THIRTY-SEVEN YEARS IN PITTSBURGH
by Harold Henderson
2 May 2002
As far as we know, Lois Boren's great-grandfather Samuel
Wesley Boren (~1829-1898) has the distinction of being the first
Boren to spend his life as a townsman and not a farmer. He
worked as a plasterer and lived on the east side of Pittsburgh
between 1860 (when 178,000 people lived in Allegheny County) and
1900 (when 775,000 people lived there). So you could also say
that the city came to him.
During these four decades, six members of his immediate
family -- himself; his younger brother John R. (~1834-?); and his
sons Thomas, (~1848-1896), John M.(~1856-?), Harry F.(~1858-?),
and William C. (~1868-?) -- all worked as plasterers and lived in the
same neighborhood, although no more than five did so at any one
time. Thomas is Lois's grandfather and Grand-Addison's father.
He served four months in the Union Army at the end of the Civil
War, and according to his grandson Addison Boren Jr. received a
serious head wound.
Plastering, of course, is construction work. Applying plaster to
inside walls or stucco to outside walls is a physical job, but more
skilled and less exhausting than many jobs of that era. According
to a present-day description, "The work is active and strenuous
with most of the work done on the ground or the floor level. The
worker is required to
stoop, bend or kneel. . . . Persons entering this occupation should
receive satisfaction of tangible results from a job well done. They must
be able to work without close supervision and be able to adapt to a wide
variety of working conditions."
The Borens mostly lived in a neighborhood called East Liberty, in
what were then Pittsburgh's 19th, 20th, and 21st wards. Originally
established as a suburban refuge from Pittsburgh, it was soon swallowed
up by the city. During most of this time the neighborhood included
stockyards and railroad shops, so it had to include housing for the
people who worked there, as well as for the wealthier folks seeking to
avoid Pittsburgh's densest smoke.
The Borens were not among these wealthier folks. As we will see,
they moved almost every year and sometimes doubled or tripled up in
one residence. On one occasion it seems likely that Samuel bought a
house, and soon lost it.
We know where the Borens lived and what their jobs were because
an enterprising publisher issued a city directory for the Pittsburgh area in
1861 and every year thereafter, until the telephone book took its place in
the mid-1930s. These directories weren't intended to be long-lasting
records. They were printed on cheap paper every year because
individuals and businesses moved constantly. You would no more save
old city directories than we would save decade-old phone books today.
Fortunately some libraries did!
Like the society they describe in hasty outline, these city directories
are an almost all-male preserve. They list only the head of each
household -- usually a man, sometimes a widow or single woman
supporting herself as a seamstress or dressmaker or similar occupation --
and any "boarders," usually younger men also out earning a living. It
lists their address and their jobs. Their spouses and children remain
invisible. We can find them only when the census comes around every
The quality control in city directories wasn't much better than the
paper they were printed on. Sometimes (I'm convinced) people were
missed. Sometimes their occupations change, seemingly at random.
Other times their names were mispronounced, misheard, and/or
misspelled. This may not have been a big problem for bill collectors or
salesmen, but it is for those of us trying to track the Borens. In various
years, careless directory workers transformed them into Borans, Borons,
Borns, Borlands, and Borelands. (My rule of thumb in such cases: a
possibly misnamed Boren cannot be claimed as such unless there's at
least one clear connection with an adjacent year showing the same
distinctive occupation or the same distinctive address, preferably both.)
No doubt the family members themselves had more compelling things to
worry about than exactly how the officious stranger at the door (was he a
bill collector really?) wrote down his information!
As far as I know, we have no family letters or papers from before
Grand-Addison (1869-1949) grew up. So in an attempt to get an idea of
how his parents and grandparents lived, I decided to read the Pittsburgh
city directories as they were never meant to be read -- as a slide show, a
flashing series of snapshots, one a year, freezing a few family members'
jobs and locations. Sometimes the flashbulb doesn't go off; sometimes
perhaps the Borens were out of the picture altogether. We don't know
which. When I say below that someone is "absent," I mean only "absent
from the city directory." As of now we have no way to know whether
they were also absent from Pittsburgh.
1861. Elizabeth Boren, widow of John, a dressmaker, lives at 21 E
Com[mercial?] in Allegheny City (later annexed to Pittsburgh). John
Boren, a plasterer, is boarding at the same address, and is presumably
her son. It would seem reasonable to identify her as Elizabeth Moore
Boren and him as John Redpath Boren (roughly age 27) -- Samuel
Wesley's mother and younger brother.
