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The William Flinn (not Flynn) Highway - Pittsburgh's Misspelled Street

For decades if you traveled along PA Route 8 in Pittsburgh's North Hills suburbs, you would have noticed signs that read "William Flynn Highway" at every intersection.  Even today, many businesses and residences have their addresses listed as XXXX William Flynn Highway.  However, it's not William Flynn Highway, it is William FLINN Highway - and the gentleman who it is named for has a long and storied past in Pittsburgh's infrastructure history.

William Flinn was born in England in 1851; however later that year, his family emigrated to the United States and would settle in Pittsburgh.  A 10 year-old school drop out, Flinn grew interested in politics and would join the Allegheny County Republican Party in 1877 as a ward commissioner and a seat on the Board of Fire Commissioners.  Flinn would serve in the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives and Senate from 1877 to 1902. (1)

Flinn along with James J. Booth would found the Booth and Flinn construction firm in 1876.  In a time where political power brokering was commonplace, Flinn would partner with Christopher Magee to further their ambition of wealth and power.  As a result of his political connections with Magee, Flinn would see his company be awarded major infrastructure projects within the Pittsburgh region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Booth and Flinn constructed three of Pittsburgh's major tunnels - the Mount Washington Transit Tunnel (1904), Liberty Tunnel (1924), and Armstrong Tunnel (1927) - among many other projects. (2)  The firm also built the Holland Tunnel that links New York City and New Jersey.

Flinn died in 1924 in Florida at the age of 72.  Flinn would be buried in Homewood Cemetery.  Hartwood Acres, the Allegheny County park known for its Christmas festivities, was formerly the estate of his daughter, Mary. The highway that bears his name was dedicated one decade after his death in 1934.  However, in 2001, the state legislature dedicated the Allegheny County segment of the highway after former PA State Representative, Rick Cessar.  In 2013, PENNDOT finally corrected the spelling of Flinn's last name on street signs in Allegheny and Butler Counties.

William Flinn Highway Monument - Bruce Cridlebaugh, 2000.
The William Flinn Highway is better known in Pittsburgh's North Hills.  However, it was named such throughout Allegheny County.  South of Pittsburgh, it is better known as Old Washington Pike which at one time was US 19 and prior to that part of PA Route 8.  Along the Old Washington Pike at the Allegheny/Washington County Line there is a now nearly 85 year old stone monument honoring William Flinn and the highway that bears his name.

William Flinn Highway Monument - Bruce Cridlebaugh, 2000.
There are two readable plaques facing travelers:

The plaque facing northbound travelers reads:
WILLIAM FLINN
1851 - - - 1924
BUILDER FOR AND AMONG MEN
PATRIOT AND STATESMAN
A GREAT MARSHALL OF MEN IN THE
ADVANCEMENT OF OUR CIVIL LIFE
A GREAT BUILDER
OF EARTHLY CONSTRUCTION
A GREAT BUILDER OF HUMAN CHARACTER

The plaque facing southbound travelers reads:
WILLIAM FLINN
1851 - - - 1924
THIS MARKER WAS
CARVED FROM LIGONIER STONE
TAKEN FROM
THE QUARRIES OPERATED BY
WILLIAM FLINN
BEGINNING IN THE YEAR 1881.

Sources & Links:
  • Bruce Cridlebaugh
  • Larsen H. Flinn, Great-Great Grandson of William Flinn.
  • Jeff Hartzell
  • William Flinn Obituary. Butler Eagle, February 20, 1924
  • (1) Pennsylvania State Senate. "Historical Biographies - William Flinn." Accessed via Web December 22, 2017. 
  • (2) Cridlebaugh, Bruce. "William Flinn." Bridges and Tunnels of Allegheny County.
  • PA 8 @ PAHighways.com ---Jeff Kitsko

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