Tag Archives: Special collections

Pittsburgh Historical Collections at CLP

Image taken from Bridging the Urban Landscape online exhibit

Image taken from Bridging the Urban Landscape online exhibit


The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has long been a repository for Pittsburgh’s rich cultural heritage. We have many historical collections, in many different formats.

Most of these special collections do not appear in our online catalog. The links provide information to access these materials.


Pittsburgh History

Pittsburgh History – many diverse and wide-ranging resources in the Pennsylvania Department at CLP-Main.

Allegheny City Historic Reading Room located at CLP-Allegheny – a special collection of rare materials dedicated to the history of Allegheny City and the North Side.

Pittsburgh Today / Historic Pittsburgh – All things Pittsburgh.


Art and Artists

The Pittsburgh Art Topics File – an extensive clippings collection containing information about art events, art galleries, art festivals, and art organizations.

The Pittsburgh Artists File – index cards containing names of over 4000 visual artists.


Architecture and Architects

The Pittsburgh Architecture File – index cards containing information about specific buildings, architectural styles, areas, building types, houses, and other structures built in the Pittsburgh region during the 20th Century.

The Pittsburgh Architects File – index cards with the names of over 1000 architects and firms.


Music and Musicians

Pittsburgh Music Archives – a group of finding lists that provides access to uncataloged archival materials in a variety of formats.

Pittsburgh Music Special Collections – The Music Department at CLP-Main has an extensive assortment of special collections. See this post for an overview of our major collections.


Oral Histories

Western Pennsylvanians and World War II – a collaboration of Duquesne University & Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Oral Histories  – a cross-section of Western Pennsylvanians: black and white, female and male, ranging in age from their 30s to well-into their 90s.

Oral History of Music in Pittsburgh – over 300 interviews. They currently can only be listened to in the Music Department at CLP-Main.

StoryCorps – more than 150 stories collected in Pittsburgh in 2006.

Oral Histories at CLP-Lawrenceville – collected and donated by the Lawrenceville Historical Society.


Digitized Collections

Pittsburgh Iron & Steel Heritage Collection – a digital collection of books, journals, photographs, trade catalogs, and other items related to the iron and steel industry in Western Pennsylvania.

Bridging the Urban Landscape – online exhibit of some 600 historical photographs and images accompanied by text, of Pittsburgh and its neighborhoods.


Famous Pittsburghers

These pages include links to finding aids for archival material.

Famous Pittsburghers

Pittsburgh Jazz Musicians



Pittsburgh Photographic Library



Pittsburgh Maps



Genealogical research in the Pennsylvania Department

Pennsylvania Department Research Requests


The William R. Oliver Special Collections Room

The William R. Oliver Special Collections Room is the crown jewel of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (in my opinion)! It houses rare and unique materials including books, manuscripts, personal papers and historic photographs, in a climate controlled room. The Oliver Room contains extensive holdings on the history of Western Pennsylvania. One of my favorites includes a collection of letters and papers on the Whiskey Insurrection, 1790-1800.


The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh also has non-local historical collections which I will detail in my next post.


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Well Isn’t That Special

Music Special Collections at the Main Library

special collection

noun Library Science.

a collection of materials segregated from a general library collection according to form, subject, age, condition, rarity, source, or value.

Dictionary.com Unabridged

Music and culture existed in Pittsburgh before the arrival of the Internet.  Music Librarians collected and preserved the music history of the region found on newspaper and magazine clippings, concert programs, and the like.  In those days, musicians and music lovers attended music events and played music using sheet music, much like they do today.  The big difference is the way things were published, the way information was transmitted, the type of music that was popular, and the formats available for recorded music. Here in the Music Department, we’ve worked to preserve that history for years to come.

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Music Special Collections are not as extensive as the special collections of the music division in the Library of Congress, but we have our share of great resources.  Most of our collections have a Pittsburgh connection, each collection has its own (sometimes quirky) history, and each deserves a blog post of its own.

Here is an overview of our major collections:

Click for a full list of CLP’s Music Special Collections and sheet music collections.

Librarians in the Music Department are happy to discuss questions concerning personal collections of music-related materials.


P.S. Special…

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Oh Dear, Richard III

Proving once again that truth is frequently stranger than fiction, the bones of King Richard III, of England (1452-1485), were recently found beneath a car park in Leicester. The internet greeted this news with the amusing memes it richly deserves. For example:


Spotted on actress Dawn French‘s Facebook page.

