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Historic American Engineering Record
Davis Avenue Bridge
HAER No. PA-487

Pennsylvania Historic Bridges Recording Project - II

Spanning Woods Run Ave. at Davis Ave.
Allegheny County


National Park Service
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240

HAER No. PA-487

Location: Spanning Woods Run Ave. at Davis Ave., Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

USGS Quadrangle: Pittsburgh West, Pennsylvania (7.5-minute series, 1993).

UTM Coordinates: 17/582600/4481690

Dates of Construction: 1898-99.

Designer: City of Allegheny, Department of Public Works.

Fabricator: Fort Pitt Bridge Works (Pittsburgh).

Builders: Gustave Kaufman, superstructure; C. M. Driver, substructure.

Present Owner: City of Pittsburgh.

Present Use: Vehicular and pedestrian bridge.

Significance: The Davis Avenue Bridge is a 396'-0"-long cantilever structure constructed for transportation, social, and municipal purposes. Constructed before Allegheny City was consolidated into greater Pittsburgh, the Davis Avenue Bridge represents Allegheny City's residential growth and progress in public works, often forgotten after the city's annexation.

Historian: Haven Hawley, August 1998. Revised March 2001.

Project Description: The Pennsylvania Historic Bridges Recording Project II was co-sponsored during the summer of 1998 by HABS/HAER under the general direction of E. Blaine Cliver, Chief; the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Bureau of Environmental Quality, Wayne W. Kober, Director; and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Brent D. Glass, Executive Director and State Historic Preservation Officer. The fieldwork, measured drawings, historical reports and photographs were prepared under the direction of Eric DeLony, Chief of HAER.

HAER No. PA-487
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As evening fell on 26 July 1874, "a storm of unprecedented violence closed over this vicinity, and continued for upwards of an hour, during which the fall of water was something enormous, and the display of electricity unparalleled within the memory of any living citizens," reported an almanac of local history in 1876. Butcher's Run, Spring Garden Run, Pleasant Valley, and Woods Run injected flood waters into the city of Allegheny, Pennsylvania. All four streams coursed down from the northern hillsides, spilling over their banks into lower urban areas. Butcher's Run and Spring Garden Run flooded from their confluence a half mile to the river, pouring water into a heavily populated section of the city. [1] Steep hillsides focused the swollen streams. An observer declared that the flooded valleys

each contained a roaring river, carrying everything before it, -- buildings and their contents, corpses of human beings, dead animals of every description, horses, cattle, hogs, sheep, and mules, household furniture, mountains of clay, sand, and gravel, street lamps, fences, etc., etc., all borne upon its raging bosom toward the river below. [2]

Residents caught in the storm that Sunday evening had no warning. Property lost in the Butcher's Run flood could not be accurately tallied, but contemporaneous sources estimated several million dollars of material damage. About seventy Allegheny residents died, with up to eighty more perishing outside of the city. The greatest devastation centered on the Butcher's Run and Spring Garden Run watersheds, although Woods Run, in what was to become Riverview Park, also left destruction its path. "It was a terrible visitation, and should be a most solemn warning to the people, teaching them not to neglect the necessary precautions, and to never disregard the possible power of the elements," summarized the 1876 almanac. [3]

In 1896, another inundation revived memories of the 1874 Butcher's Run flood, burying railways under debris and forcing Allegheny residents to evacuate from many of the same areas. "Within minutes after the storm broke, Woods Run avenue was covered with several feet of water and much damage was done between the cemeteries and Washington avenue," reported the Pittsburg Post. A particularly steep sewer along Woods Run Avenue carried so much water that

1] L. H. Everts & Co., A History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1876),149.

2] Everts, History of Allegheny County, 147.

3] Quote from Everts, History of Allegheny County, 147; cf. G. M. Hopkins, Map of the Cities of Pittsburgh, and Allegheny, Showing the New Arrangement of the Wards, from Official Records and Actual Surveys (Philadelphia: G. M. Hopkins, 1876); J.M. Kelly, Handbook of Greater Pittsburgh, 1st ed. (Pittsburgh: J. M.Kelly, 1895), 29.

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effluent backed up through a manhole, creating a sewer fountain shooting six feet into the air. Fortunately the few and dispersed industries of the area suffered little property damage. [4] Although a reminder of the previous disaster, the 1896 flood occurred during a distinctly different era in municipal development. Public works projects in the mid-1890s increasingly controlled drainage in the city's northern wards, abating the risk that waterways would dangerously flood during deluges. The alluvial plains over which the flood had spread were soon claimed as lots for construction. The main danger in crossing Woods Run lay in the rugged slopes framing Woods Run Avenue, blocking residential areas west of the road from Riverview Park. The Davis Avenue Bridge, completed in 1898, joined residents in expanding areas of Allegheny and symbolized emerging movements in urban parks and city beautification. Its construction, however, symbolized continuing reliance on old methods of jobbing for bridge construction at a time just before the industry was consolidated. Functional but not fabulously appointed, the Davis Avenue Bridge represents a snapshot of one city's response to social, political, and technological developments of the late nineteenth century.

