Title: The first one hundred years of McKeesport : an historical and statistical description of the city from its inception until its centennial in 1894 / compiled and prepared by Walter S. Abbott and William E. Harrison, under direction of Centennial Historical Committee
Press of McKeesport Times, 1894.
“ JOHN McKEE
As has been stated, JOHN McKEE succeeded his father as the possessor of the McKEE land at the confluence of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers some time previous to his father’s death. JOHN McKEE was the owner of McKEE’S Ferry and the founder of McKee’s Port - afterwards the Borough and now the City of McKeesport. The McKEE homestead was located outside of what became the town of McKeesport, viz: On the East side of Walnut street near the spot now occupied by the new portion of the iron works of the W. DEWEES Wood Company. W. E. HARRISON and probably one or two others of our oldest citizens, remember playing about the old log pile, the remains of the McKEE home, which marked its location in their boyhood days. All traces of it disappeared many years ago.
JOHN McKEE was born in Ireland in 1746 and at the death of his father was forty-nine years of age. He was a man of fine presence, much energy and of infinite resources of mind and body. He had been very prosperous in his undertakings up to the date of the whiskey insurrection, ranking as one of the wealthiest men in Western Pennsylvania. Subsequent to the whiskey war his affairs became somewhat tangled and he suffered losses in large sums prior to the year 1795.
During that year he laid out the plan of McKEE’S Port on the site formerly known as McKEE’S Ferry. McKEE’S Port as he laid it out was bounded by the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers, Ninth street and Walnut street. The plan consisted of upwards of two hundred lots, sixty feet front and one hundred and (pg. 12) forty feet deep, each fronting a street and running back to an alley. The two principal streets, Market and Fourth, were eighty feet wide, all the others being sixty feet wide. All the lines ran at right angles and the plan is today pronounced perfect, regret being expressed that the original lines were not continued in subsequent additions to the work so well begun by JOHN McKEE. Near the center of the new town MR. McKEE left a large area intended for market house purposes, which for many years has been known as the Diamond. Two lots each for church and school purposes were set aside and the remainder of the lots were offered for sale.
MR. McKEE adopted a novel plan to dispose of his town lots. He put the price of the lots at twenty dollars each, and by way of satisfying purchasers as to the selection of lots, he arranged a lottery scheme. The purchaser paid him ten dollars for which he received a numbered ticket and when the lottery drawing occurred, each man was assigned the lot his ticket drew, when, if he paid ten dollars additional, he received a deed for the property. There seems to have been no blanks in JOHN McKEE’S lottery but if a ticket holder did not like the location of the lot he drew, he forfeited the ten dollars he paid for the ticket. Even in that early day the value of advertising was recognized and appreciated and JOHN McKEE accordingly made his lottery and land booming scheme known to the world through the columns of the Pittsburgh Gazette. W. E. HARRISON has the advertisement clipped from that paper dated February 5, 1795, a valuable relic, a copy of which is herewith reproduced:
A NEW TOWN
IS laid out by the subscriber on the
spot known for many years past by
the name of McKEE’S ferry. The
ground intended for the Town is de-
lightfully situated on a fine level point,
at the junction of the Monongahela &
(cont. on pg. 13)
Youghiogeny rivers about fixteen
miles above Pittsburgh by water, and
twelve only by land. The plan on
which the Town is to be improved
consists of upwards of 200 lots of 60
feet front; each lot having the advan-
tage of a street and an alley 20 feet
wide, for the convenience of stables
etc. The principal streets are eighty
feet wide the others sixty. Near the
center of the Town is a large area or
square intended for a market house.
Forty eight of the lots front the two
rivers, Monongahela and Youghiogeny.
Four lots will be given by the sub-
scriber, for the sale of a place of wor-
ship, and a seminary of learning.
The situation of this place is so well
known in the Western Country that
it needs no enconium that can be
given it but for the information of
those persons below the mountain
who may wish to become purchasers
it may be necessary to premise, that its
situation is one of the best in the wes-
tern country for trade and commerce,
having the advantage of the two ri-
vers Monongahela and Youghiogeny
flowing under its banks, being near
several grist and saw mills, close to
what is called the Forks of Yough
settlement which is indisputably the
richest that we have it is at least 12
miles nearer to Philadelphia than
Pittsburgh is, it has public roads laid
out from it in different directions.
