The Allegheny City Roots of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Apr 24, 2015 | | 4 comments

kingdom hall

I was raised in a Jehovah’s Witness household.  We attended Allegheny Congregation located on Southside Avenue in City View.  My mother was baptized into the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1975.  I was 7 years old at the time.  She was introduced to the religion a couple years earlier by a woman named Sister Russell who lived in the 10 Story highrise in Northview Heights.  Growing up the child of a Jehovah’s Witness had benefits and challenges like most religions.  I have nostalgic feelings about going to the conventions held at 3 Rivers Stadium, Ohio, Wheeling & the Assembly Hall near Rosalyn Farms.  I also recall the days of field service, going door to door with the Watchtower & Awake magazines.  I’ve known for many years that this world-wide religion had roots on the Northside, so I decided to look into the early history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.


Charles Taze Russell was born in Allegheny City on February 16, 1852.  He was the 2nd of five children born to Joseph Lytle & Ann Russell.  He attended old Grant school in the 3rd ward.  At age 11 he began working with his father.  They ran a successful haberdashery (clothing store), located at 200 Federal Street.  Today Mullen’s Sports Bar across the street from PNC is in this location.  Russell was a Presbyterian. One account says that in 1870 when he was 18 years of age, he wandered into a meeting of the 2nd Adventists and was impressed by what he heard. It must be said that he had some differing ideas.   He formed his first Bible Study group in 1872.  There was also mention of an encounter in 1876 with a skeptic in a poolroom provoked him to write his unique interpretations of the Bible.  The members of his congregation were known as Russellites although their formal name was the International Bible Students association.  I’ve actually met some modern-day Russellites while living in New London, CT.   In 1879 Pastor Russell began publishing a monthly magazine called, “Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.”

Russell's Haberdashery

In 1881 Pastor Russell co-founded Zion’s Watchtower Tract Society with William Henry Conley, who served as President.  December 15, 1884 they incorporated the name Watchtower Society as a non-profit, non-stock corporation with Russell listed as President. At first they had headquarters offices at 101 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, and later at 44 Federal Street, Allegheny.  Their purpose was for the printing and distribution of religious tracts.   The magazine spoke of the end of the current world system.  From 1886 to 1904, he published a six-volume Bible study series originally entitled Millennial Dawn, later renamed Studies In Scripture, nearly 20 million copies of which were printed and distributed around the world in several languages during his lifetime.  In 1889 a four-story brick building at 56-60 Arch Street, Allegheny, was completed. He also went over the country preaching his new ideas.

Russell Bible House 1889 Arch Street Allegheny

In 1903 his wife Marie Ackley Russell, sued him for divorce. Russell appealed the decision 5 times but could not have it reversed.  By 1909 the organization had grown tremendously.  He gave up his home in Pittsburgh & set up a permanent headquarters at 117 Adams Street, Brooklyn, NY.  The Allegheny City Pastor took over the former church where Henry Ward Beecher spoke against slavery.  He also moved into Beecher’s former home.  By this time the organization had around 40,000 due paying members to support Russell’s movement.


Pastor Russell was on route to New York from Los Angeles when his secretary said he complained of feeling ill.  He died from heart disease on October 31, 1916 aboard of an Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe train at Pampa, TX.  His body was first transported to Kansas City, then to Brooklyn where the funeral was held at his former church.  His sister, Mrs. Margaret Land came in from St. Petersburg to attend.  Charles Taze Russell’s body is buried in Rosemont United Cemeteries located off Perrysville Avenue on Cemetery Lane, just on the outskirt of Northside.

Russell Grave Stone & Pyramid Marker

Joseph Franklin Rutherford was elected as Russell’s successor in 1917.  Early in his role as President, the Watchtower Society and the Bible Student movement fell in disarray.  Four out of the seven board members were unhappy with him which caused organizational & leadership problems.   This resulted in four factions all which survive today including the Free Bible Students, Associated Bible Students & the Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement.  Those who maintained fellowship with Rutherford and the Watchower Society adopted the name Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931.

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4 Responses

  1. Whoever doesn’t see the big picture and concentrate on the imperfect man as the so called Founder is worse than a blind person. Martin Luther and so many others started to unmask the lies of the church. Someone had to do the job even though they were not perfect

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