Cuba-You-Quit Way in Pittsburgh

This article appeared originally in Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Magazine.

The earliest appearance of Cuba-You-Quit Alley on a map, in 1882.

On the subject of Cuba You Quit Way, von Hindenberg asks, “What is the large building thrown diagonally across Cuba’s line of retreat?”

Dr. Boli and Father Pitt have not been able to find out. The question is complicated. The alley was on a steep hill (it ran along the border between Uptown and the Hill District), and the map shows small frame houses (yellow) and two brick houses (red) that no longer exist. In the 1910 map by the same company, the same building is shown as red, indicating that it was made of brick or stone. Possibly the change of color indicates that it was demolished or dilapidated. It appears to belong to “V. Brusco et ux.” on the 1923 map, but it is adjacent to the Booth & Flinn brickyard, and might be one of their buildings. Since there was no zoning in the neighborhood, the whole area was a cluttered mix of modest rowhouses, businesses, small factories, and institutions. The western half of Cuba You Quit Way may not have been cut through: many streets appear on these maps that are only paper streets, or pathways through the weeds. We should add that the automobile or wagon was not welcome here: Wyandotte Street (the diagonal street at lower right) is a stairway. Probably the only way to get to those little houses on Cuba You Quit Way was on foot (which is still true of a surprising number of houses in Pittsburgh). It is easier for a pedestrian than for a car to step around the projecting corners of a building.

Of course the name of the alley is the most surprising thing about it, and it tended to attract remark when it was current. During the First World War, the Pittsburgh correspondent for The Union Postal Employee took inspiration from the name to suggest some improvements in the city’s street-naming system, which still frustrates mail carriers.

Our city scheme is not simple. The “namers” of the streets appear to favor words of topographical significance, and as a result one-half of the names refer to some degree of elevation peculiar to the section in which the street happens to be. There are dozens of “Hill Top,” “Highview,” “Hillside,“ ”Hilldales,” etc., to say nothing of a few pages of “Maples,” “Elms,” and “Ferns.” One street, however, stands forth prominently as the only one of its name in the world. I refer, of course, to “Cuba-You-Quit Alley.” At the present time, with a war in progress that makes the Spanish-American War look like a backyard scrap, the only move to commemorate the event was the changing of the name of “Kaiser Wilhelm Street” to “Marne Way.” Surely the “namer” of “Cuba-You-Quit Alley” would not hesitate to accept the suggestion that we rename some of the “Maples,“ ”Elms” and “Hills,” etc., with more appropriate titles. I suggest a few, but the inventor of the name of “Cuba-You-Quit Way” will undoubtedly be able to improve on my list: “Berlin-or-Bust Alley,” “Buy-a-Bond Terrace,” “War-Savings-Stamp Street,” “Food-Will-Win-the-War,” “Don’t-Waste-It Alley,” “Over-the-Top Avenue,” or “Carry-On Boulevard.” (The Union Postal Employee, January, 1918.)

In at least one way the postal employee’s suggestion was implemented. Shortly after the Great War, a new automobile highway was opened clinging to the cliff above the Monongahela, and it was given one of the most audaciously grandiose names ever applied to an American street: “The Boulevard of the Allies.” Unlike New York’s Avenue of the Americas, the Boulevard of the Allies is so called by ordinary Pittsburghers; and furthermore Second Avenue downtown was renamed as an extension of it, so that to navigate the avenues downtown you have to learn to count in Picksburgh dialect: one, Allies, three, four, Forbes, five, Oliver, six, seven.

