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North Side: "Across the River"


From The Bulletin Index, 1 February 1940.

David Redick, Esq., member of the Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was writing to Benjamin Franklin on Feb. 19, 1788. "On Tues. last I went with several gentlemen to fix on a spot for laying out the town opposite Pittsburgh, and at the same time took a general view of the tract, and find it far inferior to my expectation, although I thought I had been no stranger to it. I cannot believe that small lots on the sides of those hills can ever be of use...that ten acre lots on such pits and hills will possibly meet with purchasers, unless like a pig in a poke it be kept out of view...."

The following November, despite David Redick's pessimism, and perhaps according to his practical suggestion, 144 "town lots" were laid out in "the Reserve Tract opposite Pittsburg" and sold at auction in Philadelphia. To the purchaser of each town lot was given an "out lot" of equal size, this land to be held "in common" for pasturage. First lots were reserved for the district's four established settlers: James Boggs, Colonel William Butler, Daniel Elliott, and James Robinson, the ferryman, who three years earlier had begotten a son William, first white child born on the north side of the Ohio and, as General William Robinson, the builder (in 1820) of the first bridge over to Pittsburgh.

With less than 300 inhabitants in 1800, Allegheny Town grew modestly when a glass works was started on out lot 13 (opposite the head of Brunot's Island) and a rope "walk" (factory) on Lynndale Ave. Twenty-five years later it was a struggling country village of 85 houses, thirteen of them brick, and a population of 792. To the Western Penitentiary, the Western University of Pennsylvania, the Western Theological Seminary were given parts of the Commons. In 1828, the year before the canal to Leechburg was opened, the territory "across the river" was made a borough, and on July 17, 1839--two years after the accession of Queen Victoria in England--it was made a full-fledged city.*

One hundred years later certain descendants of old and new settlers, now living in a commonplace "North Side," formed a 100-member Committee, set under way a year-long Centennial celebration of Allegheny's incorporation as Allegheny City. First started last summer, activities lagged, were most evident in sponsorship of the motion picture Allegheny Uprising. (The uprising actually took place in Carlisle, 200 miles away.) But the Committee bided its time, saved its efforts for big things in the last third of their Centennial year. In the past fortnight adequate commemoration of the anniversary really began to get under way.

Sunday, Jan. 28 was dedicated to "Old Allegheny" in North Side churches.
A dinner was held the following night in Boggs & Buhl dining room by the North Side Federation of Civic Organizations called together to discuss immediate Centennial projects.
In search of a Centennial theme, the Committee announced a poster contest in the North Side public schools, prepared to scatter the winning design far & wide on automobiles, letters, bundles, billboards.
City Council and the County Commissioners were asked to contribute $10,000 each for expenses. (The motions have been tabled. In 1938 Allegheny County spent a cool $100,000 to celebrate its Sesqui-Centennial.)
A search for old documents and pictures was begun, collected material to be exhibited in the Buhl Planetarium.
Under the direction of Elmer Elwood Bauer, president of the Allegheny Trust Co., work was speeded up on the Centennial history that is to be published this spring.

More or less definite plans have been laid for a spring pageant on the Old Commons in Colonial costume, an all-nations music festival to be held in the Allegheny Library, a clean-up day, and many of the activities usual to a self-respecting community celebrating its 100th birthday. Committee officers, however, hope for two more ambitious innovations. They are considering the possibility of inaugurating low-cost all-expense tours to Historic and Industrial Pittsburgh from round about a radius of 150 miles; and they have already laid preliminary plans for bringing several of the large eastern and western college rowing crews to race each other on the Allegheny River near Etna, with a trainload of spectators following the race by rail. Wanted: a well-heeled sponsor to support crews representing Pitt, Carnegie Tech or Duquesne.

The hub of all this Centennial activity is its Committee chairman, ruddy, stocky Charles Frederick ("Karl") Kirschler Jr., president of Allegheny's busy neighborhood bank--the Provident Trust Co. Born 45 years ago in Lower N. S. Kirschler attended Allegheny Preparatory School and St. John's Manlius Military Academy, drifted away from his hometown in favor of dairy farming in New York State (eight years) and tobacco raising in Cuba (eight more). During the War he presided over bayonet and grenade drill in Camps Lee and Deven, returned to Pittsburgh in 1930. When Charles Kirschler Sr. died in harness in 1933, Provident's Board of Directors picked his son to take his place as the bank's president.

Charles Kirschler Sr. came of Beaver County German stock, was an officer of a large brewing concern before he chartered his bank in 1901, was elected Mayor of Allegheny City. In 1907 the City of Pittsburgh called upon its legal power to annex contiguous territory, held a mock election in which Alleghenians, voting as one man for independence, were snowed under by superior numbers. Mayor Kirschler was made deputy mayor of Pittsburgh, the only such officer the City has ever had.

