Allegheny Land Trust effort keeps Pittsburgh Cut Flower Co.'s memory alive
By Deborah Deasy
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Brian and Nancy Newhouse of Richland never met Fred Burki, the late Swiss immigrant who established Pittsburgh Cut Flower Co.
They know all about Burki, however, after buying Burki's former home at North Montour and Bakerstown roads, and then digging into his flower firm's history.
Burki's flower company operated from 1884 to 1991 on 242 adjacent acres. Allegheny Land Trust, a nonprofit group, now hopes to buy 180 remaining acres of the original property for $1.4 million — in grants and donations — for recreational use and limited economic development.
Brian Newhouse — former curator of the George Westinghouse Museum in Wilmerding — will present more than 25 displays of Pittsburgh Cut Flower Co. artifacts and photos at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, in Northern Tier Regional Library, 4015 Dickey Road. Walk-ins are welcome. Refreshments will be served.
The Allegheny Land Trust also will seek suggestions during the event for future use of the former Pittsburgh Cut Flowers Co. property on Bakerstown Road.
“I'm glad to see they're getting public input on how people would like the land to be used,” said Dustin Shilling, director of Northern Tier Regional Library.
Already on display at the library is a 7-foot colored engraving of the former flower company's picturesque acreage as viewed in 1913 from Burki's home.
“It's like a cross between a painting and a photograph,” said Brian Newhouse.
The picture used to hang in the Pittsburgh Cut Flower Co. packing house.
Newhouse found dead insects behind the glass in the picture's original frame after he obtained the work from Valencia Historical Society and gently cleaned it with soft, dry tissue.
Other artifacts he collected include stilts once used by Pittsburgh Cut Flower Co. workers to reach up and repair storm-damaged glass panes in the greenhouses.
After moving into Burki's homestead, Brian Newhouse began gathering such keepsakes “just to explore the meaning of what we were living in, as well as everything over the hill,” he said.
The Newhouses' property overlooks more than 100 acres that once yielded a reported 2.5 million roses a year.
The couple also live near the string of crumbling, vandalized greenhouses that passing motorists now view as an eyesore.
“It's in its saddest state ever,” said Brian Newhouse, a mechanical engineer by profession.
Newhouse said his drive to learn about Pittsburgh Cut Flowers Co. “caused me to just start making phone calls,” he said. “I never saw it operating.
“I'm the third owner (of Burki's home) since the estate had been liquidated,” he said. “My wife and I own it now. We bought it from her sister-in-law, who had lived there for 12 years.”
Burki's last direct male descendant, son Albert Burki, died in 1982, Brian Newhouse said.
“When I started to learn their stories, I knew I had to tell their stories,” he said.
“There are many nights that I dream about what went on over the hill,” he said. “My goal is tell everyone of the history, so that everyone will have a future dream about what occurred there ... It is time to grow something there again.”
Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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