Who knows about the infamous Henry Clay Frick and his involvement in the notorious Homestead Strike of 1892?
Okay, forget about that sad turn of events and think instead on the refined side of this man who made his first million by age thirty. He started life as the son of a Mennonite farmer but was destined for a life in business. As soon as his wealth kicked in–in part due to his association with Andrew Carnegie–Frick set about creating a life of art and refinement for himself and his family.
They bought an eleven room house in Pittsburgh, remodeled it into a twenty-three room mansion and dubbed it, The Clayton. The home was situated with many other mansions along Pittsburgh’s Millionaire Row, but sadly it is one of the few structures remaining.
Although the Fricks stopped living in Pittsburgh full-time in 1905, opting instead for life in New York, in 1981 daughter Helen returned to the city, living at The Clayton until her death in 1984. She had the foresight to have the family mansion restored to how it looked during the time period when the family lived there, from 1883 – 1905 and opened to the public. The Clayton offers a unique glimpse, especially with the impressive and informative docents at the helm, into the Frick’s world and especially to their glittering life in the late nineteenth century.
There is no photography permitted inside the house.
I assume this is because of the incredible wealth contained in it and the original works of art by renowned painters. So put the phones and cameras aside and immerse yourself in the experience. Imagine lavish dinners (There are plates set at the breakfast table that cost $4,000 each. Yes, apiece in the late 1800’s.) and long silk dresses or perhaps a tuxedo worn with a stiff spine.
At the end of the tour, you’ll get a musical treat by the Orchestrion. It’s a 3,000 pound, automated organ featuring a variety of tunes. It used to be located inside the house—hard to imagine given its size—but has long been settled into a spot on the enclosed porch.
The property also boasts The Frick Museum with changing art exhibits, an expansive Car and Carriage Museum, a cafe, a conservatory, and an about-to-be-restored children’s playhouse which includes a bowling alley. The property is adjacent to Frick Park, which is the largest municipal park in the city—at over 600 acres. It’s a great place to walk, whether a leisurely stroll or a strenuous hike.
If you’re closer to New York City than Pittsburgh, The Frick Collection is located in their mansion on Fifth Avenue and has housed their vast art and fancy gatherings for eighty years. This isn’t the same as getting a glimpse into their home life, but the assortment is enviable.
If a trip to Pittsburgh is on your radar, schedule a tour at this lovely home. You won’t be disappointed.