Historical Background

The first permanent European settler in Highland Park was Alexander Negley, a German who in 1778 purchased a 278-acre farm along the Allegheny River that he called "Fertile Bottom" and which extended over much of what is now Highland Park north of Bryant Street. His son Jacob married Barbara Winebiddle, the daughter of other local landowners, in 1795, and purchased the 443-acre farm (called "Heth’s Delight") that adjoined his father’s farm to the south and west in 1799. They built a brick house at what is now the corner of Stanton and Negley Avenues in 1808, which became the seat of a substantial land holding when the two farms were combined upon the death of Alexander Negley in 1809. Jacob Negley was one of the most prominent citizens in the early nineteenth century of the East Liberty Valley, the ancient river bottom that lies north of Squirrel Hill in the eastern section of Pittsburgh and provides relief from the generally hilly topography of the city. The earliest highway from the east, the Greensburg & Pittsburgh Turnpike (now Penn Avenue), which followed the line (the Forbes Road) that the British cut during the French and Indian War, ran east-west through the East Liberty Valley. Jacob Negley won the contract to pave a five-mile section of the turnpike between 1813 and 1819. He played a substantial role in the founding of a village in East Liberty, building a steam-powered grist mill on the turnpike in 1816, establishing a bank, and helping to found the East Liberty Presbyterian Church in 1819. His daughter Sara Jane married the lawyer Thomas Mellon, patriarch of the banking family, in 1843. Upon the death of Jacob Negley in 1827, his widow was forced to sell some of his property to pay debts that he incurred during the Panic of 1819. Once the debts were resolved, in 1837, Barbara Winebiddle Negley divided the remainder of the estate among her children. This started the process of subdivision of land in East Liberty and Highland Park that led to the development of those neighborhoods in the later nineteenth century. With the subdivision of the estate, the County Surveyor, Robert Hilands, also laid out the first streets in the Highland Park area. He formally established Negley Avenue along the line of the country lane that connected Penn Avenue with the Negley homestead, laid out Hiland Avenue (named after himself until changed to “Highland” by the City in 1890) as the principal street running north out of the center of the village of East Liberty, and converted the Negleys’ principal east-west "Country Lane" into what is now called Stanton Avenue. In the first half of the nineteenth century, most of the development in the East End of Pittsburgh occurred in the East Liberty section. This growth was spurred on by the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s main line to Pittsburgh through the East Liberty Valley in 1852. By 1868, there was a population of about 5000 in the general vicinity of East Liberty. In that year, the townships east of Pittsburgh (including Pitt Township, which included most of the East End) were annexed by the City of Pittsburgh as part of a campaign of expansion that tripled the size of the city and extended its boundaries south of the Monongahela River. Further transportation improvements followed the incorporation of East Liberty into the city. In 1870, the City Councils passed the Penn Avenue Act, which provided a mechanism for the paving of local streets, and in 1872 horse-drawn streetcar service was extended out of Pittsburgh to East Liberty. In addition, the city Water Commission purchased land and began construction in 1872 of a reservoir on the top of the hill at the head of Hiland Avenue that opened in 1879. The land purchases for the reservoir later provided the germ of the Highland Park landscape park that was founded in 1889. [Text adapted from Mike Eversmeyer's final nomination documents for the Highland Park Residential Historic Distict. Mike has given explicit permission for its inclusion on the Highland Park web site.]