1886: The Spencer family of Amberson Avenue
In 1886, the Spencer family moved into a roomy, Victorian-era house on Amberson Avenue in Shadyside.
The seven Spencer children adored their energetic, thrifty mother, Mary Acheson Spencer, who was a graduate of Pennsylvania College for Women, now Chatham University.
“When she went away we missed her more than tongue could tell,” Ethel Spencer wrote in her memoir, “The Spencers of Amberson Avenue.”
Published in 1983, the book became a classic text about middle-class life in turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh. An English teacher, Ethel Spencer ran the Department of General Studies at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University.
The seven Spencer children were Adeline, Kate, Ethel, Mary, Elizabeth, Mark and Charles Jr. Their father, Charles Hart Spencer was a tense, nervous man employed by Henry Clay Frick. He also was a talented amateur photographer and his pictures, which captured his family, appear in the book.
When “The Spencers of Amberson Avenue” was published, a reception was held at the family’s home, which still stands at 719 Amberson Ave and was designed by architect George Orth.
Beatrice Spencer, the widow of Charles Spencer Jr., made her mother-in-law’s sponge cake for the party. Beatrice Spencer, who lived in the house as a bride, said she also stayed there when her mother-in-law took her two unmarried daughters, Ethel and Kate, abroad.
The Spencer family lived in the house until 1950, the year their beloved mother died.
— Marylynne Pitz
Top picture: The seven Spencer children fussed when their father, Charles Hart Spencer, insisted on taking their picture. From left are Charles Jr., Elizabeth, Mary, Mark, Ethel, Kate and Mrs. Spencer. The eldest daughter, Adeline, is missing.