Beechview or Beechwood? Why not Orvilla?
(The Untold Story)


An 1896 map showing the small hamlet of Orvilla, which within a decade would be the Borough of Beechview.

For a while now there has been some confusion over whether Beechview was originally called Beechview or Beechwood. When West Liberty Borough was annexed into the city, in January 1908, newspapers noted that the territory was officially split into two communities, Beechwood and Brookline, seperated by the main borough road, West Liberty Avenue.

Beechwood stood on the hills to the west of the main road. Brookline stood on the hills to the east. The name Beechwood is a reference to the abundance of Beech trees in that area. When and why the name Beechview came into play was a bit of a mystery. A desire to know more about Beechwood and what became of that short-lived community led to some investigating.

Well, the mystery has been solved. The clues were all around, but for some reason it took a determined effort to disclose some interesting facts.

It all began in the 1870s, when a remote coal mining part of Union Township, which bordered West Liberty Borough to the west, appeared on maps as the Borough of Espey. This borough is still clouded in mystery and may well have been a paper municipality that was never actually formed.


An 1872 map showing part of Union Township labeled as the mysterious Borough of Espey.

By 1896, the Borough of Espey was no longer listed. It was replaced on maps by a small hamlet near the coal mines in that same corner of Union Township, bordering West Liberty Borough, called "Orvilla," along the West Side Belt Railroad route. A road network was laid out through the hamlet, property lots were designated and some development was underway. "Orvilla" is shown on the map at the top of the page.

Then, in August 1905, with an eye towards annexation into the City of Pittsburgh, the hamlet of "Orvilla" seceeded from Union Township and became known as the Borough of Beechview. This small municipality encompassed the land that roughly bordered Banksville Road, Broadway Avenue, Crane Avenue and Coast Avenue. The origins of the word Beechview are unknown.


A 1905 property map that shows Beechview Borough to the left of the red dividing line. Beechwood is to the right.

The fledgling borough held elections in August 1905. Henry Vetter was elected as Burgess and Albert Beach was appointed as Constable. A borough council and school board were also formed. A volunteer fire department was organized and housed at the Smith Building, located at Seventh (Broadway) and Pennsylvania (Hampshire) Avenues.

School was originally held in the Beechview United Methodist Church. In April 1906, Henry H. Fisher, a West Liberty land broker, made available for purchase by the school board of six lots for the construction of a borough school. These lots were on land bordering South Sharon (Sebring), Eighth (Fallowfield) and Ninth (Dagmar) Avenues.


Beechview School, shown here in 1915, opened on New Years Day 1907 with a small parade, flag raising and open house.

The new $27,000 school building was dedicated on January 1, 1907, with a community parade, invocation and flag raising. The two-story, four-room brick structure, with stone trimmings, was erected at a cost of $16,000. The heating and ventilation systems, along with the original land purchase, rounded out the expenditures.

At this time, neighboring Beechwood, part of West Liberty Borough, was also pushing for annexation into the City of Pittsburgh, and beginning on October 1906, meetings were held to work out the details of seceeding from West Liberty Borough and joining Beechview Borough as a quick track towards joining the city. In the end, these meetings did not amount to any significant change as West Liberty Borough, in February 1907, voted almost unanimously to join the city.

Dreams of the borough annexation began in 1890, when John Price, a Beechwood area resident, was elected to the West Liberty Borough Council. This well-known resident was often referred to as "the town's honest old patriot." When Price assumed his council role, the borough was $14,000 in debt and had a total land valuation of $286,000. A man with a vision, John Price worked tirelessly for the betterment of the borough.

About the same time that John Price began his work, an influencial State Senator named William Flinn also had an eye towards the south, specifically the Beechwood area of West Liberty Borough. In 1889, Flinn was involved in the chartering of the Pittsburgh Tunnel Company, the purpose of which was to build a tunnel connecting Carson Street with West Liberty.

Workers doing initial grading along Eighth Avenue (Fallowfield) - May 4, 1903.
Workmen doing some of the initial grading along Eighth Avenue (Fallowfield Avenue)
in the Beechwood Improvement Company's West Liberty No. 3 Plan in May 1903.

Senator Flinn and other influential partners, many of whom had purchased large open land tracts in the Beechwood section of West Liberty, formed the Beechwood Improvement Company in 1902. They made significant investments in the future development of these properties, including construction of the traction line and three large bridges. The key to all of their plans was the construction of the Mount Washington Trolley Tunnel. It is interesting to note that the contract for construction of the tunnel was awarded to Booth and Flinn, Ltd., owned by none other than now-former Senator William Flinn.

John Price pointed out the possibilities of the South Hills long before the transit tunnel had been built and, working with Senator Flinn, was successful in securing rights of way for the traction lines where others had failed. When the tunnel became opened in 1904, he was proven right as investors flocked to the area and the borough prospered. Interest in the land in the Brookline section of the borough was equally as attractive, as well as lucrative.

Beechwood Improvement Company Ad - April 18, 1903.    Beechwood Improvement Company Ad - April 28, 1903.    Beechwood Improvement Company Ad - May 4, 1903

Beechwood Improvement Company Ad - May 9, 1903.    Beechwood Improvement Company Ad -  May 16, 1903.