Riverview Park

Allegheny had long preceded its neighbor Pittsburgh in making public parks available to area residents. The two cities had competed for a century commercially, and the late nineteenth century emphasis on urban beautification and recreation areas represented yet another facet of their rivalry. Public recreation areas were created out of the "common ground" that had fenced in four sides of Allegheny since it was laid out in 1787. Allegheny's downtown parks included a lush conservatory donated by Henry J. Phipps, Jr., and its sculpted landscaping and walkways were "the resort of thousands of Pittsburgers until the park mania, after years of agitation, took hold of the city officials of Pittsburg and induced them to act." [5] Pittsburgh therefore created Schenley Park out of donated land, and in the 1890s tilled and shaped it into a scenic respite for citizens, with steel arch bridges crossing rugged, verdant ravines much like Allegheny's Woods Run. [6]

Like the more famous Schenley Park, Allegheny's Riverview Park was created from land donated by wealthy, civic-minded benefactors. Mayor William M. Kennedy piloted an 1867 drive to create a park out of gifts from citizens, garnering 217 acres of hilly terrain in the northern section of Allegheny City. One hundred and seventy-nine acres of land in the Tenth Ward were formed into Riverview Park, comprising the largest city-owned area set aside for

4] "Stormswept Allegheny," Pittsburg Post, 16 Jul.1896; U.S. Works Progress Administration (WPA), comp., Story of Old Allegheny City (Pittsburgh: Allegheny Centennial Committee,1941), 33.

5] Kelly, Handbook, 49.

6] On Schenley Park and its bridges, see U. S. Department of the Interior, Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) No. PA-489, "Schenley Park Bridge over Panther Hollow," 1998, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

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recreation. [7] Despite the growing parks movement in Allegheny and the city's efforts to emulate public beautification efforts in Philadelphia, New York, and other cities, Riverview Park remained relatively unimproved until the last years of the century. [8] Riverview Park's relatively unimproved land had a value of only $87,500 in 1895, while the downtown parks of eleven and thirty-four acres, whose existence stimulated Pittsburgh's development of Schenley Park, each had land valued at $100,000 per acre. [9]

Private sources had paid for cleaning Riverside Park [sic] and making it ready for recreational uses until the city began funding projects in 1894. The city removed fences and undergrowth blocking use of the park, built springs, constructed a picnic area, and began grading and paving drives and footpaths. Riverview Park provided an elevated perch for viewing the city's stretch of development along the Ohio River, and served as the site of the Allegheny Observatory and the Western University of Pennsylvania in the late nineteenth century. [10] Residential and industrial expansion, combined with the parks movement, created demand for a bridge across Woods Run along the line of Davis Avenue. A less corroborated explanation is plausible, however. Building the bridge may have bean one of several municipal improvements to keep the Western University of Pennsylvania, today's University of Pittsburgh, from relocating to Pittsburgh. Along with grading Davis Avenue to the western slopes of Riverview Park, the city approved widening Clayton Avenue, which passed through university grounds. Attempts by the city to turn over land in Riverview Park to the university were rebuffed by the state supreme court. One year after Allegheny's 1907 annexation by Pittsburgh, the university moved to a new location donated by the Schenley family, citing the availability of land for campus expansion. [11]

Expansion in Northern Allegheny

The Pleasant Valley Railway's streetcars served the Riverview Park area in the early 1890s. Better known by that appellation than by its full name, the Federal Street and Pleasant Valley Passenger Railway, it carried Allegheny residents to and from Pittsburgh via the Ninth Street Bridge, which the company owned. [12] The electric streetcar line swung through downtown

7] Hopkins, Map of the Cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, 3; and Kelly, Handbook, 7.

8] City of Allegheny, Park Commission, Second Annual Report of the Park Commission of the City of Allegheny, January 1st, 1870 (Pittsburgh: W. G. Johnston & Co.,1870), 8-9.

9] Kelly, Handbook 36.

10] Kelly, Handbook, 50-51; WPA, Old Allegheny, 81,163.

11] "Allegheny Surveys, New Ordinances Printed for Use of Councils," Pittsburg Post, 2 Sep. 1896; and Steve Pietzak, senior staff librarian, Allegheny Regional Branch, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, telephone interviews by author,Aug. 1998.

