Mellon Square Edges Get a Facelift


Mellon Square interpretive wall from Smithfield Street. Photo: Scott Roller.

Just over a year ago, Pittsburghers celebrated the complete restoration of downtown’s Modernist park masterpiece. (We were so jazzed, we wrote this blog and this blog and this blog about it!) We’re happy to say that there’s still so much excitement for this fabulous space.

This summer, we’re taking this revitalization to the streets. Namely, Smithfield Street.

“Mellon Square was designed from curb to curb.  It integrates a park, retail stores, and a parking garage,” says Parks Conservancy Parks Curator (and newly named honorary member of the American Society of Landscape Architects) Susan Rademacher. “Every square inch of this world-renowned place should be special.”


Visitors at Mellon Square’s grand reopening last May.

So what’s happening on Smithfield? The retail signs above storefronts along the street have been updated and a new interpretive wall has been installed to welcome and educate park visitors. The wall alerts pedestrians to Mellon Square’s presence above and provides a brief history of Pittsburgh’s first Renaissance and the park. Dylan, Talbott and Henry Simonds, the grandsons of Mellon Square’s designer John Ormsbee Simonds, funded the creation of the interpretive wall.

“This garden plaza is an oasis of calm and openness, where visitors can experience relaxation, renewal and reunion with the natural world,” say the grandsons. “People should be proud of a design that serves us all so well. We are.”

Stay tuned as this space continues to improve, possibly with street enhancements such as new curbing, sidewalk planters, benches and trash receptacles.

Visit the “square in the triangle” all season long. Need even more reason to visit? There are free classes, concerts, fitness events and more happening throughout the week! Find the full calendar here.

Arsenal and Leslie Parks Master Plan Nearing Completion

Lawrenceville, there are big plans for your parks.


Community members and organizers on a site walk through Arsenal Park in summer.

Started May 2014, the Arsenal and Leslie Parks Master Plan is nearing completion, an exciting next step for these two greenspaces seeped in local history. A collaborative effort shared by the City, the Parks Conservancy, Lawrenceville United, Lawrenceville Corporation, Friends of Arsenal Park, and the Leslie Park Collective, this revitalization road map is slated to be finished this spring.

Enmeshed in the community for generations, Arsenal and Leslie Parks’ rich histories and roles in the neighborhood are tangible:

If you also love Arsenal and Leslie Parks, we welcome you to give your two cents on the developing plan through this MindMixer site and at these upcoming public meetings:

Thursday, Februrary 26th
6 – 8pm
Stephen Foster Community Center (286 Main Street)

Saturday, Februrary 28th
10am – noon
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (279 Fisk Street)

We look forward to hearing what you have to say, and stay tuned for the completed Master Plan!

Did you know? In addition to four of Pittsburgh’s RAD parks — Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley — the Parks Conservancy in recent years has begun to work alongside community groups in neighborhood parks. Our work in these parks allows us to join Pittsburghers in bringing the benefits of healthy green space to even more communities.

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.

You Asked for It, You Got It: Parks Conservancy in Allegheny Commons

Going to the park to promenade in a hoop skirt or top hat, as one does, is an exquisite way to spend a weekend afternoon. When one’s week has been spent in the steel mills or in the city that some may call “hell with the lid off,” just load up the buggy and head to the neighborhood park.


View from Picturesque America, 1872” Photo courtesy University of Pittsburgh, Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections.

In the same year that our capital expanded suffrage to African American men and antiseptic surgery became a thing, the citizens of the then City of Allegheny transformed a plot of free grazing land into a park. And what a delightful place it became. It was here that Alleghenians could shake off the dust of the day and see their neighbors out for a stroll.

The first thing we want is breathing places accessible to our overworked people. As these grounds develop in beauty, and new works of art are introduced, our citizens can resort thither to spend a holiday or leisure hour, instead of being compelled to stay indoors, or to frequent places of questionable propriety, for recreation or pastime. (Parks Commission Second Annual Report, 1870)


Pittsburgh’s earliest park, Allegheny Commons is comparable to the historic Regional Parks in nearly every dimension except for scale. It’s been a part of a world that has changed completely in 150 years. The truest testament to this being the thousand or so trees of one hundred different species that grow there, some of which are thought to date back to the original 1800’s plantings. The Commons are an invaluable cultural landscape for Northsiders and Pittsburghers of all stripes.

