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The Edgeworth Club: Celebrating 125 Years

Signals, October 2018

Wednesday, October 17th 7:30 p.m., at the Old Sewickley Post Office

For 125 years, the Edgeworth Club has been a center of social activity in the Sewickley Valley. The Club began in 1893 in a leased clubhouse that still stands on Meadow Lane in Edgeworth. In 1898, construction began on the ill-fated building designed by architects Rutan and Russell, located at the corner of Academy and Centennial Avenues in Sewickley, which served as the clubhouse until December 28, 1928, when it was completely destroyed in a spectacular fire. In the depths of the 1929 depression, architect Brandon Smith designed a new clubhouse on Beaver Road and Academy Avenue, Edgeworth, which was completed in 1931 and continues to serve the membership and the community to this day.

On Wednesday, October 17, Club President Mark Hudson will present a talk on the evolution of the Club, from its Victorian beginnings as a place, according to the original Club charter, “promoting intercourse and friendship among its members and their social enjoyment, and for the purpose of furnishing facilities for bowling, athletic and other innocent sports.” He’ll also discuss how the current building has been successfully adapted to serve the changing needs of members.


1934 Molyneaux Map of Sewickley Heights & Vicinity Reprinted

Back by popular demand! A new printing of the Molyneaux map is now available at the Sewickley Valley Historical Society. The map is 24 inches square and is printed in sepia with olive green details on heavy ivory stock. This “equine” edition was probably commissioned for an Allegheny Country Club Horse Show and shows the great estates of the Gilded Age. The maps are $10 each (PA residents add 7% sales tax). To order by mail, please add $8.00 shipping & handling and mail your check to SVHS, 200 Broad Street, Sewickley, PA 15143.


Some Recent Acquisitions

In April, we acquired three oil paintings – two landscapes and a portrait of a child – by Edgeworth native Agnes C. Way (1842- 1943) from Terry Miller, a great-grandson of one of Way's sisters.

Board member Simon Noel recently gave us a framed poem by James Francis Burke entitled "WHEN HAY CAME BACK FROM FRANCE: He hears of Doings in the 'Old Home Town.'" The poem was presented at a dinner given in honor of Thomas Hay Walker (1889-1982) by J. Frederic Byers, William B. Scaife and Turner D. Moorhead at the Pittsburgh Club, December 21, 1918.

Finally, we have hanging in our headquarters the life-size portrait, seen at right, of iron and steel magnate James Brown Oliver (1844-1905) by Swiss/ American painter August Benziger (1867- 1955), best known for his portraits of Presidents William McKinley (see below) and Theodore Roosevelt. This handsome addition to the SVHS collection is the gift of member James Oliver Goldsborough, great-grandson of James B. Oliver and Amelia Neville Shields Oliver, and was painted in Shields at the Olivers' home, which stood until the early 1940s near the Shields Homestead on Beaver Road.


President McKinley Sits for a Portrait

In the fall of 1897, President William McKinley took time out of his busy schedule to have his portrait painted by young Swiss artist August Benziger. Benziger was born in 1867 and studied art in Europe. He came to the United States in 1896 and established a portrait painting studio in Manhattan.

In the late summer of 1897, the president summoned Benziger to Washington to in- terview him about the sitting. Benziger was surprised at how informal the interview was and what a kindly, quiet, and fatherly man the president was.

McKinley was reluctant to sit for Benziger because of two previous bad experiences with portraiture. McKinley explained also he was very busy and he had limited free time. The opportunity McKinley gave Benziger came with a stipulation: McKinley was free to withdraw if he was not pleased with what he saw after the second sitting.

Benziger agreed to begin immediately, with an agreement that planned a second work. Benziger was given permission to attend all receptions, cabinet meetings and conferences so that he could learn more about what type of man McKinley was.

The East Room was selected as his studio. Soon it was full of Benziger’s art supplies and easels. A guard was assigned to the room to guard the painting and equipment.

Benziger started on the portrait in late September. McKinley allotted several hours each day for the first portrait sittings. After that, McKinley gave Benziger a few minutes at 8 a.m. to work. McKinley was so comfortable with Benziger he answered correspondence and conducted official business while the artist painted.

One day, after looking at the unfinished portrait, McKinley told his secretary, “Why, I can’t get over it. Mr. Benziger has caught a likeness that is frighteningly accurate. Do call Mrs. McKinley; I wonder what [she] will say.” Ida McKinley came to see, and proclaimed, “Mr. Benziger, you are the first artist to capture the fire burned within the soul of my husband.” This was Ida McKinley’s favorite portrait of her husband. It was on display at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, and was later donated to the Smithsonian Institution by Benziger’s daughter. Today it is on exhibit in the Presidential Portrait section of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

Benziger’s second image of McKinley became his official White House portrait. McKinley was sitting for the portrait when his aides rushed into the room to tell him that the USS Maine had been sunk in Havana.

Benziger made 51 crossings of the Atlantic during his lifetime, painting the rich and famous in the United States and Europe. This included two other U. S. Presidents, European political leaders, several prominent industrialists and three popes. He became a U. S. citizen in 1951. Benziger died in 1955.

(Excerpted from an article in the [Niles, OH] Tribune Chronicle, October 9, 2017, by Patrick Finan, retired library director of the McKinley Memorial Library in Niles)

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