” – Jazz on the River William Howland Kennedy

The young pianists Earl Hines, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou William and others studied classical music with European trained teachers such as Von Holtz, Charlotte Catlin, and Sturzio. They were taught music theory and composition in the public schools. They also heard the music of New Orleans from Fate Marable and Louis Deppe, along with blues artists like Ma Rainey and Jelly Roll Morton who played the clubs of Wylie Avenue. Earl Hines and Billy Strayhorn aspired to be classical concert pianists. But discrimination blocked their paths. Classical music was a white male only club. Instead they turned their talent to invent piano jazz and to compose jazz classics.

Trained in the classics many talented Pittsburgh musicians became band leaders, band members and arranger/composers during the big band era. Earl Hines, Billy Eckstine, Vaughn Monroe and Ted Weems led their own bands. Three students of Herman Clements, principal bassist of the Pittsburgh Symphony, became world renowned jazz bassists: Ray Brown, Paul Chamber, and Sonny Dallas. Song writer Jay Livingston studied with Fredrick Archer, the founder of the PSO. Three students of the Stanley Theatre Orchestra conductor Max Adler became big band arrangers: Strayhorn (Elllington), Mancini (Benny Goodman), Jerry Fielder (Alvino Ray). Mary Lou Williams wrote arrangements for dozens of bands. Roy Eldridge, one of defining trumpeters of jazz came to fame with the Gene Krupa band. Babe Russin recorded and performed with the biggest names of the Big Band era including Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, and Red Nichols. Art Blakey and Ray Crawford were members of the ground breaking Fletcher Henderson band.

Before the 1950 the big bands dominated popular music. Vocalists were just members of the band. The stars were the band leaders. Instrumental songs “Take the A Train” and “In the Mood” were classic hits. In July of 1942 the American Federation of Musician went on strike against the recording companies demanding that artists be paid recording royalties. All union instrumental musicians stopped recording from 1942 through 1945. As the strike went on the record companies releases recordings of popular vocalists singing with backup vocal groups. Canonsburg native, Perry Como’s release several popular songs during the strike. As a result of the strike popular music shifted from the instrumental music of big bands to the ballads of vocal stars and vocal groups. Vocalists came to dominate popular music in the 1950s. Billy Eckstein broke up his band and became a popular ballad singer. Formed big band singer Perry Como, Dean Martin, and Bobby Vinton scored dozens of hits and sold over 200 million records during the 1950s and early 1960s.

The Doo Wop and vocal group craze and overtook Pittsburgh in the 1950s. The Marcells came to fame with this 195t hit “Come Go With Me”. With their million selling hit song "Since I Don't Have You" the Skyliners became the first group to feature a string arrangement in a rock and roll song. Phil Spector sites “Since I Don’t Have You” as an influence on his "wall of sound" style of the 1960s. A wave of successful Pittsburgh vocal groups and performers found success including, the Del Vikings, the Four Coins, the Vogues, the Lettermen, Adam Wade, and Lou Christie.

With the British Invasion of the early 1960s and the rise of the R&B sound of Motown and Philadelphia International Pittsburgh baby boomer musicians came under the spell of rock and R&B. The first band of Pittsburgher to hit the rock charts was Tommy James and the Shondells with Hanky-Panky in 1966. During 1968-69 Tommy James and The Shondells sold more singles than any other artist in the world, including The Beatles. Starting with the Igniters in 1968 several groups signed major label contracts, toured the country, and scored hits during the late 1960s through the 1980s including The Jaggerz, Wild Cherry, Diamond Reo, the Granati Brothers, the Iron City Houserockers, the Silencers, David Werner, Billy Price, Norman Nardini. Donnie Iris, B.E. Taylor, and Pete Hewlett. Scoring mahor hits in R&B and Pop genres were Shanice, Syretta Wright, Bob Babbit, and the Steals Brothers, and Phyllis Hyman In the late 1980s three Pittsburgh became rock superstars Bret Michaels of Poison, Reb Beach with Winger, and Paul Gilbert with Racer X and Mr. Big.

In the 1990s Rusted Root and the Clarks hit the airways, charts, and national concert circuit. Blending world beats with rock Rusted Root created the all time classic smash hit “Send Me on Mt Way. Drummer Brian Young came to fame with the Poises and Fountains of Wayne. Paul Doucette hit the big time with Match Box 20. A new set of stars in emerging from Pittsburgh in the 21 st century: mash-up maestro Girl Talk, superstar rapper Wiz Khalifa , activist punk rockers Anti-Flag, and singing sensation Jackie Evancho.

