History of St. John's the Baptist and Lawrenceville
In the days before industry pushed into its borders or paved roads meandered through the neighborhoods, when Pittsburgh was young, there was a farm outside the city called Good Liquor. Part of the ranch belonged to Alexander Hill and was within the existing boundary of Lawrenceville. Later, in 1814, William B. Foster purchased 133 acres of land outside of Pittsburgh on the Allegheny River. That same year, he sold 30 acres of this property to the federal government. While the Allegheny Arsenal was being built to supply combatant Union troops during the Civil War, Foster began planting a community called Lawrenceville. The nature reserve is named after Captain James Lawrence, who became famous during the war with Great Britain. He was captain of the Chesapeake, and his famous saying, "Don't leave the ship!" appeared on the Seal of the Town of Lawrenceville.
Lawrenceville grows into part of the city
From the beginning, life in Lawrenceville was characterized by heavy industry. The first housing projects sprang up around the Arsenal, which was located between Penn Avenue and the Allegheny River and bounded by 39th and 40th Streets. This site is now home to Arsenal Middle School and Arsenal Park. By 1834, Lawrenceville's population had grown so fast that the area became a city district. The growth was due to the influx of heavy industry. As the congregation grew, churches began to be planted. With the growth of vital businesses and the number of homes, Lawrenceville was incorporated into the City of Pittsburgh in 1868. After this period, which coincided with the end of the American Civil War, production at the Allegheny Arsenal began to gradually cease. However, new industries began to migrate to the region. Powerful companies such as Carnegie Steel, Clark Steel, and Black Diamond Steel Works would eventually help make Lawrenceville an important part of the growing industrial city. As the mills prospered, Lawrenceville housing boomed. Apartment buildings spread across the landscape between industrial plants as people preferred to live close to where they worked. The architectural style of these houses ranged from the Second Empire Italianate style to the Victorian style. The Diocese of Pittsburgh began planting more churches to meet the growing needs of the district. The ethnically diverse population demanded easily accessible communities because transportation was poor and distance was an important factor. The immigration of hundreds of Irish and Scottish Catholics to the parish spawned the plans for John the Baptist.
The growing immigrant population is creating new communities
The new community would be located between two existing communities: St. Patrick's on 17th Street and St. Mary's on 46th Street. Other churches—such as St. Stanislaus in the Strip District, St. Joe's in Bloomfield, and St. Augustine's on 37th Street—served the existing Polish, Italian, and German-speaking congregations. The original church was founded in 1878 and was located at Penn Avenue and 36th Street. Other buildings were also erected. The first convent was built at 2943 Penn Avenue. After steady growth, the community acquired additional land in 1891. Father Edward McKeever erected a ledge building—now known as "Doughboy Square"—at the fork of Penn Avenue and Butler Street. It wasn't until 1901 that the community purchased the land at Liberty Avenue and 36th Street. The talented architects Louis Beezer, Michael Beezer and John Comes were brought in to design the church, parsonage, school and convent. Using the best craftsmen of the time, the decorative details are outstanding. The multicolored glass of the rose window serves as a kaleidoscopic backdrop for the turn-of-the-century pipe organ, which sits on the balcony of the church. The hand-painted cypress beams on the high vaulted ceiling and intricate European-style stained glass windows would be hard to recreate today. The most special feature is the campanile (bell tower) at the back of the church. When the campanile was built it was twice as high as it is now and housed a full bell ring. Due to its location, it seemed to protrude from the center of the complex. Although the buildings have been slightly modified to give them a modern look, they are designed in the Northern Italian architectural style and remain true to the existing architecture in the community. On June 1, 1902, the cornerstone was laid for St. John the Baptist Church on Liberty Avenue. At the time, the cornerstone contained a copper time capsule. It contains a history of the church, the church register and copies of relevant articles from local publications. This time capsule is still intact. The cornerstone has managed to endure and marks the passage of time not only for the community, but also for Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh and the United States.
These are difficult times for the new church and communityIn early January 1915, a fire broke out in the sanctuary, causing extensive damage to the church. New floors, altars and paint were needed. The building served as a spiritual refuge for its members during the First and Second World Wars. These wars also meant the loss of many enthusiastic, energetic members: the young men who died and did not return from these wars. Although thriving industrial giants were on the doorstep, the community often struggled with a lack of funds. With St. John's seemingly debt-free, depression ensued. During the Depression, St. Johns distributed food and non-perishable goods to parishioners, as well as other members of the community in need. The parish also opened its doors during the March 1936 flood. It was home to people affected by record-breaking flooding in all three of Pittsburgh's rivers. In the late 1950s, Lawrenceville began to change, as did the city of Pittsburgh. Growth stopped and the region's industrial strength gradually declined. The factories that provided jobs and income in Lawrenceville began to slowly close. The young, vibrant community began to mature. People continued to live closer to their jobs, which meant moving out of Lawrenceville. The school closed about 20 years before the dissolution of the community. Throughout the diocese of Pittsburgh, membership in the major parishes began to decline. For financial and organizational reasons, the diocese underwent extensive restructuring in 1993. On August 6, 1993, the Church was dissolved by the Bishop of Pittsburgh. The building lay dormant until construction began in early 1996. It was almost three years ago that The Church Brew Works reopened the doors of St. John
Church shines in old splendorEqual care was taken in the original construction of the building as in the renovation of the church and rectory. The attention to detail and the reuse of existing furniture contribute to creating a spectacular atmosphere. The original pews were hand cut from a length of 24 feet and hand trimmed to the current length of 54 inches. These "mini benches" are deliberately designed longer than the tables to make boarding easier. The bar is built from oak planks salvaged when the benches were shortened. View some photos. The red-orange hue of the floor comes from the original Douglas fir floors. These floors have been exposed and painstakingly restored after being under plywood for 50 years. The original eight lanterns in the central bay were removed, repainted gold and reinstalled after a complete renovation. The lanterns now illuminate the details of the ceiling. The former confessional in the dining room has been removed to create a necessary connection to the kitchen. The stones salvaged from the demolition of the confessional have been reused for the pillars of the outer shield, the façade of the outer platform and the façade of the new kitchen complex. The other confessional behind the bar remains intact and houses merchandise from The Church Brew Works. Meticulous attention to detail and including re-use of existing furnishings help create a spectacular atmosphere that enhances your brewery experience. By far the most stunning element is the location of the brewery in the apse. Since the altar was built as the centerpiece of the church, the steel and copper tanks gleaming against the sky-blue background are simply mesmerizing. This special view is only surpassed by the quality and taste of our beer. Our brewers use their extensive brewing knowledge to bring you four of the best beers you'll ever drink. Our North German Pilsner, Bavarian Dark, British Special Bitter and Rotary Blast Oven Stout are all hand crafted. These "beers" will delight your taste buds just as much as our unique cuisine. The food selection is based on the culinary styles that Chef Jason Marrone has discovered around the country. He has put together a menu as diverse as Pittsburgh itself. And just like the city, there's something for everyone - so come and explore!