See also:

Spotted on the Blackadder Facebook fan page.

Spotted on the Blackadder Facebook fan page.

(If you are not familiar with Rowan Atkinson’s comedic turns as Edmund Blackadder, you have some DVDs to request. Click here.)

Good fun all around! However, it would be a pity if the only thing we knew about history were that it’s often subject to creative hilarity. Therefore, I give you a short list of resources for learning more about Richard III.


Useful Websites

Cool Stuff We Keep Locked Up

(To see any of these nifty items up close, ask a librarian.)

Digital Resources Even Your Teacher Will Love

Working on an assignment? Not allowed to use “web resources”? We can get you behind the paywall for those journal articles. Visit our electronic history resources and browse through:

  • Biography in Context
  • Salem History
  • World History in Context

See also our electronic reference books–I’d suggest the Gale Virtual Reference Library.

That should be enough to get you started on your journey to understand a misunderstood monarch. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of…

Oh, you wacky internet. Spotted here

Oh, you wacky internet. Spotted here

Or would that be anti-Tudoring?  Hm.

Leigh Anne

who, admittedly, doesn’t know much about history, but knows where to look (and dearly loves to laugh).


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“Under the Rule of the Storm King:” Pittsburgh Tornado, July 4, 1878

If you are a regular reader of Eleventh Stack, I wonder if you’ve noticed how often the folks who work here are amazed at what they find in the Carnegie Library?   Personally, I frequently feel that I stumble on things that are not only amazing but things which I would have never expected.

Perhaps “stumble” isn’t the correct word, though I can think of a time or two when I literally stumbled on the unexpected.  A few months back, one of my colleagues showed me something that she discovered that I found truly astonishing.  In this case, it wasn’t so much the information that she found, which was fascinating enough and makes up the main subject of this particular post, but the form in which she found it.  More on this in a moment.

I’ve been a Pittsburgher for nigh on 20 years and I’ve experienced many an incredible event here.  Surviving last winter, for one.   I also was here for a Pittsburgh tornado; I remember the particularly sickly blend of greenish/yellow that pervaded the atmosphere that evening and was very grateful that I had a sturdy roof over my head.

Often I’ve heard people say that tornadoes don’t touch down in Pittsburgh.  But, though infrequent, they in fact do.  One deadly one hit the Pittsburgh area on July 4th 1878, 132 years ago.  And, here, due to serendipity, is how we found out.

My colleague was searching in the stacks for something when she saw a tier of unusual (for a library) looking books: oversized, no spine labels, uncatalogued, looking for all the world like a collection of old fashioned ledgers placed on a shelving rack for future disposition.  Which, as it turned out,  is precisely what they were.    She selected one at random and brought it down to the office to try and determine what exactly they were.  Here is a photo of part of the collection:

And here is the individual volume:

Click photos to enlarge

After doing considerable leg work, we determined that what you are now looking at is a photo of an entry from a daily journal of a Pittsburgh Weather observer for 1878.  This collection of handwritten journals runs from 1850 through the 1940’s and was produced under various agencies throughout the years.

The Weather Bureau was established in 1870 within the Department of War and was assigned to the U.S. Army Signal Corps.   Previous to that, the weather was recorded first by Post Offices throughout the country, then by Army Medical Surgeons.  During the country’s expansion west, observations were used as a form of weather prediction, for both civilian and military purposes; stations up wind sent notice on to the next station, largely via telegraph, as to what was heading their way.  A network of observation stations, many of which were staffed by volunteers, was coordinated by weather pioneer, James Pollard Espy.

In 1837, Espy obtained money from the Pennsylania legislature to equip weather watchers in each county with barometers, thermometers, and rain gauges.  He went on to become the first chief of the national weather service.   The agency was later transferred from War to the Department of Agriculture, then the Department of Commerce.  It was renamed the National Weather Service in 1967, and now resides under the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

The reason we “stumbled on” the information about the tornado is that there was a very yellowed, disintegrating newspaper clipping, as pictured above, tucked in the page of the journal we were inspecting.  It had been placed in the book at the entry for the date, July 4th, 1878.   From the journal entry and clipping, we went on to find information in various newspaper resources and actually found the original article from the Pittsburgh Daily Telegraph, in decidedly better condition, and the headline from which this post takes its title.  With some further legwork, we found via ancestry.com, this article which describes in full what happened at Ross Grove (which is the present-day O’Hara Township/Aspinwall area)  7 miles northeast of the city.  The information in the article is a composite of material taken from the Pittsburgh Daily Post, the Pittsburgh Evening Chronicle, the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, and the diary of H. J. Heinz.  My colleague also found a recounting in the New York Times from the Daily Telegraph article.  In addition, the event is listed in the massive compendium, Significant Tornadoes, 1680-1991.