Development of the Pennsylvania Oil Industry

Dedicated August 26, 2009, at the U.S. Steel Tower in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and August 27, 2009, at the Drake Well Museum in Titusville, Pennsylvania, during the 150 th anniversary of the discovery of oil by Edwin Drake.

Long before Texas gushers and offshore drilling, and a century before oil wells dotted Arabian sands and rose out of Venezuelan waters, the center of petroleum production was western Pennsylvania. In the middle of the 19 th century two developments occurred that guaranteed Pennsylvania’s dominance: The construction, in Pittsburgh, of the first still to refine crude oil into kerosene for use in lighting, and the drilling of the first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania.


History of Oil before Modern Petroleum

While the drilling of oil — which marks the start of the modern petroleum industry — dates only to the middle of the 19 th century, the knowledge of oil is very old. Oil was used more than five thousand years ago in Mesopotamia bitumen was mined by the Sumerians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, who used it in architecture, building roads, caulking ships, and medicines. Later, knowledge of oil and its uses declined the Romans, for example, regarded petroleum as a curiosity only.

But the knowledge never fully disappeared since oil seeps to the surface in many parts of the world. This is true in northwestern Pennsylvania, where the Seneca tribe, part of the Iroquois nation, collected seep oil for hundreds of years, using it as a salve, insect repellent, and tonic. Europeans called the dark, gooey substance Seneca Oil and found it effective for treating sprains and rheumatism. It also burned, but was unappealing as a lamp oil due to its unpleasant odor and smoke.

Candles and whale oil provided most of the artificial light in the decades before the Civil War. Whale oil was also used for lubrication. But demand intensified—and prices skyrocketed—with the development of mechanized transportation and industrialization. This demand fueled the search for new sources of light.

In the 1840s, scientists in Britain began producing an illuminant from the distillation of coal. Dr. Abraham Gesner, a Canadian geologist, made the first successful coal oil in North America, using a bituminous mineral found in New Brunswick. Gesner called it “keroselain” from the Greek word for ”wax” and “oil,” which soon became kerosene.

Samuel Kier Experiments with Pennsylvania Oil

Others tried using petroleum — originally marketed as a medicine — as an illuminant. Seeping petroleum plagued salt well operators as it frequently came to the surface with salt brine. At Tarentum, Pennsylvania, twenty miles north of Pittsburgh, Samuel Kier and his father owned salt wells which produced an annoying quantity of oil along with the desired brine.

Kier thought the oil contaminating his wells was similar to the “American Medicinal Oil” his wife took for a serious illness. Chemical analysis proved the two oils identical, and in 1852 Kier started marketing the oil from his wells as “Kier’s Petroleum, or Rock Oil.” Kier claimed his “medicine” (sold in 8 oz. jars for 50 cents) cured burns, ulcers, cholera, asthma, indigestion, rheumatism, and blindness.

Kier’s salt wells produced more petroleum than he could sell, so he began looking for other uses for it. He sent a sample to Professor James Curtis Booth of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, later president of the American Chemical Society. Booth had established in 1836 the first commercial chemical laboratory in the United States. His analysis determined that petroleum could be distilled for use in lighting. Armed with a drawing provided by Booth, Kier built a one-barrel, cast-iron still on Seventh Avenue in Pittsburgh and began to sell distilled petroleum, which he called “carbon oil,” for a $1.50 a gallon.

At the time there was no suitable lamp in which to burn Kier’s kerosene. He began experimenting with lamp burners to let more air enter, which allowed the oil to burn more brightly, although it still gave off a disagreeable odor. But the light was clear and the price reasonable, so Kier built a larger, five-barrel still. After the city council forbade distilling oil because of the danger of fire, Kier moved his operations outside Pittsburgh city limits.

Others succeeded in removing the disagreeable odor by treating oil with acids. Still, the utility of using petroleum as an illuminant was limited by the difficulty of getting it out of the ground.

The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company is Founded

In the early 1850s a New York lawyer named George Bissell came across a sample of petroleum from Titusville, Pennsylvania. Bissell noted its resemblance to coal oil, and he and his partner, Jonathan Eveleth, sent an agent to investigate its source. The agent gave a favorable report, and the two lawyers proceeded to organize the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company.

