The Wenzel Farm (1850-1939)
Wenzell Avenue, the hilly street linking West Liberty Avenue and Banksville Road, was officially laid out in 1832 as one of several "township roads" criss-crossing Lower St. Clair Township.
This particular township road extended from the current Pioneer Avenue/Brookline Boulevard intersection all the way to Greentree Road. This path included present-day Bodkin Avenue and Carnahan Avenue. The portion of the roadway now designated "Wenzell Avenue" was first seen on maps as "Wenzel Way" beginning in the 1870s.
The local origin of the Wenzel name begins with the young couple, Margarette (Merte) and Henry Wenzel, who immigrated to America from Darmstadt, Germany, in 1850. They settled on ten acres of land in a section of Lower St. Clair with a sizable German population. The Wenzel's came with their three children, Henry Jr (1840), Mary (1842) and Caroline (1846).
Their property was nestled on slightly sloping terrain at the intersection of a township road and the state road from Pittsburgh to Washington. The state road was called Plummer's Run (later West Liberty Avenue) and the township road would someday bear their family name.
The Wenzels were a farming family and slowly cultivated the majority of their land. Henry Jr married Phoebe Graesser in 1867 and the couple had six children, Anna (1868), William (1870), Ida (1872), Kathryn (1875), Margaret (1878) and Charles (1882). The children grew up working the fields around the family home listed as 311 Wenzel Way.
Mary Wenzel married McClelland Murray, a local landowner who owned seven acres on the eastern side of the West Liberty Avenue and another two acres on the western side bordering Wenzel Way and West Liberty. The couple settled in a home on the two acre lot along Wenzel Way. Today that is the location of the Beinhauer Funeral Home.
Caroline, who never married, had a home of her own built on the southern 1.25 acres of the Wenzel property at 2664 West Liberty Avenue. Family matriarch Margarette Wenzel passed away in 1875 and her husband Henry Sr. followed in 1883. They are both buried at Saint Clair Cemetery in Mount Lebanon.
In 1876 the Borough of West Liberty was formed. The Wenzel Farm was situated along the southern border with Scott Township. Thirty-two years later, in 1908, the Wenzel property line became part of the border between Dormont and the city of Pittsburgh, part of the Beechwood (Beechview) community.
The Wenzel family spent their years farming the fields. Henry Jr's wife Phoebe passed away in 1885 at the young age of thirty-eight and he never remarried. His daughter Anna married Joseph Rising in 1889 and moved to Mount Washington. They had seven children, Grace, Mona, Paul, Howard, Anna, Marie and Phoebe. Ida Wenzel married Nelson Kerr, a blacksmith, in 1895. The Kerrs built a home next to Caroline Wenzel on West Liberty Avenue and had four children: Irene, Avon, Nellie and Blanche.
The remaining Wenzel children remained at home well into their thirties, with the exception of William, who married Sadie Simmons in 1900 at age twenty-eight. The couple had two children, Margaret and Emma, and soon built a home at the upper end of the Wenzel property, designated then as 489 Wenzel Way (today still standing at the intersection with Espy Avenue and designated 2414 Wenzell Avenue).
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on September 9, 1915, made mention of a family ritual at the Wenzel Farm:
"An old-fashioned dinner bell, said to have been cast more than 100 years ago, and an old-fashioned, sparkling eyed, smiling girl continue to call members of at least one Pittsburgh family to meals. The bell is sixteen inches across at its base and is mounted on a pole about fifteen feet high at the end of the veranda of the farmhouse of Henry Wenzel at 311 Wenzel Way, near the city line. The girl is Miss Nellie (Margaret) Wenzel, daughter of the owner of the farm, who lives there with her father, brothers Charles and William Wenzel, and a farmhand, John Hoffer."
Two years later, Margaret married August Huber, a butcher from nearby Fairhaven (Overbrook) who was leaving for the Great War. August served in the Army as a cook from September 1917 until August 1919. Margaret gave birth to their only daughter, Ruth, while he was away. Upon his return the Hubers moved to August's family home at 2427 Fairhaven Road (Saw Mill Run Boulevard).
By the time of the newspaper article in 1915 about the Wenzel Bell, Henry Jr was seventy-five years old and still living at home. His sister Mary, aged seventy-three, was now a widow and living in a home she had built next to her sister along West Liberty Avenue. Caroline, the youngest child, passed first on May 9, 1918, at age 72. She was followed by Mary on March 15, 1919, at age 77, and finally Henry Jr, who lived until the age of eighty, passing on February 27, 1920. All three siblings were laid to rest near their parents at Saint Clair Cemetery.
Charles and Kathryn were two of Henry Jr's children who never married. Charles remained in the family home and farmed the Wenzel fields until the late 1930s, when the property was sold to developers. Kathryn lived with her aunt Caroline. These two single siblings cared for each other until their deaths in 1955 and 1960, respectively.
Henry and Phoebe Wenzel's other children passed away in the following years: Anna 1927, Mary 1937, William 1951 and Ida 1960.
The Wenzell property was developed in the 1940s, with the construction of duplex homes along Wenzell Place, Wenzell Avenue and a portion of Espy Avenue near the intersection.
Notes: Brookline's Bodkin Street, which was at one time in the 1800s part of the same township road that included Wenzel Way, was again designated as a part of Wenzell Avenue, for a short time, in 1936. The former home of William Wenzel still stands at the corner of Wenzell and Espy, now home of District 4 Councilman Anthony Coghill.
This short history is based on information available from newspapers.com and ancestry.com, along with some images from the Historic Pittsburgh collection. If there are any errors, please let me us - Thanks!
Click on images for larger pictures.
Written by Clint Burton - April 9, 2020
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