South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

Brashear has been associated with South Side for ten decades

Series: Brashear Memories | Story 4

We've all walked past the Brashear Association located at the corner of Sarah and South 20th Streets for decades reading John the inscription on the wall "I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night." This building is actually the third location of the association since 1917, not including the various "settlements" interspersed throughout the area.

The Brashear Association was founded in 1917 by Harriet Duff Phillips to honor her friend, John A. Brashear. In the settlement house tradition, the Brashear Association operated several neighborhood houses until consolidating into one multi-purpose center, the Brashear Center at 2005 Sarah Street, in 1955. John and Phoebe Brashear built their house on Holt Street and it was one of Mrs. Duff's first projects to honor Dr. Brashear.

From her autobiography, she wrote how she begged for funds to rebuild the house and then enlisted residents and their children to help her. This was the first settlement house.

"I said to my husband "I have an idea and I want you to tell me honestly what you think of it," I told him how much I believed the children of Pittsburgh could be inspired by visiting that cottage on the side of the hill and hearing the dramatic story of the astronomer's life. The community had changed greatly since John Brashear lived there. It was made up mostly of children whose parents were foreign born. The setting was perfect for an Americanization project. I suggested that the house be purchased and a Community House be established.

"How would you finance such an undertaking?" The very question I expected, but I had my answer. "I would ask the Federation of Women's Clubs to sponsor the purchase, inviting every friend of 'Uncle John' to give ten cents ... more if they cared to." "A fine idea, but you had better get an option on the property quickly." Within an hour I called a real estate friend and asked him to make every effort to get the option. He was prompt in visiting the owner and found him eager to sell. The first $100 was paid and proper papers signed that afternoon for the purchase of the property at $6,000.

The Brashear House of Inspiration was bought and paid for with the pennies of school children and the dimes of thousands and thousands of devoted friends. Uncle John was present at the dedication and wept as he spoke, saying, "I would rather have this old home where I made my first start as my living monument than all the stone shafts in the country." He little dreamed, nor did I, that within a few short years this House of Inspiration would be a stabilizing influence for hundreds of boys and girls."

Mrs. Phillips wrote about another location about 200 feet from the Market House. This might be the building located at 921 E. Carson Street which was the former home of Joseph G. Armstrong, late mayor of Pittsburgh.

"I had talked much about making homes attractive and was eager to give a practical demonstration of what could be done in some prosaic gloomy neighborhood. After days of looking about for a suitable place, I found a double house about 200 feet from the community market house on the South Side of Pittsburgh, the general district of Brashear Settlement. It was unoccupied and in awful condition, but it had just the possibilities I was looking for. One side could be left just as it was except for cleaning up. The other could be made into a livable house.

"The first step was to rent the houses ... $25.00 a month for the two sides. The second to assign a room to each club willing to help with the project. The difficulty was to assign the rooms fairly for the clubs were clamoring to have a part. There was not to be one new thing in the home except wallpaper and paint. Every article of furniture was to be second hand or constructed out of old pieces. When the project was finished it was called The Dream House and was truly a work of art.

"Women painted the outside, except the very highest parts. Husbands and sons helped with the ladder work. Three garden clubs beautified the yard and had grass and flowers growing in a neighborhood where children never saw a flower except in the florist's window. There was no bathroom ... only an outside toilet. A generous plumber helped in making a bathroom out of a lean-to wood shed and provided the only new equipment in the project."

Although her autobiography gives no addresses, her words describe this structure and a Post-Gazette article on June 24, 1933, notes the deed transfer.

On May 3, 1937, the 20th annual meeting was held at 2849 Sarah Street. President Charles F. Ryman presided where new officers were elected. As was the custom then the women were addressed by their husband's name. Elected to the Board of Directors was founder Mrs. John M. Phillips (aka Harriet Duff Phillips), Mrs. Nathaniel L. Crow, Mrs. Samuel E. Diescher, and Miss Suzanne S. Beatty. In her autobiography, she may be describing this property.

"There was a third area of this long flat land bordering the Monongahela River greatly in need of service for its children. Again I spent days trying to find an adequate house near the Jones & Laughlin Mill. The only semblance of a suitable place was a dilapidated railroad Y.M.C.A. building. It was a dismal sight. Vandals had taken out most of the plumbing and fixtures, the furnace, and even windows.

"A committee from the Board looked it over and decided it was impossible to undertake rehabilitation, for the cost would be prohibitive. On my own initiative, I plead the cause with the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company and they agreed to help put it in usable condition. The Railroad Company was willing to give the use of the property if there was an exemption of taxes. The city and County agreed to this.

"Within six months the building was ready and a wonderful work began. A few years later the Phoebe Brashear Club, an organization of city school teachers, made the purchase of the building their project. It was a day of rejoicing when this property was presented to the Association. Best of all, these teachers have contributed generously each year to its support. Now we owned three buildings."

Finally, in 1955 the Brashear Association consolidated into one multi-purpose center, the Brashear Center at 2005 Sarah Street at the corner of S. 20th Street. The buildings on Holt Street, E. Carson Street, and at 2849 Sarah Street no longer exist.

Contributed by John Rudiak


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