Among the company’s backers was James Townsend, a bank president, whom Bissell and Eveleth met in New Haven, Connecticut. Townsend had concluded that there was money to be made in oil. But friends and associates were slow to buy stock in the new company absent of scientific analysis of the oil to determine its uses and availability. One expert deemed the oil from Titusville to have excellent qualities, but the investors demanded further proof.

Bissell and Townsend retained Benjamin Silliman, Jr., professor of chemistry at Yale University, to make a more refined analysis. After several months of study, Silliman concluded that the company possessed “a raw material from which, by simple and not expensive process, [it] may manufacture very valuable products.” Silliman’s analysis indicated that crude oil could be distilled for use in lamps as kerosene, and he recognized that paraffin could be obtained by high-temperature distillation of the raw material. He underestimated the possibility of using oil for lubrication, but his report was generally so favorable that the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company which had originally been incorporated in New York was reorganized under Connecticut law — which was more favorable to stockholders — with Silliman as president, Bissell and Eveleth retaining a controlling amount of stock, and the New Haven stockholders supplying a majority of the Board of Directors.

Oh, Townsend, oil coming out of the ground, pumping oil out of the earth as you pump water? Nonsense! You’re crazy.”

Quoted in Paul H. Giddens, The Birth of the Oil Industry, (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1938), p. 48.

Colonel Edwin Drake and the First Oil Well

Colonel Edwin Drake is famous for drilling the first oil well in 1859. Much about Drake and his well is accidental. Even his title — Colonel — came not from military advancement but because Townsend thought it lent prestige to Drake and the quest for oil.

When Drake and Townsend met, Drake was in his late 30s, having spent much of his adult life working for railroads. Townsend sold Drake $200 worth of stock — his total life savings — in the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company. Townsend decided to send the new investor, whose previous railroad work entitled him to free transportation, to Pennsylvania to secure title to lands for the company and to report on the prospect of finding oil.

Drake inspected the oil country and told Townsend that a fortune could be made in petroleum. Encouraged by this news, Townsend arranged for the company to be reconstituted as the Seneca Oil Company with Drake as largest stockholder and president. The company also hired Drake as general manager for the princely sum — to him — of $1,000 a year. In May 1858 Drake moved to Titusville, did some more scouting around, and decided to drill a well.

Drake needed two things to drill: equipment and someone with experience boring into salt wells. The equipment was easy Drake ordered an engine, built a pump house, and asked Townsend for $1,000 to pay for the supplies. The expert proved more difficult to find. Drake spent several months in 1858 and 1959 trying to find a driller. Potential recruits thought Drake “crazy” to drill for oil.

Finally Drake found William Smith, a blacksmith who had made tools for Samuel Kier and who had done some drilling. “Uncle Billy” Smith agreed to work for $2.50 a day, make his own tools, and throw in the services of his 15-year-old son. Smith arrived in Titusville in May, 1859, and found that Drake’s men had been digging a hole 150 feet from Oil Creek.

Smith discovered that the hole — located close to the creek and below the level of the stream — kept filling with water. He tried pumping out the water, with little success. Finally, Drake and Smith obtained cast iron pipe which they drove about 32 feet into the bedrock — past the water — using a white-oak battering ram. In mid-August Smith began drilling his well, through the pipe, with steam power, averaging about three feet a day.

The slow progress invited gibes from the locals. More seriously, the investors decided to pull the plug, with Townsend directing Drake to shut down operations. Before receiving these instructions, Drake borrowed $500 locally. The loan allowed him to pay off his creditors and continue work, though Drake must have feared the end was near.

On Saturday, August 27, with the drill at a depth of 69 feet, work stopped. Everyone expected to have to drill at least several hundred feet deeper. The next day, “Uncle Billy” inspected the well and saw fluid at the top of the pipe. Smith realized it was oil. News soon spread along Oil Creek and into Titusville, but Drake did not get the word until Monday morning when he arrived at the well and saw Smith surrounded by barrels, tubs, and jars of oil. No one realized it at the time, but Drake had drilled in the only spot in the region where oil could be found at such a shallow depth as 69 feet.

Development of the Pennsylvania Oil Industry

By the end of 1859 wells sprouted throughout the oil country. Those pioneer wells produced about 4,500 barrels that year. In 1860 wells in northwestern Pennsylvania produced several hundred thousand barrels and by 1862 production reached three million barrels. The nation’s oil bonanza had begun, and huge fortunes would soon be made.