12] On the Ninth Street Bridge, see U. S. Department of the Interior, HAER No. PA-490, "Three Sisters Bridges," 1998, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

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Pittsburgh before returning to the North Side. For five cents a ride, passengers could travel into the northernmost parts of Allegheny steep enough for inclines; to western neighborhoods including Woods Run, while passengers could disembark at Perrysville Avenue for a day of picnicking or taking in city views in Riverside Park; to the Troy Hill section near the eastern wharves; or into Pittsburgh's central business district. In 1897, the Second Avenue Traction Company arranged to lease the Pleasant Valley operation, retaining the line's name. [13]

City records indicate that the Tenth and Eleventh wards received more infrastructural improvements than any other portion of Allegheny during the late 1890s. Many of the streets graded, adjusted to uniform widths, and fit into the city's road system by the Department of Public Works were in the hilly terrain of the Tenth Ward, home to Riverview Park. In 1896, the City Council approved grading of Davis Avenue from New Brighton Road to Riverview Park. [14] Such a route would have given residents a western approach to the park's periphery, but it ended abruptly at Woods Run ravine near the current location of the Davis Avenue Bridge. In the Eleventh Ward, viewers assessed properties along Woods Run in the vicinity of Riverview Park for new sewer lines, deciding that the city should bear the majority of the cost. [15] These improvements spurred new construction in the area, as can be discerned from a number of lot plans registered with the city in the summa of 1898. The properties lay along Woods Run Avenue, in the valley between the two wards and beneath the planned bridge site.

Demand for public works projects in the northern districts of Allegheny City helps explain why a bridge would be needed to accommodate growing traffic. The position of area representatives on relevant City Council committees also aids in understanding how it was approved. Men from the Eleventh Ward held numerous posts influential to decisions regarding public works projects. John C. Oliver served as the Eleventh Ward's Select Council member during the period in which the Davis Avenue Bridge was planned and constructed. From 1895 to 1899, he was Corporations Chair and member of the Finance and Public Works committees. During the same period, Common Council representative John M. Goehring held positions on the Finance, Grade Crossings, and Public Works committees. Common Council representative John R. Henricks, on Finance and Public Works from 1895 to 1897, was replaced by James Lowrie from 1897 to 1899, who was appointed to Finance and Charities. [16]

A local newspaper reported in 1896 that "in Allegheny there is also a vast amount of money to be put into circulation in the way of municipal expenditures and other improvements." During 1896, the city continued work on the $1,500,000 municipal water system, and in

13] Kelly, Handbook, 58; "Big Traction Deal Closed," Pittsburg Post, 24 Jan. 1897.

14] Pittsburg Post, "Allegheny Surveys."

15] City of Allegheny, Municipal Reports for the Fiscal Year Ending February 28th, 1899 (Oil City, Pa: Derrick Publishing Company, 1899), 280, 284, 305-10.

16] City of Allegheny, Municipal Report for the Fiscal Year Ending February 28th, 1897 (Oil City, Pa: Derrick Publishing Company, 1897), 3-6; Allegheny, Municipal Reports ..., 1899, 3-6.

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September almost $300,000 remained to be spent on streets and sewers, in addition to tens of thousands of dollars of work carried over from the previous year. [17] In Mayor Charles Geyer's annual report for the fiscal year ending 28 February 1897, he noted that public works had aided the city during the economic downtown of the mid-1890s "when opportunities of obtaining employment on private work was extremely limited." The mayor added that providing employment to buffer citizens from a fluctuating economy was a concern for his administration. [18]

The mayor announced in his report a $15,000 appropriation for Riverview Park improvements and requested $25,000 a year for continuing the program. [19] Thomas M. Marshall's donation of land in the city for a new entrance to Riverview Park had stipulated that Allegheny build a 60'-0"-wide boulevard" within two years of the gift, spurring the councils to combine an expansion of public works projects with meeting Marshall's deadline. In July 1897, the city approved purchasing fill from William E. Howley at 15 cents a cubic yard as part of the park's improvement. The city resurfaced Riverview Park's drives that year, with the Wadsworth Stone and Paving Company pouring 800 square yards of concrete and installing 4,000 square yards of sheet asphalt. Personnel also bought plants, gravel, sand, and zoo supplies, in addition to completing regular maintenance for the recreation area. At the end of the year, Riverview Park construction amounted to just under the amount that the mayor had recommended. [20]

By the close of the nineteenth century, the deep valley adjacent the park -- where Woods Run had flooded in northern Allegheny only a quarter century before -- had become one of the city's growing neighborhoods. Steep hillsides framed the lowland road while new sewers and house lots was being laid, but the valley's depth prevented access to the park, which had its main eastern entrance in the Tenth Ward. With no indications of a western entrance prior to 1897, the Davis Avenue Bridge appears to have been built to facilitate development and park access in the Eleventh Ward, spurred by Marshall's land donation.

