History with Ginny: A look at the city ordinances from 1816 to 1858

I cannot honestly remember how I stumbled upon the complete 335 pages of Pittsburgh By-Laws and Ordinances published in 1858, but I did. And I read them. All of them.

I think I found it while I was doing my research on the Monongahela river monster lore (which, SQUEEE! That’s my March 2014 column at the mag. You’ll love it, SyFy.).

As I said, I read every single word, because I am a huge dork, a massive nerd, a giant dweeb, a colossal geek, a —

Stop me any time, jerks.

I had to share some of my interesting findings with you! Ready?

1. First, CONFLUENCE shows up right away, so all you bitchez take my shotz.



You want to know how long a “perch” is, don’t you. Well I have the answer to that … however long they wanted it to be. 

2. The Mayor, Aldermen, and Citizens of Pittsburgh is your new favorite band name.

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3. The mayor, who made $200 a year in salary, had a TON of power, including acting as a justice of the peace, managing the warrant books, and issuing subpoenas to anyone he wished to.

Lukey’d be all, “I subpeona the shot girls from McFadden’s to appear before me presently whosoeverhereforetoblahblah.”

4. If you watered down the liquor at your “victualling-house” (That’s the name of our next restaurant. Don’t steal it.), you were SHIT OUT OF MOIETIES.

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5. Pittsburgher’s love of fireworks goes all the way back to the 1750’s when they had to make a law about them, because apparently Burghers were shooting stuff off like crazy on New Year’s Eve:

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If you did? Jail for five days. No bail.

In fact, our fireworks love goes back even EARLIER than the 1750s:

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All the way back to the time of King George the FIRST. The firstest. The uno. One. Born 1660. Fireworks are in our ancestral BLOOD, you guys.

I found a picture of him for you:


6. If you were found loitering, begging, or just being a lazy ass who wouldn’t get a job and work to support your family, you were sent to the work house or  if one didn’t exist, thrown in jail for hard labor for one month.

That’ll learn ya!

7. If you “vexatiously” obstructed the road with your horse buggy? $20 fine, which is like $350 today.

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They were not messing around.


8. Initially, children of the poor were allowed to attend any convenient school for free until the age of 12. This became a financial burden on the schools, however, and in 1828, the city passed an ordinance to build and run a school for the children of the poor.

9. “Market Days” were Wednesday and Saturday mornings in present day Market Square:


If you brought your dog or your dog somehow found its way to the market house?

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Not only that, the ordinance goes on to say that ANY stray or dog found running loose anywhere in the city at any time would suffer the same fate, and for every dog he killed, the constable made fifty cents.


10. You were expressly forbidden from bathing naked in the rivers during daylight hours:

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12. The right lane used to be the passing lane.

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13. Don’t you dare beat a drum or ring a bell after sunset:

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14. And God help you if you dropped a stinky one in the privy:

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15. At one point, wild hogs running the streets of Pittsburgh had become enough of a problem, they had to pass an ordinance that they were to be rounded up and given to the poor.

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King George the First of England — the original Grumpy Cat.

You can read all of the rules and regulations yourself right here.

As for me, I’m going to take my dog to Market Square where I’m going to pass on the left and shoot off a firecracker while flying a kite and ringing a giant ass bell.

Bail me out, yo.



  1. MrDirby
    December 19, 2013 11:10 am

    I would appreciate #13 to be reactivated as the church in Lawrenceville is constantly ringing it’s bell. An early morning and evening public disservice if you ask me.

  2. Harold Block
    December 19, 2013 7:08 pm

    Pigeons ??? :-) . I always love your reactions (and I chase them from my garden ona twice-daily basis.

  3. bucdaddy
    December 20, 2013 10:29 am

    It would be hard to improve on those laws, which pretty much all boil down to:

    1. Don’t be a jagoff.

    (Which, of course, is a vast improvement on the original 10 laws, with all those boring “Thou shalts.”)

    Yet here we are, 263 years later, and our legislatures and our Congresspeople live on the generous dole of the taxpayers by pretending that all the laws we need haven’t been written yet. Why, in heaven’s name, are we still writing laws? How many laws do we need? Always one more, apparently, if your hefty income depends on coming up with new laws.

    Can’t these leeches at least take every other year off from sucking on the public teat? Oh, they have to pass a budget. Well, how hard would it be to Tweet a “yea” or a “nay” from home and not force us to pay for you and your accommodations in Harrisburg, Charleston and Washington, you bloodsuckers?

    But expecting lawmakers to have a conscience, well, that’s my fault. People who don’t have a conscience can hardly be faulted for failing to recognize they don’t have a conscience, I guess.

    Why yes, I DO have a low opinion of politicians.

  4. Inigo Montoya
    December 23, 2013 8:48 pm

    Try again on #12. “I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

    The way I read it, if the street, lane, or alley is wide enough for two, the coach, chariot, etc. is instructed to keep on the right hand side of the road in the direction of travel. So far, so good. But it seems obvious to me there is an assumption that the wagons, phaetons, etc. in the other lane would be passing you in the opposite direction, not the same as you. I don’t think they could imagine a road four lanes wide any easier than they could imagine hashtags. Inconceivable!

    In other words, #12 is saying, “We drive on the right in Picksburgh. Suck it or go home, limey jagoffs.”