Projects Underway: Schenley, Cliffside and Frick Park Updates

The parks as you know them are getting even better.

With four Parks Conservancy Capital Projects currently in the works, areas that you know and love (and maybe some that you don’t!) are undergoing exciting changes. Get the scoop on what’s going on with these projects:

Project: Westinghouse Memorial and Pond

Westinghouse rendering

Rendering of the restored Westinghouse Memorial and Pond.

What’s happening: 
Nearly 85 years after its original dedication in Schenley Park, restoration of the Westinghouse Memorial and the surrounding landscape are underway. The $2.5 million plan includes aesthetic and structural improvements to the monument, Lily Pond restoration and aeration system installation, and stormwater projects to better the overall health of the Panther Hollow Watershed.


Parks Conservancy President/CEO Meg Cheever and Mayor Bill Peduto unveil the Westinghouse Memorial rendering at the groundbreaking ceremony.

How to learn more/stay involved:

Project: Panther Hollow Watershed

What’s happening:
For more than a decade, we’ve been working to restore the health and ecological function of the Panther Hollow Watershed in Schenley Park. Most recently, we’ve been working with the community and designers to reduce stormwater runoff along Schenley Drive. The Schenley Drive Green Street Project aims to improve the health and function of the park by curbing stormwater and creating a safe transportation corridor for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.

How to learn more/stay involved:

Project: Cliffside Park


Rendering of the revitalized Cliffside Park.

What’s happening:
We’re proud to be partnering with a coalition of Hill District partners on a comprehensive plan for green space in the neighborhood. Called the Greenprint for the Hill District, this plan includes a renovation of Cliffside Park, a beloved community playground. This month, community kids are helping shape this project by contributing to a children’s art piece to be displayed at the park.

How to learn more/stay involved:

Project: Frick Environmental Center


The new Frick Environmental Center, reaching for the sky.

What’s happening:

Currently in the first phase of construction, the Frick Environmental Center will serve as a welcome facility and a gateway to the woodlands of Frick Park where educators use the parks as classrooms. The new Center is quickly taking shape. Designed to meet the Living Building Challenge and LEED Platinum standards for energy efficiency, each feature of this unique building is more exciting than the last. Most recently, a 15,000-gallon rainwater harvesting cistern was brought to the site!


Our Zone Gardener Rosie stands beside the rainwater cistern for scale.

How to learn more/stay involved:

Get updates on these and other exciting projects and programs in the parks by signing up for email updates here!

Healthy Watersheds, Greener Streets

Imagine for a moment that you’re a doctor. But instead of treating people, you’re charged with healing a watershed.


The meadow at Bartlett Street in full bloom.

Like the human body, watersheds are complete systems; one part of the system influences another. If you get a fever, it’s usually the result of a chain reaction inside resulting from any number of ailments. Likewise, too much runoff, pollution, and chemicals like pesticides cause a ripple effect throughout a watershed.

Keeping watershed ecosystems healthy requires work and persistence. Over the past decade, the Parks Conservancy, along with partners Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, and the City of Pittsburgh, have been nursing back to health an ailing Panther Hollow Watershed. Read more about the history of this project here.

Some symptoms are visible (sediment build-up in Panther Hollow Lake), while others are below the surface (combined sewer overflow, or CSO events after major rains).


Two of the last remaining above-ground streams in Pittsburgh flow in Schenley Park.

So, what’s the prognosis?  With a holistic approach (a comprehensive restoration plan), it’s looking better and better. The recently installed meadow at Bartlett Street and infiltration berms at the Bob O’Connor Golf Course will help absorb rainwater, naturally letting it replenish the water table.

The next treatment to better the health of the watershed involves Schenley Drive.

Making up a large portion of the impervious surface of the park, Schenley Drive acts as a sort of autobahn for rainwater, channeling gushing gallons into the sewer system every year. Estimates for the Schenley Drive Green Street project that 70,000 bathtubs of water would be diverted from the sewer system every year. Plans for this road are just starting to take shape, with the second public meeting having been held on July 29th. Thanks to the feedback of so many park users, bikers, walkers, neighbors, and community members, this project will be shaped not only to better the health of the park, but to better serve as a “complete street,” accommodating all park and road users.

Help us in shaping this next step in the Panther Hollow Watershed restoration — give your feedback on what you’d like to see happen on the Schenley Drive Green Street!

Click here to take the Green Street Survey.

Keep abreast of projects going on in Schenley Park here on our website.

What’s in Bloom — July 2015

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

If gardens and libraries are everything you need, then you have to love Schenley Plaza. With the main branch of Carnegie Library just across the street, the Plaza gardens are the perfect spot to hunker down with a tasty book.

And all season long, the garden blooms put on quite a show.

These gorgeous flowers don’t happen by accident. Chosen based on bloom times, pest/disease tolerance and color, the flora in the Plaza are actually All-America Selections varieties. Qualified as an official display garden, the Plaza beds are tended frequently by Parks Conservancy gardeners, the flowers rotated throughout the season. Here are some that are in bloom right now:


 Blanket flowers looking sunny.


Four colors of zinnias.


A pop of purple from purple coneflowers.


A plethora of petunies.

A short way from the Plaza is the newly established meadow at Beacon and Bartlett streets. Seeded with native plants, the meadow is also in blossom. Stop by now to see for yourself this incredible field of black-eyed Susans (click the image below to enlarge!)


Black-eyed Susans. Click image to enlarge.

Want to help us keep park gardens growing? Interested in learning more about what’s growing, and where? Find our new garden guide here on the website, and while you’re there, sign up as a horticulture volunteer!

Parks Are Gyms: Your Guide to Working Out

In the parks, we have a whole different approach to working out.

Smelly, sweaty gym socks? We’ve got blooming daffodils.
Recycled air? How about a cool breeze and wind through the trees.
Beige walls? Try chirping robins, rolling clouds, and kids riding bikes.

For the low, low membership fee of $0.00, you can sweat it out all day every day in the parks. Train for your first marathon, conquer hills on the bike sitting in your basement — just get out and get moving! Here are some ideas to start your new workout regiment in the parks:


Tai chi in Mellon Square. Photo: John Altdorfer.

Tai chi in Mellon Square
Some call this Chinese traditional practice meditation in motion. Originally designed for practicing self-defense, this class is a splendid and graceful way to balance, strengthen, and de-stress. Take a class in the Modernist masterpiece park, Mellon Square, or in Schenley Plaza, for free all spring and summer. Schedule to be posted here.

Yoga in Schenley Plaza
Breathe in, breathe out on the Emerald Lawn in Schenley Plaza during these bi-weekly yoga classes. Bring your own mat or borrow one when you arrive at these free, open classes taught by expert instructors. Schedule to be posted here.

Disc golf in Schenley Park
Spread across rolling hills and sprinkled through shaded woods are 18 metal baskets that make up the Schenley Park Disc Golf Course. This go-at-your-own-pace course is an effective arm workout and a healthy walk, the length of which depends on how well you aim your shots. Find directions here.

Volleyball in Highland Park
Recently renovated, the sand volleyball courts in Highland Park are an ace place to work out while working on your tan. Find directions here.


Biking in the park. Photo: Melissa McMasters.

Bike in Riverview Park
The popular Riverview Loop is all about the gluts. The topography of this two-mile loop is a challenge but takes you past amazing spots like the Chapel Shelter, Allegheny Observatory, and gardens throughout Riverview. See the Bike Pittsburgh bike map here.

Tennis in Frick and Arsenal parks
Serve it up on the red clay courts in Frick Park or the newly refinished courts in Arsenal Park for two unique playing experiences. If you’re game, there are a plethora of clinics and tournaments held on the many courts throughout the parks. Click here for the Frick Park Clay Court Tennis Club.

Have your own workout recommendations? Leave them in the comments below!

Spotlight on Mary Schenley

An estranged daughter. An international love affair. An heiress disinherited.

Before turning twenty, Mary Schenley’s life read like many a juicy soap opera. And it’s exactly this flair for the dramatic that has us telling her story more than 150 years later.

Recently, 90.5 WESA featured the story of Mary Schenley in a pithy piece featuring our Parks Curator Susan Rademacher. Listen to the full story here, and read below for a piece written by Susan about Mary and the making of Pittsburgh’s civic park.

Mary Schenley and the Making of Our Park System

By Susan M. Rademacher, Parks Curator, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Originally published in
Squirrel Hill Magazine

Only two of our city’s four historic regional parks bear a family name. Frick Park is named in tribute to Henry Clay Frick who, upon his death in 1919, gave 150 acres and an endowment to develop and care for a new park. Frick Park is also a symbol of a father’s Iove for his daughter — Frick’s daughter Helen is reputed to have asked her father for the park property as a gift to the children of Pittsburgh. This story is perhaps the better known of the two family-named parks, because the Frick home and museums at Clayton remain to embody the family’s presence and impact on Pittsburgh.

