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REGENT SQUARE HISTORY

By Nevin J. Rodes

The special residential/commercial neighborhood now known as Regent Square had two starts.

      First. In 1863 Judge William Wilkins acquired a 650 acre L-shaped tract of land in the Eastern environs of Pittsburgh. He eventually hired William Clyde Wilkins (no relation), an engineer and architect, to lay out a subdivision to be called the Devon Plan using street names based on the names of his large family and their relations. The plan was recorded in April 1872 and extended from Hutchinson to Forbes Road (Avenue). It was on both sides of what was then called Park Street (now Braddock Avenue) from Richmond Avenue to Trenton Avenue.

      Second. In 1910 the Devon Plan was extended to include Trevanion Street and a new southwestern sector. In 1913 William E. Harmon of Brooklyn, NY acquired a southern portion of the Devon Plan, and in 1919 he purchased the remaining portions of the Devon Plan, but he named it Regent Place. Eventually in his promotion materials he named the neighborhood Regent Square and touted it as a select area including Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg, Swissvale and Edgewood sectors.

      The 1937 "History of Swissvale" contains the following information appropriate to this history: "Owing to the geographical plan of Swissvale, we have one section which seems at times isolated from the rest of the Borough. This section, known as Regent Square, has for some time been dissatisfied and anxious to be taken out of Swissvale and annexed either to Edgewood or the City of Pittsburgh. They made their first attempt to be annexed to the Borough of Edgewood to the Quarter Session Court of Allegheny County on May 11, 1914 and the proceedings were dismissed by the Court on September 25, 1914. A second attempt was made to be annexed to the Borough of Edgewood and the proceedings were dismissed by the Court."

      "At this time the Borough had a personal tax which seemed to the people of Regent Square very high, and another petition was filed to be annexed to the City of Pittsburgh. At a special election held on March 30, 1918, the annexation was defeated; 266 voting for annexation, and 843 voting against."

      In the early states of the development of the Devon Plan, George Westinghouse encouraged some of his executives to build on lots in the southwest section of what is now Regent Square. These large and opulent homes can be seen throughout that neighborhood alongside many smaller houses, particularly the famous "Hulley houses" reportedly designed and built for the "working man", and the distinctive "Scheibler" houses.

      One of the special events conducted by the long-running Regent Square Civic Association has been the popular House Tours of special homes in the four municipalities making up the Square. Other happenings have been holiday socials, picnics in Frick Park, Easter egg hunts, Christmas lighting contests, Halloween parties, garden club meetings, civic and political seminars, block parties and flea markets, and contributions to the upkeep of the Regent Square Community Center.

      A very recent project of the Civic Association has been the study of the Braddock Avenue corridor and its necessary improvements which include street repair, sidewalk and crosswalk updating, parking changes, business curb appeal, and most recently, as of 2003, a beautiful mural on a business wall depicting Regent Square and its Frick Park neighbor with birds indigenous to the area.

      In relation to Frick Park, there is considerable history known about it. For instance, Henry Clay Frick bought 150 acres from the Wilkins estate and willed it to the City of Pittsburgh in 1919; since then the trustee has built the area to nearly 500 acres. This acreage now contains the Nine-Mile Run valley where there was fort, a barracks, and a grist mill during the French and Indian War. On the hill overlooking Regent Square is Gunn's Hill tract where a family of homesteaders was massacred by Indians. Also, on the hills were a series of gun emplacements during the Civil War anticipating the possible invasion by Confederate troups.

      So, that's Regent Square to date, a multi-faceted community of active personalities.

      This brief history is taken from the 1989 edition of "Around the Square", a book published by the Regent Square Civic Association and available for study at the Swissvale, Edgewood, Wilkinsburg libraries, the Carnegie Library in Oakland, and the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society in the strip district of Pittsburgh.

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