John Woods House
The John Woods House (4604 Monongahela St.) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation opyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The c.1792 John Woods House is a vernacular style stone house built in rubblestone fashion with random large quoins at each corner. Situated on the southwest corner of Tullymet and Monongahela Streets, this 2 1/2 story, three bay house is banked into the bluff rising above the Monongahela River. Located in the Hazlewood section of Pittsburgh, the house is currently vacant and is in a deteriorated condition. The lawn to the south of the house is overgrown with grass and weeds. A mid-19th century frame addition was built onto the east side of the house. The central portion of the addition is two stories while the wings are one and a half stories. The house is currently situated in a neighborhood of late 19th/early 20th century housing. The floodplain lying west of the house was highly industrialized in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but declined as the entire Pittsburgh region degenerated industrially during the mid to late 20th century. Despite the additions and alterations to this house since its construction it still retains sufficient integrity to represent its period of significance.
The nearly central first floor front entrance was raised about four feet above ground level. Any evidence of steps or a porch to this entrance have now disappeared. The first floor, front elevation windows and door have flat arches. There is an entrance on the front elevation into the cellar or ground floor at the southwest corner. This area possibly served as the kitchen area at one time. The north gable end has one window at the northeast corner of the second floor and two small attic windows. This window indicates a stairwell may have originally gone up in this corner of the house. The stone of which this house is constructed appears to be a soft shale, and this northern end is particularly worn. The southern gable end has no windows. All of the windows are six-over-six configuration, but the first floor window panes are larger than those on the second floor. Interior brick chimneys rise at each gable end. However, the southern chimney is at least twice as large as the northern one. In all probability there were three flues in this chimney, including one from the cooking fireplace in the cellar.
The present first floor plan of the main block of the house consists of two rooms, and this may have been the original plan as well. The front door opened into the north room which would have served as the hall. (Although this door was infilled with wood in the mid to late 20th century, this condition is reversible.) Not only were the front and rear doors in this room, but probably the original stair as well. The fireplace in this room has elements of the Greek Revival style and has a molded, cast iron firebox. The northeast corner was partitioned off with a bathroom by the present owners. The present stair, in the east wing, was installed at the time of the erection of the frame addition.
A six paneled door separates the first floor rooms. Although the south parlor appears smaller than the north room or hall, the fireplace in this room appears larger than the one in the hall. It has been closed in. There is a closet with a four paneled door between the fireplace and the east wall. The east window in this room has been filled in with vertical beaded board. This appears to have been done at the time of the frame addition.
In the cellar, there is an arched fireplace along the south wall which has been infilled with brick and stone. A large summerbeam, which appears to have been sawn, runs east and west across the building. Sawn, deep floor joists are mortised and tenoned into the summerbeam. The floor is dirt. The exterior entrance into the cellar is through a door in the southwest corner of the facade.
There are two bedrooms on the second floor of the main block. The north room has an intact fireplace surround, but the one in the south room has been covered over. The stair to the attic went up in the southwest corner of the south room between the fireplace and the west wall. A single beaded vertical board door opens into the south room.
The first floor of the frame addition consists of a hall or passage along the east side of the stone section and three rooms opening east off this hall. The central octagonal room is flanked by rectangular rooms on either side. The octagonal room has a corner cupboard in the northwest corner and a fireplace along the south wall. Apparently, this room functioned as a parlor. It appears that the south wing served as a kitchen. The octagonal room has a similarly shaped room above it, but the wings only have low lofts above them. There is a slanted, two paneled door into the north loft room. The interior window and door surrounds of the addition show a Greek Revival style influence which helps to date this addition to the mid-19th century. It also seems likely that this addition was made before the fortunes of Henry Woods waned in the mid-1850's.
The size and form of the main block of the Woods House clearly identifies it as a vernacular style house of the late 18th century. Although changes have occurred to this building since its construction about 200 years ago, it is still able to portray this period of significance.
