Thursday, May 28, 2015

Forgotten History: quiet, pleasant and self-possessed Sarah Jane Negley Mellon

If you're from Pittsburgh, you know the name Mellon.

The name seeped into my consciousness at an astonishingly early age. I vividly recall being 5 years old and placing my chin on a walnut handrail after clambering up a marble step to peer into display cases at the Carnegie Museum.

I left astonished vapor Os on the glass as I gazed into the miniature room installation, which had been newly-bequeathed from the estate of a lady I learned was named Sarah Cordelia Mellon Scaife.

Those displays (still on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art) exactly reproduced the dining room, bedroom and library from Penguin Court, the family's former 'country home' in Ligonier, along with various other collectible antique miniature dioramas.

I didn't know then that I was looking at three inch tall Chippendale chairs covered in petit point needlepoint, a mahogany dining table, or wee 18th century collectible silver pieces from Europe. I just knew that I was entranced.

And of course I couldn't know, not at age 5, that Sarah's father Richard B. Mellon had always been the showiest of the famous Mellon brothers and likely nurtured his daughter's sense of grandeur from the cradle. He did, after all, arrange for the Pittsburgh wedding of the century in 1927 when Sarah married Alan Magee Scaife.

At age 5, I knew nothing of the dissipated, privileged, alcoholic life Sarah is said to have led. I couldn't know that Sarah's son Richard Mellon Scaife was even then carrying on the legacy of alcoholism and ratcheting the family's reputation to new heights (or moral depths) with monied bullying behavior, or predict that (once sober) he would eventually become one of this country's most generous and influential donors to conservative causes. And I surely couldn't have known that Sarah's grandfather, Judge Thomas Mellon, had cautioned against precisely this kind of privileged existence when he wrote in his 1885 memoirs: "The normal condition of man is hard work, self-denial, acquisition and accumulation; as soon as his descendants are freed from the necessity of such exertion they begin to degenerate sooner or later in both body and mind."

What I did know, even at age 5, was that a different kind of life was lived by the sorts of folks who had the money and hubris to reproduce their houses in miniature and create amusement parks. And I wondered about what kind of lives those were -- not simply in terms of material possessions, but about how the world must seem to them.

To kid-me, a family name such as "Mellon" seemed pretty funny: it conjured up images of posh, well-dressed fleshy fruit. My childish deductive reasoning skills led me to assume that this family must be like some PBS high-brow version of Mr. Potato Head. But I soon realized that these oddly-named Mellons were present whenever I encountered something fancy in my hometown. Staggeringly grand banks were named after them, as were colleges, buildings and (most importantly to kid-me) parks.

At some point in my childhood, I learned that the Mellon family had established one of my favorite places on earth: Idlewild Park. Insulated by innocent pleasure, I was grateful to them for that. I had no idea that Judge Mellon had prudently created the park in 1878 for the sole purpose of providing a destination to increase profits for his already-existing narrow-gauge railroad.

Postcard of bridge spanning Lake Bouquet leading to Flower Island at Idlewild Park.
Ligonier Valley Railroad tracks would have passed near here.

I also had no idea that one of Sarah Mellon Scaife's foundations had funded the opening of the children's section of the Pittsburgh Zoo in 1949. I just knew I liked crawling in that big old whale's mouth, which was disgustingly and delightfully spongy (although frankly it had seen better days by the time I was visiting in the mid-1970s).

There were other parks, ones I thought were meant mostly for grown-ups. A showpiece of the mid-century downtown Pittsburgh Renaissance movement, Mellon Square was constructed as a Modernist urban oasis by Sarah and her brother Richard King Mellon and dedicated to their father Richard B. and uncle Andrew in 1955.

Mellon Square dedication, October 18, 1955.
Heinz History Center, Allegheny Conference on Community Development Photographs

The Mellons footed half the $7.8 million bill for this park. The combined visions of Pittsburgh architects Mitchell & Ritchey and landscape artists John and Philip Simonds were responsible for the urban open space built over a six story parking garage. Nine giant bronze basins weighing 3,500 pounds each were used for the square's central fountains, considered the largest single bronze castings made to that date.
Mellon Square, Pittsburgh

Mellon Square, Pittsburgh
My family visited Mellon Square, a mid-way point between Kaufmann's and Gimbel's on Smithfield Street, whenever we shopped downtown during the 1970s. It was still in good enough repair then to conjure my mother's memories of the park as a chic working-girl gathering place from earlier decades. She'd buy me a raisin-filled cookie from the Jenny Lee Bakery just below the square, then let me amuse myself. I imagined each carefully landscaped section as a room with a distinct personality, then hop-scotched around on the groovy terrazzo paving (reportedly those designs came from a suggestion by Sarah Mellon Scaife) and fantasized about climbing the magical cascading fountain, all while my mother rested for what seemed like an eternity.

