Thomas James Bigham (1810-1884) built this brick mansion in 1849 above a ravine on land his wife Maria brought to their marriage. Known as "the Sage of Mt. Washington," he was a successful trial lawyer, local and state politician, newspaper publisher, and abolitionist. Their home was reportedly a stop on the Underground Railroad. After listening to a docent tell us about the history of the people and the place, we were allowed to have a look around. There wasn't much to see, as the house is currently a private community center without the historical furnishings or decorations.
Next stop was Morning Glory Inn on the South Side. A chic bed and breakfast that caters to weddings on the weekends and business travelers during the week, it was included for the unusual brick-lined vault off the basement that *might* have been constructed at the start of the Civil War in order to be used for the Underground Railroad and most definitely saw use during Prohibition.
Next we returned to Market Square to visit The Original Oyster House, Pittsburgh's oldest bar and restaurant. It was opened in 1870 to sell oysters and beer. The next owner (1916-1970), Mr. Americus, had a second house in Atlantic City and used to attend the Miss America pageants, so the walls are covered with old photographs of the contestants. The various fashions and physiques are fascinating. The next owner (1970-2019?), Louis Grippo, had a law office above the bar, as he was a successful defense attorney. "He never lost a murder case in his whole career!" according to his widow, who gave us the spiel instead of their daughter, who currently runs the joint but was in Seattle representing the city at a young entrepreneurs event. Mr. Grippo sounds like quite the local character, and he's the one who covered the rest of the walls in photos of famous people. I don't know why we stopped here, but I did learn that the only oysters they still sell come from a particular spot in the Chesapeake Bay, as they couldn't afford the insurance coverage for the shuckers if they served oysters threatened by toxic algae blooms.
Last stop was the original Dollar Bank building, which I have already featured on this blog for its famous lions and imposing facade. This Pittsburgh original--founded on my birthdate in 1855--has been accepting deposits from all manner of Pittsburghers for 165 years and sponsored this tour. They even have a half-time employee and a history graduate student from Duquesne interning to do research into the African-Americans and immigrants who signed their deposit books. There are multiple rooms on the main floor of the bank building devoted to its history and rotating exhibits such as this one. Among other things, the two historians showed facsimiles of 1860 Census forms on which two enslaved men were recorded by just their age, sex, skin color, and owner. But because they had shared that information when they later signed up at the bank, the researchers could put names and stories with these otherwise dehumanizing records. This was an uplifting way to end Black History Month.
Editor's Note: You might also like this post about a group of creatives and artists, or else this three-dimensional bit of clever public art in the Pittsburgh Airport.