Cape May Avenue at West Liberty Avenue - May 10, 1903.
May 1903 - A Pittsburgh Railways trolley car stops along West Liberty Avenue at Cape May,
part of the Beechwood Improvement Company's West Liberty Plan #3.

Beginning in April 1903 the Beechwood Improvement Company began an advertisement blitz in the four main local newspapers, the Press, Gazette Times, Daily Post and Sun-Telegraph. The ads showcased the stunning investment deals and low prices on property lots. They also detailed the progress of the construction of the tunnel and the Beechwood rail line.

With the tunnel line completed, residental and commercial development began quickly and continued unabated. By the time of annexation in 1908, West Liberty Borough was a growing municipality with a treasury balance of $8,000 and a land valuation of $3,687,0000. On the 27,000 acres of borough land there were 2,000 homes and a population of 10,000.

In addition there were fifteen miles of modern sewers and three and one-half miles of paved roads. Both Brookline and Beechwood had modern boulevards ready for further development, and upcoming improvements and expansions in the traction lines guaranteed that this real estate boom would bring further millions in the near future.

Pittsburgh Press article 01/05/1908

On January 6, 1908, West Liberty Borough became the city's 44th Ward, and was split into two distinct neighborhoods, Brookline and Beechwood. Early housing ads from 1905, like the one shown above for the Curran-Algeo Plan on the Beechwood side of West Liberty Avenue, show trolleys from the Brookline and Beechwood routes as convenient public transportation. By 1907, the "Beechwood" route designation was changed by Pittsburgh Railways to "Beechview."

While Beechwood was now enjoying the benefits of being a part of the City of Pittsburgh, the Borough of Beechview was still an independent municipality dealing with it's own governing concerns and issues, still with an eye towards annexation. One nagging problem was the proper disposal of sewage, which borough officials felt could be better handled under the yoke of the city.

Broadway Avenue looking towards the North - 1906
Broadway Avenue (circa 1906) looking northeast. Most of what is seen in this photo is, at the time, the Borough of Beechview.
The Beechwood section of West Liberty Borough would be to the right of this photo. The street going downhill to the left
is Lowen Avenue (Coast). In the distance to the right is the tract of open Beechwood land owned by Theodore Lau.

Petitions were circulated in June 1908 calling for annexation. The results were overwhelmingly in favor. With confidence in a positive vote, Pittsburgh Mayor George W. Guthrie, on October 30, signed ordinances for the acceptance of Beechview Borough and part of O'Hara Township into the city. The borough's official annexation vote was held on December 17 and, as expected, was almost unanimously in favor of a merger.

Finally, on January 4, 1909, the Borough of Beechview became part of the City of Pittsburgh. The Beechwood Improvement Company had, since 1905, already been active in the newly annexed area, with the West Liberty #2, #3 and #5 housing plans under development in Beechview Borough.

Broadway Avenue at Hampshire Avenue - 1909
Broadway Avenue in 1909 looking north down Beechview Avenue from near the intersection with Hampshire Avenue.

At the time of the merger, the Beechview and Beechwood communities were united into one city neighborhood. The name Beechview was chosen as the official designation of the new community. Thus, after a brief 363 days, the community of Beechwood was relegated to history. The name lives on in the title of Beechview's current public school, erected in 1909, called Beechwood Elementary.

And so ends the mystery of what happened to the community of Beechwood and how the community of Beechview was formed. Only the eastern half of Beechview, between Broadway and West Liberty Avenue, was part of West Liberty Borough and thus the sister community of Brookline.

The western part of Beechview, from Broadway to Banksville Road was a small border section of Union Township along the Little Saw Mill Run Railroad that joined the party in 1909. Brookline welcomed them, and thanked them for choosing the name Beechview, and not bringing along their former coal town name "Orvilla."


A 1910 map of Beechview showing the former Beechview Borough area with many of the current street names.


Some Old Beechview/Beechwood Photos


Rutherford Avenue, from the corner with South Sharon Avenue, looking towards Hampshire Avenue in August 1909.

  
Hampshire Avenue in 1919, on the Beechview side looking up towards Broadway Avenue (left) and looking down from Broadway
towards Methyl and Rutherford Avenues. The Beechview United Methodist Church is to the right in the left photo.
This building also served as the borough's first school building from 1905 through the end of 1906.


Installing the granite block curbs on Rockland Avenue in 1913.

  
Hampshire Avenue in 1912, looking towards Broadway Avenue from the Beechwood side (left), at the Suburban Avenue trolley
crossing. The billboard advertises agent Henry Fisher, who made available the lots for the Beechview Elementary.
On the right is Hampshire Avenue looking towards Rockland Avenue and Westfield Avenue.


Suburban Avenue at Hampshire Avenue in 1913.

  
These stately homes stand at the intersection of Crosby and Belasco Avenues in 1911.


Rockland Avenue, with Beechwood Elementary School on the hill to the left, in 1913. Beechwood Elementary and Brookline
Elementary were built at the same time, dedicated on the same day in June of 1909, and identical in design.

  
Fairplay Avenue in 1911 (left) and Princess Avenue at Westfield Avenue in 1916.


Hampshire Avenue in 1912, looking west from Rockland Avenue.

* Information from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Press, Daily Post, Hopkins Map Collection and Pittsburgh City Photographer *

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