Thus a progression from dollhouses, amusement parks and fruit: in my later childhood, the Mellon name became associated with cookies, urban adventure, and impatience.

In my adolescence the Mellon name was associated with something unattainable: attending benefit steeplechase races at Richard B. Mellon's Ligonier Rolling Rock estate. The Rolling Rock Hunt Race Meeting, whose proceeds benefited the Pittsburgh Rehabilitation Institute, was attended by the monied, class-skipping students of my high school. I was uncultured and had never skipped class in my life, so I didn't get why it was a Thing. It certainly wasn't a Thing for this truck-driver's daughter to attend, so I never went. I didn't quite understood the vague sense of loss I felt when the races were shut down in 1982.

When I moved to Highland Park as a young adult in the mid-1980s, my first apartment was in a home at the corner of Mellon and Bryant Streets. For well over a decade, I studied and worked across the street from Mellon Institute, an imposing classical limestone building ringed with 62 enormous Ionic columns that kid-me had believed was a sinister fortress in the heart of Oakland. (Really, I did). 

I occasionally took myself to Mellon Park in Shadyside. Here stood Richard B. Mellon's 65 room mansion, built in 1909 and torn down in 1941 having passed its period of usefulness, but not before hosting that 1927 Mellon-Scaife Pittsburgh wedding reception of the century.  The park encompasses the grounds; remaining gatehouse; a Tudor Revival mansion dating to 1904 and given as a wedding gift to the Mellon-Scaife newlyweds; and a circa-1912 mansion belonging to Charles D Marshall of Bethlehem Steel. The buildings are today leased from the City of Pittsburgh and form the campus for the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Phipps Garden Center. But back when I roamed the area, the park was just beginning to emerge from a period of seediness and disrepair.

Oddly enough, bits and pieces of the RB Mellon mansion can be found scattered around Western PA. Many structural and fine architectural elements made their way to Mount Saint Peter Church in New Kensington (LINK to more photos). These lovely statues which grace the Broderie Room at Phipps Conservatory in Oakland once stood in the mansion's gardens. The girls are probably grateful to be inside and removed from the elements, as Pittsburgh's industrial climate clearly did their complexions no favors....
Phipps Conservatory Broderie Room
As a history-loving adult, I came to understand how ubiquitously present the Mellons were in the development of this city and nation. It was more than just parks and dollhouses; taken as a whole, this one particular family dramatically shaped Pittsburgh's economic and civic character, and their influence extended far beyond the city. Only a few other families could influence urban or national destinies to such an extent in the modern era. And even fewer managed to hold onto their money and influence the way the Mellons have done.

Although there are four distinct branches descending from the legendary Judge Thomas Mellon, I'm unsure how many Pittsburghers know (or care) which Mellon was which. The individuals don't signify much in the collective Pittsburgh consciousness, at
Andrew W. Mellon, c. 1920
University of Pittsburgh Historic Photographs
least not the way their contemporary local tycoons Henry Clay Frick or Andrew Carnegie do. There are stand-out Mellons, to be sure. For example, the wealthiest Mellon was Andrew, a Gilded Age venture capitalist who became the longest-serving Secretary of the Treasury and eventually President Hoover's economic scapegoat (rightly or wrongly depending upon your read of history) in the lead-up to the Great Depression. He also built, designed, gifted and endowed the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, and donated much of his personal art collection (as would his two children). But because Andrew Mellon deliberately disassociated his name from the institution he created (unlike Frick and Carnegie, who kept their names connected to their philanthropic efforts), that wonderful museum is not commonly associated with the Mellon legacy. If you're on the look-out, you might spy his name on this bench that surrounds a fountain on a traffic island at 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, between the west wing of the National Gallery and the Newseum. It's in plain sight but bland and usually overlooked...rather like AW Mellon, actually.