But not by Colonel Drake. He failed to act quickly to control production and he had not bought much land in the area. In 1860 the Seneca Oil Company severed its connection to Drake, paying him $1,000 for the use of his name on oil barrels.

By the end of the Civil War Drake had lost all his money and his health. He moved first to Vermont and then to New Jersey because he thought the sea might improve his health. In the late 1860s old acquaintances from the oil industry raised $4,000 for Drake. In 1873 the Pennsylvania legislature allotted Drake $1,500 annually. In November 1880, after years of bad health and constant pain, Drake died poor and a pensioner, never having benefitted from “discovering” oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, on August 27, 1859.

Swelling production of Pennsylvania oil led to a rapid drop in price, which drove many producers out of business but which also drove consumers away from other sources of illumination, allowing Pennsylvania oil to corner the market.

The cycle of boom and bust plagued Pennsylvania oil production until John D. Rockefeller organized Standard Oil and imposed order on the industry in the 1870s. In the next decade Thomas Edison’s light bulb and electrification would replace kerosene, threatening the dominance of oil. The petroleum industry would be saved, in turn, by the coming of the automobile and the need for gasoline, which would be supplied by other areas of production, particularly Texas, and then foreign sources. But in the latter part of the 19 th century, Pennsylvania oil dominated the market, pointing the way to America’s eventual reliance on petroleum.

History of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh continues to thrive and reinvent itself in exciting, fresh ways.

Pittsburgh was established in the mid-18th century as the British Fort Pitt, named after their prime minister of the time. It was jostled between the French and British for a number of years due to the land’s convenient location, its vast supply of natural resources, and the fact that it was situated at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, which together form the Ohio River. This is where Pittsburgh got one of its nicknames, “Gateway to the West.”

George Washington himself, then just a major in the British army, was involved in the French and British conflicts over the region in the 1750s.

A Booming Metropolis of Steel

At the end of the 19th century into the beginning of the 20th, Pittsburgh grew substantially, multiplying in size many times over. This was largely due to its supply of natural resources (including coal, limestone, natural gas, and oil) and the accessibility provided by the rivers.

Because of these factors, among others, it played a central part in the industrial revolution. Those in need of work – including tens of thousands of immigrants – moved to the city to find jobs, of which there was no shortage, in the steel mills or other manufacturing plants.

The importance of steel to the city of Pittsburgh is hard to overstate. It was used as the name for the city’s NFL team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, for good reason. In the early 20th century, Pittsburgh was supplying half of the steel in the United States, and their high volume of production continued for many decades behind industrialists like Andrew Carnegie, himself a Scottish immigrant. In the 1940s, Pittsburgh was responsible for much of the steel produced for the United States’ military equipment during World War II.

History of the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania

Illustration of Msgr. A. A. Lambing, courtesy of Bill Englert

In 1879, Monsignor Andrew Arnold Lambing (1842–1918) laid the groundwork for the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (the “Society”) when, as historian of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, he established a short-lived historical organization called the Ohio Valley Catholic Historical Society.

Sixty-one years would pass before his concept was revived with the formation of such a Catholic organization in 1940.

Anticipation of the 1943 centenary of the Diocese of Pittsburgh served as the impetus for a meeting to establish a Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania — held on May 27, 1940, at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. Eight persons were present: Rev. Felix Fellner, O.S.B. (professor at Saint Vincent College, and former President of the American Catholic Historical Association), Rev. Hugh Wilt, O.S.B. (professor of history at Saint Vincent College), Rev. William J. Purcell (professor of history at Mount Mercy College), Joseph A. Beck (Pittsburgh attorney), Paul G. Sullivan (Pittsburgh attorney), Michael H. Kennedy (a staff member of the Pittsburgh Catholic), Alice Thurston McGirr (Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh reference librarian and Head of the Reference Department), and Elizabeth Daflinger (associate editor of The Pittsburgh Catholic).

The founders then held an initial public meeting on July 8 at Mount Mercy College, with more than 500 people in attendance. Bishop Hugh C. Boyle presided. Bylaws were approved, using the name “Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania.” The Society’s purposes were four-fold:

  • To further the study of American Catholic history, especially in Western Pennsylvania
  • To gather and correlate papers, documents and relics of our Catholic heritage
  • To investigate and research in this field
  • To publish the result thereof from time to time

Meetings were held quarterly and at each, and lectures were presented on Western Pennsylvania Catholic history. For the first 14 years, the Society relied completely on the rich local wealth of historians, archivists, and professors to serve as speakers. Historical tours were inaugurated in 1941, along with historical essay contests in diocesan schools. Talks about Catholic history were given on local radio stations WWSW and WJAS. Weekly history columns were printed in The Pittsburgh Catholic.

The Society’s efforts were devoted to the research and writing of a history of the Diocese of Pittsburgh for its 1943 centenary: a volume reflecting the contributions of a symposium of writers. The history was completed for distribution at the Centennial Mass held on October 25, at which the Society’s president, Father Campbell, preached the sermon. The 271-page book, entitled Catholic Pittsburgh’s One Hundred Years 1843-1943, was the modern successor to Monsignor Lambing’s two earlier published histories of the diocese.

Following the ceremony, the memorial gift of the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania — a bronze plaque commemorating the six bishops of Pittsburgh who served during the first century of the diocese’s history — was installed in the Chancery (Synod Hall) adjacent to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

In August 1949, the Society reached an arrangement whereby Duquesne University would provide space in its library for the Archives of the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. Coadjutor Bishop John F. Dearden formally dedicated the Society’s Archives Room in the library on October 8, 1950.

The Society then initiated the microfilming of all issues of The Pittsburgh Catholic. The work represented a tri-partite agreement among the Society, Duquesne University officials, and the newspaper. The microfilming was the first ever for an American diocesan newspaper. This visionary step preserved the history of the Catholic Church in Western Pennsylvania as it was recorded in print each year since 1844. In 2008, digitization of the microfilmed newspaper was begun, putting that history on the Internet and making it keyword searchable.

On November 1, 1950, just hours after Pope Pius XII proclaimed the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary as an article of faith, the Society rededicated the statue of the Blessed Virgin on the parapet of St. Mary’s at “The Point” under the title of the Assumption — commemorating the historic fact that Fort Duquesne’s chapel had been erected in 1754 under the title “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Beautiful River.”

The Society observed the 200th anniversary of the first Mass at Pittsburgh’s “Golden Triangle” celebrated in April 1754 by the chaplain of the French forces at Fort Duquesne, Fr. Denys Baron, with: (1) an academic convocation in Synod Hall with lecture by Father John LaFarge, S.J., associate editor of America, (2) presentation of an original oil painting of the First Mass at Fort Duquesne (sketched by George Sotter, from which his associate Forrest Crooks made a charcoal enlargement, and Charles Hargens did the painting), and (3) reprinting of Monsignor Lambing’s 1885 publication of his translation of The Baptismal Register of Fort Duquesne, penned by the chaplain at Fort Duquesne.

In observance of the bicentennial of the City of Pittsburgh, the Society published a booklet in 1959 entitled From the Point to the Present, to evidence the growth of Catholicity in western Pennsylvania.

Deaths and retirements of the original Society officers ushered in a period of dormancy in the 1960s. But in 1984, Father Bernard L. Hrico (working with Monsignor Francis A. Glenn) resurrected the Society. The Society then embarked on an Oral History project, provided speakers on the history of Catholicism in Western Pennsylvania for parish gatherings, introduced a writing contest for students, expanded its lecture series, resumed tours, and co-sponsored historical lectures with other organizations.

In 1986, the Society commenced issuance of a bi-annual newsletter, Gathered Fragments. The name selected for the publication reflected Monsignor Lambing’s statement about the preservation of local Catholic history, based on the Gospel of St. John: “Gather up the fragments that remain, lest they be lost.” By 2009, the Society’s Gathered Fragments assumed a color glossy journal format the annual journal now approaches 100 pages per issue.

In 1993, the Board of Directors undertook incorporation to provide a formal legal existence for the Society — which is a non-profit corporation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and as listed by the Diocese of Pittsburgh in The Official Catholic Directory (P. J. Kenedy & Sons).

In November 2020, board member emeritus John C. Bates completed a comprehensive history of the Society. You can purchase a copy of The Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania: Its Origins, Establishment, Decline, and Resurrection on Amazon.

Sedimentation in WesternPennsylvania

Pittsburgh lies in a geographic region called the "Appalachian Plateau", which is a topographically high region west of the Appalachian Mountain chain. The plateau is made up of erosional remains of a large sediment-filled basin which was formed and, finally, uplifted as a result of the plate tectonic interactions which created the Appalachian Moutains.