But did Cuba-You-Quit Way get its name from the Spanish-American War? No; it first appears on maps in 1882. The name appears to be a folk etymology: that is, a popular but incorrect explanation of the derivation of a term. The Post-Gazette told the story of Cuba-You-Quit Way a few years ago. It seems the alley was named for a Chippewa woman named Cub-bayou-quit (there was no settled spelling of her name), who married a well-to-do Pittsburgher. She married him in a Chippewa ceremony; but when, as a widow, she tried to claim property worth millions of dollars in 1874 money, the current owners claimed that Chippewa marriage did not count in Pennsylvania law. Apparently the case was such a sensation that it was in everyone’s minds for months, and some city planner attached her name to a new alley, which does not appear on an 1872 map but does on an 1882 map as “Cuba-You-Quit Alley.” The rule that there are no “alleys” in Pittsburgh was not in force until the early twentieth century; we still find some ancient street signs marking alleys that are “ways” on modern maps.

Street sign for Larkins Alley (now Larkins Way) on the back of St. Casimir’s Church, South Side.

The Post-Gazette says that the name of Cuba-You-Quit Way was changed to Cuba Way in 1926, and adds that “it no longer exists.” That is not quite correct. The eastern section of Diaz Way, a narrow and nearly but not quite abandoned alley, is the old Cuba-You-Quit Alley.

Diaz Way probably has an interesting history, too. It appears as “Davis Alley” in 1872, the earliest map on which we have been able to find it (it does not appear in 1862 or before). It is still Davis Alley in 1882, but the name has changed to Diana Alley in 1890. It still appears as Diana Alley in 1910, but as Diaz Way in 1923.

Dr. Boli often wanders into back alleys of history, but seldom so literally as he has done today.

The Commercial State of Pittsburgh in 1815

William Cobbett, in his Weekly Political Register for August 26, 1815, points to Pittsburgh as an example of the growing prosperity of the United States, which he regards as the land of liberty. The War of 1812 had just ended; Cobbett was not in sympathy with his own country during that conflict, and these advertisements from a single issue of a Pittsburgh newspaper provide him with evidence to refute Lord Sheffield’s assertion that America would never become a manufacturing country. In this particular case, history has proved that Cobbett was certainly right and Sheffield egregiously wrong.


All the advertisements, that follow here, are taken from one single paper, the PITTSBURGH COMMONWEALTH, dated 11th March, 1815.—Pittsburgh is in the State of Pennsylvania, and, I believe, at nearly 300 miles distance from the Atlantic sea-shore. Read here, then, and see what America can do. If the poor little Lawyer whom Bellingham killed had seen this, he would hardly have claimed so much credit for magnanimity, when he said that it was not the intention of his Majesty’s Government to DESTROY America.


PITTSBURGH WIRE MANUFACTORY.

THE subscriber has on hand, and offers for sale, at the Philadelphia prices, with the addition of carriage, an assortment of WIRE, made of the Juniat Iron, from No. 1 to No. 24, inclusive, Any higher number made to order. He expects that the manufacturers and merchants of the Western Country will give him a portion of their custom, to support a new and expensive establishment.

Square inch Iron will be rolled down for smiths, and other mechanics, at the following prices, viz,

7-8 one dollar per cwt.
6-8 two ditto per ditto.
5-8 three do. per ditto,
4-8 four do. per ditto.
3 8 five do. per ditto.

WILLIAM EIGHBAUM.


THE STEAM ENGINE FOUNDERY.

ON Front-street, behind the Pittsburgh Steam Mill is now in complete operation, and ready to supply castings of every description, but particularly those in a mechanical line, viz—All kinds of castings appertaining to Merchant Flour Mills, Rolling and Slitting, Forging and Tilting Mills—Fulling and Oil Mills, &c. &c. Sugar Mills, Sugar Boilers, Potash Kettles, Stills, Soap and Salt Kettles.

The Pittsburgh Steam Engine Company,

As usual, carry on the making of Steam Engines of every description. They will also furnish Paper Mill Screws, Fullers and Mill Screws, and all other kinds, of the large order; also Mill Spindles and Rynes, &c. Saw Mill Cranks and large work generally.


Steam Fulling Mills.

THE PITTSBURGH STEAM FULLING MILLS

Are now in complete operation.

THE proprietor is happy to inform the public, that he has engaged experienced workmen, and will be able to execute any orders in the dyeing and fulling business, in the best manner and with punctuality and dispatch.

