Thursday, September 13, 2012

Historic Nomination: John Brashear House & Factory, Pittsburgh

Late 19th century and early 20th century astronomer and maker of
telescopes and precision scientific instruments John A. Brashear.
(Source: The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

The house and factory, located on the North Side of Pittsburgh near the site of the original Allegheny Observatory, of late 19th century and early 20th century astronomer and telescope-maker John A. Brashear, have been nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

The John A. Brashear Company was one of the world's leading producers of telescopes and precision scientific instruments in the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. John Brashear was also an astronomer who, for short periods of time, served as Acting Director of the Allegheny Observatory and a little later Acting Chancellor of the Western University of Pennsylvania (now known as the University of Pittsburgh). Andrew Carnegie asked him to serve on a three-person committee which planned the Carnegie Technical Schools, now Carnegie Mellon University.

He, almost single-handedly, raised the funds to build the new three-dome Allegheny Observatory building (largest astronomical observatory within the city limits of a major American city), which celebrated its centennial on August 28. Earlier this year, a new film (DVD of film now available at:

>>> ) on the history of the Allegheny Observatory premiered, which was titled, "Undaunted, The Forgotten Giants of the Allegheny Observatory."

The Brashear house and factory, the two properties located adjacent to each other, were completed in May of 1886. The financial arrangements were unique. William Thaw, Sr., philanthropist and Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was a strong supporter of John Brashear's work for science. Mr. Thaw provided the land, buildings, and machinery for no charge. John Brashear was provided the use of the properties free-of-rent, with the lease terminable by Mr. Brashear's death or disability.

The arrangements also extended the lease by five years beyond Mr. Brashear's death or disaability, "and its extension beyond five years to be left to me or my heirs." The John Brashear Company continued in the building beyond John Brashear's death, and through a merger the company became the J.W. Fecker Company. After several more mergers and transitions, the company is now known as L-3 Integrated Optical Systems Brashear and is located in a newer facility in a different section of Pittsburgh.

Written comments, in favor or opposed, to the nomination of these buildings to the National Register of Historic Places may be transmitted to City of Pittsburgh Historic Preservation Planner Sarah Quinn at the following addresses:

Sarah Quinn
Historic Preservation Planner
City of Pittsburgh
200 Ross Street, 4th Floor
Pittsburgh PA 15219
Electronic Mail: < >

Written comments for the nomination of these two buildings will be accepted until 2012 October 12.

Among the written comments, you may wish to comment on the following questions:

1) In your opinion is the property eligible for the National Register? Under the Criteria and Area(s) of Significance? What other properties in the municipality reflect similar themes or pattersns?

2) In your opinion does the property retain integrity? What character-defining features reflect the potential significance of the property?

3) Is the property identified in a local list of historically significant places? When was it designated and for what reason?

4) Is the property identified in a municipal or regional plan and is the plan supportive of specified preservation goals?

Letter from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission with the entire National Register of Historic Places nomination application for the Brashear buildings, including building photographs, simple architectural drawings, and brief histories of the buildings and of John Brashear:


Related Blog Posts:

Brashear House & Factory: Nomination to National Register of Historic Places (2012 October 11)



Centennial: New Allegheny Observatory Dedication (2012 August 28)


Pittsburgh's Allegheny Observatory History Video Now Available (2012 July 25)


Pittsburgh's Allegheny Observatory: New History Film (2012 April 19)

History of Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < >


Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
Friends of the Zeiss < >
Electronic Mail - < >
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Twitter: < >
Facebook: < >
Blog: < >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < >
* Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < >
* Public Transit:
  < >

1 comment:

  1. I am sorry to say that the Brashear factory collapsed on the evening of March 16, 2015. It was demolished on March 17.