Mary E. Schenley

Schenley Park, on the other hand, wouldn’t exist today if it weren’t for the forgiveness of a father in restoring his estranged daughter to her inheritance. In what became the scandal of the day, Mary Elizabeth Croghan eloped at age 15 from her Long island boarding school with the headmistress’s 43-year-old brother-in-law, Captain Edward Schenley. The newlyweds settled in London and Mary was promptly disinherited. Her father, William Croghan Jr., couldn’t bear the break for long, visiting the young couple and the first of many grandchildren in London a year later in 1843. His forgiveness is especially understandable, given that Mary was the widower’s only surviving child.

William Croghan Jr., father of Mary Schenley

Croghan was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, at the fabled country seat Locust Grove. His father was the Revolutionary War Quartermaster General William Croghan, married to the sister of General George Rogers Clark. After the steamboat allowed passage upriver, Pittsburgh became a favored destination of Louisvillians. It was on such an outing that William Croghan Jr. met the prosperous O’Hara family, marrying daughter Mary O’Hara in 1821. The couple started their family in Louisville with son William and daughter Mary Elizabeth born at Locust Grove on April 27, 1826. That same year, William Croghan Jr. wrote his brother-in-law, “I am sick & tired of farming, incessant toil and anxiety & no profit….I am now firmly resolved so soon as my difficulties will allow to make arrangements for moving to Pittsburgh.” Sadly, he would make that move as a widower, his wife Mary having died 1827. In an 1828 letter from William’s sister Ann Croghan Jesup to her sister Eliza Croghan Hancock, Ann writes “Mr. Baldwin in Pittsburgh says Will Croghan is the finest boy he ever saw & Mary is a lovely child it did me good to hear him speak of those poor little children. Mary has quite recovered I sat up with her for two nights she was dangerously ill with Quinsy and inflammation on the Lungs.”  Young Will died only a month later.

Picnic House

Father and daughter Mary Elizabeth soon moved to Pittsburgh to make a new life. There, William Croghan Jr. was admitted to the Allegheny Bar. And in August of 1833, Mary writes to her Aunty Lucy Jesup, “Next year Papa is to build his cottage.” This fine Greek Revival-style home atop Stanton Heights was named Picnic House, and contained 22 rooms. Croghan died at Picnic in 1850, but his will preserved the home and furnishings for the use of Mary and her children until 1931, when Mary’s daughter Hermione, Lady Ellenborough, sold the furnishings. The house was demolished in 1955, and its grand ballroom and foyer were transplanted to the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning where they remain a major attraction.

Mary’s inheritance of O’Hara properties from her mother’s estate made her the largest property owner in Allegheny County. Her Pittsburgh landholdings included slums at the “Point” and she was severely criticized as an absentee landlord and exploiter of the wretched by Pittsburgh’s Labor Tribune and the Chicago Daily Tribune in the late 1880s. Her redemption came in philanthropic form. Significant gifts to several important institutions helped shape the cultural, social, and physical landscape of Pittsburgh as we know it today.

Among her major gifts were:

  • Land for building the West Penn Hospital;
  • Property for the Western Penn Institute for the Blind;
  • A large lot for the Newsboys Home;
  • A $10,000 subscription toward the purchase of land for Riverview Park; and
  • The gift of the Old Block House and adjoining property, (the original Fort Duquesne) to the Daughters of the American Revolution.

While the City of Pittsburgh had been attempting to buy or take Schenley properties for an Oakland park since 1869, it wasn’t until 1889, after Captain Schenley died, that the land for Schenley Park was finally acquired. It was through the enterprising efforts of the “Father of Pittsburgh Parks,” Edward Manning Bigelow (1850-1916), that Mary was persuaded to donate 300 acres, giving an option to buy another 100 acres. Bigelow, named the first director of the new Department of Public Works, envisioned a park system for the city. When he heard that a developer was heading to London to broker a deal with Mrs. Schenley, he promptly dispatched an attorney to get there first and secure a donation. Mary had just two conditions: that the land be used for a park named after her and that it could never be sold. The City soon purchased an additional 144 acres, including the present-day Schenley Plaza and part of the Carnegie Library for much less than its tax value.