The Woods House is associated with two locally significant men who were prominent in the political, military, and financial power structure of the region. John Woods (1758-1816), as a well-to-do political leader and member of a prominent founding Pittsburgh family, played a locally significant role in the Whiskey Rebellion. As part of the Neville connection, a group of socially and politically prominent residents of the Pittsburgh area, he is representative of the Federalist leanings of Pittsburgh, the commercial heart of southwestern Pennsylvania in 1794. James O'Hara (1752-1819), patriarch of a prominent Pittsburgh family, established early ties with the Federalist government. A Revolutionary soldier, he later became a pioneering manufacturer and pivotal government contractor in the region. President Washington appointed him quartermaster of the United States Army in 1792, and he served as such during 1794 when the Whiskey Rebellion and the Battle of Fallen Timbers were significant campaigns. The Woods House is also significant as a rare surviving example of a late 18th century vernacular style house in Pittsburgh. No other buildings associated with either Woods or O'Hara are known to survive.
Swetnam and Smith in their Guidebook to Historic Western Pennsylvania state that this house was built by George Woods before 1800. However, George Woods does not show up on the 1798 federal tax. John Woods is listed as living in a stone house measuring 24 x 30 feet with ten windows, at that time. Owned by entrepreneur, James O'Hara, the house on Monongahela Street measures 23 x 31 feet, nearly matching the 1798 assessment statistics. O'Hara/Woods was also assessed with a kitchen which was noted as an outhouse. Although no record has been found of the house being sold by O'Hara to Woods, it is assumed that this is the same house which later is identified in the Woods' estate.
At that time stone houses were rare in Pittsburgh since brick was the preferred building material of the elites of this growing commercial center. In fact, historian Baldwin noted that only entrepreneur, William Turnbull, lived in a stone house during the 1790's in Pittsburgh. However, the 1798 federal tax lists five men, including O'Hara/Woods, with stone houses in Pittsburgh.
Although the Woods House is similar to other 2 1/2 story, three bay, banked, stone houses in southwestern Pennsylvania, it is the only surviving two and one half story 18th century house of this type in Pittsburgh. Its building material and height would have ranked it in the top ten percent in value at that time. Its value was commensurate with the standing of either John Woods or James O'Hara in Pittsburgh's financial and political community at that time. Similar examples in southwestern Pennsylvania include: the Jacob Zeager House, built in 1797 in Redstone Township, Fayette County, and the Alexander McConnell House, built in 1805 in Cecil Township, Washington County. This last house has its gable end window placement similar to the Woods House, but its stairs are still located in their original position.
Woods was the son of Colonel George Woods of Bedford County. The elder Woods laid out Pittsburgh in 1784. John did the actual drafting and the plan is referred to as "John Woods plan of Pittsburgh." He was a student of law at Bedford in August, 1781 when he took the oath of allegiance to Pennsylvania. John was admitted to the Washington County bar in 1783 and was one of the first three lawyers admitted to practice law in Allegheny County after that county was erected in 1788. The others were Hugh Brackenridge and Alexander Addison, both important figures in the Whiskey Rebellion. His rank as a lawyer varies according to the source of information. The 1889 History of Allegheny County notes that Woods was "rather a scrivener than a lawyer, and was depended on mainly for the drawing of legal documents. " Historian George D. Albert noted that few lawyers could manage a case with more skill than Woods, and "he was deeply versed in the subtlety of the law of tenure and ejectment cases." Woods served as lawyer for the prosperous and politically prominent Neville family. He was also connected to the Federalist power clique of Pittsburgh through his sister Ann who was married to James Ross. Ross, a United States senator, was appointed as one of the Whiskey Rebellion peace commissioners by President Washington.
Woods represented Allegheny County at the second excise tax protest meeting at Pittsburgh in September, 1791. Resolutions against the tax were passed at this meeting. Historian, Leland Baldwin noted that according to Hugh Brackenridge, Woods initiated rumors that Brackenridge was a co-conspirator with Bradford in planning the anti-excise proceedings of July and August, 1794. During the inquiry into who was involved in the Rebellion, Woods and General Neville brought a letter, purporting to incriminate Brackenridge, to the attention of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. As it turned out, however, the letter was addressed to Attorney General William Bradford instead of rebel David Bradford. When Secretary Hamilton cleared Brackenridge of any wrong doing during the Rebellion, Woods allegedly commented that the officials should have sent him to Philadelphia in irons. Brackenridge and Woods were opposing candidates in the congressional election of 1794. Both were defeated by State Representative Albert Gallatin. George D. Albert wrote of Woods, "His person was fine and his dress and manner bespoke the gentleman, although there was a touch of aristocratic pride about him, which lessened his popularity."
