Houses, History, N’at is an occasional series of articles on the topics of, well, houses, history and related subjects. In this article, we’ll continue to draw from the application that resulted in Highland Park’s designation as a Residential Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places. The application was meticulously researched and developed by the late Mike Eversmeyer, a Highland Park resident and architect who worked in both government as the city’s historic preservation planner as well as in private practice. See our first article based on the application which includes an overview of the styles of houses in the neighborhood.
The first 100 years of European settlement in Highland Park had relatively little development of buildings and roads in the neighborhood but the families who put down roots at the time have made a lasting impact, including in the street names we’re all familiar with as well as in some of the most well-known houses in the area. In this post, we’ll describe the history of Highland Park starting with the first European settlers in the 1770s through the 1880s.
The initial wave of home building in the Highland Park neighborhood stretched from around 1860 – 1880, but Alexander Negley became the first permanent European settler 100 years earlier when he purchased 278-acres of land north of Bryant St. His son Jacob married Barbara Winebiddle, the daughter of local landowners, and purchased a 443-acre farm called Heth’s Delight adjacent to his father’s. Jacob and Barbara built a brick house in 1808 at what is now the corner of Stanton and Negley Ave. and Jacob ultimately owned all of the land he bought as well as his father’s property, becoming a prominent resident and building a grist mill, starting a bank and helping to found the East Liberty Presbyterian Church. His daughter Sara married Thomas Mellon, the patriarch of the banking family.
When Jacob died, Barbara divided the land among her children, a move that formed the division between East Liberty and Highland Park. Around this time, a county surveyor, Robert Hilands, laid out the first streets of Highland Park, including Negley Ave. and what was initially called Hiland Ave. but later changed to Highland Ave. in 1890.
The Negleys left their mark in Highland Park and beyond. In addition to being the namesake of Negley Ave., a monument in Highland Park, to the northwest of the super playground, pays tribute to members of the Negley family and other early European settlers who were buried at the site. Other members of the Negley family are buried in a section of nearby Allegheny Cemetery.
Plus, the farmhouse to the southeast of the reservoir that is now a parks building was once a Negley family home. (Just outside of the Highland Park neighborhood in Friendship, a Negley family home recently sold. The listing on Zillow says it was built in 1903 and the photos show that it has been beautifully maintained over the years.)
The year 1872 was a notable one in Highland Park, with the extension of horse-drawn streetcar service from Pittsburgh to East Liberty and the beginning of construction of the reservoir in the park by the city Water Commission. The land purchased for the reservoir later provided the germ of the Highland Park landscape park that was founded in 1889.
During the 1870s and 1880s, large country houses and clusters of smaller suburban dwellings popped up in the neighborhood. The largest houses on substantial lots were scattered along Highland, Stanton and Negley Avenues. While the area feels close to downtown today, at the time it represented an escape to the country by the wealthy away from the crowding and pollution of the city center.
The grandest and surely most famous house built during this period is commonly called the King Estate. William Negley originally built a house on the site in 1869 but it was destroyed in a fire and rebuilt in 1880 by Alexander King, a glass manufacturer. The house has been meticulously restored by its current owners and is on the market for a mere $3m. It was featured recently by the New York Times, with additional photos included in the listing on Zillow. The King Estate is built in the Second Empire style and there are just a few others of the same style in the area.
The Italianate style was also popular during this period of home building and there are a few that retain their original appearance.
Stay tuned for our next installment, which will highlight additional development in the 1880s as well as the 1890s.
This blog post was written by Nancy Gohring, HPCC newsletter editor, and David Hance, president of the Highland Park Community Development Corp.