Brereton Street, 1953

CharlesRicharcson_Brereton_IHM church_boys playing_1953

Here’s a wonderful photo of Brereton Street that was just added to the online Historic Pittsburgh Image Archive. The photo was taken in 1953 by Charles Richardson.

To the left of the church is 3060 Brereton, now the office of the Polish Hill Civic Association.  At the time, it was a shop that sold candy and cigars.

Check out the Historic Pittsburgh archive to see all sorts of fascinating material from Pittsburgh past, including maps, census data, and photos.  New material is added regularly and is searchable by neighborhood or streets.

Historic sign tagged with graffiti


The Mother’s Bread sign, on the side of a house on Dobson Street, is over a hundred years old and is one of the best-preserved examples of an early hand-painted advertising sign in Pittsburgh.  It’s been written about in many articles and photographed innumerable times.

Sadly, last night someone spray painted a large tag on the sign.  Jim Young, who owns and lives in the house, called the police and a report has been filed.  Jim says that he’s been advised not to touch it yet, but already people are thinking about how to remove the graffiti without damaging the original sign.  We’ll be working with the City to get some help on this and keeping in touch with the police in hopes that whomever is responsible will be caught.  A garage down the block on Dobson was painted with this same tag a few days earlier.  and the police might be able to link it to someone.

The Mother’s Bread sign came to light after the neighboring building was demolished in 2007.  The sign, probably painted in the 1910’s, was in remarkably good condition because it had been covered up all those years.  The sign rapidly became one of the most-photographed sights in Polish Hill and people come through the neighborhood just to see it.  Jim Young says, “It’s been photographed constantly since it was revealed in ’07.  It’s a band’s album cover, background for modeling pics, and made it into a coffee table book about ghost signs. I’ve even bought art with my house on it at the Arts Festival. I know people like it as much as I do.  I’ve tried to encourage its lasting integrity with interior sealing of cracks and holes since it was revealed.”

Read more about the sign:

According to a 2011 article in the Post-Gazette, the sign was painted by Maurice “Red” O’Donnell.

Polish Hill resident Mark O’Connor wrote about the sign in a beautifully evocative essay about childhood, published in the Polish Hill Voice in May 2011.

The sign was featured in an article about old hand-painted advertising signs in the Tribune-Review in September 2012.

One hundred and seven years ago today: Phelan Way

Water issues still cause problems on Phelan Way today, but things have been worse:  As this photo taken on September 11, 1907 shows, once Phelan Alley was nothing but mud.  (We’ve posted this before, but on the 107th anniversary of the photo, and with a very similar cloudy and misty today, it seems fitting to share it again.)

A little over a year later, on October 12, 1908, the street had been regraded and covered with gravel.

The view from the other end of the street:

Phelan Way from 30th st Oct 12 1908

(Photos from the Historic Pittsburgh image archive.  Click on photos to see a larger image)

The Great Railway Strike of 1877 and the burning of the Roundhouse


The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 was one of the most important events in labor history, spreading over ten states.  It was the first general strike in American history, and the biggest clashes of the strike occurred right here on July 21 and 22, on a site that now lies on the border between Polish Hill and the Strip District.

The strike began on July 13 in Martinsburg West Virginia, when the railroad companies began cutting salaries and wages, reducing work weeks, and increasing workloads.  The workers resisted and went on strike.  The unrest rapidly increased and spread to other cities eventually going far as St. Louis and San Francisco.  When the strike reached Pittsburgh on July 21 1877, the workers of the Pennsylvania Railroad took over the Roundhouse, located near 28th Street and Liberty Avenue, and burned the building.  The next day, the state militia struck back.  According to a newspaper account of the time, “The city of Pittsburgh was completely controlled by a howling mob, whose deeds of violence were written in fire and blood.”

Once it was over, blocks of railroad property from around 33rd Street (now Herron Avenue) to 14th Street were destroyed.  More than 40 people were dead and many more were wounded.

