House Stories: 5238 Ellsworth Avenue

The house at 5238 Ellsworth Avenue as viewed from Saint James Place on January 19, 1934. Image courtesy of Historic Pittsburgh, the Digital Research Library at the University of Pittsburgh.

The house in the 1934 image above remains standing today at 5238 Ellsworth Avenue and looks very much the same except that it no longer sports a grand porch. At the time of this photograph, George S. Oliver lived in the house with his wife Laura. Mr. Oliver was a lawyer by training but since 1900 helped to run his father’s newspaper the Pittsburgh Gazette. After he married on June 1, 1910, he and his bride and his father George T. Oliver, II moved into his bride’s childhood home. George S. Oliver took control of the Pittsburgh Gazette after his father died. Later, he bought the Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph and Pittsburgh Times and then sold all three papers to William Randolph Hearst on August 1, 1927.

During the first half of the twentieth century two closely knit families and their staff lived at 5238 Ellsworth Avenue and for much of that time, George S. Oliver and his wife Laura often appeared in Pittsburgh newspapers. After all, they owned many of them! Usually they had attended a fabulous social event, sometimes they were traveling, and occasionally business was announced.

The full maiden name of Mr. Oliver’s wife was Laura Gilpen Smith. She was the daughter of Persifor Fraser Smith who had lived at 5238 Ellsworth Avenue since her father’s father, L. W. Smith, was head of the house. A colonel in the Civil War, L. W. Smith lived at 5238 Ellsworth Avenue with his wife Laura Gilpin Wood (her maiden name), butlers Emmett Davis and Alex Kidd, housekeeper Ellen Friel, and coachman James Grave.

Some of the staff at 5238 Ellsworth became long term residents. Emmett Davis had been a butler since at least as early as 1905. By 1928 Mr. Davis had become chauffeur. He was probably chauffeur of the car visible in the house’s driveway. By 1923 Emmett Davis was advertising his chiropractor practice at 5238 Ellsworth. Mr. Davis had married a woman named Minnie, an active organizer and participant in the Married Women’s Culture club.

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