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History center to hold onto disputed Brashear time capsule for now

| Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 6:29 p.m.
Image courtesy of Al Paslow
This notice dated Aug. 14, 1894, on the personal letterhead of John A. Brashear, Astronomical & Physical Instrument Works, Allegheny, PA., USA, was found in the papers of the time capsule.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Jadell Minniefield, owner and operator of Jadell Minniefield Construction Services Inc., packs up a truck with debris from the John A. Brashear Factory in the North Side on Tuesday, March 17, 2015. Part of the historic brick building collapsed Monday evening.
Image courtesy of Al Paslow
This is a picture of the employees of John A. Brashear's mechanical department dated August 1894. On Tuesday, Al Paslow was inspecting the remains of the Brashear Factory when a member of the demolition crew said he found a time capsule in the cornerstone of the building a few days ago.
Image courtesy of Al Paslow
Resting atop an August 1894 Sunday paper is a piece of glass with an inscription that reads 'One of the first pieces of optical glass Made in America.' A metal box of items was found in the corner stone of the John Brashear factory while it was being demolished.
Image courtesy of Al Paslow
A letter dated July 31, 1894, from Warner & Swasey congratulating Brashear on his new factory.
Image courtesy of Al Paslow
An image of John Brashear's father, Basil Brown Brashear, found inside the time capsule.

The Heinz History Center is keeping watch over the contents of a time capsule discovered at the John A. Brashear factory as Pittsburgh and a Hazelwood contractor argue in court over ownership.

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael A. Della Vecchia on Wednesday granted the city an emergency injunction ordering Jadell Minniefield Construction Services Inc. to turn the material over to the history center.

Pittsburgh owned the derelict building and agreed to pay the company $235,000 to raze it after a wall collapsed March 16 onto an adjacent building. Jadell Minniefield argued in court documents that its contract with the city granted it “salvage rights” to the capsule and that the city is attempting to “financially bully” it by withholding payment for the demolition.

“That belongs to the people of Pittsburgh,” Mayor Bill Peduto said. “John Brashear was recognized nationally and internationally and is part of Pittsburgh's history.”

Neither Jadell Minniefield nor its attorney returned phone calls.

Brashear is recognized as a world-renowned scientist and philanthropist. He made mirrors and lenses for telescopes at the factory, which along with his adjacent house are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, until his death in 1920. His ashes are interred with his wife's in Allegheny Observatory, which he directed and helped found.

The capsule discovered inside a cornerstone included a photograph of factory workers and documents dating to 1894, a lock of Brashear's wife Phoebe's hair and what was inscribed as one of the first pieces of optical glass made in America.

Peduto said the city would immediately cede ownership to the history center if it wins the court case.

History Center President and CEO Andy Masich said conservators have photographed all of the materials and are keeping them in climate-controlled archives.

“If the materials came to the history center, we would reunite them with the rest of the Brashear collection,” he said.

Pittsburgh went to court after Jadell Minniefield opened the time capsule at the demolition site along Perrysville Avenue, arguing the company likely damaged the contents and had no right to take them.

The company said in court documents that it handled the material with “all due care” and caused no damage.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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