The Family of Rosa Anna Abbott and John Joseph LaValle

Rose Anna Abbott LaValle Donley

Rose Abbott, drawing by Sue Donley
Drawing of Rose Anna Abbott LaValle Donley, by her granddaughter, Sue Donley, 1972. Sue Donley Collection.

Rose Donley was born Rosanna Abbott, November 1, 1888, to Edward and Elizabeth Jacob Abbott, on the Abbott family farm in Scott Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. She must have adopted "Rose" about the time she went to school. She signed her name in one of her early reading books as "Rosanna Abbott."

When a baby she slept in the rocking cradle with the deer on the headboard, as did all of her brothers and sisters. Rose seemed to have good memories of growing up on the farm, especially with her mother and sisters. She said she never heard her mother say a cross word, and quoted Liz as saying "You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar." She worked with her mother, making apple butter, doing laundry, gardening, and preparing for the weekly picnics and get-togethers on the lawn at the farm. She remembers Liz making jacket suits for all the girls. She spoke often of her cousins, the Wise's of Green Tree and the Goeddel's who lived in Homestead.

She often spoke of taking crops to market on the Monongahela Wharf on Saturday mornings, getting up at 2:00 in the a.m. to get there on time, leaving at 4:00 a.m. We don't remember if they went over Mt. Washington and across the Smithfield Street Bridge, or around the West End and across the Point Bridge to arrive at the market at the crack of dawn. See several postcards of the wharf in 1908, 1915 and 1920, and a photograph of Washington Road in 1910.

She drove a team of horses and often recounted her experience coming down McFarland Road when the horses decided they were anxious to get to the barn. They took off lickety-split down the road, paying little heed to her commands to "Whoa," slowing only slightly to make the turn up the lane to the barn , where she breathed a big sigh of relief. See a photograph of the watering trough on MacFarland Road.

There were many gatherings of family and neighbors on the lawn at the farm. Rose spoke in later years of how much she and her sisters dreaded all the work involved in feeding so many people. But they seemed to have fun. Her father, Edward, played the concertina and many times they had music and dancing.

In the early 1900s Rose worked as a milliner's assistant at a millinery shop in Dormont, Pennyslvania. See a photo of her in a fancy hat. Rose had several boyfriends in her late teens or early twenties. But none of them led to marriage. One of the Rohrich boys gave her a beautiful birthstone (topaz) ring.

When the farm was sold in 1926, Rose moved with Edward and Liz to the new house at 268 Beverly Road. She remained there to care for her parents, even through her marriage to John LaValle in 1927, the birth of her only son, Harold, in 1929, the death of John in 1935, and her remarriage to Tom Donley in 1936. John LaValle was an operator for the Linde Oxygen Company in Pittsburgh. Rose and her parents had made an agreement that if she would take care of them in their old age, that upon their death, she would have the house as part of her inheritance. She was also to have all the household goods as compensation for the sacrifices she made to fulfill her part of the agreement. See a photograph of Beverly Road sometime after 1925.

Rose Abbott and John LaValle Marriage Certificate
Rose's and John's Marriage Documents

On Beverly Road they continued a lot of the traditional work of the farm, only on a smaller scale. Grandfather Abbott had a large garden, and taught his grandson, Harold, to work it as though it were a truck garden. Rose and her mother cooked, cleaned, canned the harvest from the garden, and even made apple butter in the old kettle. Charlotte Abbott, daughter of Clarence, remembers going over to her grandparents house one day and finding Rose and Liz outside stirring that kettle till the apple butter boiled down. See the photograph of Liz picking peaches with Harold.

The meat for the family was procured at the Abbott Ice and Packing Plant in Carnegie, now owned by Grandfather Abbott. It was often delivered right to the house, but Rose had learned to drive as a young woman (the only one of her sisters who drove a car), and she would often drive over to the butcher shop with her young son, Harold. Uncle Clarence always gave him a hot dog when he arrived at the store. One morning the car stalled out just as they were crossing the railroad tracks. Both Rose and Harold had racing hearts as they heard a train bearing down upon them! Rose managed to restart the car just in the nick of time. It made a big impression on Harold, he talked about it throughout his whole life.

The Edward Abbott house was still the gathering place for Christmas and holidays. Harold's train set was set up every year. There was a lot of card playing all year long - beginning with Edward's "Okay, let's get on with this rat-killing!" It was usually "Euchre." Edward made wine in the basement, and had a tasting cup hanging on a peg, along with a small one for his grandson, Harold, who helped him check out its progress. Sometimes the wine was made from dandelions, sometimes from the grapes grown on the grape arbor in the side yard.

Rose's mother, Liz, died of colon cancer in 1935. Rose nursed her through the long, grueling illness, with the occasional help of her sisters who stopped by to bathe and feed Elizabeth. Just six months after her mother died, Rose's husband of only seven and a half years died of hardening of the arteries. This left her a widow, with a 6-year-old son, at age 47.