Mary E. Schenley Memorial Fountain

Sculpted by Victor David Brenner, with the granite base by architect H. Van Magonigle, the memorial was entitled A Song to Nature and dedicated on Labor Day, September 2, 1918. The memorial was restored and lit in 2008 by the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Her invaluable gift is memorialized in the Mary E. Schenley Memorial Fountain at Schenley Plaza.

When she died in 1903, the New York Times observed, “The death of Mrs. Mary E. Schenley, which occurred at her home in Hyde Park, London, was made known in Pittsburg [sic] to-day. Mrs. Schenley has been Pittsburg’s benefactress for many years… Mrs. Schenley was the heroine, sixty years ago, of the greatest romance in Pittsburg’s early history… The affair created an immense social sensation at the time, and the house was preserved for many years in precisely the shape that it was in at the date of the elopement.”

Mary returned only once to Pittsburgh before her father’s death in 1850, and rarely after that. As an asthmatic, the smoky city was not a healthy environment for her. How fitting that our park system was created, in part, to improve the health of our people while changing the image of the city from gray to green. Schenley Park, along with all the parks and greenspaces of Pittsburgh, has more than fulfilled that early promise, thanks in no small part to the spirited benefactress Mary E. Schenley.

A century and a half of Pittsburg and her people, by John Newton Boucher; illustrated. Vol. 2.
Frick Fine Arts Library: Schenley Plaza, Schenley Park &Environs, Library Guide Series, No. 11.
Grove Gazette, Winter 2011.   Historic Locust Grove, Louisville, Kentucky.
“Fountain of Forgetting: Mary E. Schenley (1827-1903),” by Don Simpson, University of Pittsburgh.
Mandy Dick, “The Storyteller,” Clarksville, Indiana, 502-500-8899.
The New York Times, November 6, 1903.
The History of Pittsburgh: Its Rise and Progress, by Sarah Hutchins Killikelly.  B. C. & Gordon Montgomery Co., 1906: Pittsburgh, PA.

25 Ways to Celebrate Your Galentines and Valentines (Part 2)

Last week, we starting laying out our recommended ways to celebrate Valentines and Galentine (really, anyone who you love taking to the park). Here’s the second half of our list of park adventures:

14. Find serenity lakeside

Love a little peace and quiet? Skipping rocks? The perfect scene to Instagram? Look no further than the lovely water features throughout the parks. We think you and your someone special will love a trip to Lake Elizabeth, Panther Hollow Lake, and Lake Carnegie.

Sunset at Panther Hollow Lake. Photo: Melissa McMasters.

15. Grab a cuppa at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center

Warm your hands around a tasty beverage of your choice and take in the views of Panther Hollow from the big open windows of the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center. After enjoying your vantage from above, follow the chunky Belgian block trail behind the Cafe through peaceful Panther Hollow.

Hang out with this soldier in Schenley for Valentine’s Day.

16. Play docent all of the art

Pittsburgh parks are art. For art aficionados and history buffs, the parks are like a free museum, open year-round. Brush up on art in the parks with this helpful Pittsburgh Art Places website.

17. Snap a selfie with Dippy and bask in the bosque

Diplodocus carnegii is just too cute not to be a part of any selfies shot around the Plaza. Once you’ve visited Dippy, walk on through the bosque in front of the Carnegie Library – Main with its ceiling of overarching London plane trees.

18. Join the parties that are volunteer days 

It’s always a good time when you gather hundreds of happy, energized folks to beautify the parks. Rain or shine (even snow or sleet), volunteer days are full of positive vibes, perfect for a day spent with your friend or sweetheart.

19. Prowl for owls

Getting on around dusk, the silent winged denizens of the park come to life. If you keep your voice down and your ears open, you might be lucky enough to hear owls on the move.

20. Promenade in Allegheny Commons

The allées of Allegheny Commons were designed to accommodate the wide hoop skirts of the late 19th century when the park was designed. Walking on through this park today can be like going back in time, especially since some of the park’s trees growing there today date almost as old as the park itself.

Daffodils popping up in spring.

21. Give a gift they’ll really dig

A gift of daffodils in the parks is perfect for all of your favorite people, whatever the occasion. Each spring, the bulbs planted through the Daffodil Project burst into life for all to enjoy, which is really a gift from all park lovers to everyone. Learn more here.

22. Go for a ride, start a war

Be a kid again: grab some saucers, toboggans, cafeteria lunch trays, whatever you can get your hands on and hit the sled-riding slopes or go all in on an all-out snow ball battle.

