Brashear time capsule provides glimpse of Pittsburgh's past
June 27, 2015 12:00 AM
Andrew Masich, right, president and CEO of the Heinz History Center, explains some of the items from John Brashear factory site to Mayor William Peduto on Friday at the History Center.
Some of the items from John Brashear factory site are, from left, a photo of factory workers, John and his wife Phoebe Brashear and Berger Observatory. The contents of the time capsule from August 14, 1894, were unveiled at the history center.
By Jon Schmitz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A photograph showing Recreation Park on the North Side, considered the birthplace of professional football and site of Pittsburgh’s first baseball victory in the National League, is among the items that were found in a time capsule left by renowned Pittsburgh scientist John A. Brashear.
It is believed to be the only remaining photograph of the stadium, said Andrew Masich, president and CEO of the Heinz History Center, which displayed the contents of the 121-year-old time capsule for the news media and Mayor Bill Peduto on Friday.
The cyanotype print, whose focal point is the old Henry Berger Observatory, shows Recreation Park in the background. The stadium, with wooden grandstands and a capacity of 17,000, occupied land at the intersection of Allegheny and Pennsylvania avenues on the North Side.
On the back, Brashear wrote: “View of Allegheny near Recreation Park base ball grounds from near Henry Burger’s (sic) Observatory.”
The history center’s only previous depiction of the stadium was an insurance map showing its layout, said Anne Madarasz, museum division director.
On Nov. 12, 1892, one of the players in a football game between the Allegheny Athletic Association and Pittsburgh Athletic Club, William “Pudge” Heffelfinger, was paid $500 to participate, making it the first professional game, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Pittsburgh Alleghenys, forerunner of the Pirates, played there from 1884 to 1890. The team’s first win as a member of the National League occurred there on April 30, 1887, according to BaseballReference.com.
The stadium also served briefly as home to the footballers of Western University of Pennsylvania, later the University of Pittsburgh.
The time capsule, first placed in a cornerstone on Aug. 14, 1894, was found during emergency demolition of the historic Brashear Telescope Factory on the North Side after a wall collapsed in March.
Among other items in it were a letter from Brashear; newspapers from 1891 to 1894; photographs of family and of prominent citizens of Pittsburgh and Allegheny City, as the North Side was known; a letter from the owners of Cleveland telescope manufacturer Warner and Swasey Co. congratulating the Brashear company on completing the factory building; one of the first pieces of optical glass manufactured in America; and a book labeled "In Memoriam William Thaw," referencing Brashear's mentor who paid to buy the land and build Brashear's factory and nearby house.
The factory along Perrysville Avenue was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. Workers there manufactured telescopes and scientific instruments for observatories and science institutions throughout the world during its heyday at the end of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century.
The factory “changed the world ... it’s where astrophysics were created ... it’s where science took the next great leap,” Mr. Peduto said. Its dedicated employees were an exemplar of the Pittsburgh work ethic, he said.
The building has since fallen into disrepair, and the city has owned the property since 2012.
The history center took possession of the time capsule in April but Minniefield Construction, the demolition contractor, claimed it owns the box and contents because the contract gives it possession of all salvage.
Mr. Masich read the letter from Brashear found at the top of the time capsule. “I have a wish to express, and that is that in this building devoted to the advance of scientific research that every piece of work shall be made as perfect as human hands and human brains can make it. No excuse ever to be made for imperfect work,” it said.
“I hope when I’m gone that these pieces will never be forgotten by those in whose hands I leave it,” Mr. Masich read, adding that the items would remain at the history center forever.
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1868.
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