714 Fifth (1861-1937): J. & J. B. Milholland Co.

The J & J.B. Milholland Co. building as seen in a 1900 map from the G. M. Hopkins Co.

The J & J.B. Milholland Co. lot as seen in a 1900 map from the G. M. Hopkins Co.

The businessmen who once operated along Fifth Avenue were primarily merchants and primarily Jewish, but not entirely either, as the J. & J. B. Milholland Co. proves. James and John B. Milholland were born in old Allegheny in 1836 and 1834, respectively. Their father was a prominent building contractor, and both brothers trained as machinists. After working separately for some years, they teamed up around 1861 to found an engine-building outfit called J. & J. B. Milholland Co. at 714 Fifth Avenue, which was at the Downtown end of Fifth Avenue, practically at the corner of Boyd and Diamond.

The J. & J.B. Milholland Co. shop as seen in a June 20, 1911 photograph from the Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection.

The J. & J.B. Milholland Co. shop as seen in a June 20, 1911 photograph from the Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection.

J. & J. B. Milholland Co. specialized “in coal mining equipment and in river work for the United States Government, mainly on locks and dams,” according to Frank C. Harper’s 1931 volume Pittsburgh of Today: Its Resources and People. But perhaps the company’s most notable contribution to the city was building the original steam engines for the Monongahela Incline. The engines were housed in a two-story brick building located across Grandview Avenue from the top of the incline. The operator would sit in a room looking down on the incline and use a hand throttle and footbrake to run the engines either forward or in reverse. (The engines were replaced during a 1935 renovation.)

from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune )February 9, 1939)

from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune
(February 9, 1939)

The brothers were active in the Presbyterian Church, particularly James, who was both a deacon at the Bellefield Church and superintendant of the Sunday School at the Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church. James Milholland died in 1901, leaving a wife and four children. Among them was Harry C. Milholland, who started his working life in 1883 as a clerk for the Pittsburgh Chronicle and ended it in 1939 as the president of the Pittsburgh Press. “How I came to stay in the business so long is a secret, but I’ll tell you how I nearly got out of the business,” he told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 1939, while in Florida for his annual winter vacation. “The bookkeeper and I got mixed up in an argument one day and after upsetting all the chairs and wastebaskets in the office the manager picked on me and said, ‘Young fellow, if you want to know how important you are around here go back to that wash bucket and stick your finger in the water. When you pull it out, look for the hole. If there is one there, you’ll know we cannot get along without you.’” Even after he relinquished day-to-day operations of the newspaper, Harry C. Milholland continued going into the Press offices every day until the day he died.

1955-08-02 Press Hufschmidt obit

Albert Hufschmidt, from his obituary in the Pittsburgh Press (August 2, 1955).

In 1895, the Brothers Milholland hired Albert Hufschmidt, a young mechanic hailing from a small town in northwestern Pennsylvania. Hufschmidt slowly climbed the ranks of the family business, becoming general manager in 1904 and buying the company outright in 1911. Boosted by government contracts starting in World War I, Hufschmidt tripled the company’s business between the 1910s and the 1930s. He ran a far-reaching enterprise: the J. & J. B. Milholland name appears on a capstan of the Chittenden Locks along the Lake Washington Ship Canal in Seattle. Hufschmidt also appears to have rented out the upper floors of the Fifth Avenue building to pattern makers, including the Anchor Pattern Co. and the Crescent Pattern Co. Today, the lot holds offices. Although a Lutheran, Hufschmidt occasional advertised in the Jewish Criterion, perhaps as a nod to his Avenue neighbors. In 1918, Hufschmidt moved his wife and four daughters into a large brick house on California Avenue, in the North Side neighborhood of Brighton Heights, and took up the newly en vogue pastime of automobile racing. He stayed in the house, which appears to still be standing, with his large family until his death in 1955.

The location of the J. & J. B. Milholland factory as of May 13, 2013. Photo by Eric Lidji.

The location of the J. & J. B. Milholland factory as of May 13, 2013. Photo by Eric Lidji.

UPDATE (May 13, 2013): Added present day photo.

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