JAMES ARTHURS.


JUST RECEIVED & FOR SALE BY BOSLER & Co.

AT THEIR WHOLESALE AND COMMISSION WAREHOUSE,

On WATER and FRONT STREETS.

Prime New-Orleans Sugar in barrels,
White Havannah ditto in boxes,
New Orleans Rum, Indigo and Cotton,
Best green Coffee in barrels and bags,
Logwood,
Kentucky Rifle Powder and Bacon,
Mexican Copper, &c.

June 22, 1814.


PITTSBURGH POTTERY.

TROTTER and Co. having established their Manufactory of Queens-ware in Pittsburgh, now commenced fabricating wares similar to those of the potteries at Philadelphia, take the opportunity to inform the public, that they are ready to execute such orders as they will do them the favor to address to the Pottery, corner of Seventh and Grant-Streets, or to Anthony Beelin and Co. or Richard Brown and Co. where specimens of the ware may be seen.

List of Articles at present Manufacturing.

Wash hand Basins
Coffee pots
Ewers
Tea pots
Chambers
Coffee cups
Dutch jugs
Tea cups
Bowls
Chocolates
Mugs
Sugar basins
Goblets
Butter tubes
Pitchers
Baking dishes

February 11th, 1815.


BROAD CLOTHS AND SATTINETTES.

For sale by George Cochran at his Woolen Manufactory, corner of Diamond alley and Liberty-street, by the piece or yard, as cheap as they can be had in New York, Philadelphia or Baltimore. Also a few Stockingnettes, Worsted, Woolen, and Cotton Half Hose.

G. C. Respectfully solicits the patronage of the public to encourage his Manufactory, and assures those who may wish to purchase, that his cloth is not inferior according to quality, either in colour or durability to that imported from Great Britain.

GEORGE COCHRAN.

February 11, 1815.


Fulling & Wool Carding.

THE SUBSCRIBERS respectfully inform their friends and the public that their works lately erected at the lower falls of Big Braver creek, are now in operation.—Being supplied with two pair of fulling stocks and the necessary implements and convenience for dressing broad and narrow CLOTHS, in the best manner; together with two Wool carding machines covered with fine cards, calculated for carding merino and common wool, and conducted by experienced work men—the subscribers are encouraged to solicit a share of the Public patronage, and hope to give satisfaction to those who may please to favour them with their custom in the above line of business. Cloth to be dressed, or wool to be carded, will be thankfully received by James Taylor at the Mill, and finished according to directions, with punctuality and dispatch at the customary prices.

Cloth will also be received by George Cochran, at his woolen Factory in Pittsburgh, forwarded and returned when dressed.

JAMES TAYLOR,
JOHN WALKER,
M. EVANS,
GEO. COCHRAN, of Ratf.


SALT.

A quantity of first quality KENHAWA SALT, all of which he will sell low for CASH.

C. LATSHAW.


CASH for GRAIN.

ONE DOLLAR and twenty cents for WHEAT—and Sixty-two and a half cents for RYE, given at the PITTSBURGH STEAM MILL.


Settlement of a New Town.

NEW TOWN OF COLOMBIA.

THIS place laid out in a handsome situation, on the bank of the Monongahela River, in Washington County, commanding all the advantages of a rich and opulent country, offers the most flattering prospects to such as choose to pure chase lots.

As the improvement of the place is the principal object of the proprietor, he offers inducements which will make it an object for persons to purchase and build.

The prospect of a new county, of which COLUMBIA will in all probability become the seat of justice, and a prospect of public roads leading through this place to all the most important towns, makes it worthy the attention of all classes of mechanics and others.

A STEAM MILL is now erecting and a number of Manufactories in contemplation; there is a grand prospect of its becoming a flourishing place.

As a further inducement to purchase, the proprietor offers to each purchaser, who will build on his lot within one year from the first day of April next, timber for building a frame house 25 by 30 feet, or more, and stone coal for 4 years, gratis.

There are stone quarries within one hundred rods of the town, which purchasers are at liberty to use.