What Pittsburghers do remember about the Mellons are the salacious details. To wit:

  • Andrew Mellon's cuckolding and subsequent very public divorce from Nora McMullen, 24 years his junior, rocked the world in 1912. Even once resolved, his marital woes brought him a lifetime of embarrassment. The Mellon children, Ailsa and David, were caught in the crossfire and suffered emotionally.
  •  The specifics of Sarah Mellon and Alan Scaife's extravagant 1927 wedding still leave readers slack-jawed in amazement. According to contemporary accounts, proud papa Richard B. spent
    Sarah Cordelia Mellon Scaife, 1940 
    Gerald L. Brockhurst, Carnegie Museum of Art
    $100,000 to build and decorate a pavilion at his East End mansion for the wedding feast and ball. The multiple reception areas of the mansion were decked out with tapestried walls; red velvet hangings lined with gold satin; a faux-marble dance floor; tons of flowers and greenery; seven-foot wide chandeliers; silver candelabras; crystal urns filled with silver fruit; Italian mirrors lining the walls; and gold bird cages suspended from the centers of archways (I could find no mention of the birds living in these gilded cages...and I am resisting all related tortured analogies). The pièce de résistance must have been the blue bridal canopy suspended from the ceiling, festooned with silver stars and flowers twinkling in reflected light from the mirrors around the room. Or maybe it was the artificial lighting illuminating the estate's life-size statuary, no doubt including the girls now living at Phipps Conservatory where they witness more down-scale nuptials.
  • Sarah's daughter, Cordelia Scaife May, shunned publicity but left a legacy brimming with gossip about her early disapproved-of marriage and subsequent divorce; her second husband's political scandals and questions surrounding his sudden death (accident? suicide? murder?); and her characterization of her mother as "just a gutter drunk" (whilst also noting that she and her brother were no better). Amidst all this, Cordy May's championing of environmental and sustainability causes, her many secretive philanthropic efforts through her Laurel Foundation, and her backing of conservative anti-immigration/population control causes (including funding some recognized hate groups) through her Colcom Foundation have often gone unnoticed.
  • Western Pennsylvania music lovers have never gotten over the closing of the Graffiti Showcase Cafe, a venue for live music for 26 years, when the entirety of the former Oakland warehouse housing Grafitti was purchased by Cordelia's son David Scaife in 2000. Scaife had been storing his multi-million dollar collection of luxury automobiles in the adjacent car boutique, and chose to evict the rock-n-roll riff-raff so he could peacefully use the remainder of the warehouse for more fancy car storage space.
  • Other Mellons have became punchline-famous because of their associations with the moral failings and political machinations of characters on the national stage. Witness, for example,  Sarah's son Richard Mellon Scaife's obsession with the Clintons, which went on for decades. Or how the mental competency of Rachel Lambert "Bunny" Mellon (second wife of Andrew Mellon's son David) was called into question over her support of now-disgraced Senator John Edwards. And then there are punchlines by association, like Matthew Taylor Mellon II (3x-great grandson of Judge Thomas Mellon through his oldest son James), who invested heavily in Bitcoin and supposedly contributed to Julian Assange’s bail fund.
Even the venerable institutions associated with the family make news when scandal hits. Mellon Bank, then Pennsylvania's largest banking institution, disinvested in the steel-making region during during its time of need in the early 1980s and became the target of steelworker ire culminating in disruptive demonstrations, boycotts and mass withdrawals of funds. The church that Richard B. Mellon built, East Liberty Presbyterian, became one of several targets of protests by the controversial Denominational Ministry Strategy (DMS).

For me, a childhood of passing familiarity led to a lifetime of fascination. A direct line of correlation can be drawn from kid-me peering through windows into a miniature Mellon world in 1969, to adult-me reading articles and biographies about the family. I can now extemporaneously follow various Mellon lineages, dissect Mellon accomplishments and scandals, and find it interesting to trace how this family worth some $12 billion has disseminated its wealth. But while all that makes me an unintentional font of Mellon trivia, the family still exists for me in a world apart, one separated from my understanding and experience by more than glass.

The other day as I was walking in Highland Park I came across a memorial erected in 1912 by Sarah Negley Mellon to honor her grandparents, Alexander and Anna Maria Burkstresser Negley, who were buried there in unmarked graves along with many other nameless Pittsburgh pioneers. I'd walked past this grove many times in the six years I lived in Highland Park. Even as I half-remembered old jokes about the haunted grove in the park, I was haunted by other musings. Here, I thought, perhaps here is something Mellonesque that I can actually relate to.

Forget the dollhouses of that other Sarah Mellon, or the myriad Mellon parks, businesses, and mansions built by the Mellon men. Instead, take heed of this: a monument to one woman's love of family and her desire to honor the past.

