Canning: No NIMBYs in the Northside


When did any of us who were born and raised on the Northside first hear at the term NIMBY?

NIMBY, an acronym for ‘Not in My Back Yard, describes residents who oppose  outside organizations moving into their neighborhoods.

My sense is that the term has its roots in the homogenized world of suburban America. It made its way into our city neighborhoods as suburbanites fell in love with many of the advantages of city living.

Recently, the University of Illinois Press published a work by Jessie Ramey focusing on two of the many orphanages found in Allegheny City.

Ramey, now teaching at Pitt, comes from a family of city residents going back several generations.

 Her work looks closely at the “United Presbyterian Orphanage’ (presently Mars Home for Children) that was on Armandale Street in Allegheny’s Second Ward (now the Central Northside) and the “Home for Colored Children”(presently Three Rivers Youth’s on Termon Avenue) that originated in Manchester and then relocated to a more spacious site in Allegheny’s Eleventh Ward (Brighton Heights).

It is interesting that the founders and the directors of these homes for disadvantaged youngsters lived in the very Allegheny City neighborhoods where the facilities were built.

Allegheny City community leaders embraced and supported such institutions in their “back yards.”

Folks in Troy Hill supported the St. Joseph Orphan’s home along with the Home of the Good Shepherd. On Spring Hill, at the corner of Rockledge and Asylum Streets, was the orphanage supported by St. Peter’s Evgl. Lutheran congregation on Lockhart Street.  

In Historic Deutschtown there was the Home for the Friendless on Pressley Street and the Little Sisters of the Poor home for destitute elderly citizens.

That facility eventually moved into the Brighton Heights neighborhood, when Patrick and Catherine Wall, residents of the 11th Ward, made a sizable donation to move the home into their community
The Protestant Orphanage of Allegheny and Pittsburgh was originally provided with land at Sherman and Taylor avenues by Allegheny City’s first mayor, William Robinson.

The need to provide housing for growing numbers of orphans and needy youngsters resulted in this orphanage moving to a larger site on Ridge Avenue directly across the street from the palatial homes of the Byers, the Dennison, the Oliver and the Snyder families.

As Allegheny City expanded so did the location of more institutions serving the communities needy residents. The St. John’s Lutheran congregation of Deutschtown founded a hospital, orphanage and an “Altenheim” (Old Peoples Home) on McClure Avenue.

A few decades later the Independent Order of Odd Fellows established and orphanage and a widow’s home a few blocks beyond St. John’s Hospital.
In Allegheny’s Tenth Ward (now Observatory Hill), at the grand entrance to Riverview Park, was the Gusky Orphange.

Jacob Gusky, a prominent merchant, and other leaders of Allegheny and Pittsburgh’s Jewish community established a impressive home for the orphaned children as well as children of families with limited means within the Jewish community.

When reading sections of Ramey’s work I realized that the “orphanages” of earlier times became the group homes of the present.

I then recalled several meetings of the Allegheny West Civic Council in the 1970s. The membership was asked to support a couple of social service agencies that wanted to locate a group home in the community.
No NIMBY talk then, but lots of “getting to know you talk” well as a welcome to the neighborhood. The youngsters who lived in these homes became part of the neighborhood.

Over the years a number of long lasting friendships developed and remain intact. The community, from my perspective, prospered and the youngsters benefited from inclusion.

It must have been that same realization that was in the minds of many of Allegheny City neighborhood leaders as they welcomed various social institution into their communities.

No NIMBYs there.

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