A number of valuable lots are yet on hand and will be sold at private sale on application to Samuel Hughes, of Washington, to James M, Riddle, Esq. and the Editor of “the Commonwealth,” Pittsburgh, or to the proprietor on the premises, at which places respectively a plan of the town may be seen.

N. B. Those who have purchased lots are informed that their deeds are ready for delivery.

CHARLES D. HAS.

From Pittsburgh to Harmony in the Early 1800s

John Melish, a traveler in the United States, wrote a detailed and enthusiastic description of the Harmonist settlement at Harmony in Pennsylvania. It is certainly worth reading. What interests us here, however, is the trip to Harmony from Pittsburgh. Today it would be a short drive out into the suburbs. In the early 1800s, it was an all-day ordeal, made possible only by stopping for beer or whiskey at least three times. The route taken by our travelers is probably close to the route of the Perry Highway (U.S. 19) today.

I shall now introduce by name a fellow-traveller, Dr. Isaac Cleaver, of Philadelphia. This gentleman travelled in the stage with me from Bedford; we lodged together at Pittsburg, and we now agreed to travel together to visit the Harmonist Society. With this view we procured a couple of hacks, very sorry ones indeed, and set out from Pittsburg on Monday the 19th August, at six o’clock in the morning. We crossed the Allegany by a boat: it is here about 400 yards broad, and the deepest part of it seven feet; the current is gentle, and the water remarkably pure. On the opposite side of the river there is a narrow bottom of very rich land; after passing which, we ascended pretty steep hills, and by a rough road reached a tavern eight miles from the river. The day was now very hot; but we could only stop a few minutes, and moved on six miles to Dixon’s tavern, where we found the landlord completely drunk. The day continuing uncommonly hot, we rested here about half an hour; and after travelling about a mile, we reached the Plains, so called from being a sort of meadow and destitute of trees. Here we were entirely without shade, and the force of the sun nearly overpowered us. I never recollect to have suffered so much from the heat; and we got no relief till after travelling four miles, when we reached another tavern at the further end of the Plains, where we found a sober industrious family busily employed in domestic manufactures. The whole country from Pittsburg to this place is rather rough and uncultivated; and land sells at from two to three dollars per acre. Beyond this as we continued our journey we found the country to improve; and approaching the precincts of the Harmonist Society, we passed some of their well-cultivated farms. Here the road passes over a considerable hill; and on reaching the top we saw at a little distance the town of Harmony, elegantly situated amid flourishing and well-cultivated fields. We reached the town at three o’clock, and proceeded to the tavern, an excellent stone building, where we found good accommodations.

——John Melish, “Account of a Society at Harmony, (Twenty-five miles from Pittsburg) Pennsylvania, United States of America.” Taken from Travels in the United States of America, in the Years 1806 and 1807, 1809, 1810, and 1811. From The Philanthropist, No. XX.

Guyasuta Visits Pittsburgh, 1787

This article appeared in the Maryland Gazette (in Annapolis), February 1, 1787; it seems to have been reprinted from the Gazette in Pittsburgh. The narrative drips with sarcasm: Guyasuta led the Senecas in the attack that destroyed Hannah’s Town (or Hanna’s Town or Hannastown) in 1782, and the memory obviously had not grown cold in Pittsburgh. But Guyasuta was now appearing in a diplomatic capacity, and it is very interesting to see how he and the growing town of Pittsburgh reacted to each other. He gawked at the sights; Pittsburghers gawked at him. They discovered that they shared a common love of Monongahela rye, and after that everything seems to have gone smoothly.


PITTSBURGH, January 6.

We are happy to have an opportunity of congratulating our fellow citizens on the arrival in this town, of the great, the mighty, and the warlike Giosoto the First, king of the Seneca nation; defender of Hannah’s-town; protector of the widow and orphan, &c. &c.

There was an elegant entertainment (consisting of three gallons of whiskey and twenty pounds of flour) prepared for his majesty and retinue, which they enjoyed with an uncommon relish, as these articles have become exceedingly scarce within his majesty’s, Giosoto, dominions.