But who was this woman? This much, I knew: Sarah Jane Negley Mellon was an heiress who descended from multiple Pittsburgh pioneer families who once owned nearly all of the East End.

The family of her grandfather Alexander Negley had settled in eastern Pennsylvania, but Alexander moved westward to Pennsylvania to soldier during the battles of the Seven Years War. Like the earliest Mellons, Alexander originally settled in Westmoreland County. After harrowing skirmishes with Indians, he resettled his family in the more hospitable Pittsburgh area. His farm, Fertile Bottom, extended along the Allegheny River up over most of what is now Highland Park and the city reservoirs. His son Jacob married Barbara Anna Winebiddle, a descendant of the Taubs (who owned property in present-day Shadyside) and Winebiddles (who owned property all around today's Bloomfield, Friendship, Lawrenceville, and Downtown areas).

Rexervoir I loop, Highland Park Pittsburgh on the site of Alexander Negley's farmhouse Fertile Bottom

Jacob and Barbara Negley had a dozen children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. Jacob and Barbara Negley's combined property holdings encompassed most of modern East Liberty (once actually known as Negleytown) and the adjacent East End. Their 1808 red brick farmhouse, known as the Negley Mansion, once sat at what is now the corner of Stanton and Negley Avenues. They continued to add to their property; farmed; established a bank; ran a general store called the Black Horse Tavern; and operated the first steam-powered gristmill east of the Allegheny Mountains. The Negleys built the first of an eventual five churches on the same property that their grandson Richard B. Mellon would one day enshrine as the present-day Gothic-style cathedral of East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

But by the time the ambitious Thomas Mellon came looking for a wife, the Negley fortunes were in decline. Despite his commercial and proprietary successes, Jacob Negley had borrowed heavily against his property for investments. That gamble worked against him following the economic downtown of 1819. He died deeply indebted, and only the financial support of family friend Congressman James Ross allowed the Negleys to keep their property. Tenth child Sarah Jane Negley received her share in the 1830s when it was divided by Ross into parcels for each of Jacob Negley's surviving children or their heirs. Her inheritance was not an inconsiderable amount of land (roughly equivalent to $1.13 million in modern reckoning according to her 2x great-grandson James Ross Mellon II, author of a recent biography about Judge Mellon).

The young Sarah Jane attended school in a frame building built near today's East Liberty Presbyterian Church by her father in 1819. She was 'finished' at the Edgeworth Ladies' Boarding School in Braddock, where she benefited from an exceptionally well-rounded education in addition to polishing the necessary social skills for a woman of her position. For $200 a year (paid three months in advance) Sarah Jane would have studied reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, composition, geography, astronomy with the use of globes, natural philosophy, chemistry, history, and plain and ornamental needle work. Music, drawing and painting, and French cost extra. The school noted that "To study, coercive means are not employed, reference is made to the heart as well as the head, and the study of every branch, and the proportion of time given to it, will be subservient and tributary to useful and moral and religious improvement."

Looking back on the day they met in her parents' parlor, Judge Mellon would later write a clinical
Photograph of Thomas Mellon, circa 1840s.
appraisal of Sarah Jane and their courtship in his memoirs:

I took her in at a glance; and now, after over forty years, can well remember how she looked then, even to the fashion of her hair and every minute particular of her dress. I see her now in the mind's eye, as she stood there in the sunlight which was struggling through the window curtains giving me a full view of her appearance--quiet, pleasant and self-possessed. I remember thinking to myself, in person she would do if all right otherwise. I remember also of its flitting across my mind, whether this might be the one of destiny!
Apparently she was "all right otherwise" since Thomas Mellon decided to pursue Sarah Jane. I doubt his heart had been persuaded that she was "the one of destiny" because at least in his memoirs it is quite obvious that neither he nor Sarah Jane were in love with one another. Rather, this was a relationship that appears to be based on mutual emotionally-detached appraisals. Thomas Mellon clearly decided that all things considered, this 27 year old heiress would make a good catch. We can only assume what Sarah Jane thought of her suitor, for she did not record her impressions for posterity. She didn't turn Thomas away, but then again, neither did she encourage him.

