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Neville Island

Signals, April 2010

This low-lying island in the middle of the Ohio River ten miles downstream from Pittsburgh was variously known as Montour’s Island, Hamilton’s Island and Long Island until General John Neville (1731-1803) assumed ownership in 1800.

The Virginia born Neville served with George Washington and Edward Braddock during the French and Indian War and was commandant of Fort Pitt when the Revolutionary War broke out. Colonel of the 4th Virginia Regiment, he was promoted to Brigadier General in 1783.

General Neville is best known in Western Pennsylvania for his role as Inspector of Revenue, with the unenviable task of enforcing the Excise Law of 1791, which was viciously resisted here by farmers and distillers who turned grain into whiskey. This was the first test of the new Federal Government’s authority, and President Washington sent troops in 1794 to quell the

uprising, known as the Whiskey Rebellion.

General Neville’s “Bower Hill” plantation near today’s Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, was burned to the ground by insurgents demanding the General’s resignation, but he continued to do his duty. General Neville never lived on the island that bears his name, but his only daughter, Amelia (born 1763), and her husband, Captain Isaac Craig, did. Neville died on the island at the home of his daughter on July 29, 1803.

Initially covered in lush forest, Neville Island’s sandy alluvial soil, rich in minerals, was perfectly suited to the cultivation of crops, particularly vegetables, and in short order the whole of it was developed into farms. Jacob Lashell, who owned a ferry crossing the Ohio River between Sewickley and Coraopolis, would put together flatboats of fresh lumber, purchase potatoes and other farm produce from the island and float downriver to sell both. In time, the island provided some of the most celebrated produce in the United States. It

became known as “the market basket of Pittsburgh.” The first strawberries ever marketed in Pittsburgh were grown on Neville Island. Hotel owners and wholesale produce companies such as the H. J. Heinz Company contracted with farmers for produce. New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel featured “asparagus à la Neville Island” on its menu.

A bridge was constructed in 1894 at the upstream end of the island, joining it to the mainland and beginning a process of industrialization that eventually displaced all the farms. The Dravo Corporation moved there in 1901 and began building ships in 1915. Eventually more than 6,000 hulls would be constructed and launched by what would become the largest inland boat works in the United States. During WWII, 16,000 workers were employed

there. In 1946, the Delta Queen, brought from California for use in cruising the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, was restored and refitted by Dravo.

The old Sixth Street Bridge was floated downstream on pontoons and re-erected at

the downstream end of the island in 1927, connecting Neville Island with Coraopolis.

The Ohio River in the vicinity was made more navigable after 1885 by locks and dams at Davis Island, Neville Island and Osborne, replaced by the Emsworth Lock and Dam in 1922 and the Dashields Lock and Dam in 1928, but flooding remains a problem. There were memorable floods in 1907, 1936, 1937 and 1972. Interstate 79 crossed the island in a construction project lasting from 1971 until dedication in 1976, connecting the island with the north side of the Ohio. Neville Island was incorporated as Neville Township on April 8, 1856.

For further information on Neville Island, see Neville Island, by Gia Tatone and Dan Holland, with Neville Green, in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, Charleston, SC, 2008.

We have several copies of the book for sale at SVHS headquarters for $21.99, plus tax.


Landing Ship, Tank:

The Construction of LSTs at Neville Island during World War II

a program by Denis Galterio

Denis Galterio first became interested in LSTs when he was reading about Winston Churchill, who proposed that a Landing Ship, Tank (LST) would be vital to launching invasions from the sea. In the past ten years, he has accumulated an extensive collection of memorabilia, which will be on display; had a model of an LST constructed; and created the Pittsburgh Naval and Shipbuilders Memorial, Inc., a not-for-profit organization to help honor the men and women who served aboard and built LSTs on Neville Island for Dravo and in Ambridge for American Bridge.

Denis Galterio lives in Franklin Park and has a marine insurance

brokerage headquartered in Sewickley.

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