In May 1898, one year after the mayor's speech, the Department of Public Works finalized plans for a bridge crossing the Woods Run ravine. Bidders received elevations, cross-sections, strain sheets, and specifications, which appear to have been prepared by an engineer on contract with the city rather than working within the Department of Public Works. [21]

17] "Lots Of Money Is Being Spent," Pittsburg Post, 6 Sep. 1896.

18] Allegheny, Municipal Report ... 1897, 13.

19] Allegheny, Municipal Reports ... 1897,13.

20] City of Allegheny, Municipal Reports for the Fiscal Year Ending February 28th,1898 (Allegheny, Pa.: T. A. McNary, 1898), 1288,1300; ibid., Municipal Report ... 1899, 327, 337.

21] City of Allegheny, "Letting Plan 377," Drawing No. F-1083 (3 May 1898), in City of Pittsburgh, Department of Engineering and Construction, Bridge Division, vault drawings files (hereinafter DEC Vault). The letting plan also is labeled "Iron Work." It includes a portion of City of Allegheny, "Cross Section etc.," Drawing No. H-27 (12 Apr. 1898), DEC Vault; and all of Allegheny City, "Strain Sheet" Drawing No. H-26 (12 Apr. 1898), DEC Vault. Both were signed by "H. & McN.," perhaps a consulting engineer working for Allegheny City. Hiring short-tenn consultants for engineering work was common practice in the 1890s.

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Within a month, Gustave Kaufman provided the low bid of $25,754.00 for the Davis Avenue Bridge's construction. The city accepted his bid on 20 June 1898. [22]

Gustave Kaufman

The engineer who supervised construction of the Davis Avenue Bridge may have arrived at his project in Woods Run via the Pleasant Valley Railway, in a manner of speaking. In 1890, Kaufman's firm, which then included a partner named Ferris, completed an iron and steel bridge at Ninth Street to replace a covered wooden structure dating from 1840. [23] The Pleasant Valley Railway purchased controlling stock in the company that owned the Ninth Street Bridge in order to construct a new structure with clearances and rigidity to accommodate heavy electric railcars. [24]

During the 1890s, Kaufman was a member of the Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania, while he presented at least one paper and was known for his association with the Ninth Street Bridge replacement. [25] With his partner Ferris, he supervised construction of a new structure around the wooden bridge, meeting requirements that the bridge be continuously accessible to railway traffic, include a pair of lanes each for fast and slow traffic, and carry 5'-2-1/2"-gauge rails for the company's cars. They also carried out the company's stipulation that "the structure be designed on strictly economical principles, no ornament of any kind to be used."' When the bridge was ordered torn down by the War Department in 1917 because it obstructed navigation on the Allegheny River, wits insinuated that the unadorned Pratt trusses themselves might be reason enough m consider replacing the 1890 bridge. [26] Although Ferris, Kaufman and Company advertised its bridge construction services in 1896, Kaufman billed himself as an independent bridge contractor in 1898, when the Davis Avenue Bridge was constructed. The circumstances of his parting with Ferris are unclear. [27]

Kaufman subcontracted work on the Davis Avenue Bridge to the Fort Pitt Bridge Works, a practice that appears anachronistic in light of the consolidation movements sweeping industries

22] Allegheny, Municipal Reports... 1899, 1149.

23] Ninth Street was previously known as Hand Street. See U. S. Department of the Interior, HAER No. PA-490, "Three Sisters Bridges."

24] Gustave Kaufman, "The Reconstruction of the Ninth Street Bridge, Pittsburg, Pa," Proceedings of the Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania 8 (1892): 75. The Pleasant Valley Railway was also known by a third name, the Pleasant Valley Electric Street Railway Company.

25] Kaufman, "Ninth Street Bridge," 189-226; W. G. Wilkins, "The Reconstruction of the Sixth Street Bridge at Pittsburg, Pa," Proceedings of the Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania 9 (1895): 144.

26] Kaufman, "Ninth Street Bridge," 196, 202.

27] Victor C. Darnell, A Directory of American Bridge-Building Companies, 1840-1900, Occasional Publication No. 4 (Washington, D. C.: Society for Industrial Archeology, 1984), 65, 67.

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Last modified: 30-Jan-2004

HAER Text: Haven Hawley, August 1998. Revised March 2001.; Pennsylvania Historic Bridges Recording Project - II
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