Sarah L. Law
Author, Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze
One of the first questions I get when I talk about my book is “How did Point Breeze get its name?”
One of the earliest accounts of the Point Breeze name comes from a famous early nineteenth century tavern named the Point Breeze Hotel. Owned by Thomas McKeown, it was located at the crossroads of a country lane (Fifth Avenue) and the Greensburg Turnpike (Penn Avenue). A natural intersection, the two roads brought countless travelers from Pittsburgh and beyond to enjoy dining at the Hotel or to stay overnight. Many day travelers from Pittsburgh would travel to the Point Breeze Hotel, have lunch and then return to (now) downtown by evening. The Turnpike followed an old Indian trail. It later became known as Penn Avenue. Surveyed by General George Washington, Penn Avenue served as a main travel artery and earned many nicknames including Greensburg Pike, Forbes Road and my personal favorite, the Great Road to the West.
With a large watering trough for horses, the Point Breeze Hotel (right corner on map) sat on a natural intersection of the Greensburg Pike (now Penn Avenue) and the Fourth Street continuation from downtown Pittsburgh (now Fifth Avenue). First proprietor, Thomas McKeown built the establishment sometime after 1800. In his 1901 autobiography, Life and Reminiscences, William G. Johnston left this account of the tavern, “In the following summer (1839), I spent about two months at the Point Breeze tavern kept by a Mrs. Parker.” Johnston goes on to write, “- The suppers served were.... truly delicious. Even yet I recall the frogs so daintily cooked and the savory smell which filled the long low dining room where a table groaning with every sort of delicacy was surrounded by guests... I usually spent the afternoons watching the gentlemen play at tenpins; I knew them all and all knew me.”
The first migration to Point Breeze occurred in the first half of the nineteenth century. James Kelly, the Biddle Family and John Murtland were some of the first landowners in today’s North Point Breeze and Wilkinsburg. In 1835, Judge William Wilkins built his enormous, Greek-revival mansion, “Homewood” near the present day intersection of Reynolds and South Murtland Streets (see photo). Wilkins' private road from his estate into Oakland was later to become what we now know as Wilkins Avenue. Later, Point Breeze became home to many influential families such as Carnegie, Frick, Card, Westinghouse and Heinz. Clean air and the social standing of our neighborhood attracted these wealthy families. By the second half of the century, the city of Pittsburgh was expanding, and Point Breeze was a desirable location for residences.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, questions. Feel free to email me at PittsburghsPointBreeze@gmail.com. Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze is dedicated to all Point Breeze families – past, present and future.
Pittsburgh's Point Breeze is available online from Arcadia Publishing and amazon.com. It can also be purchased at the gift shop at the Frick Art and Historical Center.