Thursday, April 9, 2015

Update: Historic Brashear Time Capsule
This 4-inch refractor telescope was the 37th telescope (serial number 37) built at
the John A. Brashear Company factory on Pittsburgh's North Side. It was built,
circa 1900, for Dr. David D. Kennedy. On 1972 October 16, Mr. J.K. Foster donated
this historic telescope to Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of
Popular Science. This telescope is now used at the Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium and
Observatory at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center. Due to a wall collapse on March 16,
the historic Brashear Telescope Factory had to be demolished, for public safety.
(Image Source: Friends of the Zeiss)
By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

Following a court order, Pittsburgh's Senator John Heinz History Center has taken temporary custody of a time capsule, and contents, found during demolition of the historic Brashear Telescope Factory on Pittsburgh's North Side. On April 1, Michael A. Della Vecchia, judge on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, granted emergency injunctive relief to the City of Pittsburgh, thus requiring the Jadell Minniefield Construction Company, of the Hazelwood section of the city, to relinquish the time capsule, which holds artifacts and papers dating back to, at least, 1874, until the legal ownership of the time capsule can be determined.

The City and the construction contractor, which demolished the Brashear Telescope Factory under an emergency city contract, both claim ownership of the time capsule and its historic contents. The former historic building had been owned by the City since 2012. However, the contractor claims rights to all salvageable materials, as provided by the emergency city contract.

Demolition of the historic Brashear Telescope Factory, which had been vacant for about 20 years, was necessitated after a wall of the building collapsed onto a nearby two-floor apartment building on March 16. The apartment building had to be evacuated, until city inspectors declared the building safe for occupancy.

According to Andy Masich, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Senator John Heinz History Center, the artifacts and papers in the historic Brashear Time Capsule have all been photographed by conservators and are now being kept in their climate-controlled archives. The library and archives are located, along with a large history museum, in the Senator John Heinz History Center's building at Smallman and 13th Streets in the Strip District, at the edge of Downtown Pittsburgh.

Historian and Antique Telescope Society President Bart Fried met with Andy Masich, and inspected the time capsule and the historic contents, on Monday. Mr. Fried is writing a book on the life of John Brashear.

According to Mr. Fried, the time capsule includes approximately 60 items, including two sealed envelopes. Until the legal dispute is resolved, these two envelopes will remain unopened.

In addition to some of the major items previously reported to have been in the time capsule (see SpaceWatchtower blog post of March 25, “Historic Brashear Telescope Factory Time Capsule Found & Opened” - link to March 25 blog post at end of this blog post), Mr. Fried reports that the following items were also found in the time capsule:

  • 1874 letter from Allegheny Observatory Director Samuel Pierpont Langley (who become the third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1887) to John Brashear, which led to the first meeting of the two historic astronomers. Mr. Fried noted, "That Brashear saved it (the letter) for twenty years and then thought to put it in the capsule speaks to his sense of history as well as his gratitude towards his very good friend Langley";
  • Second photograph of John A. Brashear Company employees, which includes what may be the only photograph of John Brashear's son, Harry, who died a year after the photograph was taken, at age 23;
  • Information in a note accompanying one of the sealed envelopes says it contains several items including a rare photograph of Dr. Henry Draper, a pioneer in the fields of astrophotography and making large telescopes. Draper assisted Brashear, teaching him the art and science of making telescope mirrors. Draper died in 1882, just as Brashear was starting his telescope making business. The letter was written by Draper's wife, Anna Draper;
  • A letter from Charles S. Hastings, an optical physicist who had been a professor at both Johns Hopkins and Yale Universities, who had collaborated with John Brashear on several telescope projects.

Mr. Fried further reports that the Senator John Heinz History Center now has written permission, from both the City and the contractor, to take all steps to conserve, inventory, and photo-document the time capsule artifacts and papers. Nothing further can be done until the legal ownership issue is resolved.

The Brashear Telescope Factory, originally built as a frame structure in May of 1886 but rebuilt as a brick building beginning in August of 1894, was originally the home of the John A. Brashear Company which had manufactured hundreds of telescopes and precise scientific instruments for observatories and scientific institutions throughout the world, in the latter part of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

Philanthropist and Pennsylvania Railroad Vice President William Thaw, Sr. provided this building, and also a new home next-door, to John Brashear free-of-charge, as Mr. Thaw's personal donation to scientific research. Both buildings, which were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, were less than a block from the original Allegheny Observatory, where John Brashear assisted the astronomers.

With limited formal education, John Brashear had transformed his love of Astronomy into a business, due to his expert craftsmanship in producing exquisite optics for telescopes and other instruments. He was Acting Director of the Allegheny Observatory, and later Acting Chancellor of the Western University of Pennsylvania (today's University of Pittsburgh), refusing permanent appointment to both positions. He, along with two other civic leaders, assisted Andrew Carnegie in designing the Carnegie Technical Schools (known today as Carnegie Mellon University).

John Brashear and his family continued living in the house, and Mr. Brashear continued his telescope-making business in the factory building, all rent-free until Mr. Brashear's death in 1920. John Brashear's former North Side house is in good condition and is currently being used as a half-way house for men with chemical dependencies.

The ashes of John Brashear and his wife Phoebe, as well as those of another former Allegheny Observatory Director, James E. Keeler, and two members of his family, are interred in a special crypt in the basement of the new Allegheny Observatory (which John Brashear single-handedly raised the funds to build in 1912) in Riverview Park.

Special Thanks: Bart Fried, President, Antique Telescope Society.

Photographs of Brashear Telescope Factory Building Time Capsule Contents, from the Al Paslow Astronomy Collection:
Link >>>!i=3951044359&k=RCqKLfF

More on John A. Brashear: Link >>>

More on the Allegheny Observatory: Link >>>

John Brashear - Links to Special Resources: Brashear Telescope Factory Building:
Link >>>

More details from the Pittsburgh morning newspapers ---

Bauder, Bob. "History center to hold onto disputed Brashear time capsule for now."
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 2015 April 1.
Link >>>

Zullo, Robert. "History Center holds time capsule while Pittsburgh, demolition contractor sort out ownership." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2015 April 1.
Link >>>

"John Brashear's Time Capsule." Segment in Essential Pittsburgh Radio Program.
 WESA-FM 90.5 Pittsburgh 2015 April 15.
Link >>>

Related Blog Posts ---

Dispute: Ownership of Brashear Time Capsule  (2015 March 26):

Link >>>

Historic Brashear Telescope Factory Time Capsule Found & Opened  (2015 March 25): 

Link >>>


Historic Brashear Telescope Factory Wall Collapses (2015 March 18): 

Link >>>


Brashear House & Factory: Nomination to National Register of Historic Places  (2012 Oct. 11): Link >>>

Historic Nomination: John Brashear House & Factory, Pittsburgh (2012 Sept. 13):

 Link >>>

Centennial: New Allegheny Observatory Dedication (2012 August 28):

 Link >>>

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

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.

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Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
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* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
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* Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
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* Public Transit:
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