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Residents living in history as Pittsburgh preps for bicentennial

Bob Bauder
| Thursday, June 23, 2016, 11:27 p.m.
Connie Eads and Dave Majka live in the John Frew House in Westwood, which was originally constructed in 1790.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Connie Eads and Dave Majka live in the John Frew House in Westwood, which was originally constructed in 1790.
The John Frew House in Westwood was originally constructed in 1790; an addition was built in 1840.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
The John Frew House in Westwood was originally constructed in 1790; an addition was built in 1840.
The living room in the John Frew House in Westwood, which was originally constructed in 1790.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
The living room in the John Frew House in Westwood, which was originally constructed in 1790.
The spring house on the John Frew House property in Westwood, which was originally constructed in 1790.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
The spring house on the John Frew House property in Westwood, which was originally constructed in 1790.
Photos of the John Frew House in Westwood are featured in the book, 'The Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania,' which was published in 1936.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Photos of the John Frew House in Westwood are featured in the book, 'The Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania,' which was published in 1936.

David Majka and Connie Eads are stewards of Pittsburgh's past.

Their Westwood home, built in 1790 and expanded in 1840, is one of only five structures still standing since 1816, when Pittsburgh incorporated as a city.

“We feel like we're safeguarding something that's important to the history of the region,” said Majka, the vice president of planning and administration at Robert Morris University. “It's hard to believe it's something that was built when George Washington was president of the United States.”

Pittsburgh is celebrating its bicentennial this year with a series of signature events starting in two weeks with a party at the Sen. John Heinz History Center and parade along Liberty Avenue and ending in November with a spectacular lighting of the Rachel Carson Bridge on Light Up Night, officials said Thursday.

More than 200 smaller community events are scheduled throughout the year.

Corporations have pledged about $190,000 for bicentennial events, and the state is kicking in up to $250,000, Pittsburgh officials said.

“The city is not paying for any of these festivities,” said Gloria Forouzan, Mayor Bill Peduto's office manager and an event organizer.

Covestro, a Bayer subsidiary based in Robinson, and Duquesne Light are sponsoring lights on the Rachel Carson Bridge spanning the Allegheny River. Officials are billing the bridge lighting as a grand finale scheduled for Light Up Night on Nov. 18. Debbie Lestitian, the city's chief administrative officer, said more details would be released in coming weeks.

“That's part of our theme,” said Andy Masich, history center president and CEO. “We're bridging the past and the future. We're bridging sides of the river, bringing communities together, and we're being innovative while were doing it.”

Festivities kick off July 8 with a public bash from 7 to 11 p.m. at the history center, including live music, food and the opening of an exhibit showcasing Pittsburgh innovations such as the Ferris wheel and steelmaking techniques. More than 2,000 people are expected. Tickets cost $40 and are available online at www.showclix.com/event/PGHBicentennialbash .

Pittsburgh on July 9 is hosting a “human timeline” parade commemorating Pittsburgh residents starting with native Americans and including different immigrant groups. The parade starts at 11 a.m. and will run from 11th Street to Point State Park. More than 150 groups have signed up to march, including more than 400 descendants of Pittsburgh's 56 mayors.

The day will feature live performances in Market Square and an evening concert and fireworks at the Point.

Pittsburgh in 1816 was little more than a frontier outpost stretching from the Point to what is now 11th Street on the Allegheny and to Ross Street on the Monongahela River side of the city, according to Masich.

Only five buildings remain from that era, and only the Fort Pitt Blockhouse built in 1764 remains in the original city footprint, according to local historians. Remnants of a stone wall that once surrounded the Allegheny Arsenal dating to around 1814 are still visible in Lawrenceville, along with the arsenal powder magazine built around 1817.

“All the others were located outside the original city limits,” said Frank Stroker, a researcher with the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

The others include:

• Majka's and Ead's home, known as the John Frew House.

• Neill Log House, built around 1765. It's located on East Circuit Road in Schenley Park and serves as a park exhibit.

• Old Stone Tavern dating to 1782 on Green Tree Road in West End Village. The building is vacant and owned by a West End concrete company.

• John Woods House built in 1792 on Monongahela Street in Hazelwood. The stone house was abandoned and is owned by the city.

Majka and Eads bought their home in 1996. Majka said he feels honored to own it.

“In 20 years, we found it to be enormously enriching to our lives to have it,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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