The political rivalry and personal animosity of Hugh Brackenridge and John Woods may have had an interesting twist. According to one account, Hugh's son Henry married John's only daughter. However, according to information in the manuscript collections of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, Henry Brackenridge was married to Caroline Marie, daughter of John and Jane Marie. It seems unlikely that John Woods had a daughter since there is no mention of her in his will.
Woods was a presidential elector in 1796 and a state senator in 1797. He was elected to the Fourteenth Congress (1815-1817) from Allegheny County. However, the Biographical Dictionary of the American Congress, 1774-1927 states that he never attended. (His obituary explains his health problems which is possibly why he didn't attend.) Historian Baldwin stated "Eventually in 1814 the popular recoil from military incompetence gave John Woods his long-sought ticket of admission to Congress."
The 1815 Directory of Pittsburgh notes John Woods as a "counselor at law and member of Congress, west side of Penn between Wayne and Washington Streets." Historian Agnew wrote "John Woods at an early day built a very fine brick dwelling on the square between Wayne and Washington Streets and between Penn Street and the Allegheny River, the same square now occupied by the buildings of the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago Railway." Agnew further noted that it was a double house with wings centered in the square with trees and shrubbery in front. From this information it is known that Woods had built a larger, more architecturally refined building between 1798 and 1815. This writing also indicates that the later building was already demolished by 1889.
Woods' obituary was printed in the January 7, 1817 issue of the Pittsburgh Gazette. It stated, "General John Woods, of this city, and Member of Congress from this district, died on December 16th in Brunswick Co., Virginia, in the 55th year of his age. A man of transcendent talents in the profession of the law, he was highly and justly respected for pure integrity and unblemished honour in all his intercourse with the world; and strong in the confidence of his country, from his disinterested, fearless pursuit of what he deemed the public good, regardless of personal consequences to himself. The manly, elevated cast of his whole character, the zeal, activity and constancy of his friendships and good offices, as well as the urbanity of his manners and the hospitality of his temper, rendered him very dear to all who knew him." The writer went to abstractly describe the cause of death. "During the last two years, the health of Gen. Woods has been gradually declining; — He was urgently advised by his physician to avoid the inclemency of a northern winter: — In the prosecution of his journey southward, he sunk into the tomb under the incessant activity of the complaint that had so long oppressed him."
Woods was quite a wealthy man. According to his will written in 1816 and probated in 1817, he bequeathed his plate, house and kitchen furniture, black servants, and an annual sum of $2000.00 to his wife Theodosia. He devised tracts of land on the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers and lots in Pittsburgh to his brother Henry, sister Mary, and various nieces and nephews. His executors were James Ross, Esq. and John McDonald, Esq. of Pittsburgh and his brother Henry Woods, Esq. of Bedford. By 1831, his surviving executor was James Ross whose account shows there were still lots and tracts remaining to be sold.
John described the land which he bequeathed to his brother Henry and sister Mary as "lying above Pittsburgh and adjoining the Monongahela River consisting of five tracts." Actually this land was southeast of the city. According to local historian Elizabeth Wall, John had warranted land in the area of Hazlewood in the 1780s. This is confirmed by the State Land Office and Allegheny County deed books which show that he either warranted or purchased four contiguous tracts on the north side of the Monongahela between 1784 and 1800. The westernmost tract, consisting of 164 acres, was patented by Henry and Mary Woods in 1817. John had previously patented in 1800 an adjoining tract of 313 acres to the east. The easternmost tract was patented by Eleanor and John Dehaas and John Woods in 1787. Called "Leisure Retreat," this is the tract on which the Woods House is located. Woods had purchased half of this 262 acre tract in 1784 and the remainder in 1792 from the Dehaas heirs. John's brother, Henry Woods, Esq., died in 1826 in Bedford. He made monetary bequests to two nieces, his sister-in-law, and the mother of his two sons. The remainder of his estate went to his sons Henry and John George, but there was no further description of that estate.