The way Thomas describes their courtship is intriguing for the boorish but earnest picture it paints of him, and the enigmatic portrait presented of Sarah Jane. Thomas Mellon pursued his intended via weekly chaperoned visits at the Negley Mansion over six long months. He persisted in the face of little if any enthusiasm from Sarah Jane, whom he saw as polite, conversational, but distant and discouraging of intimacy. She flatly ignored attempts at flattery and flirtation, leaving poor frustrated Thomas lamenting that he was made to feel "...that to talk love would be out of place and might subject me to to ridicule." By the end of his six months a'wooing, Thomas Mellon no doubt wryly ruminated over the observations of his close friend Richard Beatty, who had passed over Sarah Jane for a younger Negley sister because Sarah was "....too independent for him, had no elasticity in her composition, and did not seem to appreciate gentlemen's attentions."

Even Sarah Jane's small talk seemed to get on Thomas' nerves, for he notes in his memoirs:

I was not there to take lessons in flora culture or botany, or to learn the history of birds, fishes or butterflies. I did not want to spend evening after evening in admiring pictures in her album, or in having items read to me from her scrap book. But to her credit I must say that she never inflicted any music upon me, as she professed no special efficiency in that accomplishment.
Apparently the Negleys didn't pay extra for those music lessons at the Edgeworth Ladies' Boarding School!

Thomas finally reached his limit. Seizing an opportunity when their chaperone was out of the room, he one day declared his intentions to Sarah Jane, voiced the hope that she felt the same, then "....took a kiss unresisted and said that would do, and I was satisfied; and left her abruptly, feeling unnerved for conversation."

What was it about this "quiet, pleasant, and self-possessed" woman that set the steely-eyed and practical thirty year old bachelor off course, yet kept him coming back for more? Thomas Mellon assures us in his memoir chapter entitled "Courtship and Marriage" that Sarah Jane's attitude was not born of coquetry. She was not playing hard to get. She seems instead to have been one who naturally kept her own counsel and was always emotionally reserved. She certainly didn't adopt any newly found maidenly airs once they were engaged, either:

At my next weekly visit we met on closer terms and more cordial feelings; the wall of separation was removed and I applied to her mother for her consent, and received a ready and satisfactory answer to the effect that as we had agreed she knew of no objection. I then applied to my affianced to set the day, suggesting a week or ten days as sufficient interval. This she opposed with some surprise, and insisted on six weeks. We finally compromised on a month, and accordingly the transaction was consummated on the 22d of August, 1842. The details of the wedding are uninteresting; all such ceremonies are pretty much alike. Her distant and independent attitude, so well maintained during our preliminary acquaintance, had made me sometimes fear a cold and unsympathetic disposition; but I found her nature quite the contrary, her feelings warm and abiding, but undemonstrative.
No record exists as to how Sarah Jane Negley characterized her husband, the man who described their marriage as a "transaction" that was "consummated." We don't know if she, too, found recounting the details of their 1842 wedding "uninteresting." Nor do we know what she thought of their then-novel honeymoon trip to Niagara Falls, returning by way of Boston, New York City and Philadelphia. The wedding trip made quite an impression on Thomas, though, who states that neither of them had hitherto traveled much (Sarah Jane previously having been on a "boat excursion with some friends" to Louisville). Thomas accordingly devoted an entire memoir chapter to their trip. He mentions his wife twice, by the way, book-ending the chapter with comments about her at beginning and end. It's not that she isn't present throughout--he makes consistent use of first person plural pronouns when describing their travels. But the chapter is all about their itinerary, not their intimacy. Only a comment following a frightening adventure on the Pennsylvania Canal when their boat almost plummeted over a dam on the Juniata River near Harrisburg reflects the experiences of his new wife: "In this crisis I first noticed my wife's entire command of her feelings in the suppression of every sign of fear or alarm."  It's hard to tell whether Sarah Jane's preternatural self-possession alarmed or impressed him, but I suspect it's a bit of both.

Mid-1800s canal boat along the Juniata Division of the Pennsylvania Canal
Juniata County Historical Society
The newlyweds moved in with Sarah's mother and some Negley siblings who remained in the family home. Interestingly, Thomas Mellon heaps unreserved praise upon his new mother-in-law, whom he found to be "....agreeable and pleasant...a kind mother possessed of superior qualities and sound, practical good sense...."  He would later claim that never was there "....the slightest unpleasantness or misunderstanding ever occurred between us" throughout their lives. Mrs. Negley would eventually live out her final days with Thomas and Sarah Jane, bequeathing the bulk of her considerable real estate holdings to Sarah Jane and other descendants (providing the foundation for the lucrative Mellon real estate development business in the East End).

