Gladstone History: Beginnings

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by JaQuay Edward Carter, Founder and President of the Greater Hazelwood Historical Society of Pittsburgh

The neighborhood's love affair with this building began over a century ago.

It was on March 30, 1913 when the public was first put on notice of the school's plans through a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper article. It read, "The Board of Public Education adopts the recommendation of its property and supplies committee. The committee also recommended that the new eight-room elementary school for Hazelwood be located on the Burgwin estate, Sylvan and Hazelwood avenues and Gladstone Street. The Burgwin estate asks $22,000 for the Hazelwood grade school site, and this is considered a little high." The asking price would be $561,966.67 in today's money. A reduction of $2000 was eventually negotiated.  

Burgwin was Nathaniel Hill Burgwin, prominent Allegheny County attorney  and vast property holder. Hill Burgwin owned the land that Gladstone would eventually be situated on since around the time Hazelwood was founded in 1868. He also owned the adjacent property fronting on Flowers Avenue, across Hazelwood Avenue called Hazel Hill estate, of which Hazelwood's name was derived. At this site he had arranged for the excavation of an ancient Native American burial ground in 1898, once offering the land to be used as both a park, and proposing it as a suitable location for the original Hazelwood Library. His son, George Collinson Burgwin, would later sale his land, giving the family name for Burgwin School.              

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By September 29, 1913, requests for proposals were being submitted to build half of the structure, including fourteen classrooms, of which three were manual training labs and three were domestic science rooms, along with administration offices, a physician's clinic, and a space for kindergarten. The $185,000 design was by architect O.M. Topp, president of the American Institute of Architects. He had been practicing in Pittsburgh for 22 years, designing the Empire Building, Jenkins Arcade, and many churches. The contracts to build were accepted in November of 1913. 

The original entrance to the school faced Gladstone Street. The street named for William Ewart Gladstone (December 29, 1809 - May 19, 1898) was a British statesman of the Liberal Party. In a career lasting over sixty years, he served for twelve years as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, spread over four terms beginning in 1868 and ending in 1894. Under the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, the Irish Home Rule movement came close to success when the Liberal government under Gladstone introduced the First Home Rule Bill in 1886, but the bill was defeated in the House of Commons after a split in the Liberal Party. Hazelwood has always had a large Scotch-Irish population. Evidence is found in many of our street names. There is a Home Rule Street up the road from the school, at the end of Gladstone Street, and there is also Parnell Street running parallel with Gladstone. 

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Gladstone school was the first of eleven new primary and high schools erected with the $3,000,000 bond issue authorized by the board of education in 1912. The new public school would relieve the Hazelwood school on Second Avenue and Tecumseh Street, located in one of the most congested sections of the city. About 350 pupils were taking lessons in cramped portable schoolrooms or obliged to get along with half-day sessions at the overcrowded Hazelwood, Glenwood, Greenfield, and Logan schools, nearby.

The new school was completed in 1914, holding its first classes on Monday, October 14, without fanfare. One of its unique features was a special room in the basement for voting. There were provisions for two different voting precincts, divided by roller curtains. The divided rooms could become one as an assembly room. A more elaborate celebration was held when Gladstone was formally dedicated on May 7, 1915. The invocation was offered by the Rev. Charles J. Thompson of Hazelwood. Superintendent of Schools, William M. Davidson spoke on the benefits of the new school. Associate Superintendent, Samuel Andrews, gave remembrances of the old Hazelwood School.   

Want to know more about Gladstone and its future? Make sure to attend our meeting on Wednesday December 5! RSVP here:

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