The Centennial Committee chose Charles Kirschler Jr. for its chairman partly because of sentiment attached to his father's mayoralty, but chiefly because he is a hard-working, civiconscious organizer. If there is any subject in which Chairman Kirschler is more interested than farming, it is the history and the future of the North Side. Of the Centennial's 20-member board of officers and chairmen, Councilman George Edward Evans and Judge Ralph Harry ("Jack") Smith (vice-chairmen and Northsiders both) are fecund "idea" men; Clyde Watford, operating out of Centennial headquarters in the Allegheny YMCA, is the executive coordinator. But the main driving force of the Centennial is the son of Allegheny City's last mayor.

The Hundred Years.
The century celebrated by Chairman Kirschler and his Committee has been both kind and unkind to Allegheny City in an extraordinary degree. It was a period marked by expansion, fabulous wealth, quick decline, slow rebirth. Allegheny was to have been the County seat, with the Court House and the Jail planned for construction on the edge of the Commons. In the first of a series of bad breaks, the State Legislature was persuaded to change its mind when Pittsburghers protested that Allegheny was too far away, declared that "The only miscreants to be committed to jail would be beasts from the forests."

In its first decade as a city, and in the year of bloody revolution in Europe (1849), Old Allegheny saw its first violent labor trouble. Its volunteer firemen: 1) struck for more than $1 per fire; 2) barricaded and defended the firehouse when the Presbyterian Church burned down at a loss of $60,000; 3) chopped up the hose of the Pittsburgh company that came to put out the fire, to the "universal execration of all the right-thinking populace." In the same year a waterworks was built, throwing into technological disemployment 40 or 50 carriers who carted water about the city. In 1851 came the railroad from New Brighton, built--despite violent opposition--right through the Commons and the heart of the city. In 1864, at a time when soldiers were encamped on the Commons, the houses of the City were numbered; a few years later saw established free mail delivery and a paid fire department. In the 1870s, accompanied by interminable litigation and some violence, the last of the Old Commons was turned into public parks. With the arrival of new times and religious sects, "the Presbyterians"--who controlled everything for many years--were forced to watch their church being dismantled and removed because it stood on Commons ground.

Actually the history of Allegheny City from 1850 forward is the history of not one city, but two. To the west of Sandusky St. grew up a city of a few Irish Catholics, many Scotch Presbyterians, a hundred or more steel millionaires. Along Canal St., Irwin, Western, North and Beech Aves., and, above all, Ridge Ave., there millionaires--the Snyders, the Robinsons, Laughlins, Alexanders, Chalfants, Painters, Olivers, Byers--built immense and astounding feudal castles, owned their coaches-and-four, entertained in the grand manner. The A. M. Byers house at Ridge and Galveston, for instance, built in 1898 at a cost of $500,000, contained 90 rooms and 15 bathrooms.

In the new century, the second millionaire generation moved variously to Fifth Ave. and to Sewickley, while the middle class emigrated to the Perrysville Ave. hills, Bellevue, Avalon and the surrounding townships. Ridge Ave. and its glories toppled; it became for the most part a commercial and a residential hodge-podge.** Because the jurisdiction of the Pittsburgh police ended at the middle of the bridges spanning the Allegheny River, the criminal element worked in Pittsburgh, fled for sanctuary to the North Side, which thereby became known as "Little Canada."

Meantime, east of Sandusky St. in the same span of years, there grew up a neighborhood known as Dutch Town and Swiss Hole.*** That area was populated by good Dutch, Germans and Swiss with entirely different customs and names--Voegtleys, Weiterhausens, Schaeffers, Kuhls, Geiselharts, Schramms, Zollers, Lutzes, Oswalds--most of whom invested their money and talent in meat packing, food merchandising. Their second generation emigrated to Millvale, to East Reserve, O'Hara and Shaler Townships. In to stay came good Croats and Slavs, many of them numbered among the H. J. Heinz Co.'s 2,500 Pittsburgh employees. The Celia Mannerchor was replaced by the Moniuszko Chor.

New Allegheny.
Chairman Kirschler and his Committee foreswore any notions of provincialism and even of sentimentality when they conceived first plans for their Centennial, collectively hold that the development of Allegheny is inseparably bound up with the future of Pittsburgh. But in honoring the birthday of a city that ceased to exist as such 33 years ago, they hope to add impetus to the marked rehabilitation that has taken place on the North Side in the past few years. Allegheny already has its Buhl Planetarium, its new Market House, its Allegheny General Hospital, its improved parks.

Centennial Committeemen agree that the future of Allegheny does not lie with its neolithic castles, and they see further than Centennial pageants and posters. Allegheny is the only part of Pittsburgh that was planned in advance and grew by design. They are preparing the day when planning will help it further--when a series of public and private housing projects will drain the slums of Pittsburgh's North Side, when a Town Hall will shift from the City's center northward, when the entire Allegheny riverfront--currently owned by five estates--will have a flood wall surmounted by a landscaped boulevard.


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