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.
2/28/2019 08:43:28 pm
Hi -- I am researching William Carr, who purchased the Point Breeze Tavern property apparently around 1886, and died at the end of 1888. His stepson's descendants -- W.H.R. Hilliard married Mary Jones -- lived in the house after his death, until, after his widow's death, the property was purchased by R.H.Mellon.I'd like to find pictures of the house/estate/inhabitants and would appreciate your advice and suggestions. With thanks!
3/10/2019 12:35:03 pm
I have read my Great Great Grandfather, Marker Rush, owned the Point Breeze Hotel. His brother, Levi Rush, was the proprietor until he died in 1876. Maybe Mr. Mellon bought the Hotel from my Great Great Grandfather. I also would like to have a picture of the hotel.
6/4/2019 02:04:37 pm
I apologize for responding so late to your comment; I just saw your posting. Please email me directly at PittsburghsPointBreeze@gmail.com and I will answer your comment in full.
6/4/2019 02:02:36 pm
I apologize for responding so late; I just saw your comment. Please email me directly at email@example.com and I would be glad to response to your comment in full.
10/3/2019 10:53:50 am
This is all so fascinating to me! I grew up at 200 North Murtland and there is so much history in North Point Breeze. I'd love to learn more! Specifically about the house directly across the street from where I grew up. My parents always told me in was Westinghouse's son's summer cottage. Ballroom in the basement, etc.
5/10/2020 08:57:03 pm
Mary Anne Crecelius
5/30/2020 09:01:42 pm
Brooke - If you haven't already, you might want to also check out https://www.pointbreezenorth.com/, the website of the Point Breeze North Development Organization. There's a link to a brief history of Westinghouse Park. Also, Doors Open Pittsburgh is offering a virtual tour of the tunnels that were part of the Westinghouse estate on June 6; go to https://doorsopenpgh.org/finding-solitude/ to find out more. And finally, keep your eye on Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (https://phlf.org/). Like everything else, their events are cancelled for now, but they periodically offer walking tours that include both Point Breeze and Point Breeze North. I did the tour a couple of years ago and it was fascinating.
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Look to the Breeze Blog for a more in-depth look at the neighborhood.