Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2016



The Greenwood Neighborhood
October 27, 2016



The second workshop in the Bridgeville Area Historical Society “Second Tuesday” series was focused on the Greenwood Neighborhood. For purposes of this workshop Greenwood was defined as “a neighborhood in Bridgeville bounded by Dewey Avenue, the back yards of houses on Bank Street, Gregg Avenue, and the woods on the hill leading down to McLaughlin Run Road and Baldwin Street”.

The facilitator followed the format introduced at the Historical Society Open House last August, tracing the development of the neighborhood from its earliest days to the mid-twentieth century.

He began with the original warrants for the land that eventually became the Borough of Bridgeville.

Fortunately Pattie Patton had recently delivered a number of local historical artifacts to the History Center, including a hand-drawn map of Bridgeville with the warrant boundaries superimposed on it, apparently produced by her brother Jimmy in 1938. On it the boundary between Benjamin Reno’s original warrant and that of Thomas Ramsey very closely matches the back yard boundaries of the houses later built on Bank Street.

The first house built in the neighborhood we have defined as Greenwood was “Recreation”, a large summer home built by Judge Henry Baldwin sometime before 1812. Baldwin was a national figure who served as a U. S. Congressman from 1816 to 1822, representing the (Pittsburgh) 14th District. He then was a major supporter of Andrew Jackson in his unsuccessful bid for the Presidency in 1824.

Four years later, when Jackson’s second bid for the Presidency was successful, Baldwin was rewarded by being named Secretary of the Treasury. A year later he was nominated to serve as a U. S. Supreme Court Justice, an assignment in which he distinguished himself with numerous significant opinions that are still relevant today. He died in 1844.

In 1812 Baldwin sold Recreation and a significant block land extending to McLaughlin Run to Moses Coulter. Coulter was an early entrepreneur who constructed the woolen mill on the Washington Pike, that later was operated by the Sheaffer brothers. He also at one point owned the grist mill on McLaughlin Run near the east end of what is now Baldwin Street.

Walter Foster acquired the property in 1844, living in Recreation until 1879, when he sold it and the adjoining acreage to David Gilmore. Upon Gilmore’s death the property was inherited by his daughter Capitola and her husband Ulysses Donaldson. Various Donaldsons occupied Recreation until 1948, when it was purchased by Peter Dreon. The Donaldson family was involved in the development of Baldwin Street in the early 1900s and retained ownership of some of the homes there for a number of years.

The facilitator relied upon a series of old maps to illustrate the evolution of Greenwood from a large, forested area with only one house to the current neighborhood. The map of Bridgeville in the 1876 Allegheny County Atlas shows only Recreation (identified as W. Foster) in the Greenwood area. The official map of Bridgeville when it was incorporated as a borough shows the block of land bounded by McLaughlin Run, Railroad Street, Station Street, and the line designating the Bank Street back yards as “Sarah Gilmore”. The land south of it as far as McMillen Street was designated “Mary Wright” (the widow of Joseph Wright, the developer of the Norwood Hotel).

The 1905 USGS (Geological Survey) map also shows only one house (Recreation) in Greenwood. However the G. M. Hopkins 1905 map shows an additional house on what is now Greenwood Place. Recreation is identified as “Mrs. U. L. Donaldson” as is a development on the north side of Baldwin Street that includes four houses.

By 1917, according to the Hopkins map for that year, there were five houses in Greenwood in addition to Recreation, and the area was identified as “Capitola Donaldson”. At this point the facilitator showed the well-known “Bridgeville from the Clouds” 1922 aerial photograph. From the vantage point of one of Mayer Airport’s first planes, Greenwood certainly looks more like a forest than a settled neighborhood.

Information on a 1938 Bridgeville map indicates that the Donaldson tract had shrunk to 10.55 acres as various developments and individual lots were sold off. By 1940 Greenwood was fairly well populated. The facilitator showed a hand-drawn map showing a number of houses that were candidates for being there that year.

The map generated a lively discussion among members of the audience, including two – Alfred Barzan and Mell Dozzo – who were living there as children in 1940. The current consensus is that the following families lived in Greenwood in 1940 – Barzan, Bower, Collins, Colussy, Connor, Donaldson, Fillippi, Graham, Hurlinger, Lough, Mann, O’Donnell, Patton, Poellott (3 - Dave, Tola, and William), and Wilcox, We are sure these will change as we get more feedback from ex-Greenwood residents.

Several people pointed out that the Dewey Avenue entrance to Greenwood was at the end of Station Street, between two pillars that still exist. It then curled to the right to meet the street currently named Greenwood Place, the street that today connects directly to Dewey Avenue. In 1940 all the streets in Greenwood were “red-dog”, a product of uncontrolled combustion of low quality coal in refuse piles.

The involvement of members of the audience was very much appreciated. One of the goals of this series is to get as many people involved in discussing local history as possible. For me the most important thing I learned was from Shawn Wolf, who suggested we reference an aerial photograph from 1938 that he had found on the Internet.

He led me to a remarkable website, http://www.pennpilot.psu.edu/. This site archives a large number of aerial photographs covering Pennsylvania resulting from north-south flights as early as 1937. It contains remarkable information that is relevant to a large number of historical questions that we have investigated in the past – the route of the Pittsburgh, Chartiers, and Youghiogheny Railroad, for example.

Now that we have established the routine of “Second Tuesday” for this series of workshops, we are going to prove the exception to the rule by scheduling November’s workshop a day after the second Tuesday, to avoid a conflict with Election Day. On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, we will host a workshop dedicated to the Greatest Generation and Veterans Day, focusing on the World War II experiences of a B-24 ball turret gunner, Santo Magliocca. His story provides an excellent opportunity for us to relive those exciting days seventy five years ago.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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