This identification is consistent with a mysterious and barely legible
entry in the 1850 census for Allegheny City, eleven years earlier. At that
time we see a household headed by Elizabeth Boren (probably 53 years
old). The household includes 16-year-old John, which makes sense. It
also includes Sarah A. aged 23 or 33, which might make sense if she's 23
and son Samuel W.'s wife Sarah Ann Jamison Boren. But there are three
other people who have no known place in the Boren family of that time:
Elizabeth age 18, Catherine age 10, and Sarah A. again aged perhaps 2.
The whereabouts of 21-year-old Samuel are also unknown.
Let me add here that the confusion of this census entry is entirely
typical of the Borens. I have yet to find Samuel in either the 1850 or 1860
censuses, or his wife, or his children. His wife and younger children are
again missing in 1880, and John R.'s wife is missing in 1870. In general,
prior to Bertie Linhart who married Grand-Addison, we know almost
nothing of the three generations of women who married into the family
in the 1800s -- Elizabeth Moore (who married John), Sarah Ann Jamison
(who married Samuel), and Jennie Cochran (who married Thomas),
although we're making progress on Jennie.
Back to the 1861 Pittsburgh directory: it also lists a John Borland,
also a plasterer, also living in Allegheny City, on Federal near Benton
alley. It is unusual, but not unheard-of, for one person to be listed more
than once in a city directory. But there are also real Borlands to be
considered, and he might be one of them.
1862. No Borens. The widow Elizabeth is absent, not seen again
until at least 1871. (Perhaps subsequent surveyors no longer regarded
her as head of the household, or perhaps she died and the later widow is
someone else.) An ambiguous John Borland, plasterer, is now boarding
at 92 Beaver in Allegheny City.
Then again -- on the record books for the first time, we find Samuel
"Borland," plasterer, living on Greensburg Road in East Liberty. This is
undoubtedly Samuel Wesley Boren (see 1863), and when he is visible at
all for the next few years this is his spot. Since we have no birth or
marriage record for him, I believe this is his first known appearance in the
1863. Samuel W. Boren, plasterer, is living on Greensburg Road in
East Liberty. John Boren the plasterer is now living on an alley near
Beaver, in Manchester (a neighborhood of Allegheny City), where he
moves from place to place for the next four years.
1864. Samuel absent. His younger brother John R. Boren, plasterer,
is living at the corner of Evans alley and Nixon in Manchester.
1865. Samuel reappears at apparently the same place, Greensburg
Pike in East Liberty. John R. Boren, plasterer, is at Evans alley and
Beaver in Manchester. This year the Civil War ended and President
Lincoln was shot.
1866. Samuel absent. John R. Boren, plasterer, is on Market near
Chestnut in Manchester. He is also listed -- exact same name -- in
McClure Township near Woods Run. (Or is this a case where poor John
Borland the plasterer has been wrongly renamed by a hurried directory
1867. Samuel absent. John R. Boren, plasterer, is on Beaver in
1868. Samuel W. Boren, plasterer, is on Greensburgh Pike in East
Liberty, which makes me think that he may well have been there every
year since 1862, and possibly before. For the first time his son, Lois's
grandfather, Thomas W. Boren appears: he's listed as a painter, living
on Pride, in Collins Township. We know from the family Bible that he
married Jennie Cochran the year before. John R. Boren is absent for the
next two years.
1869. Samuel Boren moves to the corner of Penn and Negley in the
19th ward of Pittsburgh. Penn is probably the same street as
Greensburgh Pike, and the 19th Ward is just another name for part of
East Liberty. So this was not a big move in space, but it probably was in
terms of commitment, as it seems likely that he bought the house. His
son, now called "Wesley Boren, painter," is on Broad St. in the same
neighborhood. From other records, we know that this year he and Jennie
became parents of Addison Boren.
1870 CENSUS. This year we get a color picture instead of just a
snapshot. Almost certainly Samuel owns the house at Penn and Negley,
since he is listed as owning $2100 worth of real estate, as well as $600 in
personal property. In any case, the house is stuffed full with three
families. Samuel is said to be 40 years old and his own family includes
Sarah A. [Jamison], age 42 "housekeeper", and their children: Kate A.
16; John M. 14 and already called a plasterer here although it's a few
years until he makes the city directory; Harry F. 12, Ida M. 10 and
attending school, Elizabeth 7 and attending school, and William 2. (I
don't know that William is Samuel and Sarah's child, but he's listed as if
he were, his later choice of profession suggests so, and I don't see who
else he might belong to.) Samuel's brother John R., a plasterer age 36, is
back on the scene and in the house along with his two children, Nettie F.
age 6 and attending school, and Samuel age 1. Samuel Wesley's son
Thomas W., said to be age 20 and a painter with $200 personal property,
has just moved in but is listed as head of the household. His wife Jennie
is said to be age 20 (almost certainly false) and a "housekeeper" (almost
certainly true), and Addison is aged zero.
