Munhall’s story spans nearly two centuries, beginning the late 1700s with early settlers and the formation of a community. The area progresses due to the massive investment in the late 1800s by a handful of industrialists, then has decades of both prosperity and decline. Homestead’s legacy provides us with important lessons about the fortunes of industrial development and organized labor in America.
Amity Homestead was the name given by John McClure to a quaint county seat which he built in the bend of the Monongahela a mile or so below Braddock’s Crossing and ten miles from Pittsburgh in Mifflin Township. John passed the picturesque place on to his son John and through him to his grandson Abdiel.
At one time, the area of Homestead was generally bounded by Ann Street to the west and McClure Street to the east, the riverfront to the north and East 12th Avenue to the south. This made up the estate of the McClure family. The huge McClure home stood approximately between East 9th Avenue and East 10th Avenue, with a large lawn fronting Eighth Avenue. The easterly property boundary at McClure Street was the dividing line between Homestead Borough and what was then Mifflin Township, and now Munhall Borough.
In the 1850s, the McClure family, hoping to raise personal funds, organized a land title company with other early landowners and began to subdivide their sizeable property holdings. Today, this recorded plan of lots bears the McClure family name. Around 1890, a typical lot of 50 feet by 100 feet in this neighborhood would have cost approximately $2,500 and one of these homes was estimated to have cost between $5,000 and $20,000 to build. The City of Pittsburgh was looking for property to erect its new Poor Farm in 1850 and bought 150 acres from Abdiel McClure.
In 1872, Abdiel sold 113 acres to a banking and insurance company and a town was forthwith laid out and called Homestead. The first sale of lots was made to all the old-time accompaniments of a brass band and free junketing and the Pittsburgh, Virginia and Charleston Railroad building across the empty lots the following year. The town took a good start and bade fair, soon to grow as big as the older places in the region. But the panic of 1873 came and gave it a setback from which it took long to recover. In 1879 there were less than six hundred inhabitants. Munhall was incorporated as a borough in 1901.
In 1879, Kloman decided to build a mill of their own. They bought a small tract of land adjoining the City Poor Farm at Homestead and commenced the erection of a building 684 feet long by 85 feet wide to contain a 21 inch mill, two Universal mills, a 16 inch bar train and a muck train. At the same time the Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Company bought 40 to 50 acres of land adjoining the Kloman’s and commenced the erection of converting works and blooming mills. These two concerns were designed to work together, Kloman taking the surplus product and the Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Company working it into structural shapes.
The first steel for this plant was made on March 19, 1881, and the first rail on August 9, 1881. Before the mill was quite completed, however, Kloman died. The Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Company at once purchased Kloman’s unfinished mill. By September 1881, they were turning out 200 tons of rails daily. The Carnegies looked on with surprise and alarm. Up to this time, they had been the only makers of rail in the Pittsburgh district. Here was competition at their very door!
In June 1882, the Amalgamated Association Workers went on strike against the Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Company. At this time, the price of steel was rapidly falling and, alarmed by the imminent call for more capital, some of the Homestead stockholders hastened to get out of the company. They went to the Carnegies and offered them control of the mill in October of 1883. The Homestead Mills became property of the Carnegie Group, at this time, the best-equipped plants of its size in the country.
The old Pittsburgh City Poor Farm had out-grown itself and the City of Pittsburgh sold approximately 148 acres to the Carnegie Land Company in 1891. A new facility was built for the City of Pittsburgh known as Marshalea was occupied in 1894.
The Carnegie Land Company, a subsidiary of Carnegie Steel, purchased properties in the area from the McClure, Hayes and Munhall families to expand the Homestead Works and to sell lots for the construction of homes to its workers.
The Munhall Brothers laid out a plan of lots, sold lots to mill employees, and constructed houses for rental or purchase by employees in “Munhall Hollow” (present day Ravine Street).
In 1901, the scene was set for the incorporation of Munhall Borough, which was named for John Munhall. It embraces a section known popularly as “East Homestead”, Munhall Station and the steel properties which were by that time in the control of United States Steel Corporation.
The City Farm Plan of lots stretched from the riverfront in a pie-shape, up the hill from McClure Street to the West and to Martha Street to the East. It ended at a point at what is now the vicinity of 17th Avenue. A section of this large tract of land, the area in the vicinity of the Carnegie Library, was developed as the elite area of Homestead and Munhall from the 1890s to about 1920.
While in New York City, Andrew Carnegie met the designer of Central Park, Fredrick Law Olmstead. He hired Olmstead to come to visit Homestead and lay out a plan of homes around his proposed new library. Carnegie believed in the future and made plans for many of his projects in this manner. Olmstead laid out broad streets with space for parking and still provided for two lane vehicular traffic. Olmstead believed in providing “green space” that was often forgotten about in fast growing city areas of that time. Utilities for the planned homes were through the rear of the properties. In this manner, all homes were visually correct and pleasing to the eye.
The large grouping of huge company-built homes included the residence for the Superintendent of the Homestead Steel Works and for each manager of the major steel works departments. Open Hearths, Rolling Mills, Bessemer Department, Blast Furnaces, Production Planning, etc. The home was made part of the Manager’s employment package. The mill supplied the electricity and natural gas services to these homes as well as the Library, until the late 1940s. Visitors will note the area’s homes’ substantial construction, the large lot sizes, the tree-lined streets, and the small Park Square Commons Area. There is a marked difference in this neighborhood compared to the nearby Homestead, just a block away; where older, frame homes and small closer set lots predominate.
Living in this neighborhood, the home buyers in Park Square and the City Farm Plan were required by the Carnegie Land Company restrictions to construct only homes, which cost at least $3,000. The lots in the Library Estates sold from $3,500 to $5,000 each in 1900. Types of homes that were to be built were Venetian, Brownstone, Mansen or Queen Anne. They also agreed to company-stipulated building setbacks requiring at least a 25-foot setback from the street. Buyers agreed never to sell “vinous, spirituous, malt or any other kind of intoxicating liquors on the properties.” Finally, the deed restrictions protected the homebuilders in this area. From what you may wonder? From complaints or suits about smoke, heat, noise, blast, concussion, dust, glare, explosion or any impacts from the nearby Homestead Steel Works. The company was obviously determined to go about its business and protect its investment at all cost!