The price of each lot is to be 20
dollars, and one dollar ground rent
(cont. on pg. 14)
to be paid annually. To avoid dis-
putes the lot every purchaser, is to
possess is to be decided by a Lottery,
which will held on the spot on the
1st day of April next. Each purchaser
at the time of receiving his ticket is
to pay ten dollars, and the residue
when he draws his number and gets
his deed. The majority of purchasers
present at the drawing are to choose
the persons who shall draw the tickets,
which persons shall point out the four
lots to be appropriated to public uses,
prior to the drawing.
Tickets to be had of JOHN HANNAH
mercht. Pittsburgh; ANDREW SWEAR-
INGEN ESQR. Washington; JOHN TAYLOR
ESQR. Greensburgh, JAMES WALLACE
ESQR. Carlisle, PETER WHITESIDE mercht.
Mercersburgh and of the subscriber
on the premises.
N. B. A plan of the town with
proposals annexed, may be seen at any
of the above places.
February 5, 1795.
[The advertisement as it appears above was clipped from the Gazette by the late JUDGE VEECH of Pittburgh, formerly of Uniontown. About thirty-five years ago he gave the clipping to C. C. TAYLOR, ESQ., then an attorney-at-law here, who presented it to W. E. HARRISON, who has it pre-
served in a glass-covered frame].
(Note: They use the letter f for the letter s in ad.)
The new town had not been formally christened and it was not until sometime in November 1795 that the name of McKeesport was finally determined upon. The lottery disposed of many of the lots, but we know little of the particulars of what modern land speculators would call a “boom,” natural to follow the birth of a new town, claimed to possess many advantages (pg. 15) over the village of Pittsburgh because it was “twelve miles nearer Philadelphia;” but we do know than many of the original purchasers abandoned their lots and refused to pay the taxes assessed against them. The omnipresent tax-gatherer kept charging up the taxes until the limits of patience had been exhausted and in the year 1834 a general clearing up of the tax muddle was inaugurated and about one half of the “lottery lots” were sold under the hammer for the delinquent taxes against them, at an average of less than ten dollars a lot.
Nevertheless, these apparent reverses did not prevent McKeesport from being something of a town. For instances it had, as a necessity, a graveyard outside the limits, just East of Walnut street and adjoining that portion of Ninth street which was afterwards laid out East of Walnut. This old graveyard was abandoned until the year 1872, when all the bodies, or what could be found of them, were removed to Versailles Cemetery.
As early as 1800, McKeesport attracted general attention. Among its possessions was a race track running nearly around the town as plotted, and, judging from the number of races on this course, the people were by no means devoid of a love for outdoor sports...(pg. 16) JOHN McKEE died on January 11th, 1807, aged sixty-one years. His remains were placed by the side of his father in the old graveyard, previously described, where they rested quietly until the demands of later years made it necessary to abandon the old burying ground. Accordingly in 1872 the remains were removed by one of his relatives, the late WILLIAM WHIGHAM, to Versailles Cemetery where they are today, the location being marked by the original headstone erected by his family in the old graveyard. But a handsome granite monument to him as the “Founder of McKeesport” was erected over his remains (and those of his wife and his father), in 1887 by DAVID R. McKEE, as executor of the will of REDICK McKEE (son of JOHN McKEE, and born in McKeesport, December 7, 1800), who occasionally visited the old Borough and had many friends among its residents.
JOHN McKEE married SALLY REDICK, sister of JUDGE DAVID REDICK, of Washington County, Pa., whose pedigree is traceable back through the HOGES OR “HOAGS,” HUMES, STEWARTS, “REDOCHS,” and DOUGLASSES to the dawn of Scottish history, about the year 1100. Two of her grandnieces, MRS. JACOB BURKET and MRS. JOHN MERRINGTON are still living and were recently residents of this city. A grandnephew, R. F. RAMSEY, ESQ., is living in Pittsburgh.
REDICK McKEE, after a long life of great activity and usefulness (largely passed in Wheeling, Va., where in its early days he was prominent alike in establishing manufactories and other business enterprises and in founding religious and educational institutions), died at the home of his son, DAVID R. McKEE, in Washington City, September 13th, 1886.
The latter is now the only survivor of REDICK McKEE’S family; and his sons are the last born lineal descendants of the first settler of McKeesport.”
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