The Phipps Conservatory and Botancial Gardens is one of my favorite places in Pittsburgh. Located in Schenley Park, the gardens were established in 1893 by Henry Phipps, a steel and real estate magnate, as a gift to the city of Pittsburgh. Its founding purpose was to educate and entertain the people of Pittsburgh with formal gardens and different types of exotic plants and more than one hundred years later, its purpose is still that.
By the end of the 19th century, Pittsburgh was a mecca for steel production. In 1901, the United States Steel Corporation was formed and just a decade later, it was producing between a third and a half of the nation’s steel. However, mass industrialization also brought pollution to the city on unimaginable levels. The open-hearth steel mills and coke ovens spewed smoke and pollution and caused the skies over Pittsburgh to burn red every night. This is what I find most incredible about the Phipps and the time in which it was founded. The 19th century American author, James Parton, called Pittsburgh “to hell with lid off,” after visiting it due to the mass production of coke and steel, and yet at the Phipps was an oasis of natural beauty and calmness right in the midst of the polluted “hell.” Although Pittsburgh was home to some of modern history’s most infamous robber barons (Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick are the most prominent ones), at the turn of the last century, it was also home to large immigrant populations from Eastern and Central Europe. Immigrants had come to the area for the jobs that were available at the many steel and coke plants. Their lives in Pittsburgh, however, were just as difficult as the ones they had left behind in the old country. Through the benevolence of an individual like Henry Phipps, Pittsburgh’s lowliest residents in the early to mid 20th century were not forgotten. A place like the conservatory would have given them the opportunity to escape their hard lives in their crowded and dark tenements and take in and breath the magnificence of the flowers. He even stipulated that the conservatory was to be open on Sundays so that the workers could visit on their day of rest.
The conservatory comprises 13 rooms including the orchid room, the palm court and the desert room. The tropical forest conservatory is a relatively new addition to the Phipps (it was completed in the mid-2000s) and is host to a new theme every two years. The Phipps is a great place to visit any time of the year, as there is always something special on display in addition to the gorgeous flora that is present year round. At Christmas there is a magnificent poinsettia display, and on my most recent visit, the annual flower show was going on, showcasing incredible displays from countries such as France, Greece, and Holland.
Here is just a smattering of some of the beautiful photos I took as they can do more justice to the beauty of the Phipps than my written words ever could.