These stereoscopic views were taken by SV Albee in the aftermath of the strike.  The image at the top of the post should look a bit familiar despite the lack of trees — it’s a view of 28th Street, looking south.  The diagonal road visible on the  hillside is Brereton Street, leading from 28th Street up to Stockholm Street and Kenney Way.

Above:  a view of the burned Roundhouse, from the hillside.  In the distance is the North Side of Pittsburgh.

Roundhouse after burning_sm

Another view of the burned Roundhouse.  In the background are homes in the Strip District.

The structure that was destroyed in the strike was replaced with another roundhouse which remained in service well into the 20th century.  That structure is no longer standing, but its former location at 28th Street is still defined by the curve of the stone wall, which was built around it.

railroad strike marker

The only marker of the event is a plaque at the small traffic island at 28th Street and Liberty Avenue.  The plaque is difficult to see, and this piece of history deserves more.  The PHCA is working with the City to create a park to commemorate the Great Railway Strike of 1877 and the events that occurred at the bottom of the hill.  The proposed site for Roundhouse Park is on the north corner of Brereton and 30th Streets, on property owned by the Transit Authority.  An update of the effort to create the park will appear in the next issue of the Polish Hill Voice newsletter, coming out in mid-August.

For more information and images of the Great Railway Strike, check out these sites:

A contemporary account of the strike from Harpers Weekly, August 11, 1877  (from The Catskill Archive).   After reading this article, you’ll never look at Liberty Avenue the same way.

A set of images from Explore PA History.

Here is a set of stereoscopic views of the aftermath of the Pittsburgh strike.  (To see more detail, click on the images to zoom in.)

A little over 108 years ago: the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church nears completion

Elaborate ceremonies will mark dedication of Polish Church_lighter

This Xerox copy of a tattered newspaper clipping is one of older press items  we have in the Polish Hill archive.  The day and year was cut off, but we know that the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church was dedicated in 1905.  This item from the Pittsburg Dispatch in November of that year notes that the church is nearing completion and will be dedicated on December 1.

The church was built on a site that formerly contained a brick factory.  The small building just to the right of the church is long gone, but the two buildings to the right of that still stand.

Click here for a printable PDF version of the article.

An evolving view of Polish Hill from a fascinating mapping website

Here’s a really fascinating mapping website to check out:  Pittsburgh Historic Maps is based on city maps of Pittsburgh, going back to 1833.   (For more recent years, there are aerial photos.)  You can zoom in on any neighborhood, or part of a neighborhood.  There’s a timeline with a little slider (visible in the top of the map image), which you can move to watch as the selected area changes over the decades.  Street names change, houses and buildings appear, or disappear.  And as the view fades from one map from the other, you can see both at once (as in the image below).

You can look at any section of the city, but of course we wanted to look at our neighborhood.  We zoomed in on the area that is now the central streets of Polish Hill.  Below is a series of screen shots of the same section, from the mid 19th century to last year.

Here’s the view between the 1840s and 1870s, when this area was called Springfield Farms and Minersville.  There wasn’t much there yet — West Penn Hospital, the railroad.  Just for comparison, there are some more familiar landmarks — like the s-curve of Herron Avenue — visible in the shadow of the 1870s map coming into view:

mid 1800s

Here is the same area around 1870 — lots of areas plotted out, but not many buildings.  Notice West Penn Hospital on the lower left — that area is now West Penn Park:

around 1870

And again around 1880, with a lot more houses and buildings (the little yellow boxes):

around 1880

Around 1890.  There’s a brick factory where the church is now, and Brereton Avenue is now Jones Avenue:

around 1890

Sometime after 1905 — the church and the school are now there.  What was 33rd Street 10 years earlier is now Herron Avenue.  Millwood Avenue has become Melwood Avenue, and a bigger thoroughfare, Grant Boulevard, has been created:

around 1900

At this point, the maps have specific dates on them.  Here’s the same area, in 1910:

around 1910

By 1923, West Penn Hospital is gone, and the area is now a park and playground.  Dickson Street has been renamed Dobson Street.  Grant Boulevard has become Bigelow Boulevard:


The view switches to an aerial photograph in 1939:


Then there’s a jump to 1957:


And a much bigger jump, almost 50 years, to 2005.  Not as many railroad tracks as before:


And then a Google Maps image from 2012:


Again, the website is Pittsburgh Historic Maps.  Check it out when you have some time to spare, because you’re likely to get absorbed looking at how the city has changed over time.

A glimpse back at another cold and rainy day, 46 years ago


The Retrographer website isn’t an easily searchable archive — Polish Hill isn’t in the list of neighborhoods, either, which is odd, since there are definitely photos from Polish Hill in there.  But if you’ve got some time to search around there are a lot of great photos, and you can register to comment, pinpoint photo locations on a map, or offer corrections.

This photo of Liberty Avenue at the 28th Street Bridge, from February 10, 1966, looks like this day feels.

A glimpse inside an old neighborhood business


There aren’t many photos of the stores that used to line the streets of Polish Hill, and this is the first photo we’ve seen of the interior of a business.  This is Anton Jaworski’s butcher shop at Dobson and Hancock streets, the space that is now Lili Cafe.  The men in the picture, from left to right, are:  (unknown), Joe Jaworski (Anton’s son), Michael Anthony Jaworski (Anton’s eldest son) and back in the doorway is Anton Jaworski, in a suit.  Anton was born in 1870 and Michael Jaworski (right front) was born in 1899, so this photo might have been taken around 1930.

This building was also featured in the November 2010 issue of the Polish Hill Voice, in the article “True Crime Tales from Polish Hill” which tells the tale of a less-upstanding member of the community.  Here’s a link to that issue — the article is on page 6.

We were able to see this wonderful photo because Katie Jaworski, great great granddaughter of Anton, shared this photo with Carol Peterson of Pittsburgh House Histories.  Carol is a historian and researcher and author — she co-wrote Allegheny City, a book about the history of the North Side, with Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney.  Here’s an article about the book from the Post-Gazette.

Honoring a Polish Hill artist and craftsman from long ago


An article in the Post-Gazette today told of  the famous sculptures of stone lions that stood outside Dollar Bank on Fourth Avenue for 138 years.  Eroded from years of pollution, the lions were removed for conservation and returned to a spot of honor inside the bank.  New stone lions were sculpted and installed at a ceremony yesterday morning.


A German immigrant stone mason, Max Kohler, carved the original lions on site in 1871.  Max Kohler lived on Herron Avenue, in what is now Polish Hill, for most of his life.  He had eleven children with his wife Celestena.  Some of their descendents were present at the ceremony on Wednesday morning.

To find out about a long-ago resident and to get a little glimpse into Pittsburgh history,  read the Post-Gazette article.

(Top photo is from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  Bottom photo from the Post-Gazette.)


62 years ago, a view of Polish Hill steps by a famous photographer

Famous photojournalist Clyde Hare moved to Pittsburgh in 1950  and went to work at the Pittsburgh Photographic Library to help document the city’s urban renewal.  Later on, he worked for magazines such as Life, Fortune, Time, and the National Geographic.

Hare took this photo in April 1951, when Polish Hill was still named Herron Hill.  The photo is titled Steps Leading to Harding Street at the End of Herron Avenue Bridge — but the title — and the description in the Historic Pittsburgh Image Archive — are actually misleading.

The steps actually lead from Downing and Hancock Streets down to Herron.  Here are the same steps now — it even looks like same railings are still in place:

This photo was taken from higher up, but it’s the same angle of descent, same turn.  The houses that were there in 1951 are mostly gone, and the knotweed obscures the stone outcropping.  But if you’re one of the people that walk these stairs regularly, they’re immediately recognizable.