Thomas Mellon warmed up to his wife, who took "....full possession and master of the situation, not the least discouraged through without any company or help...." when the couple moved into a rented home downtown. Things were looking up, especially since " wife was herself a good cook and not in the least averse to work....we were all in all to each other. Such was the beginning of my married home life."  But Thomas got back to business quickly "....since marriage, the last important event of my life was consummated, and nothing left to distract my attention from business, I could feel that I was fairly settled...."

Did Sarah Jane feel "fairly settled"?  Did she grow to like, even to love, her husband? The couple moved back in with the widowed Mrs. Negley when Sarah was pregnant with their first child in 1844. A few years later, they moved nearly next door into a home Mrs. Negley gifted them. More children followed in rapid succession. Their two daughters did not live past infancy, and another son died at age 9. Thomas had his favorites, but we don't know if Sarah had a favorite among her surviving five sons or if she longed for a daughter to replace the girls she lost as babies. The education and supervision of chores for their five surviving boys seems to have been left to Thomas's oversight. Hindsight lends a certain predictability to an amusing anecdote related by author and descendant James Mellon in his book Judge Mellon: young Andrew was such a precocious entrepreneur "...that his mother occasionally had to buy back vegetable that Andy had uprooted and sold from her garden."

After nearly a decade of marriage, Thomas and Sarah Jane built a new home for their growing family on Negley land adjacent to their existing cottage, with an eventual address of 401 Negley Avenue. Surviving photos reveals a stolid farmhouse, described as white with green shutters.

Mellon family home from 1851-1955, 401 N. Negley Avenue, Pittsburgh.
Photo from 1936, Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection
Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh
The Judge author and descendant James Mellon describes a dark and sturdily decorated Victorian interior. Bedrooms were on the second floor and formal entry, parlor, dining room, study and kitchen occupied the first floor. He quotes one of Sarah and Thomas' grandsons, William Larimer Mellon, who knew the house from the 1860s on:  "....every kind of activity associated with a farm, including the slaughtering and dressing of hogs, was regularly carried on there. Yet it was not really a farm but a country home."
Portrait of Mrs. Thomas Mellon (Sarah Negley), 1896
Théobald Chartran, Carnegie Museum of Art

Through all the bustle of family life, Sarah Jane seems to have remained vastly competent, cool, and collected, but also emotionally detached and undemonstrative. Photos from family collections reveal as steely and arresting a stare as that of her legendary husband Thomas. While the Judge would lose his sight in old age, Sarah Jane's gaze remains steady and appraising.

Grandson William described her thusly in The Judge:
My grandmother, her voice was a little stronger...a little bit sharper...She had a little blue in her eyes....When I knew her, her hair was gray. It had been dark.
br /> She was an unusually kind person but a very energetic woman. Very energetic. She ran the house. She had some servants, but she was the main engineer by a long shot...was a tremendous worker...walked of those people who put up apple butter and everything else, all the same day...just a regular worker. She was very friendly always, and would bake cake for you or anything of that kind.
He goes on to describe Sarah Jane's role in the household when he was growing up:
My grandmother ran the home. But, since she likewise had duties to her church and to charity, she kept control of the household through old Mrs. Cox, who was called housekeeper....There were a number of servant girls...because there was a vast amount of household work at that time of little or no plumbing. The staff, which Mrs. Cox headed, included old Harriet, who was a kind of principal maid, supervising the chamberwork of lesser maids.
Sarah thus eventually acquired a staff to supervise, becoming removed from day-today housework as she and Thomas became pillars of their community and she gravitated into a social role outside the home.

The Mellon family archives contain private written material and memorabilia which no doubt shed more light on Sarah Jane's personality -- including the scrapbooks which so infuriated her husband when they were courting! It would be lovely to curl up with those books to see what she collected in them, perhaps to discern what held her interests and curiosity. In the absence of access to such cherished family material, Sarah Jane must remain aloof and ultimately unknowable to history while her husband Thomas commands center stage. We can only guess at her inner life...but perhaps that's as she would have liked it.

In The Judge, grandson William offers valuable insight as to how the Mellon marriage evolved...or rather, how it bobbed placidly in place on the surface for decades:
The wedded union of Thomas and Sarah was exemplary in its sense and practice of loyalty and duty, in the perfect old-fashioned way; was not a case of tender love and sentiment....They roomed and slept together and never were separated...[but] they were not lovers, not even company for each other, just good domestic partners...

