Pittsburgh is a city that is gifted with history. Every building, street, and community seems to have a story. What about the names of the streets we regularly travel on and the communities we live in? Negley Avenue, The Boulevard of the Allies, and Lawrenceville are all names that the residents of Pittsburgh are quite familiar with, but where did they come from? Who, or what, are they named after? We’ve explored the history of Pittsburgh to discover the stories of individuals whose names remain very present in the minds of the residents of our city.
The Boulevard of the Allies
This (mostly) four lane road that connects Downtown with Oakland is frequently travelled. It was dedicated in 1921 and was the most expensive road in the world at that time. After repeating a name or any word many times it has a tendency to lose its meaning. It could be assumed that The Boulevard of the Allies stands for nothing more than the road itself to many. This was not so for the men and women who chose the name in 1921, as World War I had come to an end just three years earlier.
In the summer of 2008, a rededication ceremony was held to honor and remember those for whom the road was named. David Shribman of The New York Sun wrote,
This grand boulevard — with its granite memorial columns topped by American eagles clasping the globe and its dedicatory inscriptions that haven’t been read in years — was Pittsburgh’s gesture of thanks to the allies who won the first war to have worldwide sweep and mechanized methods of mass misery.
With this reminder, allow yourself a to have a moment of reflection and thanks as you travel down The Boulevard of the Allies.
The Negley family has deep roots in Pittsburgh’s history. The farming patriarch of the family, Alexander Negley owned land that included some of present day East Liberty and much of nearby Highland Park, Morningside, Larimer, and Stanton Heights around the time of the American Revolution. Alexander’s son, Jacob, built a manor house named Baywood and developed the village of East Liberty. Jacob Negley insisted that the Pittsburgh-Greensburg turnpike run through East Liberty, making it a trading center and ensuring its future growth.
In 1819, Jacob and his wife dedicated 1.5 acres of choice property to the early leaders of the East Liberty congregation which was not yet labeled for Presbyterian worship. The grand East Liberty Presbyterian Church was erected on this site and is a notable landmark in East Liberty today.
Jacob’s descendants went on to have great accomplishments of their own. His daughter, Sarah, Married Thomas Mellon who went on to become the patriarch of the Mellon Family of Pittsburgh and the founder of Mellon bank. His son, James, was a General in the Civil War and was elected to Congress. Whether the avenue was name after one or all of the Negleys, it’s hard to say. The family’s legacy and impact on the development of Pittsburgh will remain, even if only on a street sign. source
Lawrenceville is a community in Pittsburgh that has recently seen a swift revival. New storefronts are appearing all the time in the compact buildings that line Butler Street. The cramped old houses are being restored into trendy residences with rising price tags. A variety of unique and delicious restaurants have made Lawrenceville home and the community’s growth shows no signs of stopping. But why is this area that has become so popular among the hip residents of Pittsburgh named Lawrenceville?
If this little riverside community wasn’t already resilient enough, it was named after American Naval Office James Lawrence who was killed while in command of his ship The USS Chesapeake during The War of 1812. In 1814, patriotic William Foster named the planned community after the war hero. Captain James Lawrence is famed for his last words to his crew aboard the USS Chesapeake while fighting the British HMS Shannon.
As defeat was near Lawrence shouted, “Don’t give up the ship!” His ship and its crew eventually faced defeat, but not until every last man was wounded or killed. A fitting battle cry for a community which has fought its way back into the spotlight.
If a young person from out of town is looking for a fun night out on the weekend in Pittsburgh, most would point them straight to Carson Street on the South Side. Bars, pizza shops, and the occasional tattoo parlor go on for what seems like an eternity. The street is famed for the rowdy crowd that gathers every weekend to have some fun after a long week of work. Amongst all of the noise, the history of the street and its surrounding community is probably not on anybody’s mind. But did you know that the South Side was once a village known as Birmingham (bonus: The Birmingham Bridge)?
Dr. Nathaniel Bedford, known as Pittsburgh’s first physician, was responsible for laying out Birmingham. It was named after his birthplace of Birmingham, England. He named many of the streets after his close friends and family, like Sarah Street and Jane Street. Most prominent today is Carson Street, which was named after an old sea captain friend of the doctor.
Dr. Bedford also played a large part in ensuring that Carson Street was incorporated into the Washington Pike in 1818, making it a historic highway and accounting for its beginnings as a commercial district. Bedford was also an incorporator of the Pittsburgh Academy, now the University of Pittsburgh. We wonder what he, or Carson, would think of the South Side today.
Oliver Avenue (Downtown)
Lying amongst the busy streets of downtown Pittsburgh is a short alley named Oliver Avenue. It begins at Wood Street and ends at Grant Street while running along the side of the Omni William Penn Hotel and Mellon Square Park. Though not as noticeable or significant as those mentioned above, we have to wonder what’s in the name?
Oliver Avenue was called Virgin Avenue prior to its renaming in 1904. It was renamed in memory of a Civil War veteran called Henry W. Oliver (1840-1904) who had commissioned nine buildings to be designed by D.H. Burnham Company of Chicago. One of those buildings was The Oliver Building, still standing today at the intersection of Smithfield Street and Oliver Avenue.
Henry W. Oliver began as a messenger boy for the National Telegraph Company in Pittsburgh. He went on to be a founding member of the Oliver Iron and Steel Company, one of the largest manufacturers of bar iron and iron specialties in the United States. He was also involved with the Oliver Iron Mining Company, a venture with the Carnegie Steel Company. Apparently, it takes a lot of hard work to have an alley that only runs two city blocks in length named after you!
Read more about the history of Pittsburgh:
Top 8 Biggest & Most Expensive Houses In Pittsburgh