The collection and presentation of the stories of the past have become a flashpoint in our civic discourse.
Who gets to tell which story and to whom? Is there a collective past that we all share, or does our present circumstance dictate the stories we choose to honor, the stories that mean something to us today? Is there a truth with irrefutable evidence, or is it all subjective interpretation or something in between?
Here are the stories of collectors, people who have dedicated themselves to answering these questions, each in their own way.
The Fineview Story
During their 20 years long of friendship, Judith Harvey of South Hills and Bill Marks of Brighton Heights have been collecting and preserving history of Fineview (previously called Nunnery.)
In this segment, they will be sharing their knowledge of “Nunnery Incline”, which was similar to the famous Duquesne Incline we still have today, that connects the Federal Street to the Fineview neighborhood on the hill. They are not done yet and are still looking for more artifacts. If you have some old photos, stories, and other artifacts, please let them know. You could reach Storyburgh and we will get you connected. Thank you!
Please note the framed document shown on the picture; it was one of the original $500 bonds that funded the incline that yielded $15 monthly then (valued approximately $462 today on 6/22/22. Click this website to calculate its today’s value.)
Hi, my name is Bill marks. And this is my friend and research partner, Judith Harvey. We are neighborhood historians for the neighborhood of Fineview. We’re going to tell you a little bit about ourselves. I grew up in Fineview, I was born and raised here on Lanark Street. When I was a little boy, my mother used to tell me stories about all the great things that was once in Fine, but aren’t here anymore. And I had a passion to find out about these things. So I started researching into my history of neighborhood Fineview. And I ran into this lady, one out in our yard one day, and we struck up a conversation. And it’s been 20 years since. And we’re still going. And, Judith, would you like to tell a little bit about your story?
Yes, my name is Judith Harvey. And while spending time working, I had friends who was very interested in seashore life and hiking in wooded areas. And none of that appealed to me. What I found that I was so interested in was listening and looking at historic things of Pittsburgh. And one day, I found a little house for sale, called Heathside cottage, which is just up the street from here, and I bought it in the early 1990s. I restored it, it took me five years. And ever since then, I have been a lover of Fineview. Even though I’ve had to move away, Bill and I are researching Fineview the first 100 years.
And now we’re going to talk about the history of the Fineview Incline. And I’d like to start with in 1788, surveyor named David Reddick came to Pittsburgh, Benjamin Franklin directed him to come here and survey for a town across from Pittsburgh and that became Allegheny City. And when he came here and saw the area, he wasn’t impressed with the Hill areas. He didn’t think anybody would ever live on these hills. He thought they’d be more suited for farms. But all the hills around five you are inhabited for many years, and I’d like to also tell you about the early history of the inclines.
As you can see in the background, we have Mount Washington, which originally was called Coal Hill. And they use inclines to bring the coal down to the riverbank and in floated down the river to different parts of the United States. That was the early history of the inclines. And there’s two kinds of inclines, there are passenger inclines, and there are freight inclines. And if you look at earlier pictures, we have a picture to show of the Monongahela incline. And as you can see, there are two different types of inclines one for passengers, and one for freight. Now the fondue incline was for passengers only. In 1886. Several businessmen got together Oliver Scaife, Charles Scaife, George Hamilton, Samuel Diescher and Arthur Kennedy got together and decided to make a company to have an incline come to the Nunnery Hill incline Nunnery Hill neighborhood. That was in 1886. And one year later in the spring of 1887. The work began on the incline. It took one year; and in the spring of 1888, the incline was finished. And the residents of Fineview could take the incline from Meadville Street, down to Federal Street. And from Federal Street, they could catch a trolley to take them any part of Pittsburgh. The incline was a yellow walls with a great roof. The track was 1100 feet long. Started down on Henderson Street, it came along the wall there — the wall still there today. And it was a 16 3/4 grade at that point. Then it made a curve and came on a trestle system all the way up to Meadsville street. That was 24% grade. Most people think that the Nunnery Hill incline was the first incline that was curved, but it wasn’t. There was one in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee was the first curved one and that was in 1887.