His wife was a tender-hearted and capable of full sympathy, but not of grievous suffering. She was motherly and dutiful, but more stoical. It was the way of the Negleys.
The couple took a grand tour of the United States and Mexico in 1886. No canal boats for them this time -- they traveled in style in a private rail car, with various sons and daughters-in-law and  grandchildren joining them along the way.  James Mellon described a travel journal from the family archives that Sarah Jane kept about this family trip, noting that 
....her lively, articulate travel log gives us our only firsthand encounter with the woman who shared Thomas Mellon's life for sixty-four years. Ma emerges from the page as an uncanny observer and accomplished story-teller. She writes with authority and conviction about landscape, history, the people she encounters, and their customs. Her observations on geology and agriculture reveal a startling command of these subjects, reinforced by a vocabulary that extends even to Latin names. Clearly, some of her schoolbook learning at Edgeworth Seminary had not faded.
Some personal material related to Sarah Jane does exists for public access. The Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh retains the papers of Sarah Jane and Thomas' second son, James R. Mellon, a collection open to researchers. In addition to diaries and valuable historical documents, the collection includes some letters between James and his mother Sarah Jane, plus a collection of photocopies of title pages from school books that once belonged to each of his parents.

Beyond this, however, the public is left with only the name and a limited understanding of the life of Sarah Jane Negley Mellon as through others' experiences. Judge Mellon's private memoirs were made public by his grandson Paul in 1994, providing invaluable insights into the private life of this couple. But Sarah Jane's private letters, scrapbooks and travel journal, those few documents we know she left, remain private within the control and interpretation of her descendants. This is not surprising for such a self-contained woman and is to be respected -- despite the regrets it engenders for the curious historian!

Stone from the Mellon gatehouse on Negley Avenue
And we are left with very little in the way of physical artifacts to remember Sarah Jane by. That's a shame considering the century's worth of astounding history she was part of, and I daresay orchestrated by providing a serene life behind the scenes for the main Mellon actors. This isn't an unusual circumstance for women throughout history, of course, but it's unfortunate nonetheless.

Negley Mansion, Edgeworth Ladies' Boarding School, and the Mellon "country home" on Negley Avenue are all long gone. A farmhouse built by grandmother Mary Ann Negley following her husband Alexander's death still exists in Highland Park, and likely knew the tread of Sarah Jane's feet when she came to visit, but it was not her home. Only the stone gateposts remain from the Mellon home, half-hidden in the ivy near a cluster of split-level houses along Negley Avenue.

There is a grave, of course, in Section 19 of Allegheny Cemetery. Sarah Jane lies beside her husband, not far from their three children who died young and a fourth who died of tuberculosis in early adulthood. The Mellon graves rest just above those of Sarah Jane's parents and other Negley kin.

Grave marker for Sarah Jane Negley Mellon (1817-1909), Allegheny Cemetery

Graves of children Sarah Emma (1847-50), Annie Rebecca (1851-52)
Samuel Selwyn (1851-62) and George Negley Mellon (1860-87).


And there was an obituary, more about everyone else in her life than Sarah Jane herself:

Mrs. Sarah Jane Mellon, widow of former Judge Thomas Mellon, died at 7:30 o'clock this morning at her home, No. 401 North Negley avenue.
Mrs. Mellon would heave been 93 years old on February 3. Her passing was sudden but peaceful. From apparently the best of health, the well-known aged woman dropped into a slumber last evening and quietly slept away her last hours on earth.
With the death of Mrs. Mellon, the old East Liberty valley loses the last of its pioneer residents. Her husband, the former jurist, died suddenly on February 3 of last year, while preparations were being made to celebrate the ninety-fifth anniversary of his birth.
Mrs. Mellon was born in the district which she had so long called home, on February 3, 1817. Her father was Jacob Negley and her mother had been Anna Barbara Winebiddle.
The histories of both families are closely interwoven with that of Pittsburgh. In the early days, while East Liberty still was a separate borough, Mr. Negley conducted a grist mill there and with his brother kept a stall in the old Diamond market, making trips with his grain twice a week. Both families owned much land in the East Liberty Valley, which they used for farm purposes.
On August 24, 1843, the dead woman was married to Thomas Mellon, then a rising young lawyer at the Allegheny county bar. On their wedding trip, they journeyed through Canada and this event is chronicled in an entertaining style by the deceased jurist in the history of the Mellon family, which he published a few years before his death.
Judge Mellon was the founder of the Mellon National Bank, and as his sons reached maturity, he took them into partnership. There are but three children surviving this union living at this time. They are James R. Mellon, president of the City Deposit Bank, in East End; Andrew W. Mellon, president of the national bank bearing his name, and Richard B. Mellon, vice president of the same institution. Besides these, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren survive.
Mrs. Mellon was an active member of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, the site for the edifice at the corner of Penn and Highland avenues in the East End having been given to the congregation by Judge Mellon. Despite her advanced years, she took great interest in charitable work, the Home for Aged Protestant Couples, of Wilkinsburg, being the special object of her benefactions.
 19 Jan 1909

And there is that granite monument in Memorial Grove, smack dab in the middle of Highland Park.

