Pittsburgh seeking the return of historical documents
A North Carolina family’s donation of historical documents related to one of Pittsburgh’s early mayors inspired the current mayor’s office to issue a public plea this week: Help us locate archival treasures that might have “walked off” from City Hall over the last 200 years.
James Hill, special assistant to Mayor Bill Peduto, said he and historical archivist Nick Hartley hope to recover anything related to the city, including maps, blueprints and historical records.
“There are a lot of things that we suspect have walked off over the course of a century,” Hill said. “It’d be hard to specify anything in particular that we’re looking for. But pretty much if it’s stamped by the city of Pittsburgh or looks like it was a part of our history, we’d like to have the opportunity to have it back home.”
J.B. Meanor of North Carolina donated the original oath of office and a proclamation from Pennsylvania Gov. William A. Stone appointing Adam Mercer Brown city recorder in 1901. Meanor is a descendant of Brown.
The term “recorder” at that time was used as the official title for the city’s top executive. Brown served for less than one year.
The documents, which include photographs of Brown and his wife and their home in Bloomfield, had been handed down in the family for generations. Hartley said Meanor donated them in honor of his father.
“They on their own accord reached out to (Hartley) and turned in these artifacts,” Hill said. “We thought if these people had this, who knows what else is out there in other peoples’ attics, garages and so forth. We thought it would be a really cool opportunity to bring a lot of those materials back home to the city.”
Hartley said the city has a spotty record of maintaining the official documents of past mayoral administrations. The city until recently also had no policy for retaining and preserving historic documents.
“When an administration exited office, they likely threw away their records or took them with them,” Hartley said.
Pittsburgh in 2017 recovered meeting minutes from Pittsburgh’s first years as a city, 1794-1803. Someone walked off with the leather-bound volume around 1895. It was sold in 1912 for $150 to the Pennsylvania Historical Society, which returned it to the city.
The Holy Grail is a city map entitled “Survey and Town Plan of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” created in 1784 by Col. George Woods. Woods laid out the first plan of city streets that are still being used in the Golden Triangle. Only one of the maps is known to exist. It’s in private hands after being sold at auction several times, according to Gloria Forouzan, the Mayor’s Office manager.
“Where is it? I don’t know, but we’d like to find out,” she said.
Hartley said the city hopes to digitize and post records online.
Anyone wishing to donate records to the city can contact Hartley by email at [email protected] or phone at 412-255-0873.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .