Portrait: Senate of Pennsylvania
Born at Ballycastle, County Antrim, Ireland, September 21, 1822, Hugh McNeill was the son of a Northern Ireland lime manufacturer. Educated in Ballycastle, McNeill developed a keen interest in agriculture, later joining his father’s business. Hugh sailed for New York in 1845, securing employment as a clerk, bookkeeper, and salesman for a dry goods firm. He left the city in 1846, bound for New Orleans and a position as a wharf time-keeper. He returned briefly to New York in 1849, before settling in Pittsburgh, finding work as a clerk for Judge G.E. Warner’s lumber business. He married Mary Awl of Pittsburgh, December 24, 1850, receiving naturalization papers in 1854. While working for Warner’s Herr Island lumber business, Hugh attended private school, and in 1855, formed the partnership, Harvey, Warner, and McNeill Planing Mill and Barge Building Yard. Warner withdrew from the company in 1866, now McNeill and Dean & Company. Hugh meanwhile maintained a professional relationship with Judge Warner, the two men entering the coal trade. McNeill made a “fortune” during the Civil War, constructing boats for the federal government. At the height of production, the business boasted a planning mill, lath mill, boiler-engine house, extensive boat yard, and ample storage and office space. The timber company produced 70 barges a year, processing four million feet of timber. The senator’s reputation as an astute entrepreneur preceded his selection as a member of the Allegheny City Council from 1862 through 1874. Thereafter, the prominent McNeill received directorships at several banks and corporations. Elected to the state Senate in October 1874, McNeill served three, four-year terms. He served as chairman of Mines and Mining, Reapportionment, Municipal Affairs, and Finance committees. The senator cast as a high tariff advocate, served as a member of the Union Railroad and Transportation Investigative Committee, voted for passage of the 1885 “Bullitt Bill” (Philadelphia Charter reform), and cast against the Quay line on the “15 Mile Act.” McNeill opposed Philadelphia and Reading coal price-fixing legislation and the coal-weight standardization act, the latter designed to legislate a miner’s fair pay. McNeill fought oil-trust and fraud legislation, and the Free Pipeline Bill. On the other hand, he assumed an anti-Quay stand, voting “nay” against legislation posing severe restrictions against out of state corporations that created combinations with Pennsylvania businesses (i.e. Standard Oil). Regarded as a man of “genial qualities and unflinching honesty,” the Honorable Hugh McNeill passed away in office on August 27, 1886.