Historic Hartwood Acres Mansion draws visitors for tours, special events
One of the most recognizable mansions in Pittsburgh offers visitors a glimpse of life in the early 20th century.
Hartwood Mansion, an English Tudor home designed by Alfred Hopkins for John and Mary Flinn Lawrence, welcomes thousands of visitors annually and is one of the most frequented attractions in Pittsburgh. The mansion was completed in 1929 and modeled after estates from the Cotswold section of England.
Mary Flinn Lawrence, the daughter of Pennsylvania Senator and mogul (construction) William Flinn, enjoyed a privileged lifestyle afforded to her and she was well established in Pittsburgh high society.
She inherited the modern day equivalent of about $23 million when her father died in 1924.
With her inheritance, Mary and John purchased approximately 479 acres in Hampton Township to build their new estate.
Construction costs of Hartwood are not known.
Surviving ancestor Jeffrey S. Lawrence, son of John W. Lawrence Jr. and grandson of John and Mary Flinn Lawrence, refers to Hartwood as his second home and travels from Youngstown,Ohio— visiting about six times annually.
He penned a book, “Reflections of Hartwood” in 2016 after interviewing a few remaining former Hartwood employees and his father, and serves as family historian.
“The takeaway is that the mansion and grounds feature craftsmanship and artisanship that is just not seen anymore. It is a quiet and tranquil place to enjoy family and friends, and to just relax, maybe walk your dog or enjoy an outdoor concert,” Lawrence says.
For Lawrence, visiting Hartwood during the winter holiday months, when the elegant mansion is adorned with holiday decorations, is a special time.
“The docents and the staff at the mansion really love the estate and do a fantastic job of decorating so that visitors can see the way an Old English Christmas was celebrated,” Lawrence said.
For Lawrence, visiting his grandmother as a young child, Hartwood Mansion was “like visiting any other family member’s home.”
“It was just grandmother’s house to me,” Lawrence said. “Of course when I became older I started to truly appreciate what a magnificent estate it was—but I still consider it grandma’s house.”
Hartwood Acres Park, part of the nine Allegheny County Parks system, doesn’t skimp on the room to roam factor, offering visitors 629 acres to explore.
Allegheny County purchased Hartwood and 400 accompanied acres from Mary Flinn in 1969 with several stipulations, one of which included that Mary and her servants were to remain at Hartwood until her death and the land would not be subdivided and would remain for the use and enjoyment of the public.
Mary died in 1974 and Hartwood opened to the public in 1976.
The grounds at Hartwood feature a stable complex and formal gardens.
Expect to encounter original collections of English and American antiques, a 1901 Steinway piano (Mary’s 16th birthday gift from her father), an Aeolian pipe organ, an English hand carved mantel made in 1601 that was removed and brought to Hartwood from an English castle, Flemish tapestries and a bear skin jacket worn by John Lawrence while flying in the Naval Reserve Force during WWI.
Trained docents lead guests on one-hour tours, visiting about 22 rooms of the 31-room estate.
“Visitors love that the contents (of the home) belonged to the family and they always say that the mansion is beautiful and how wonderful it is to be here in Allegheny County,” says Hartwood Office Manager Patti Benaglio. “Hartwood Mansion is the jewel of the parks. The Flinn family was an important part of Pittsburgh’s history politically, philanthropically and conservation wise.”
Mary Lawrence, keen on conservation, would later plant 96,000 pine saplings on the grounds at Hartwood, which commands the highest elevation in Allegheny County.
Reservations are required and children are reminded there is a strict “no touch” rule during tours.
Guests begin their tour at the “cottage” section of the home — the first section built for the Lawrences to reside in while construction continued on the rest of the mansion, constructed with limestone from Indiana, Pennsylvania.
The library offers a glimpse into the Lawrence’s love of equestrian pursuits.
The library’s concrete fireplace dates back to 1475 with Tudor roses are carved into the corners.
Docents train for weeks learning the Lawrence family history and offer tours that encourage questions from tour goers.
“My favorite room is the Great Hall,” Benaglio says. “I love the paneling from the manor house in England circa 1600s — it is just so beautiful and rich in the details.”
Lawrence thinks his grandmother would approve of what Hartwood has become — with one exception.
“I am quite certain that she would not have approved of the metal modern art sculptures that the County installed in the 1980s. She was an art lover but I feel that she would not want them at Hartwood,” Lawrence says. “They have a place, but not at an English estate. The estate really has not changed that much since it was built in the 1920s. The really neat thing that I like most about the mansion is that it contains all original furnishings that belonged to my family.”
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.