16 September 2008

How to Research Your Old House, If It's the One Formerly Known as Nutwood

When we bought Nutwood, we were told that it was built in 1877; it had been moved to its current location from someplace else. That's it.

So I went first to the local library, to look at "the archives." The archives for Edgewood Borough turn out to be a manila folder full of some clippings, and some copies of "A History of Edgewood Borough," published in 1934. In all the file, there was no mention of the house at our address, or any mention of some house getting moved there. I did learn that the piece of street the house is on wasn't put in until about 1897, and before that it was a stream, making the story about the house getting moved here more plausible -- clearly, it was built before the street existed. I found some plat maps on line, and I was able to see that indeed there was no house here at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, though it shows up later.

I went down to the Allegheny County Courthouse to research the deeds. This got me back to 1911, when the plan for the land plots (of which this is #11) was filed by George Johnston (whose name shows up in early Edgewood history). It also gave me the names of the owners of the house for several decades -- back to 1911, though the deeds didn't go back further.

I went online to do genealogical research, and found, by looking at census forms and draft cards, that the house, which had been sold to Maud Bean in 1918, had been occupied by the Beans by at least 1917. But before that no-one shows up at this address. (The Beans would eventually lose the house, in foreclosure, in 1933.)

I also found, by googling the name of the owners from the 60's through the 70's, the man who had, in 1984, restored and flipped the house. Emailed him. He and his sister, who grew up here, are going to come by some weekend soon, to tell us about the house as they knew it. She told me that the old people who lived behind them told her that the house had been originally moved from the hill above -- so it would, originally, have been on the street behind us, before this street was moved in. He told me that a history of the house had been written, by one of the founders of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

I went by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks library to see what I could find. They do not have, in the founder's collected papers, the history of the house. Darn.

But through looking at the plat maps, and working with the Edgewood histories, and doing genealogical research, I believe -- so far -- that the house was built in 1876, by Alexander Cadman -- it was next door to his dad's house (that'd be Sampson Cadman, immigrant from England), and you can see on the plat maps that at the time this house was built, Alexander owned this property, as part of the property that's now behind it. If you're following this.

Anyway. Alexander, who along with his dad was one of the founders of Edgewood, built it, when he married his first wife. She died, and he remarried, and this house got moved here. From the time it was here, it's been at least two apartments, sometimes three.

And now it's one house again.

I've got three more places I can look; Edgewood was part of Wilkinsburg when the house was built, so I'm going over to the Wilkinsburg library to look at THEIR archives -- maybe I'll have more luck. And the main Carnegie library has a Pittsburgh history collection which also I need to look at.

If all that fails, I might contact the owner of the house for whom the history was written. (Or not; he might not be into hearing from total strangers who bought a house he once owned.)

Someday, perhaps, I'll be able to prove who the builder was, and then the house can be "The Alexander Cadman House," or whatever. Till then, I now think of it as "The House Formerly Known as Nutwood."


Ryan said...

Er, did you read the "Personal Life" section of the article on Mr. Scaife? Holy moly.

Found this all fascinating, the process as well as the results. I LOVE research. Wish I could find a job in it. Hmmmm; something to think about.

Pandora said...

Yep. Hence my hesitation in emailing.

I wish I could prove that A.W. Cadman built the house -- but that might never happen.


Marjie said...

Have you tried the Heinz History Center? They have an archives room, census reports, etc. Very interesting.

CarlBrannen said...

Send him a nice letter with a photo of the house and enclose a self-addressed stamped postcard with a place to put a checkmark,
"yes this is the Cadman House" or "no it is not".

Fabulously wealthy people don't like to waste time, I suppose. But I would think he would appreciate the interest.

CarlBrannen said...

I was looking through my DNS logs today (which is a bad habit I had largely eliminated but I had a blip and was curious), and someone clicked over from your blog with a DNS of

Turns out the address is Wasilla, Alaska, a place I don't recall running into before.

Pandora said...

Carl, I like the idea of sending a self-addressed stamped card. That is SO cool.

And as to the hit from Alaska -- can you see Russia from there?

ha ha. I slay myself.

Margie -- yep, tried the History Center. Nothing.

Reya Mellicker said...

I think Maud Bean is one of the coolest names I've ever heard. Sampson Cadman is a close second.

Pandora you are such a dedicated and skillful detective! I salute you and the house formerly known at Nutwood.

Reya Mellicker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pandora said...

Yeah, I was really sorry that the house can't by rights be called The Maud Bean house, just cause the name rocks.

Maybe I can use it elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Scaife was in a think tank with Anne Coulter once, you know. I wouldn't email him. And then I'd have the house exorcised.

anne hill said...

Wow, you are inspiring me to continue with my own neighborhood research down at the County Building. My old drunk neighbor tells me that the falling-down shack across the street built around a genuine historic caboose was actually the red light district of Bodega Bay at one time. Apparently owned and operated by Sally Stanford, extending her tentacles from Sausalito, so to speak.

I rummaged through miles of microfilm last year trying to verify it, and managed to trace the property back to the 1940s. Now maybe I'll pick up the threads again and see if I can find out whether it was true or not.

But really, just being able to say that the heap of junk across the street used to be the town's red light district may be reward enough.

Can't wait to visit the house formerly known as Nutwood in person, some day.