Keeping Allegheny Commons lovely is no small feat, as outlined by Allegheny Commons Master Plan of 2002, a comprehensive guide to improving and maintaining this 80-acre space. Spearheaded by the Allegheny Commons Initiative, and more broadly supported by the Northside Leadership Conference, the community has already completed two of its planned phases, and is now moving on to the third. It’s in this third phase that we at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy are thrilled to become an ally in this exciting project.

The importance of historic preservation, the park’s vital role in community development, and the need for ongoing stewardship are the basis of this collaborative effort.


Rendering of the restored northeast fountain. Rendering by Carlos Peterson.

In this next phase of the Master Plan, the Parks Conservancy will oversee the design and construction of the $2.5 million restoration of one of the park’s four spectacular fountains and surrounding areas in the North Commons at the intersection of Cedar Avenue and North Avenue. The Allegheny Commons Northeast Fountain Restoration, which comprises approximately one city block, includes reconstruction of the historic fountain (now a planting bed) and surrounding gardens, as well as restoration of the promenade and other walk ways, plus installation of new signage, benches, lighting, and other amenities.

The northeast fountain, original to the park’s 1869 design, was filled and shut down due to city budget and staffing constraints years ago. This well-used corner of the park is within walking distance of more than 7,000 people and is practically the front yard for Allegheny General Hospital, Allegheny Center Alliance Church, and Martin Luther King School. Northside landscape architecture firm Pashek Associates is finalizing work on the design for the restored fountain and surrounding areas.

In addition to this Capital Project, the Parks Conservancy is also spearheading a detailed stormwater management plan for Allegheny Commons, to be completed in 2015.


Lake Elizabeth. Photo courtesy Allegheny Commons Initiative.

The Parks Conservancy is diving head first into this project and is very excited to be working in Allegheny Commons. Stay tuned for more information on volunteering in the park, and how our collaborative efforts will become a formal partnership alliance for years to come.

Dear Mr. Mayor: Campers Write in Support of the Parks

Dear Mr. Mayor: Campers Write in Support of the Parks

Recently, we came to a wonderful realization: 6- to 8-year-olds would make exceptional civic leaders. During summer camp, we handed our 2nd grade campers some colored pencils and the prompt, “It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because…,” to write a personal letter to Mayor Peduto.

The result? The most adorable letters on behalf of the park that they love.

Below are a handful of our favorites. WARNING: Cute overload coming your way:

kids letters 2_Page_04

“It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because… it affects the whole world. For example, if you kill a worm, then it can’t have babies who can’t have babies. And those worm babies would have helped plants grow. And the plants would have fed plant eating animals who would have fed carnivores. That is why I think it is important to respect nature.”

kids letters 2_Page_05

“It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because… so the animals can eat and drink clean water and have shelter. P.S. I left you a four leaf clover.” (We can verify — an actual clover was enclosed.)

kids letters 2_Page_16

“It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because… you help the environment and the PARK! We learned what stewardship it means to help something. We helped Frick Park by making paper mache pots and planting flowers in them. And put them on Jay’s short cut trail.”

kids letters 2_Page_15“It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because… it is important for the animals to have nice homes and live nice lives in the woods I love animals so I want to keep them safe. P.S. We made fairy houses and we found fairy dust.” (Fairy houses were indeed constructed. The fairy dust may or may not have been sprinkles.)

kids letters 1_Page_08

“It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because… lots of living animals live in the park. So we want to take care of their home. Also, there are lots of cool plants and flowers, Then, people walk here. There is also a dog park. Many people like Frick Park. Next, there are lots of camps here. Last, It is the Environment. Nature takes care of us so we should take care of them.”

kids letters 2_Page_01

“It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because… if you don’t take care of it, everything will change. Also, Frick Park is my favorite out of Frick, Schenley, Highland, and Riverview. My mom used to work with you but now she works at Parks Conservancy.”

Thanks to all of our pint-sized park pals for reminding us just how awesome parks and stewardship really is. And if you also thinks it’s important to be a steward in the parks, consider joining us at our upcoming volunteer days this fall!

Environmental education lays an important foundation for the next generation of leaders and advocates. Consider supporting the Colker Memorial Fund to support young minds. Click here to get started.