Schenley Park has been around since 1889,
when Mary Croghan Schenley donated over 300 acres to the City. Lucky for us, expansions have grown it to 456 acres. This may be half the size of Central Park, but Pittsburgh is far smaller than NYC, so I’m still claiming bragging rights for Schenley.
Summer is a busy time in park with the Oval Sportsplex activities ranging from ice skating, swimming, soccer, tennis, track, and don’t skip the cross-country trails. In July, Pittsburgh’s Vintage Grand Prix sprawls across the Bob O’Connor Golf Course. The ten day event includes car shows, obviously races, and an assortment of vendors. It’s a big deal because it is the only such race on USA city street. From their site, “The races at Schenley Park constitute the most challenging circuit in vintage racing. With stone walls, curbs, phone poles and 23 off camber turns – there is little room for error.”
We drive across town for the hiking trails and to marvel at the great view of Pittsburgh from Flagstaff Hill.
A little history
I love the rebellious story of Mary Schenley, heiress to her mother’s fortune, for whom the regular rules for the rich of the mid 1800s seem not to have applied. She was 15 when she ran off with a swashbuckling British Captain almost three times her age. Her widowed father wrote took her inheritance away from her, fully believing that Captain Schenley was after her money. To everyone’s surprise, their marriage lasted—bringing them seven children. Whew, that’s some commitment to an elopement!
When her father, with whom had reconciled with this daughter and visited often in London, died, his estate was worth $50 million—a lot of that in real estate. Although she didn’t live in Pittsburgh again, it’s thanks to Mary that we have this incredible park to enjoy.
When autumn arrives
In the fall, the colors of the many variety of trees creates a smorgasbord of delight. Having spent 20+ years away from Pennsylvania, the smell created by trampling on fallen, crunchy leaves drifts me back to childhood. We would make piles to dive into, outline lawn-homes using leaves as room markers, or bury each other under oodles of them. These activities kicked up the earthy, sometimes dusty, smell of multiple tree leaves blending together.
Trails we’ve meandered include:
Upper and Lower Panther Hollow Trails – 1.5 to 2 miles that snakes around and can be easy or hard, depending which direction you’re walking.
Bridle Trail’s 1.3 miles half circle reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock’s profile. It’s so named for the former stables and horse riding that took place in the part, ending in calamity with a fire in 1971.
Junction Hollow Trail skirts the western edge of the park and is 2.5 miles. There are other trails: Steve Faloon Memorial, Locust, and Lake.
More places to walk or bike ride include the roads: Overlook, Serpentine, Barlett, Darlington, and Greenfield.
The Westinghouse Memorial and Pond was dedicated in 1930. The sculptures were designed by Daniel Chester French and include one entitled, “The Spirit of American Youth.” These were a tribute to George Westinghouse and show a mechanic and an engineer.
It’s an attractive place to sit and ponder as you enjoy the Lily Pond.
Flagstaff Hill lets you gaze across the city from Greenfield to the Pitt and Carnegie Mellon campuses. At the foot of the hill, across from Phipps Conservatory is a 1927 monument commemorating our flag. Stop and read. The Phipps Conservatory is worthwhile throughout the seasons. The artistic creativity staff and volunteers design and display through the vast glass space is always a delight.
For refreshments, pop into the 100+ year old Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center at Panther Hollow Road and Schenley Drive. Afterwards, take a stroll down the street, passing the Phipps Conservatory and Flagstaff Hill to the Schenley Plaza.
The Plaza, a former parking lot, is a nice hunk of green turf located in front of the Carnegie and Hillman Libraries, near Pittsburgh University’s Cathedral of Learning. It’s a nice place to grab a refreshment or see what of any number of events that happen to be going on that weekend.
It even contains a fountain in tribute to the heroine of our story, Mary Schenley.