Were you counting? That's 14 people. Conspicuous by their
absence are Samuel and John R.'s aged mother Elizabeth, and John R.'s
wife, said to be Margaret Gillens.
The city directory for 1870 was evidently compiled either before or
after the 1870 census was taken, because the city directory lists John R.
as living on Greensburgh Pike in the 21st Ward, which would be at least
a few blocks east of the Penn & Negley house. He is also called a "paper
hanger" in the city directory, rather than a plasterer. At some point
during this decade, he vanishes for good. It's hard to tell just when as
some of the 1870s listing may be him or they may be Samuel's son John
M., born 1856, or they may be an actual John Borland.
1871. No Borens! There are two Borlands who may be our people as
they are in the neighborhood. Most likely is John Borland, a plasterer, in
the 19th Ward on Negley near Station. Somewhat less likely (see 1873) is
a Samuel Borland, described as a "laborer," and living on Frankstown
Avenue in the 21st Ward.
It's hard to tell exactly what is going on, but this year's listing and
those to follow strongly suggest that the Borens no longer have the
house at Penn and Negley. Not yet having checked the property
records, I would guess that some kind of financial catastrophe wiped out
Samuel's real estate investment.
1872. Samuel and John absent. Thomas W. Boren appears on Butler
as a laborer. And "Elizabeth Boran, widow," is found living at 90
Crawford. I don't know who she is, but she continues to appear, usually
listed as widow of John, well up into the 1870s, so I tend to doubt that
she is Elizabeth Moore Boren. But it's possible.
1873. Samuel Boren, plasterer, is at Frankstown near Station in the
21st Ward. And so is Samuel "Boreland," a laborer, on Frankstown near
Lincoln Avenue in the same ward. These addresses are distinct places,
so these are very likely different people. John Boren, plasterer, is on the
same street in the 19th ward, not far away.
1874. All Borens absent. A Samuel and George Boreland are
working in the stock yards and living at the corner of Frankstown
Avenue and Putnam in the 21st Ward. Since we have no George and this
is a novel occupation, I guess that they are not our Borens.
1875. Thomas W. Boren, plasterer, lives on Girard Ave. in the east
end. All others absent.
1876. No Borens.
1877. No Borens. This is the year Pittsburgh was under martial law
due to a railroad strike.
1878. No Borens, except perhaps T. W. "Born," a plasterer living in
the 21st Ward on Aliquippa Avenue near Spring.
1879. No Borens.
1880 CENSUS. Time for another color photograph. Nine Borens,
two families, are living on Marietta Street in the 20th Ward (still in the
East Liberty area), probably at the corner of Marietta and Mary. Thomas
Boren, age 31 and listed as a painter, is head of the household. Jennie is
37, Addison 10 and in school, Elizabeth 8 and in school, Frank 5, George
3. Samuel Boren, now 51, is there with sons John 25 and Harry 22. All
three are listed as plasterers and the census-taker notes that all three
have been out of work -- John for two months, Samuel and Harry for one.
Perhaps his wife Sarah and younger daughters are staying with her
family? (I have consulted the excellent new 1880 census index on CDs
but not found any obviously correct Sarah yet. But she has to be
The city directory this year lists "J.W. Boren" at Marietta and Mary,
probably a misprint for "T.W."
1881. Samuel W. Boren, plasterer, is living in the 19th Ward on
Collins Ave. near Station. Thomas W., painter, remains at Marietta near
1882. S. W. Boren, plasterer, remains on Collins Ave. for another
year, joined by his son Harry (roughly 27 years old). T. W. Boren,
painter, and likely younger brother John Boren, plasterer, have moved
and are in the same household on Marietta near Euclid Avenue. Until
the end of his life Thomas is almost as likely to be doubled up with a
relative as living on his own.
1883. Father and son plasterers S.W. and Harry F. Boren have
moved to Broad near St. Clair. Another son, J. M. Boren, plasterer, is
back at Marietta and Mary. J. W. Boren, plasterer -- probably T. W. -- is
on Kirkwood near St. Clair. This is the year in which Grand-Addison
reports that he had to quit the eighth grade to go to work to help support
his family, but he's not old enough to be in the directory quite yet.