According to the Partition Docket of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas some of the Woods lands were divided in 1837. At that time Henry Woods, Jr. received the westernmost tract of 228 acres, his brother John George received the central tract of 228 acres, and their cousin James Ross, Jr. received the easternmost tract of 656 acres. In 1854 Henry Woods, Jr. had financial difficulties and had to sell his property. The tract with buildings was broken into smaller parcels. In 1856 and 1860, Woods, through a receiver, Hugh Brady Wilkins, repurchased the tracts on which the house and barn were erected. Wilkins, in 1875, deeded the property to Henry Woods' estate or his widow Rachel Woods and their children. In the 1850's the property was described as containing 102 acres on which is erected a two story stone dwelling house, one small tenement house, a large barn, stable, out houses, orchards, etc. One of the deeds of this era also stated that the property fronted on the Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad.
In 1885 the property passed out of Woods ownership permanently when Samuel H. Keller, Committee of Prudence J. Woods, deeded the lot (which then was seven acres) to the People's Savings Bank of Pittsburgh. The Orphans Court records of the same year show that Prudence was the daughter of Harry (Henry) Woods, Esq. late of Allegheny County. It also stated that Prudence, a "lunatic," resided with her mother Rachel E. Woods in the 23rd Ward of the city. Elizabeth Wall stated in a recent conversation that the land east of Grant Street in Pittsburgh from the late 18th century to at least the middle of the nineteenth century was in Pitt or Peebles Township. This was confirmed by an 1856 deed which states that the property is in the 23rd Ward of Pittsburgh, formerly Peebles Township. Wall postulated that Woods' stone house served as his country retreat away from the pressures of his city law practice. The 1862 Map of Allegheny County shows H. Woods with a house just southeast of the Marian Railroad station in Peebles Township. It appears to be in the exact position of the Woods house in present Hazlewood.
As previously mentioned, according to the 1798 federal tax, the owner was James O'Hara. He came to the region in the 1780's as an Indian trader. Baldwin notes him as Pittsburgh's first captain of industry. With Major Isaac Craig, O'Hara established the first glass factory in Pittsburgh in the late 1790's. It was one of the first of its kind to use coal as fuel. As one of the pioneers in the Ohio/Mississippi River trade, he built vessels to carry cotton to Liverpool. O'Hara was one of the first directors of the Bank of Pennsylvania branch established at Pittsburgh in 1804. It was the first bank west of the Alleghenies. Other federalist supporters on the bank's board at that time included Major Abraham Kirkpatrick and General Presley Neville. O'Hara invested heavily in land and at the time of his death in 1819, he was the largest real estate holder in the city. Historian Frank Harper noted O'Hara as among the most aggressive supporters of the federal government during the Whiskey Rebellion.
The Woods House is significant as a rare survivor of a late 18th century vernacular style house. Historians George Swetnam and Helene Smith note that this house along with the Ft. Pitt blockhouse and the Neil house are the only surviving 18th century buildings in Pittsburgh. The late 18th century Robert Neil House is a small, one-and-a-half story log building with stone chinking. Presently located within the Schenley Park Historic District, the house collapsed in 1968 and was dismantled. It was reconstructed by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.
The one story, Ft. Pitt blockhouse was built in 1764 of stone, brick, and logs. This unusual five sided structure has been greatly altered over the years. It served many uses over the years, including a collection point for whiskey excise taxes and a residence of local official/entrepreneur Isaac Craig. (Russell Smith made a painting of the blockhouse in the 1830's when it was the residence of Craig. ) Mary Schenley, granddaughter of James O'Hara, gave it to the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1894. A restoration of dubious authenticity, conducted by the DAR, occurred between that date and 1902. Fleming's Scenes of Old Pittsburgh depict the structure in various stages of transformation. An 1840 print shows the datestone on another elevation of the building just under the eaves, rather than above the arched doorway, its current position. All other doors and windows shown in 19th century views of the building have been infilled with brick and stone. The Ft. Pitt blockhouse is listed on the National Register as part of the Forks of the Ohio nomination.
Hon. Daniel Agnew, "Address to the Allegheny County Bar Association Pennsylvania Magazine Vol. XIII, (Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1889), pp.11-13. Mrs. Elvert M. Davis, "By Invitation of Mrs. Wilkinson" Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine Vol. XIII (Pittsburgh: Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 1930), p.171. Twentieth Century Bench and Bar Vol. II (Chicago: H.C. Cooper, Jr. Bro. & Co., 1903), p.806. History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: A. Warner & Co., 1889), pp.250, 266. George D. Albert, History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1882), p.301.
