Catsburg!

Catsburg Map
Catsburg Map

There is a very old section of Monongahela formerly known as Catsburg. Here is a map showing what this area looked like in 1902. (Though Catsburg was a part of Monongahela by that time.) Click on this thumbnail image to view a larger image.

I first became interested in Catsburg while reading the “Historical magazine of Monongahela’s old home coming week. Sept. 6-13, 1908” (see Resources tab above) This publication isn’t really a magazine like we think of today. It’s pages number 271 with about 20 more pages of advertisements. It was written to commemorate a city wide homecoming celebration and contains lots of history along with current events. It was written in a friendly conversational tone and is seldom dry and sometimes hilarious. Much of the historical content was written in the “first person” style. The only problem is that the writers will frequently refer to a building as “Mrs. Jenkins Home” assuming that every body knows where it is. Or, they’ll refer to areas such as Bellewood, West Monongahela (both known now as New Eagle PA) or Belvedere (somewhere out 4th street). These names were obsolete even back in 1908!.

Well one of the mysterious names that kept cropping up was Catsburg. It was always referred to as being an old part of town. My best guess is that it was the area right across Pigeon Creek along the Monongahela River.

How did Catsburg get it’s name? There are two stories of which I am aware, both from the homecoming historical magazine mentioned above. Dr. J.P. Norman, on page 159 says:

I have spoken of Pigeon Creek as the southern boundary of Monongahela in 1872, and but few dwellings could be found south of it in the place then named Catsburg. The origin of this title I was informed by whom I believe to be a citizen o the town, was due to the fact that cats, always numerous, resorted to the other side of the creek to fight their duels, settle their disputes, and eat their catnip which grew there abundantly. The tumult and noise of their battles disturbed and racked the quiet of the citizens and so they called it Cattsburg.

The second version can be found on page 229 of the magazine:

When Williamsport [a previous name of Monongahela] was laid out in 1811, the widow, Biddie Caldwell and her daughter were the only people residing on the plot now known as Catsburg. These two were always fighting, so the people called them cat and kittens, hence the name Catsburg originated.

Both explanations sound plausable to me but I lean toward the second version. What do you think? Anyways, it would be cool to find the location of Biddie’s house. (I wonder how I would go about that.)

In the magazine, Catsburg seems to be noted mainly for the Catsburg Schoolhouse and the Catsburg Mine. I’ll write about the mine now and save the subject of the schoolhouse for another day.

Here is a detail of the earliest map I can find showing the Catsburg area:

catsburg mine detail

It is easy to spot the mine and the tracks leading down to the tipple on the river. I believe the Catsburg Mine was founded by Lewis Staib.

Here is a close up of the 1902 map showing the area around the Catsburg tipple:

Company homes exist today in the same spot as those depicted in the drawing above. I am assuming these are the same buildings however note that there are differences. The drawing does not show porches, it also shows four buildings vs five buildings shown below:

Mine waste between company houses and the tipple:

This is what the Catsburg Coal Co. tipple looked like in 1907:

1907 catsburg tipple postcard

The photo above says Catsburg Coal Tipple No 1. Was there another one?

Here is another photo of the Catsburg tipple:

Catsburg tipple red

It looks like there was another structure of some sort further up the river. The following is an image showing the Catsburg tipple in the background. Pigeon creek is shown on the right:

catsburg tipple, barges and pigeon creek

Here is what remains of the Catsburg tipple today:

Click here to view a satellite image of this area. It is fun to note the changes that have occurred over the years. To read more about the history of the Catsburg mine and the family that owned it visit Pittbuff.com.

And finally the official city of Monongahela website cites the following story:

Visitors were frequent to the city. One who made his mark in the literary world was Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), who made a trip up the Monongahela in 1891. While on board the boat “The New Dominion”, Captain J.S. Moorhead told Twain that Monongahela proper held an area called Catsburg. Twain, a lover of cats, decided the town “wasn’t half bad”.

Meow.

UPDATE! Read about the area known as “Rocky Beach” – a popular swimming hole near the slate dump in Catsburg.

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15 thoughts on “Catsburg!

  1. Michael April 5, 2008 / 11:23 pm

    Hi Dan,

    I like your blog, a lot of interesting things. I’m originally from Mon City, my folks still live there and my mother runs Granny Nannies on Main St. I was looking for info online about town when I ran across your site, I grew up in the Victory Hill section of Carroll Twp. but I never heard of Catsburg! I’ve heard of parts going towards Donora refered to as Hazard, PA (there use to be a post office across from the VFD on W. Main Street but it was torn down within the last few years). I’ve also heard the area referred to as Black Diamond, wither that was the name of the mine or not Im not certain. I think Victory Hill had another name at some time but I can’t remember what my grandfather told me what it was?

    I was in the parking lot of McDonalds not too long ago and I noticed something that I never did notice before, if you south look down main street and up at the building that use to have the Hallmark Store in it theres an old advertisement for the a defunct newspaper, the Daily Republican, that was published in town.

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  2. Dan T. June 15, 2008 / 4:16 pm

    Thanks for your comment and the mention of Granny Nannies, I’m going to check it out!

    Victory Hill is a nice area to raise a family with no through streets so it is like a community unto itself. I’ve done some exploring up that way and found a cool tunnel that runs under the country club and also the remains of an old rock quarry on the farm of a friend of mine.

    I have a pic somewhere of the Daily Republican sign, I’ll post it when I get a chance.

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  3. Hammer November 13, 2008 / 10:44 am

    Another great post Dan, thanks!

    I had no idea that I spent so much time in Catsburg! From fishing to hanging out with my girlfriend I guess Catsburg has been a large part of my life and nobody told me about it until now.

    Great work – please keep it up.

    Also, as a kid I remember ‘exploring’ the old school you mentioned. Can’t wait to read up on that.

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  4. Chris March 5, 2009 / 11:54 am

    If you are in the chess st. Park, you will see a memorial for Axleton’s soldiers in the war (It’s the one with the lady on top) Axleton was the small town across the river, to your left if your crossing the bridge. It was the employee’s housing for ligget spring and axle, the largest company of it’s type in WW1. It’s buildings are the red ones to the right of the bridge 🙂

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  5. Don P July 22, 2009 / 4:21 pm

    Regarding the houses in catsburgh. I lived in this area for over 70 years and I recall a conversation with a man who lived there all his life.He said at one time the houses were all joined together and the thing that makes me think it true is some of them have only one chimney and the rest have two.

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  6. Don P July 24, 2009 / 1:09 pm

    The remains of the tipple was a popular swimming hole called rocky beach.The pillars and some panels and towels served as changing station.weekends in summer as many as 50 people swam here

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  7. Brad Beall November 3, 2009 / 7:39 am

    Does anyone remember the patch of houses that used to be along what is called “Black Diamond Hollow”? If so, did this area have a seperate name of it’s own? I was riding my dirt-bike back in there about 15 years ago, and some remnants of the houses could still be found… mostly what appeared to be cement porch steps and sections of block foudations, and of course a few bottles and bits of trash that hasn’t yet broken down. The road itself has been blocked off since about 1991, but if you’re riding a dirt-bike or quad, you can get around the Jersey barriers that have been placed o the road about a half-a-mile from it’s start on Rt. 837 between Monongahela and Donora.

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  8. Mindy Milenko Trawick January 15, 2011 / 6:16 am

    Hello,

    I found this site by researching Catsburg.
    I am a native of Mon City, though I have lived in Texas since I was a child. Monongahela holds my heart and is my TRUE home.

    I am just now finding out about Lost Monongahela, learning where everything WAS.

    I remember the Catsburg tipple because I went there with my grandfather many years ago. There seem to be a lot of sites right off the river with mine leftovers and old cement blocks.

    One time when hiking, my grandfather and I found a half-submerged cannon trolley (you know, the things that used to wheel cannons around) sticking out of the river, several hundred feet south of the aquatorium. We reported it to the city and they salvaged it. I am not sure where it is today, sadly.

    I LOVE this blog. Thank you so much. Please feel free to contact me so we can discuss all of this! I am taking a trip home soon and I am going to re-visit these areas!

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  9. Mindy Milenko Trawick January 15, 2011 / 6:18 am

    The Hallmark store is GONE???

    I also heard from a friend that Angelos II is gone as well. I cried over that one. Lots and lots of memories at Angelos!

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  10. Ronald Castagna August 17, 2011 / 10:48 am

    Catsburg is the 3rd ward district of Monongahela. The boundries as I recall growing up at 547 East Main St. The Catsburg mine had one of the entrances across from our home on Main St. at Ivy Hollow. Catsburg started from Pigeon Creek with Lenzi’s Pizza Resturant on the East side of the creek and Frankies Foot Long hot dog stand on the Turners side of Pigeon Creek. Catsburg extended up Main St. through Black Diamond. Black Diamond was the name of the coal mine at the East end of Monongahela. I lovely victorian hotel called the Black Diamond Inn was located on the corner before the road dipped towards Victory Hill and Donora. My Uncle Jack Kline’s aunt owned the Black Diamond Inn during the 50’s. The hotel was demolished and the vets purchased the property.
    Rocky Beach was the best swimming beach on the Monongahela side of the river for families. The diving board at its best times had 3 levels to dive from but the river boat captians would swing in during high river water levels and they would purposly ram the diving board structure. We would at times hop the coal barges that were loaded and low in the water. The boat crews would try and chase us off the barges. One time they had the idea to throw coal at 6 of us so we decided to retaliate and throw coal back. We then dove off and swam back to Rocky Beach as the pattle wheel would head towards the Monongahela bridge and head down the river towards Pittsburgh. 1000 ft further towards Black Diamond was Perry Adams Beach mostly a guys beach and he was called the river rat. That beach was sandy and less stones as all the guys would pick any rocks and stones and deposit them on the hill side. The area use to be the ball fields for the Pony League before the city purchased the Williams Hill park. The decline of Catsburg started when the city councel sold the ball fields to the scrap metal company better known as the junk yards. The 3rd ward was a very exciting place to live if you were a youngster and wanted to explore the river, slag dump across from the Valley Cleaners, Rocky Beach and wooded areas that bordered the Monongahela Country Club. The ball fields along the river was a good place to find arrow heads after a big rain. The flint would be exposed from the light brown dirt from the playing fields. The indians camped at that area or fought battles there as I found many peices of flint as a youngster. Perry Adams introduced me to that treasure and when to look for the arrow heads. I have many adventures growing up in Mon City. Perry tought me to swim and I dog paddled across the Monongahela River when I was 5 1/2 years old. He rowed his boat beside me encouraging me to keep my head up and feet kicking. I eventually left for the US Navy and was on the Navy swim team in the 60’s and was accepted for Angel Duty as a helicopter crew member on several USS aircraft carriers. I will always credit my strength to my friends and family in Mon City.

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  11. Roberta Smith February 1, 2012 / 12:27 pm

    My dad grew up in Catsburg, my cousins still live there. In one of the houses you have pictured.

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  12. Ruth Jennings Stein August 11, 2013 / 11:47 pm

    I lived in Catsburg 1930 to 1948. During the 1930’s Great Depression there were several homes that were condemned property. I grew up in one of them. We were located near Lenzi’s restaurant. The homes and their outhouses were town down many years ago. I was told as a child that Catsburg was a name given to that section because it has the local house of ill-repute, which were called CATHOUSES at the time.

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  13. Ruth Jennings Stein August 11, 2013 / 11:48 pm

    I guess you noticed I spelled torn as town.

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