Friday, September 6, 2013

Walking with my family

I try to get out twice a week for a nice long walk with the neighbor. We chat, investigate peoples flowers and shrubs from the roadway to see what's blooming today, compare notes on their blooms vs. our blooms, notice new cars, boats, kids toys, and wish a good morning to several others who also walk in the morning. The neighbor, who has lived here for 40 years, knows that my family has been here for 170 years and she enjoys any comments I make on the way things were before the "new houses" were built in the l960s. Lately, my neighbor hasn't been able to accompany me since she's a bit under the weather, so I took my phone with me in case I would need assistance (ya just never know when a wild deer will jump into your path or a Canada geese will fly over and do what Canada geese do so well!). And I decided to document my walk as I have always considered it a privilege to walk the same roads that my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and all their friends--except the roads were farm paths between the fields back then.

Once we leave the housing development that was built around my family home, we walk out Wallace Road--named for the gentlemen farmer/holistic physician that operated a large greenhouse/farm complex on the land the development now occupies. We make a left and enter the territory once called Cabbage Hill because it was settled by German farmers who grew vegetables and fruit for the Pittsburgh market. Winding through the hilly streets, we come to the end of Meinert Street which overlooks the Allegheny River--across the river is Lawrenceville and a lot of those buildings down there used to be steel mills. And yes, I'm related to the Meinerts 3 generations back.

Moving along, we cross a road and are presented with the Newland house, right on the corner of Newland Lane (yes, I'm related to the Newlands too!). The house once had a lovely front porch and I remember spending hours playing games and dressing dollies with my cousin Judy. Personally, I don't think the current owners did the house any justice by removing the porch and inserting that silly window on the landing.

Across the road is the reservoir that was built in 1913 on land taken from several farmers, my family included. The City of Pittsburgh decided they needed a water supply, and that it should be on the less developed north side of town. So they grabbed the land by Eminent Domain and threw 3 farm families off their land with very little compensation. Somewhere, there's a Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph article on the less-than-honest deal with a photo of my grandmother in long skirt, puffy blouse and washerwoman hairdo, standing on her front porch surrounded by little kids. The tiniest boy is my 3-year-old father.

West side of reservoir, from Newland Lane
East side of reservoir in 1913, from Koehler Street

On the far left side of the 1913 photo is Friday Road (no idea who Mr. Friday was) and many of those houses are still there.

Because the folks on Cabbage Hill were close-knit, the Newlands offered a piece of land to my family and the house was placed on logs and rolled across the street to it's present location.

The Geist house, current location sans front porch

Where the Geist house used to sit. On the right is the
 north side of the reservoir

Leaving the older section of Cabbage Hill, we return to Wallace Lane where we find visitors to the condo that sits where my mailbox was located back in 1955. I love what this lady does with her flower pots each year--she always finds coordinating flowers for the pots and somehow avoids having the local deer mow them flat. FYI, those are not deer statues in the background but one of the does with this year's fawn. I have a doe that visits my yard with her twins. She's also bold as brass and won't leave when I yell at her, they've become accustomed to treating my yard as their private meadow.

So we retrace our steps, up the slow grade on what used to be a dirt farm road between the Wallace greenhouses and their mansion, to the second house that the Wallace family built in 1911 for a brother and his family. It looks a bit different than it did in 1955.....

So, that's my weekly walk circuit, through the old farmlands and visiting with the ghosts of long-gone relatives. But that legacy of farmers who are close to the land explains my need to dig in the dirt and raise my own fruits and vegetables. And my love of making yarn, designing my own garments and then making them come to life is a direct result of the many needlewomen who passed their skills down to me. Hopefully, I've made them proud.

1 comment:

RMK said...

What a fabulous retrospective! Over the years, so many farms disappeared as the population grew. Neat to be able to pick out the old original farmhouses still in the neighborhood. You can see them - if you look - in most of our river towns.
Thnaks for sharing your family history!