John B. Linn and William H. Egle, edits., Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, Vol. IV (Harrisburg, Pa.: B. F. Meyers, State Printer, 1876), p.20. Leland D. Baldwin, Whiskey Rebels: The Story of a Frontier Uprising (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1967), pp.215, 217-218, 241. Albert, p.301.
Agnew, p.12. Brackenridge Family Papers, MSS. No. 88.9, The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. H. M. Brackenridge, Recollections of Persons and Places in the West (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1868), pp.10, 56.
Agnew, p.12. Leland D. Baldwin, Pittsburgh: The Story of a City (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1937), p.183.
The Pittsburgh Directory for 1815, printed for James R. Biddle, Compiler & Publisher 1815 Agnew, pp.11-12.
Gazette, Pittsburgh, January 7, 1817.
Allegheny County Will Book 2, p.107. Administrative Account of James Ross, Esq., surviving executor of John Woods late of Pittsburgh, October 7, 1831.
Allegheny County Will Book 2, p.107 and Will Book 16, p.502. Letter Elizabeth Wall to Jerry Clouse, September 15, 1992.
Allegheny County Deed Book 531, p.315. Allegheny County Orphans Court Record 239, June term 1885. Phone conversation with Elizabeth Wall September 10, 1992. Map of Allegheny County (Philadelphia: S. N. & F. W. Beers, 1862). Allegheny County Deed Book 337, p.489.
Baldwin, Pittsburgh, pp.146-148. Frank C. Harper, Pittsburgh of Today: Its Resources and People (New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1931), p.137. Dumas Malone, edit., Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. VII (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 19621, pp.3-4.
George Swetnam and Helene Smith, A Guidebook to Historic Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1976), p.13, 15.
Swetnam and Smith, p.6. Charles M. Stotz, The Architectural Heritage of Early Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1936), p.31. Charles M. Stotz, (Pittsburgh: Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 1958), p.177. Point Park Commission, Report Pt.1, Pittsburgh, Pa., December 31, 1943. George T. Fleming, Fleming's Scenes of Old Pittsburgh: A Portfolio of the Past (Pittsburgh: The Crescent Press, 1932), pp.11-13.
George D. Albert, History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1882).
Hon. Daniel Agnew, "Address to the Allegheny Bar Association" Pennsylvania Magazine Vol. XIII (Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1889).
Allegheny County Deed, Will, and Orphans Court records.
Leland D. Baldwin, Pittsburgh: The Story of a City (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1937).
Leland D. Baldwin, Whiskey Rebels: The Story of a Frontier Uprising (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1967).
Brackenridge Family Papers, MSS. No.88.9, The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania.
H. M. Brackenridge, Recollections of Persons and Places in the West (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1868).
Mrs. Elvert M. Davis, "By Invitation of Mrs. Wilkinson" Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine Vol XIII (Pittsburgh: Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 1930).
George T. Fleming, Fleming's Scenes of Old Pittsburgh: A Portfolio of the Past (Pittsburgh: The Crescent Press, 1932).
Gazette, Pittsburgh, January 7, 1817.
Frank C. Harper, Pittsburgh of Today: Its Resources and People (New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1931).
History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: A. Warner & Co., 1889).
John B. Linn and William H. Egle, edits., Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, Vol. IV (Harrisburg, Pa.: B.F. Meyers, State Printer, 1876).
Dumas Malone, edit., Dictionary of American Biography, Vol, VII (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1962) Map of Allegheny County (Philadelphia: S.N. & F.W. Beers, 1962).
Point Park Commission, Report Pt.1, Pittsburgh, Pa., December 31, 1943.
Charles M. Stotz, The Architectural Heritage of Early Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1936).
Charles M. Stotz, Drums in the Forest (Pittsburgh: Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 1958).
George Swetnam and Helene Smith, A Guidebook to Historic Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976)
Twentieth Century Bench and Bar Vol. II (Chicago: Cooper, Bro. & Co., 1903)
Elizabeth Wall, phone conversation with Jerry Clouse, September 10, 1992
Elizabeth Wall, letter to Jerry Clouse, September 15, 1992