remnants of the 1836 steel bridge, Brownsville

Remnants of the National Road Steel Bridge, constructed in 1833, Brownsville and Bridgeport, Pennsylvania

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

To a wise man, every day is a new life

This was inside my fortune cookie at the Chinese buffet in Uniontown on Monday. I am still not sure if on this basis people with Alzheimer's disease qualify as wise.

This morning I arose, ate breakfast (to the accompaniment of the really irritating early morning Pittsburgh television news) and drove 12 miles west to Brownsville. The Uniontown library, where all the genealogical stuff is, does not open until 10:30, so I thought I would do some sightseeing. On the web I had read a travel guide (which of course no longer exists in 2019) so I knew what I was looking for.

older bridge
new bridge

The Monongahela River at Brownsville, looking 1) south under the old U.S. route 40 bridge at Bridgeport, and 2) north under the new bridge

neck- north

Present day Brownsville, Pennsylvania downtown, looking south and north. The two bridges are visible in the background

I didn't see much signs of civilization. When I got out of my car at Front Street, my last stop, I spied an elderly man walking down the hill. I greeted him, and apologized for intruding upon his neighborhood as a tourist. He was quite surprised, to 1) see such an animal, and 2) to learn that I had history here. I told him about Upton Perrin, and he said that his wife was related to the Pringles who had built boats here. I told him that Upton had bought a share in Pringle's boat manufacturing enterprise in 1862, to be bought out 4 years later. He invited me into his house to meet his wife.

philander house plaque

The plaque outside the Philander Knox house. On Front Street, Brownsville

The house was the one owned by Philander Knox. It was in good repair, although, shall we say, cluttered. Once the wife had been roused (it took three exchanges of shouting to convince her my visit was okay) I was put in a sheet-covered easy chair, received coffee, and met four of the five cats.

I learned that my hostess was 83 years old, with a husband equal in age, on her second retirement (the first was in Vermont selling antiques), now stuck in a decaying town trying to sell a house for her sister (for whom she had moved here, and who had renovated a house down the street), now dead. Sound familiar? This could be my own family. Throw in the fact that he was an engineer; she used to be a librarian (Detroit inner city; it wasn't boring).

The conversation, as it always does, turned to what I do, but these folks were good about not picking on me about their ailments. I mentioned that one of the Perrins in Brownsville, a Susan Perrin, sister of Upton G. M. (i.e. aunt of Florus R .C., and daughter of James K., for those of you who are still trying to keep score) was described in family lore as a "physician". We all agreed that it wasn't clear how anyone came upon that occupation there and then, but then they volunteered that the woman's sister's house down the street was a medical facility of some sort in the nineteenth century, with a woman physician to boot. I told them that aside from Tom's old notes I had no facts to base anything on.

After an hour I excused myself; I couldn't take any more stories of Brownsville's current status regarding the drug trade (chiefly cocaine and PCP), prostitution, or the possibly intentional burning of historic buildings. My host kindly walked me down the street to show me the now for sale infirmary. No buyers, he said. First listed at $325,000, now down to $275,000. [note: down to $199,900 in June, 2009]

207 front street
214 front street

207 and 214 Front Street, Brownsville, Pennsylvania

Drove back to Uniontown and was able to get into the library before my bladder burst. A very nice arrangement, with old newspapers, listings of all the cemeteries, indexes for wills, all for a small user fee (makes up for the free parking). Spent 4 hours learning a little. No wills recorded for any of the Brownsville people. Tax records starting in 1860 in Bridgeport for James K and Upton. Upton's brother Harmon, despite leaving home in 1862 for the Pennsylvania Cavalry (and dying in 1864 in action) was taxed through 1864. But the best finds were the obituaries. Nobody in my direct family stayed in Brownsville after James K died in 1887. Of course that year's newspapers (the weekly named the Brownsville Clipper) have not survived anywhere. But the later years did.

So we have

Jan 29, 1903. U.G.M. Perrin, aged 67, died at Crafton, Pa., one day last week. In 1857 he resided in Brownsville and worked at boat building, after which he went to Pittsburgh, and from there to Crafton. His sister, Mrs. N. R. Baker, died at Washington about a year ago. His father, the late J. K. Perrin, as well as the entire family is kindly remembered by Brownsville people.

Aug 21, 1902. Miss Sue J. Perrin follows her sister, Mrs. N. R. Perrin, to her grave, she having died at her brother's home, Wm. H. Perrin, in the East End, Pittsburgh. She will be remembered as living in the brick cottage at the brow of Front Street hill, being a daughter of the late J. K. Perrin.

I will leave it to your imagination as to which of the brick "cottages" on Front Street they are referring. [The census data (scoured later) confirms it was either the 200 or 300 block of Front Street.]

I suppose I know whose life I have lived today.