Hazelwood: The Woods Family
"Old Mansion in Hazelwood Retains Many Memories: Woods' Home There Once the Gathering Place of Many Famous Men and Women" in unknown, undated Pittsburgh newspaper, c1909.
Fronting on Chatsworth Avenue, perhaps the most beautiful residence street of Hazelwood, is a picturesque stone house, weather-scarred by the blasts of more than a hundred winters, and in the summer time garbed with loving ivy. It attracts the attention of many pedestrians who involuntarily wonder whose homestead it is, when it was built, and whether it has a history. How many people realize what an interesting tale of Pittsburg's earlier days, the somber, gray walls, if they only had tongues, would tell!
This domicile of "ye olden time" is the Woods home, residence of Miss Mary C. Woods, sole surviving descendant in Pittsburg of Colonel George Woods, the man who laid out the first official survey of this city. The pantograph he utilized in this important work is still treasured by Miss Woods, his great-granddaughter, and in the same box he laid it away she keeps it. As Colonel Woods made his survey in 1784, the instrument is at least 125 years old. Besides this valuable relic of early Pittsburg, Miss Woods has other possessions that once belonged to noted forbears, including swords, pistols and table ware. Nor is this all. The old house is famous as the place where Stephen Collins Foster, America's greatest song writer, composed and played some of his finest airs, and in the parlor stands the quaint mahogany piano, at the keyboard of which he spent innumerable happy hours."
The Woods Family and Estate.
The Woods family, at one time wealthy and socially prominent, were the pioneer land owners in Hazelwood, John Woods building the old stone house, quarrying the material himself from the land. This was prior to 1800. The original Woods tract was granted under the name of "Scotch Bottom," so called because many natives of the Land of the Thistle settled on it. The name is still in vogue, but now applies only to that settlement along Second Avenue in the neighborhood of Rutherglen Street and the site of the old Marion Station on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Marion Station, by the way, was named for General Francis Marion of Revolutionary fame, hero of the Carolinas and one of the truest patriots of the War of Independence. Many years before this land was granted--in the latter part of the eighteenth century--the Woods tract received the name of "Tullymet," a name still preserved in Hazelwood, the old Woods house itself, which is at the corner of Chatsworth Avenue and "Tullymet" Street.
For many years the house was the home of the steward of the Woods family, but in April, 1855, it became the residence of the family itself, and has been so ever since. Ex-Sheriff Harry Woods, father of Miss Mary C. Woods, the present occupant, lived there until his death in 1861. Before 1855 he lived on Penn "Street," now Penn Avenue, which in those days was one of the best residence thoroughfares of Pittsburg. Miss Woods' mother, Rachel Woods, died about five years ago and Miss Maria, the latter's daughter, followed her six weeks later.
Origin of Hazelwood
Hazelwood received its name from John George Woods, an uncle of Miss Mary C., who built the large house on "Hazel Hill," formerly the residence of Hill Burgwin, Esq. When the Woods family went to Hazelwood to live in the stone house, the country roundabout was covered with magnificent forests, in which hazelnuts flourished. At that time, 50 years ago, there was a peach orchard in the rear of the house, and much expense was incurred in setting out rare and beautiful flowers. The old stone well, with its fine spring, is still in use near the house.
One of the very earliest buildings or habitations on the "Scotch Bottom" tract was a little stone house at Glenwood, near the traction barn of today, but the addition of a second story has made the original almost unrecognizable. The vast extent of the Woods holdings may be imagined when it is stated that the original grant embraced all the land between "Frankstown," at Second Avenue, and Forward Avenue and Glenwood, extending back to the river to Squirrel Hill. Owing to financial reverses, due to endorsements, ex-Sheriff Harry Woods lost a great deal of this acreage. At one time he owned the famous Bedford Springs property.
Relics of Colonel Woods.
The pantograph of Colonel Woods is made of brass and when folded up is over twenty inches long, but strange to say, the name of the maker does not appear on it. It is as good today, after a century and quarter's existence, as it was when the colonel laid out the streets and alleys of downtown Pittsburg from Grant and Eleventh to the Point. The territory within these limits and the two rivers was the borough of Pittsburg, or rather it became the borough in 1794, ten years after the survey by Woods and his assistant, Thomas Vickroy. The survey and plans were approved by Tench Francis, attorney for the Penns, proprietaries of Pennsylvania, until the time of the Revolution, when they were divested of their holdings, with the exception of the "manors" they were allowed to retain in various parts of the Commonwealth. The "manor" of Pittsburg was one of these, and thus it happened the original sales of downtown realty were made by the Penns.
Colonel Woods comes of fighting blood and of a family noted for military prowess. He was a captain in the Colonial Army and confined in Fort Duquesne at the Point after being captured by the Indians and turned over to the French, but was ransomed by Big Chief Hudson for 20 pounds of tobacco, the weed then being valuable in Indian eyes. Henry Woods of Bedford, Pa., grandfather of Miss Mary C. Woods, was also a soldier, being captain of the Bedford Scouts in the French and Indian War. Miss Woods proudly displays to visitors his sword, the handle of which is of bone, and the scabbard, partly missing, of leather. It is not large, but has a very sharp point. Another interesting relic of the gallant warrior is a large metal tray, or waiter, on which were placed glasses and decanters, used when the captain entertained Washington at dinner in Bedford. The center of the tray bears a colored picture of personages dressed after the manner of the latter part of the eighteenth century. Henry Woods was a member of the Continental Congress, so served his country both as soldier and statesman. By so doing he became acquainted with Washington and enjoyed that great man's esteem.
Stephen C. Foster's Inspirations.
Stephen C. Foster often visited the Woods home, both on Penn Avenue and at Hazelwood, and played on the piano and guitar. He was an accomplished performer on the latter, which was his favorite instrument, but on the piano was indifferent. The guitar, which belonged to Mrs. Woods, is treasured as a precious relic. The song writer was one of her warm friends, and the moody, sensitive artist was sure to find a welcome there and a ready ear to listen to his woes. Like most men of genius, Foster had little business ability, and his publishers took shameless advantage of him, buying his immortal manuscript scores for a pittance. He was often so hard up that he was compelled to sell a fine song for as low a price as $15. Mrs. Woods always said that Foster's fortune was made when he wrote "My Old Kentucky Home" at least it should have been made--but his usual pressing need for cash and lack of business talent let this golden chance of acquiring a rich competence slip away.
Miss Woods relates that one night Foster visited her mother's home on Penn Avenue in company with a friend McCarty, and in a burst of inspiration sat down at the piano and composed "Jennie, with the Light Brown Hair." At another time he was present when Mrs. Woods' old Negro servant poked her head in the door and this so interested Foster that he asked, laughing, who she was. "Why, that's Nellie Bly," replied his hostess. Like a flash a thought came to the composer to write a song with this title, and he did. The song "Where is Thy Spirit, Mary?" was dedicated to Mary D. Keller, a sister of Mrs. Woods, Foster writing the words as well as the music, and playing it for the first time on the old piano. At this piano also he wrote "Sadly to Mine Heart Appealing," which he dedicated to Mrs. Woods.