Besides the articles listed above, there is a succinct summation of the events of that fateful day in The Pennsylvania Weather Book:

July 4, 1878: Sunday School Tragedy

Another weather disaster struck on the Fourth of July, four years to the day after the Lewistown tornado.  The storm swept over the city of Pittsburgh, causing localized flooding.  A number of buildings were struck by vicious lightning, resulting in “great damage” but no fatalities.  Twelve miles above Pittsburgh, a flash flood claimed three lives at Sandy Creek Village, where a house was washed away in the storm runoff.

Another tragedy developed at a picnic in the community of Ross Grove, about seven miles northeast of Pittsburgh.  Either a tornado or possibly a downburst struck the area where a Sunday School picnic was under way around 3:00 P.M.  A large tree smashed into a wagon, killing seven children and adults.  Press accounts indicated sixteen others were injured, some seriously.  Flash floods several miles away took another five lives.

A full and interesting account, containing details which found their way into the Telegraph article, comes from the above journal entry for the 4th of July, 1878 by G. W. Hay, the Army Signal Corps observer in the Pittsburgh station. The station, according to the City Directory for 1878-1879, was located at 55 Fifth Avenue (the previous year’s directory, 1877-1878, locates the office as “room 18, First National Bank Building“).  The typical weather journal entry throughout the book for any given day was 3 or 4 lines, stating the winds, barometric readings, and general temperature (3 of these typical entries, for July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, may be seen in the photo at the top of the page).   All the entries are in black ink in fine script, which is only occasionally hard to decipher.  The entry for July 4th, 1878 runs an uncharacteristic 32 lines, covering two pages,with marginal one or two word summations done in mauve ink.  Here is a transcription of that entry which is pictured above, complete with the occasional grammatical error:

Light to brisk easterly winds slightly higher barometer and stationary temperature.  Warm partly cloudy weather during the morning followed during the afternoon by a very destructive thunder, rain, and wind storm [in the margin, next to this line is written in mauve ink “Tornado”]. the rain com [commenced?] falling at 3:05 P.M. accompanied by unusually heavy thunder and lightning, the rain fell in torrents from 3:05 until about 5:00 P.M. and lightly from then to 7:35 P.M.  Amount of percipitation 2.80 in. The highest velocity of wind at this plateau [?] 30 miles at 3:30 P.M. At Ross Grove, about 8 miles up the West Penn Road a picnic was in progress when the storm struck the grove, a number of large sugar trees were blown down killing 7 and wounding 18 persons including men, women & children.  The Cosmos Oil Works on the Allegheny Valley RR [indecipherable] of the city limits was struck by lightning and burned loss about $25,000.  On Sandy Creek about 12 miles up the Allegheny the flood swept away a house belonging to a man named Connor [in margin in mauve ink “Family Drowned”]. The house was occupied by five persons all of whom were lost.  The storm was local and the damage done was all within from 15 to 20 miles of the city. besides [sic] the damage notes above there were several bridges and houses and barns struck by lightning and burned residences flooded etc.  The barometer at the station rose slightly during the progress of the storm but fell again immediately afterward.

Foul weather sunset – verified

This collection of one-of-a-kind local meteorological journals is an example of materials the Library has over the last 4 years been able to turn its attention to as a result of special preservation grants from a variety of agencies, including the Carnegie Corporation, state legislators, individual memorial gifts, and a number of Pittsburgh foundations.  The donors’ collective generosity is targeted to preserving and storing local gems such as the Craig Papers, the Art folio collection, and others.  This unique collection of local weather data, so fastidiously recorded day in and day out, year after year, in longhand, by individuals dedicated to the art and science not only of weather but of history itself is, indeed, another gem in the Carnegie collection.

– Don (& colleague)

PS. In case you didn’t hear, another infrequent natural occurrence was felt in Western PA just last week – an earthquake.


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