St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Such a BAD Boy, Chewin' Tobaccy and Lying

"He's such a bad boy, " the poor distraught mother cried as she talked to the local magistrate. "He's been chewing tobaccy and lying.  I can't handle him."

While I don't know if those exact words were ever uttered by a mother in distress, I do know the sentiment was a familiar one in the history of Morganza.  It was known that parents up in the Allegheny and Washington Co areas of PA did threaten their youngsters with the punishment of having to go to Morganza.  I wonder how many children were scared straight....

Morganza.  Just the name of this reform school is enough to send chills down the spine of the local residents.  While I am unaware of any of my family members being sent there "for their own good," I am fascinated by it.  I can't imagine the horrors that happened there and my heart aches for the lost youth of the time.

Morganza was first incorporated as the House of Refuge in 1850 in Pittsburgh.  Youth were sent there for various reasons, but there was no need for any conviction of a crime.  Apparently, testimony from a distraught witness was enough for the "sentence" of going there to be reformed.  How many poor children went there?  How many parents sent their child there if they couldn't put food in their mouths?  I imagine it's enough to break your heart.

As the House of Refuge grew, it was decided to purchase land and get the youngsters away from the city.  Perhaps farming would be encouraged.  Land was purchased from Wesley GREER (a kinsman of mine thru marriage) and plans were made, and buildings were built.

According to a 2007 email from a great grandson of Wesley, the land was purchased from the MORGAN family.  The claim to fame for the MORGAN family is Aaron BURR stopped at the farm and spoke of his intent to overthrow the government.

I first became aware of Morganza as I traveled from Pittsburgh down to Washington Co as I was researching my roots.  I saw the building as we drove down the road and asked many questions about it.  Most of the responses seemed to begin with a heavy sigh.

As many readers are aware, a group of volunteers has been painstakingly going through old Pittsburgh newspapers to find marriages and deaths.  While involved in this work, one volunteer contacted me to say she had found many mentions of Morganza in old newspapers.  This sparked my interest as I recalled driving by the old buildings which haunted my memory for months.

We started actively looking for mentions of Morganza or of those associated with the institution in the newspapers and then we decided to add the census information we could find.  All of this information can be found on our Pittsburgh Old Newspaper Project Updates.  

Ahh, genealogy.  Some of our past breaks our hearts, one name at a time.

Herron, James T, Morganza, Jefferson College Times, Vol XLI, No 1, March 2008.
Photo by P. Thomas 

©AS Eldredge 2012

1 comment:

Claudia said...

Compared to the goings on today, "chewing tobaccy and lying" would seen so minor.