The History of Squirrel Hill’s Public Elementary Schools by Helen Wilson

January 8, 2019
Speaker: Helen Wilson, SHHS Co-Vice President

Helen has found that people who attended public elementary schools in Squirrel Hill have vivid memories of them. She will use photos, maps, and other images to present a wealth of information about the history of those schools.

Squirrel Hill’s Public Schools
The history of the public schools in Squirrel Hill is convoluted.  Schools were built, named and renamed, torn down, relocated and reorganized.

Before 1868, Squirrel Hill was part of Peebles Township. When the City of Pittsburgh annexed the township in 1868, Squirrel Hill had only two small schools. The number soon grew to five as the population increased.  At first all the schools were named Colfax and numbered from 1 to 5, which created so much confusion a law was enacted ordering that the schools be given individual names.

Colfax No. 1 is still located at Beechwood Boulevard and Phillips Avenue. That school kept the Colfax name. It is the only one of the five original schools that is still a public school. Colfax No. 2 was at the intersection of Beechwood Boulevard and Saline Street near Brown’s Hill Road. It closed in 1907 but was reopened in 1916 as the Roosevelt School Annex when Roosevelt, located where the Greenfield Giant Eagle is now, became overcrowded. The annex closed and was torn down in 1939. Colfax No. 3, on Forward Avenue, became Forward Avenue School. It was torn down in 1923. Colfax No. 4, at Whipple and Commercial, became Swisshelm School, named for noted journalist and abolitionist Jane Gray Swisshelm. It no longer exists. Colfax No. 5, at Solway and Wightman Streets, became Wightman School, named for the owner of the Thomas Wightman Glass Company. It is now Wightman Community Center, owned by the Carriage House Children’s Center.

Besides the five Colfax schools, two other public elementary schools existed in Squirrel Hill. Brown School was built near the Monongahela River in 1888 on land donated by the Brown family. It closed in 1932, but the building remains and is an apartment house today. Davis School, named for a principal of the Frick Training School for Teachers, was located on Phillips Avenue. It opened in 1931 and closed in 1980.

Squirrel Hill’s stately public high school, Taylor Allderdice, was built in 1926 and is still going strong today. It was named for the president of the National Tube Company, who was a member of the Board of Education at the time.

Helen Wilson PictureAbout the Speaker: Helen Wilson, Co-Vice-President of the Squirrel Hill Historical Society, has been researching and writing about Squirrel Hill history for the past 12 years. Her articles have appeared in Squirrel Hill Magazine, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Historic Gardens Review (published in England) and other publications. She teaches a course on the development of Squirrel Hill at the CMU Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and has given presentations about Squirrel Hill to various historical societies and other groups.. In 2015, she and her son Todd co-authored Pittsburgh’s Bridges, a pictorial history of the bridges within Pittsburgh’s borders, part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. In 2017, she edited and co-authored Squirrel Hill: A Neighborhood History with four other members of the SHHS, which was published by The History Press.

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