A Brief History of Liggett Spring and Axle Co.

I’ve been doing some research about Liggett Spring and Axle Co. and will be making several posts over the next few days. (If you want to see all articles on this topic just click on the tag in right hand column.) Most people around here don’t refer to the company as “Liggett Spring and Axle Co.”, they just shorten it to “Liggetts” so for the sake of brevity I’ll do that too.

The first bit of information I found about Liggetts was this excerpt from the Directory To The Iron And Steel Works Of The United States, 16th ed. August 1904:

Liggett Spring and Axle Company, Pittsburgh. Works at Axleton, Allegheny county, opposite Monongahela. Built in 1903-4 utilizing machinery from former works at Beaver ave. and Fayette st., Allegheny; rolling mill not put in operation down to May 25, 1904; other departments started in January, 1904; equipped with about 60 large and small heating furnaces, 26 hammers 9 from 500 to 1,000 pounds,) and one 16-inch train of rolls used to reroll iron and steel into shapes for the manufacture of axles; product, buggy and wagon axles and springs; annual capacity 7,500 tons. Fuel, coal. O.C. Hall, Vice-President and Manager; George W. Wright, Jr., Treasurer.

The most helpful source of information I’ve found about Liggetts Spring and Axle Co. is this article by Tom Headley. In it he writes:

In 1903 the Liggett Spring & Axle Company moved from Pittsburgh’s North Side and built a factory to manufacture buggy springs and axles. To provide raw material for this plant, the owners also constructed an adjoining foundry to supply castings.  Business boomed during World War I from the manufacture of springs and axles for army vehicles.  At this time the plant was reported to be the largest spring factory in the country. In 1916 the company built two rows of identical brick houses (still standing) to house their employees which became known as Axleton. With the shift to automobiles, the axle plant was separated from the foundry and began doing business as the Coshocton Iron Works engaged in the manufacture of parts for stoker furnaces.  This plant later combined with others to form the Combustion Engineering Company which continued to operate the plant until the 1980’s.

Here’s are two aerial photographs of the plant/s taken 40 years apart:

Liggett Spring and Axle Co. and Combustion Engineering Co., Monongahela PA.
Liggett Spring and Axle Co. and Combustion Engineering Co., Monongahela PA. circa 1967 (click image to enlarge)
Liggett Spring and Axle Co. and Combustion Engineering Co., Monongahela PA.
Liggett Spring and Axle Co. and Combustion Engineering Co., Monongahela PA. Today (click image to enlarge)

Click on this link to view the best interactive map of the plant. The link takes you to Microsoft’s Bing map service where you can not only zoom in, but also rotate the maps using the circular “rosette” on the bottom. This will enable you view the building from four different angles. (Note that you can increase the viewing area by removing the advertisements on the left side – just click on the “<” arrow.)

It was mentioned in the first article above that the plant was fueled by coal. What is interesting is that Liggetts owned a mine just across the street under River Hill. I wish I could locate the mine entrance. Somebody recently told me it was located between Liggetts and C.E. I wonder if there is any remains of the mine entrance.  (If you know why not leave a comment.)

It’s funny but as a kid I never heard of Liggetts. I thought this whole complex was occupied by Combustion Engineering. I guess part of the reason is that my mother worked for C.E. in the office and she never really had a reason to mention Liggetts when we would drive by on rt. 136. Also I remember that C.E. had a rather impressive water tower (visible in the black and white map version) with it’s logo painted on it. I don’t remember seeing any signage for Liggetts though.

I would like to hear what you remember about Liggett Spring and Axle Co. I would be especially interested to know:

  • Where the Liggetts mine entrance was.
  • When was the foundry sold to Combustion Engineering?
  • Before the foundry was purchased by Combustion Engineering, it known as Coshocton Iron Works. What was the relationship between Coshocton and Liggetts? Did Liggetts own Coshocton right from the start or was Coshocton formed sometime after the complex was built (as Hadley’s the article above seems to indicate) I found this article stating that a Coshocton Iron Co. existed in Ohio before the Liggetts Monongahela plant was built so I am a little confused.
  • Do you have any pictures of Liggetts or Combustion Engineering you would like to share?

Anyways, I’ll be posting a few more pictures of the people who worked at the Liggetts/C.E. complex along with some pictures of the company houses that Liggetts built for their workers.

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.