23. Eat to your heart’s content at The Porch

The Porch at Schenley, the only full-service restaurant at Schenley Plaza, is always a popular spot for a bite before or after your adventures in Schenley Park.

24. Skate the night away

Citiparks’ annual Valentines on Ice event attracts couples from across the land for a night of skating under the stars with the city as a backdrop. Added bonus: the first 300 couples to arrive receive complimentary sweets and flowers. Can’t make this event? The Schenley Park Skating Rink is open daily; find the schedule and pricing here.

Where is this snowy scene? You’ll just have to explore the parks and find out!

25. Get lost, then get found

You’re a modern-day explorer on a quest to conquer new park lands. Pack a bag and venture out to parks uncharted by you and your date. It’s always fun to get lost in these urban jungles, but if you’d like to get found, there’s a free app for that.


Have other date ideas that we’ve missed? Post them below or through Facebook and Twitter!


The Matchmakers at the Parks Conservancy

The Giving Tree: Commemorative Plantings

The Giving Tree: Commemorative Plantings

The greatest joy of the work I do is planting trees.

If you’re reading this blog, I doubt that I need to sell you on the ecological importance of trees. I don’t need to list all the ways that they make our lives and our planet better, you know that.

Over the past four years I have been honored to oversee the Parks Conservancy’s Commemorative Tree Planting Program in partnership with my colleague Phil Gruszka. I’ve planted trees to celebrate lives well lived and too early lost. I’ve been there for graduation ceremonies and for the exchange of vows. And what I have felt deeply from those experiences is the emotional significance trees can play in our lives — the spiritual, mythological and folkloric meaning they carry.

And most importantly, the way they make us feel.

Veda's tree_Schenley 11.15.14

Family gathers in Schenley Park to celebrate the life of their loved one, Veda.

While the meanings and interpretations of a tree or tree planting are as varied as we are, they provoke a collective feeling of warmth.

Andrew and his tree_Highland Park 11.15.14

Andrew with his tree planted in Highland Park to celebrate his college graduation.

Usually when I meet a donor in the park to plant a tree we have never met face to face, but by the time we part I often get a hug. We are there to do good work and we are connected by the emotional significance of the moment and the change it will create.

In the Jewish faith it is said that trees were the first living things put on earth. Buddha attained enlightenment while seated beneath a tree. We dedicate non-religious holidays to trees all over the world. In the US you may stop to plant a tree on Arbor Day, or Dia Da Árvore in Brazil, Nationale Bloomplantdag in the Netherlands, Tag de Baumes in Germany, or Van Mahotsava in India.

We are globally united with acceptance of the significance a tree planting carries, no matter what life perspective we bring to it.

Veda's tree 4_Schenley 11.15.14

Family mulching a tree in Schenley Park to celebrate Veda.

I am often asked what the “ceremony” in the Commemorative Tree Planting Program entails. I can tell you that every single one is different. I am always there, along with Phil (our resident arborist and Parks Management and Maintenance Director) or one of our ecologists. We plant a fairly large tree (approximately 2” caliper) that has been transplanted from a local tree farm or nursery. The type of tree and exact planting location is arranged in advance based on the donor’s wishes. Sometimes large groups come to be a part of it (I’ve seen as many as 30) and other times it is just the donor. There have been groups who want to get in and get their hands dirty and others where they stand back and enjoy the tree once it is planted. Songs have been sung, prayers read, and violins played. It really can be anything you want it to be.

tree planting day 11 15 14

Kathleen and Phil with their work boots ready at a planting day.

I have watched grief-stricken families approach us along a slope in Schenley Park, their faces worn with loss and exhaustion. Once the tree is in the ground they all leave a little lighter. They will see this tree again and watch it live and grow. We celebrate the endeavors of life too. I have seen a sapling transform into a monument to accomplishments large and small as the last bit of dirt is thrown. People change before our eyes – filled with new gratitude, or comfort and resilience. It is one of the greatest honors of my life to be a part of that.

Any reason to celebrate is a reason to plant a tree. I visit the trees I have helped plant and believe firmly that each tree lives in the spirit in which it was planted. They are living totems to the struggles and joys of our lives. And as if that were not gift enough, they will continue to serve our community for generations to come.

Kathleen Gaines, Manager of Individual Giving

Learn more about planting a tree for a special person or occasion in your life by clicking here.