Negley Monument, Memorial Grove, Highland Park Pittsburgh PA

Conflicting histories indicate that Sarah Jane's grandparents Alexander and his wife MaryAnn were either originally buried downtown Pittsburgh at a church on Smithfield and Sixth Street and then re-interred on Negley property when that churchyard was targeted for redevelopment, or had always been interred in a cemetery on the Negley property now occupied by Highland Park. It is equally unclear if a late-18th century/early 19th cemetery had always existed on the site, but it would not be unusual for a rural community to have a burial ground in its midst. The memorial stone indicates that the remains of some 50 other East End pioneer families are also interred there, although I have not been able to find a comprehensive list to date. One side of the monument reads:

Sacred to the memory of those noble Christian pioneers who moulded the character ofthis community in its struggling and formative period. This monument marks the center of a burial ground located on the former homestead of Alexander Negley, where are interred about fifty early settlers of the East Liberty Valley.
And on the other side:

In memory of Alexander Negley, born in Germany 1734, of Swiss ancestry, came to Eastern Pennsylvania 1739, served in the war of the Revolution, settled on site of Highland Park 1778, died Nov. 3, 1809, and his wife Mary Ann Burkstresser, born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, June 20, 1741, died June 17, 1829, both interred here. Erected by their granddaughter, Sarah Jane Negley Mellon 

Sarah Jane didn't make a marriage of passion. She was a pleasant, dutiful mother and grandmother, but not a doting one. She traveled little and devoted herself to church and community. She didn't seem to collect much, perhaps memories in her scrapbooks, but certainly not the homes and grand works of art like her offspring would acquire. She didn't design or fund the building of mansions or imposing buildings. This was a woman who had the means to do anything she wanted and then some. She seems to have remained the same quiet, pleasant, self-possessed, clear-eyed observer of the world around her that Thomas Mellon met in 1841. But her detachment only went so far. If we are to take the lonely monument in the middle of a city park as testimony to anything, it's that connections mattered to Sarah Jane Mellon. Honoring family and accomplishments mattered. I don't know how Sarah Jane would regard the reputations of her descendants but I think she was proud of where she came from. In the absence of more details of her personal story, her legacy is entwined and eclipsed by her husband's, but it also forms part of her own experience. As to the rest, we must imagine and wonder, with no miniature dollhouses to act as visual prompts. In its own way this is a more appealing challenge, for the grand eclipses often the ordinary to our historical detriment.

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Cannadine, David. Mellon: An American Life. New York: Vintage. 2008.
Croushore, Jeffrey S. Images of America: Idlewild. Arcadia Publishing. 2004.
Dietrich, William S. II Andrew Mellon: Son of a judge. Pittsburgh Quarterly. Fall 2007.
Edgeworth Ladies' Boarding School, Braddocksfield near Pittsburgh The Pittsburgh Gazette. August 17, 1832.
Fitzpatrick, Dan. Mellon family's legacy lives on, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 30, 2007
Kaiser, Robert G. Money, Family Name Shaped Scaife, Washington Post, May 3, 1999.
Koskoff, David E. The Mellons: The Chronicle of America's Richest Family. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company. 1978
Mellon, James. The Judge: A Life of Thomas Mellon, Founder of a Fortune. Yale University Press. May 24, 2011.
Mellon, Paul. Reflections in a Silver Spoon. New York: William Morrow  and Company. 1992.
Mellon, Thomas. Thomas Mellon and His Times. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. 1994.
Mellon Park/u>
Mellon Square
Potter, Chris and Dan Roth.  Pittsburgh's Colcom Foundation plays major role in immigration-control debate. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. February 15, 2015.
Scaife Miniatures Placed on Display, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. February 14 1969.
Tanfani, Joseph. Late heiress' anti-immigration efforts live on.  Los Angeles Times. July 25, 2013.
Trebay, Guy.Inside Bunny Mellon's World. The New York Times. November 19, 2014.
Weiss, Anne. Lavish Splendor Marks Brilliant Mellon NuptialsPittsburgh Press. November 17 1927.

Your comments are most welcome!