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History Around Here: Sharpsburg home has 'explosive' past

| Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, 11:30 a.m.

Beer, shipping, food manufacturing — these are the industries commonly associated with Sharpsburg’s past. But one you may not expect to have represented in the borough? Explosives.

Arthur Kirk & Son, founded in 1867, manufactured powder and high explosives for use in rock quarries, mines and railroad work. They also sold compressed air drills and related supplies for drilling through bedrock. The company’s plant was located in Downtown Pittsburgh, on what is now the site of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, but Kirk’s business success enabled him to build a grand home across the river in Sharpsburg.

The handsome stone and shingle house still stands today along North Canal Street, facing Kennedy Park. In addition to a grand entrance hall and library, the home featured an unusual but popular East India room. These rooms were evidence of the Victorian-era interest in exotic parts of the world and were a way for wealthy families to show off mementos of their world travels. There also is evidence the home may have had a Louis Comfort Tiffany window at the head of the staircase.

In 1892, Kirk’s daughter Christine was married in the house in an Episcopal ceremony, of which The Bulletin, a local society paper, wrote, “the house decorations were most effective and consisted of ferns, roses, liles and eucharis artistically placed.” The bride’s brother, David, was best man.

Kirk was prominent in local business affairs and was one of the founders of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. He interacted often with other prominent industrialists such as Henry W. Oliver Jr., M.F. Herron and William Nimick Frew. Socially, he was a member of the Waverly Society, a group of Scotsmen who held an annual dinner in honor of Scottish poet Robert Burns. Kirk’s name is engraved on a statue of Burns located outside of Phipps Conservatory in Schenley Park, which members of the society paid to have erected after Burns’ name was left off the cornice of the neighboring Carnegie Library. Andrew Carnegie donated the money for the facility, but was not involved in final decisions about the facade.

David Kirk took over the house after his father’s death in 1904. In 1915, the property was transferred to the Fraternal Order of Eagles and remained in the organization’s possession until 2013, when it was sold back into private hands.

Melanie Gutowski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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