It was a nickel to ride the incline. And in 1895 after many years of good service, the incline sat down suddenly. There were different rumors as to why it closed down. People thought that maybe it wasn’t making money. Other people thought that it was in disrepair. But it closed off, closed down, but then was open sporadically until 1899, where it closed permanently. The person that designed the incline’s name was Samuel Diescher. He was born in Budapest, and he designed many inclines. He designed the Duquesne incline that’s still there today. He came and lived in Cincinnati at first. That’s where he met John Andrus and his daughter Caroline. They were doing inclines in city of Cincinnati. And then all three of them moved to Pittsburgh area where Samuel married Caroline.
A nice story about Caroline was that she was the first female civil engineer in the United States at that time. Also, let’s see about the early trolley systems used horsedrawn trolleys, and we have a picture of a horse drawn trolley. Usually on the inclines are specially made cars. But for the fine view incline. It was a car that was used for trolley use with horses; we have a picture of that. The technology that drove the inclines at that time was steam. And we have a picture of a steam engine. Later supposed to be changed to electric but I don’t know if they ever got the time to do that. In the picture that we show from the top it shows we believe to be Samuel Diescher standing there on opening day looking down.
The next picture we show Fineview from a distance, and you can see the curve. You can see down in the next picture the area down below next to the incline was a brickyard owned by John Huckenstein. And when the incline open, he wasn’t too happy about it and he brought a lawsuit against the company. And the next picture, you can see, there was a lookout station there for people to look out at the Fineview, looking down pretty much like up in the Duquesne incline today. And the last two pictures that we have shows Samuel Diescher and his wife, Caroline Diescher. They’re both buried at the Allegheny cemetery. That’s all I have about the incline. Is there anything else you’d like to add, Judith?
Yes, I would like to discuss this very valuable piece that we have. In order to have an incline and keep it running, you have to have some money. And so the man who decided to have the inclined company, sold both stocks and bonds. If you buy a stock in a company, then you would be one of the voters in the company business world. But if you didn’t buy into the stocks, and you only bought a bond, then all you were doing was being a money lender. Well, if you were going to be a money lender, and you needed a place to lend some money, the Fineview incline company needed your money.
And so we have a real — this is not this is not a reproduction. This is a real, a $500 bond certificate that was sold for helping to finance the incline. And what would happen is you would give the company $500, they will give you the bond. And then at the bottom of the bond were coupons that you would clip; and two times a year, April and October, you would send in one of the coupons to the company and they would give you — send you back $15, which was your interest on lending their money. And then when the next time came along, you just send in another coupon and so forth. When you got all your coupons clipped and sent in over the period of however long it took to use them all up, you would then get your $500 back. Well, this is a real bond. It is not a reproduction that we have. And we are so thrilled to be able to have this. This is number 19 of the $500 bonds that were sold. We don’t know the name of the person who had it. We would certainly love to know that I don’t think that’s going to happen. But you can also see that all the bonds were, all the coupons were, not clipped and sent in to redeem, because the incline closed down. And so all of these coupons never were paid $15 out to the person who lent the money. And neither did that person received their $500 back. But we have what is left and this is more than what we have on the hill side of the incline.
And I would like to add one thing that doesn’t have anything to do with this bond. But when Bill talked about the track of the incline, we still have the lower station down at the end of Henderson, which is a wonderful thing that we have left. If you walk down Henderson, and you see the back end of the building, it still looks much like the incline building did look like. So we have that historically, but what we don’t have is the upper station. And for people like Bill and me who want it all, when it comes to research, the fact that there is no — nothing left of the upper station, it’s very frustrating to us. He has a metal detector. And he over the years has been down over the hillside many times looking for even just a little tiny bit of metal or something that would be left of the incline, but he has found nothing. But we keep thinking that maybe we could find a picture of the upper station. And we certainly have looked. We even put an ad in the paper. When we had newspapers quite a few years ago, if somebody had a neighborhood picture with maybe one of their family members and standing in front of the upper station, so we could have a picture. Nobody responded to our ad. So that is the one thing that we are hunting very desperately is a picture. We have the architectural drawing of the upper station. We’ve got that, but we don’t have a photograph of it.
So if anybody’s listening, and you have one in your archives of your family, if you’d ever get in touch with us, we would certainly enjoy sharing that picture with you. So here’s our money and there’s our history. And that’s the story.
Thank you very much for your time. We hope you enjoyed it, and we’ll see you next time.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai