North Side: Our Gay Village: Millionaires' Row
From Pittsburgh Gazette Times, 15 May 1927
One day they called it Lincoln Place, on the signs,
and down by the river, Millionaires' Row.
Perhaps not all of its residents were millionaires; but to mention "Lincoln Place," in the gay 90s of this gay village, brought a hush to ordinary folk. For the magnificence which the city of Allegheny boasted might easily have been said to center there.
Farther beyond in the darkness of the past, periwigged paters, demure mothers and crinolined daughters with hoop skirts had stepped primly along its oak-bordered pathway; or, in the twilight, they had sat on big colonial verandas, watching the river craft--at first rude boats and Indian canoes, then comic steamers, then mighty side-wheelers and stern-wheelers carrying happy families on vacations, bonny newlyweds to New Orleans or Louisville; pioneers striking out for St. Louis and the great West.
Was Unnamed Path.
Lincoln Place--in the days before the Civil War, was an unnamed hilly
path, the choicest spot in the city, for it crested, as a thin brown
ribbon on a pattern of green; an elevation which commanded a view of the
Allegheny and the Ohio rivers on the great palisades of the southwestern
Lincoln Place, since Allegheny and Pittsburgh existed, meant magnificence. Even the city directory of 1926 has felt its spell, listing it merely as North Lincoln Avenue, Twenty-second Ward. You cannot learn then where begins, where ends this street that aroused the magic of money and affluence and wealth and social life. It, of all streets, is alone in this.
For Lincoln Place was actually Millionaires' Row and more--it rightfully took its name from an old house that today stands aloof, proud, burnt by sun and wind and sleet and many years. In 947 Lincoln Place, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States and immortal, was entertained.
Attracted Old Families.
Nature demanded that it be prominent in its own way, and who are we of the clay to dispute nature. It attracted the old families of the young community--the real gay village.
When Charles Dickens stopped in Pittsburgh long enough to say: "Hell with the lid off," it was entrenched there as a mighty place; when Stephen Foster was writing "My Old Kentucky Home," it was a place of affluence: it teemed with life. When Grant was campaigning for the presidency, whether or not a soldier should be elected chief executive of the nation was discussed in its parlors and dining rooms; when, well, from the time the last Indian chief gave it up as a sleeping ground for his family, it grew into majesty, drew as a loadstone the early rich who patronized it.
In the gay nineties, it was--
And therein lies the story of Lincoln Place today. Then it breathed romance, beauty, society, life. Today it sobs out pathos; it is a deserted village, with as somber a silence as the city owns. Walk through it--its few blocks from Irwin Avenue to the ancient Painter mansion with its 18 foot ceilings and its aged stone surface, grey-black as a storm cloud.
Hitching Posts Remain.
Will you see at its hitching posts (there are some left) the resplendent horses of memories; the rich upholstery of damask and satin shining from within the enameled Victorias; will you hear the friendly neighing of its handsome horses; will you see the tall, red-cheeked Irish footman; will you see the fair-faced, tightly-bound women and bustled matrons; will you see the master of the manse in his riding frock, soothing into quietude a blooded Kentucky stallion radiating human fire, can you see him dismounting at the upping stone?
Today, you will see the stone, perhaps two; but it is moss and soot-covered; no trim ankle has shown above it this many a year. "She" and her mount are gone.
Today, you will see majestic mansions with their faces silent and pressed close against the lifeless street; the trees are old, one mighty schumack, blooming perhaps for its hundredth May day; perhaps it's only 50 years old; you will see old lattice fences; you will see bulky iron fences not steel, mind you, as they make them today; you will see a fallen, decrepit bird-bath and fountain, but it is in pieces, and its dignity has fled.
The Fading Years.
It's just a quarter of a century now since Lincoln Place, its climax reached, began to decline. Rome, Carthage, Pompeii--all the glories that were theirs sped no more quickly, than those of Millionaires' Row.
Some of the younger folks decided that the section was dirty; some said it was too congested; others remarked to their old fathers that East End and Sewickley, were taking the glory that was once gathered there.
"The so and so's have moved now; they're building in the East End; Jim and Jane have given up their city house and live in Sewickley, and Harry and Mary are planning a new house in Edgeworth...."
How light these words seemed; how tragic they were.
"Even the trees, were they able, would pull up their roots and move to the East End--because it is fashionable."
John Fox, an old residenter, confided this to George B. Logan, and Mr. Logan, aged 81, who still lives in the most picturesque of a 100 picturesque homes on Lincoln Place, repeated it yesterday.
Mr. Logan was born in the mansion he occupies. In all fundamentals, it is the same today as it was in 1885, [sic] when Samuel Harden Church, father of the present head of Carnegie Institute built it. It is the same manse, but for the few modern conveniences, that it was in 1842 [sic] when John T. Logan, the father of the present owner purchased it.
It is much the same, but for its view as in 1845 when George Logan was born in it. It is as home-like as the night in the early 'sixties, when its occupants, gowned and jeweled and expectant, prepared to meet the Liberator, Abraham Lincoln, when he was being entertained at 947 Lincoln Place--two houses down--the home of J. F. Jennings.
Its front and rear porches, identical, are 40 feet high; its great doric columns of white stand straight--in all the dignity of its century of service; its quaint interior, of mahogany arches and colonial furniture, of old heirlooms and aged portraits form protection, form bulwarks against the cold modernness of today. Years, almost, have sanctified it.
Yes, "Woodlawn," the Logan home, holds its majesty, preserved from the days when its folks, with four acres around it, sat on the back porch and watched the river life; sat on the front veranda and watched the rabbits and squirrels play in its sweep of lawn and old trees.
Only Few Remain.
Mr. Logan and Henrietta Logan, a daughter, still hold out against today, with Albert Horne, down the street; Miss Virginia Dalzell, across the street; perhaps a family or two more refuse to move--but that's all. All other have gone. The great mansions are either closed or are in other hands.
Take the kind old manse built by Captain Wells--a name to conjure Pittsburgh history. It is standing with its pergola, its iron fence, its latticework; its shiny red brick, coated with the fine polish that only Father Time can ply. In its yard is a load of old bricks.
Take the mighty home erected by Mrs. William Thaw--occupied by roomers. Its pristine glory is dimmed, its shiny walls, its elaborate ballroom, its oaken, mahogany furnishings listen now to the practicing voices of embryonic orators. Interesting and useful? Truly--but the famed personages, the writers, the artists, the gay society folk of the nineties waltzed to the "Blue Danube" on that parqueted ballroom floor, and who knows what sweet words, what repartee, what wit, what words of state passed between the men of Europe and the beauty of America?
Enter the Flivver.
Stroll on and note the cobbled path to the old stable, now housing a flivver. Tacked on a colonial doorframe of a stately brick of mansard roof--its third floor windows mere peepholes--is this--"Furnished Rooms."
Farther on was once the home of a noted beauty, Mrs. Henry Lafayette Collins, who was Vird Thaw; peep in the window, and glimpse the freshness and the beauty of a mural over its fireplace, a mural by an artist who felt; who drew with magic brush; who loved beautiful women, who admired graceful men--wigged courtiers of the Louis XIV court, and who could translate them with pigments!
Stroll on, again, and see the bit of sculpture over a great stone doorway--the face of a young girl that, perhaps, some young stone-cutter dreamed as his dream. A stone--an upping stone--rests on the pavement a little beyond, and on it is inscribed "Laughlin."
It faces a door front where a sign, "Y. W. C. A.," cheerily hangs, and we know it is the old home that the late James Laughlin gave them, when he saw that Lincoln Place, where Lincoln breathed and lived and talked, and jested, was slipping.
There is countless more there, beyond North Side's old West Park, but it all seems tragic. In the air, rustling through the same trees that caught and reflected the brilliance of the past--there lingers now a tranquil, pathetic atmosphere of a great, almost forgotten past.
A block up--Ridge Avenue--one might find a similar analogy. But great, later-day mansions still claim some of their original owners, some of the family of original occupants. But many are closed, some are already boarding houses--all are from the street majestic, dominating, magnificent edifices of stone and brick and choice wood--and memories.
Yes, Millionaires' Row, of this gay village, today hears the echo--"The path of glory leads but to the grave"--