Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2016



Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps –1924 and 1931
December 08, 2016



Dana Spriggs has been a major contributor of artifacts to the Bridgeville Area Historical Society since its earliest days. Most recently he sent us full size copies of the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for Bridgeville for 1907, 1913, 1924, and 1931. Produced primarily as a source of information for insurance companies, these large scale (one inch equals 100 feet) maps are sufficiently detailed to provide a wealth of information on our community in those years. We already had the 1907 and 1913 maps, but the two later ones are brand new to us and are extremely well appreciated.

The 1924 map shows a movie theater (“the Old Show”) on Station Street; the Rankin Theater (“the New Show”) on Washington Avenue has arrived by the 1931 map. Actually the earlier map still labels Station Street as Foster Street. Up the hill from the Old Show is a building identified as “Tailor”. In 1913 the J. H. Rankin store had been called a haberdasher’s.

Panizza’s soft drinks bottling works is shown on Washington Avenue, a new arrival since the 1913 map. A dance hall is shown on Hickman Street, next door to an auto repair facility and a large garage on the corner with Washington Avenue. The 1931 map shows an auto sales facility in the building which had housed the dance hall, signaling the end of the Roaring Twenties, no doubt.

I was surprised to see two buildings adjacent to Washington School in 1924, each identified as “portable school rooms”. By 1931 Lincoln High School had been built and put into operation on Gregg Avenue, but there still is shown one portable school room on the Washington School property.

The 1913 map shows two manufacturing facilities in the Coulter Street vicinity. The Frederick-Elder Company, “Manufacturers of Metal Specialties”, was located across Coulter from (then) St. Agatha’s Roman Catholic Church. By 1924 the site was described as “Fire Ruins”. The 1931 map shows a swimming pool (Crystal) at that location.

Similarly the 1913 map shows the Standard Steel Box Company across Villars (now an extension of Hickman Street) adjacent to the railroad. On the 1924 map the building is identified as “Vacant Factory”. Nothing is shown on that site on the 1931 map. These sequential maps provide an excellent opportunity for us to track the changes in every neighborhood.

Despite our interest in other things on the maps, it is still interesting to note the comments regarding fire safety scattered throughout them. The Mayer Building on the corner of Washington Avenue and Station Street includes a bakery on the Station Street side. It includes a notation “with portable oven”, an obvious reminder of a potential fire hazard.

Each of the maps includes coverage of the industrial facilities in nearby Collier Township – the C. P. Mayer Brick Company, the General Electric Glass Plant, Flannery Bolt, the Vanadium Corporation, and Universal Steel Corporation. For the General Electric facility the maps state “day and night watchman, approved auto sprinkler system, etc.” Interestingly, the Universal plant is described as “Admittance refused, no insurance”.

For the first time, the 1924 map includes a full page with considerable detail on Mayview, which is called “City of Pittsburgh Poor Farm”. Even more detail is shown on the 1931 map, with the name now becoming “Pittsburgh City Home and Hospitals”.

By 1924 Baldwin Street had been completely developed, although very few of the businesses there are identified, probably because they were store fronts in residences. One would think that that information would have valuable to insurance companies. The original St. George’s church on McLaughlin Run Road is designated “Syrian School”. There is no building on that site on the 1913 map; the one there on the 1931 map is unidentified. I was surprised to see the area between Greenwood and Baldwin Street described as “steep hillside”, a rare mention of topography.

It is also interesting to trace the evolution of street names during the years between 1913 and 1931. Today’s Bower Hill Road was Painters Run Road in 1913, at least as far as its intersection with (today’s) McLaughlin Run Road. The portion of today’s Bower Hill Road from Washington avenue to that intersection was known as the McKeysport and Noblestown Road, which then turned right and followed today’s McLaughlin Run Road to today’s Ridge Road, then went up that route and on to McMillan Road. This dates back to the original route of Noble’s Trace two hundred years ago.

By 1931 the borough had expanded south as far as Elizabeth Street where twelve houses had been built, as well as four on Chartiers Street. The Weise homestead is shown on that map as well as the Godwin greenhouse complex farther out Mayview Road.

Another gem on the 1931 is the depiction of the Board Speedway between Chartiers Creek and Millers Run Road. The one-half mile track is clearly shown, as well as grandstands and bleachers and the “Contribution Building”. A surprise to me was the fact that, inside the auto track, the facility boasted a quarter-mile dog track and kennels.

When I mentioned the dog track to my octogenarian friends, both Sam Capozzoli and Don Toney reported that they remembered it well. I suppose I can attribute this to the fact that they are both native born Bridgeville boys, while I didn’t immigrate here until 1934.

These four sets of maps are invaluable resources for all of us who are interested in Bridgeville history and are a welcome addition to the History Center’s archives. We are indebted to Dana Spriggs for providing them.

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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