John Elliston, husband of Rose's sister, Kate, introduced her to Thomas Donley of the South Side. Tom was a passenger train conductor for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Rose and Tom married in June, 1936. They didn't want Harold to be the only one in the family named Lavalle, so Tom Donley adopted him, giving him the name of Harold Edward Donley. Harold was in second grade at the time. He recalled that he always referred to himself, at that time, as a "second-grade-namer."

Rose Abbott LaValle and Tom Donley Marriage Certificate
Rose's and Tom's Marriage Documents

When her father, Edward, died in 1944, Rose sold the house and built a new house at 286 Colonial Drive, on one of the lots that had originally been part of the family farm.

Rose adhered to the traditional woman's work schedule. She washed on Monday, hung everything outside in the summer, in the cellar in the winter. Tuesday she ironed, Wednesday baked and or visited her sisters, Thursday and Friday she cleaned. (See photos of her ironing board and scrub board.) Saturday morning she grocery shopped, usually at the A&P. Midweek she shopped at Dickler's Market in the Beverly Road Shopping area. Every so often the shopping routine required a trip downtown on the streetcar. Occasionally she went to Horne's and had lunch in the tearoom. Groceries and baked goods were purchased at McCann's and the market house. Sunday a.m. she went to Mt. Lebanon Presbyterian Church, where, in her late 70s, she refused to use the elevator because it was there for the "old" people.

Every other week Rose had her hair washed at Marcella's Beauty Shop in the Beverly Road Shopping area. She seldom had Marcella set it, but came home and dried and set it herself. She went up street (Washington Road) to Mt. Lebanon Federal Savings & Loan to do her banking and, religiously, had her interest recorded in her passbook savings book every quarter. She seemed to think that if her interest didn't get written down in her book, she didn't get it.

Rose and Tom played cards every week with Rose's sister, Emma and her husband, John Dillner, and several friends. When it was their turn to host the gathering, Tom boiled a big pot of shrimp, adding lemon juice and a bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce to the cook pot. He served them with a dip of chili sauce and horseradish mixed together. Tom died in 1957, leaving her a widow again, at the age of 69. Tom had put in 50 years on the Pennsylvania Railroad, retiring about 1950. By the end of his career he was a conductor on the Allegheny River line, traveling through Verona, Oakmont, New Kensington, Tarentum, and on up to Oil City. His pension was Rose's only source of income after his death. The benefits included a lifetime pass on the railroad. She took her granddaughter, Susie, for a ride from where we lived in Springdale to Pittsburgh, so Susie would have a chance to experience a train ride. Then they caught the street car to go on to Mt. Lebanon. As they all aged, Rose's brother, Al, took over driving Rose and her sister, Lena, to do their grocery shopping. Then Lena's daughter, Shirley and Clara's daughter, Virginia, took over the driving when Al was no longer able. See the photo of Al and Lena.

Rose loved music. Saturdays she listened to the polka program on the radio. And would polka around the living room, trying to teach her granddaughter, Sue, how it was done! Her next-door-neighbor said she heard her whistling beautifully as she went about her household chores. She was in her 70s before we learned that she was a good piano player. Cathy got a small chord organ for Christmas, and, much to our surprise, Rose just sat down and started playing it. She never had a piano in her house, and never even mentioned her piano playing to her son.

Her favorite TV shows were Lawrence Welk, Ed Sullivan, and Glen Campbell. She had an apple every evening while she watched the shows. She always managed to pare it in one, long, unbroken piece. Mornings she watched Jack LeLane, and did her exercises with him.

Rose never sewed to any extent, other than mending and darning, but she did crochet one burgundy, wool afghan for the back of her couch, and did two needlepoint pieces to cover one of her mother's chairs. She also embroidered quilt blocks with butterflies on them. She set it together with yellow strips and had a neighbor lady quilt it for her.

Rose loved birds, and animals. She had a birdbath, fed the cardinals cracked corn. She taught her grandkids the difference between a cardinal and a blue jay., pointing out that "whet-cheer" was the call of the cardinal. In her early forties she had a little pomaranian, named Bootsie, and later got a wire-haired terrier, named Pal, for her son, Harold. She adored our toy poodle, Fifi, and looked forward to Fifi coming for vacations at her house. We had a big, white, Easter bunny, named Mopsy, which we would bring into the game room for the kids to play with. One day Rose was sitting in the rocker and Mopsy jumped right into her lap, much to Rose's delight. Mopsy never jumped onto anyone else's lap. Our pets seemed to really like her. One day, our yellow-green parakeet, named Boo-Boo flew down the steps from the kitchen, into the gameroom, and landed right on top of her head as we were sitting at the table.

When we moved into our big, old house in Oakmont in 1972, Rose just loved it. She brought me "Mother's Birds", figurines, and a beautiful blue vase to put on two of the seven mantels in the house. And sat around wondering what she had that I could put on the other five.

Rose died suddenly, March 10, 1973, of a ruptured abdominal aorta, at the age of 84. She is buried in Mt. Lebanon Cemetery, Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, next to her second husband, Thomas Harrison Donley.

See all photographs of Rose from the Photo Archive.