1884. Thomas Boren is absent. The three remaining Boren plasterers
are at 3 different addresses -- S. W. on Broad near Sheridan, John M. at
17 Mayflower, and Harry on College Avenue near Walnut.
1885. Thomas absent again, as is John M. We find S. W. Boren on
Broad near Euclid, and Harry F. Boren in the 20th Ward, on Spahar near
1886. All five Boren family plasterers are in action this year. Samuel
W. and Wm. C. Boren (youngest son, age 18) are at 5804 Broad St.
Thomas W. is next door at 5806. Harry F. "Boran" is on Wilberforce
above Ellsworth Avenue. John "Born" reappears at 17 Mayflower,
where he probably was in 1885 too.
1887. This must have been a good year, as nobody moved! And
now a new generation is heard from: Thomas's son Addison Boren,
"book keeper." He's 18.
1888. Thomas is absent. Samuel, William, Addison, and John M.
remain where they have been since 1886. Harry F. moves to Murtland
Ave. near Bellweir.
1889. Samuel is absent until 1893 (possibly living with a son and
considered as not working?). Addison -- listed as bookkeeper with Best,
Fox, and Co. -- has moved to 20 Meadow, in the east part of East Liberty.
He and his father (listed as "J.W," a plaster) remain at this address for
three years. He is listed a second time as "Harrison" Boren, bookkeeper
on Meadow near Larimer. This is the year when Jennie Cochran Boren --
Addison's mother, Thomas's wife -- died. According to her death
notice, obtained by Robin from the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, she
died "at the family residence. No. 20 Meadow at Twenty first ward."
The remaining brothers have moved: John to 21 Mayflower, Harry to
411 Murtland Ave. (might be the same place described differently).
William is absent.
1890. Addison, bookkeeper, has a business at 77 First Ave., and still
lives at 20 Meadow, where his father Thomas W., plasterer, is as well.
John M. has moved to 4 Meadow, and William C. to 315 Larimer. Harry is
listed both at 511 Murtland and at 6335 Shakespeare.
1891. Addison, now a "manager," remains at 20 Meadow as does
T.W., no occupation listed. This is the year Addison and Bertie Linhart
were married. Everyone else is absent.
1892. Addison is now a clerk, and has moved to 115 Meadow.
Thomas W. has moved to 61 Larimer, and Harry F. is at 6337
Shakespeare, and John M. at 209 Larimer. We know from other sources
that Addison Jr. is born this year. Soon after, he appears in that
remarkable photograph with his father Addison, grandfather Thomas,
and great-grandfather Samuel. Years later Junior wrote, "Mother was
always afraid he [grandfather Thomas] might hurt me although he
wanted me with him."
1893. S. W., plasterer, reappears after long absence, at Mayflower
and Larimer. Addison and H. F. stay put. William reappears at 315
Larimer, the same place he was in 1890. John N. is at 31 Carver, and
Thomas W. has left his son's house to live at 6728 Deary.
1894. Thomas absent. Addison, once more a bookkeeper, now lives
at 6214 Bond; his second child Lois is born. S. W. and Wm. C. remain in
place, while J. M. "Boron," plasterer, has moved to Breedshill near
1895. Addison is a manager at 25th and Railroad, still living at 6214
Bond. The five plasterers are all in the book this year one last time:
Samuel W. and Thomas W. apparently living in the same household at
Mayflower and Larimer, where Samuel has been for two years now. W.
C. is at 315 Larimer, John is on Breedshill as in 1894, and Harry F., absent
for two years, is at 164 Carver.
1896. Addison is a clerk living at 153 Meadow. William vanishes
and John M. appears to have become a grocer at 6367 Penn Ave., where
he remains, apparently living over the store, for the next two years.
Harry F. remains at 164 Carver as a plasterer, and S.W. and T.W. are seen
together for the last time at Mayflower and Larimer. Either now or in the
spring of 1897 Thomas died of a cocaine overdose.
1897. Addison is listed twice, once as a clerk living at 153 Meadow,
and again as a contractor at 6349 Meadow. Harry F., plasterer, stays at
164 Carver. Samuel W. has moved to 139 Meadow, a few doors down
from Addison and Bertie and their three bouncy youngsters. W. C. is at
1898. Addison is a clerk at 25th and Railroad, home still 153
Meadow. Harry is absent from the directory, and an era passes as
Samuel -- recalled by his grandson Addison as a "very fine man" -- is
now absent from the world. Sarah A., his widow, remains at 139 Meadow.
Sources, in order (when not obvious)
Census Records | Vital Records | Family Trees & Communities | Immigration Records | Military Records Directories & Member Lists | Family & Local Histories | Newspapers & Periodicals | Court, Land & Probate | Finding Aids