Pittsburgh sits on over 16,000 feet (OVER 3 MILES) of sedimentary rock. The sedimentary rocks generally seen at the surface in road cuts or outcrops in Pittsburgh were deposited during the Pennsylvanian Period (320 - 290 million years ago), late in the Paleozoic Era. These rocks are among the last to have been deposited in the area. Older sedimentary rocks are buried beneath the surface, only visible in drill holes or in the few places where rivers cut down through the stack of rock units, such as in Conemaugh Gorge near Johnstown.

Outcrops in the Pittsburgh area mostly are part of a rock sequence known as the Conemaugh Group.

This picture shows cross stratification in a sandstone outcropping in Bloomfield. Cross stratification form from moving sand, pushed either by water or air. The curved lower surface of these sandstone beds suggests deposition in a river or the channelized part of a delta . This outcrop is located just across the bridge at the Pittsburgh Brewery as you turn from Liberty Avenue onto Herron Avenue. This outcrop is the Morgantown Sandstone, part of the Casselman Formation of the Conemaugh Group. (site 7 on the map)

This shows an outcrop in Pittsburgh's Strip District, directly east of downtown Pittsburgh off of Liberty Avenue. The outcrop displays cross stratification in sandy deposits. Looking at this and the Bloomfield deposit which is just up the road (across the bridge at the Pittsburgh Brewery) it is easy to see that this area was part of the river-dominated part of a delta. This outcrop is the Morgantown Sandstone, part of the Casselman Formation of the Conemaugh Group.(see site 7 on the map)

More fluvial deposition in Pittsburgh area. This is the RPS road cut in Moon Township just off of Montour Run Road. This roadcut shows a lot of cross stratification, filled channels, and black, organic-rich layers indicating that the rocks are fluvial type deposits.(see site 1 on the map)

Fluvial type cross stratification in Oakland. To find this outcrop drive between the Carnegie Museum and the Frick Art Building. Drive away from Oakland passing over the Panther Hollow Bridge. Make the first right which is located immediately after the bridge. Stay to the right. The outcrop is on the left hand side as you drive towards the City of Pittsburgh's Maintenance and storage area. The outcrop continues along the trail to the lake. The Morgantown Sandstone is at the top, with the Birmingham Shale underneath. (Site 3 on the map)

Geologists use marker beds to help identify which sedimentary layers they are looking at. Marker beds are strata that are very distictive and stand out. A marker bed may have many specific fossils and/or be of a specific type of rock. An important marker bed in the Pittsburgh area is the Ames Limestone. The Ames Limestone has more fossils in it than any other layer in the Pittsburgh area. Fossils of Echinoderms, Brachiopods, and Gastropods are found throughout the Ames. The Ames is the boundary between the Glenshaw and Casselman Formations, both part of the Conemaugh Group. The sedimentary rocks that are exposed in the Pittsburgh area and lay above the Ames layer generally show much cross stratification (more of a fluvial environment). The sedimentary rock layers that are exposed directly below the Ames limestone layer in the Pittsburgh area have been deposited mostly as bay-filling muds and other low energy type depositions related to the seaward part of the delta. (Site 4 on the map)

Frick Park is a great place to find the Ames Limestone layer. Frick Park is located on the East side of Pittsburgh. Follow Forbes Avenue through Squirrel Hill until you see Frick Parks tennis courts on the right. Turn right at the tennis courts and Park in the Parking lot beside the tennis courts. There is a walking trail which has a entrance from the parking lot. Walk down the trail until it comes to a intersection. Make a left at the intersection. The Ames layer is exposed a little way down at the bridge on the next left. A shelter and water fountain are found in this area. Walk away from the bridge and past the water fountain (heading west). The trail goes up a slight grade. Walk up the hill a hundred yards or so and the Ames Limestone can be found on the right and then the larger outcrop is on the left with many fossils exposed. The larger oucrop on the left is a hard ledge in the stream bed, and forms a waterfall when it rains.

Watch the video: Pittsburghs Golden Triangle from 1754 to the present


  1. Agamemnon

    This is far from news, I read about it a couple of months ago.

  2. Hadden

    the choice is difficult for you

  3. Elsdon

    Reminded .... Exactly, that's right.

  4. Ogelsvie

    Rustic and, most likely, not in the top.

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