His majesty amuses himself whilst he remains here, in walking about to view the curiosities of this place, in quaffing good whiskey; and smoaking tobacco and the bark of willow trees, through his curiously ornamented wooden pipe.—As anecdotes of great men can never fail to be interesting, we shall not neglect to add, that his majesty was observed to be particularly fond of viewing the game of billiards—some biographers pretend to assert that his majesty has been a great gamester in his time, but whether billiards or football was his favorite game, we cannot pretend to assert.

The Ancient Pronunciation of “Pittsburgh”

Today we pronounce it “PITTS-burg.”

I’ve seen respectable historians who suggest that, at the founding, it was pronounced “PITTS-burrah,” as in Edinburgh, since Pittsburgh was named by a Scotsman.

But we can find some evidence that, two hundred years or more ago, country people in Western Pennsylvania—not necessarily the people in town themselves—pronounced it “PITTS-berry.”

In the early 1800s, the distinctive Western Pennsylvania dialects had not yet developed; country people in western Pennsylvania spoke the way rural people all over the North spoke. In northern American rural speech of the early 1800s, the schwa sound at the end of a word was often replaced by the -y sound. Artemus Ward’s comical schoolmaster quotes printing-specimen Latin: “Quosque tantrum, a butter, Caterliny, patent nostrum!” (The original is “Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?” from Cicero’s First Catiline Oration, which was ubiquitous as filler text in typefounders’ and printers’ specimen books.)

Thus, very probably, the pronunciation “PITTS-burrah” would become “PITTS-berry.”

So far this is only speculation. But we can find a tiny piece of evidence in the Union Cemetery, an old churchyard in Robinson Township, which would have been well out in the country in the early 1800s.

This stone is regrettably so badly damaged that we can read nothing on it. But a plaque in front of the stone identifies it as belonging to Thomas Thornberry, a Revolutionary War veteran. Presumably the name is entered thus in the burial records.

Beside his stone is a legible stone for a woman who is obviously his wife.

IN MEMORY OF
DINAH Wife of
Thomas Thornburgh

who departed this life
July 26th, 1830,
aged 70 years.

And here is our evidence. Inscriptions on tombstones of the early 1800s around here are commonly semi-literate; it is common to find variant spellings of the same name. Here we have the same name spelled “Thornburgh” and “Thornberry.” Now, it is not possible to imagine the name “Thornberry” being pronounced “THORN-burg,” but it is quite possible to imagine “Thornburgh” passing from “THORN-burrah” to “THORN-berry” in the rural American accent of two hundred years ago. And if that is the case, then we have evidence that, in western Pennsylvania, the spelling “-burgh” indicated the sound “-berry” at least to some residents as late as 1830.

But the residents of the borough themselves might have regarded that pronunciation as the mark of a hick. I’ve been reading Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s Incidents of the Insurrection in the Western Parts of Pennsylvania in the Year 1794, which is a riveting story of the Whiskey Rebellion told by a very clever man. One of the things you can’t help noticing is the wide cultural difference that already existed between Pittsburgh and the surrounding countryside. Pittsburgh was already developing urban sophistication of a sort, and the country people hated it. How will we prevent them from burning Pittsburgh?—that’s the constant anxiety of people in town. It was clear that a large portion of the mob was ready to use the revolt against the whiskey excise as an excuse to loot and destroy the borough, taking their revenge on all those people who thought they were better than honest country folk. In one telling episode, Brackenridge and his town friends have a good laugh at an illiterate notice posted by a country rebel in a tavern—only to turn and find two or three country people seething with resentment. As usual, Brackenridge saved his skin with a joke. “I turned it off suddenly, by saying, that it was no matter; he did not spell well; but he might be a good soldier, and sight well. This restored their good humour.”

All of this is speculation on top of speculation on top of a molehill of evidence. But speculation is most of what you will see here, so you might as well get used to it.