Sewickley Heights Pattern Book

LOCATION AND HISTORY

 

Location:

              Sewickley Heights Borough is located in southwestern Pennsylvania, approximately ten miles west of the City of Pittsburgh.   It is easily accessed by using the Mt. Nebo exit from Interstate 79.   The Pittsburgh International Airport is less than a 30-minute drive away.

             The Borough Hall is located on the grounds of the Allegheny Country Club.  Traveling west off the Mt. Nebo exit, follow the road to a stop sign.  Make a left and follow the main road, then turn right onto Country Club Road.  At the end of Country Club Road, proceed straight onto the Country Club grounds.  The Borough Hall is the first building on the left.  The Police Department and Council Chambers are located on the first floor; the Administrative Offices are on the second floor. 

 Overview:

             Sewickley Heights Borough became a retreat for wealthy industrialists of late 19th and early 20th century Pittsburgh.  The 1920s and 1930s saw the heyday of this exclusive area, with lavish mansions dotting hilltops separated by huge, picturesque tracts of woods and fields.

             Since then, many of the original estates have been subdivided; the mansions have been demolished, leaving an abundance of nostalgic walls, gates, gate houses and outbuildings reminiscent of an earlier era.

             The Borough’s topography and architecture still distinguish it from other areas in Allegheny County, even in the Commonwealth.  Sewickley Heights remains a superlative, unique collection of twentieth century residential architecture on a grand scale.

History:

             Sewickley Heights’ humble beginning is not surprising.  Its picturesque terrain was a hindrance to settlers.  The earliest settlers (after the Indians) were German farmers who, for one reason or another, traveled into the hills away from the river.

             Like much of the land north of the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers, early Sewickley Heights was part of the Depreciation Lands, lots surveyed and numbered for sale to veterans of the Revolutionary War.  One of the original patents was issued to Thomas McKean, the first governor of Pennsylvania.  When his daughter married a Spaniard, McKean’s land passed into Spanish hands from 1804 to 1881.  Today we have Spanish Tract, a private roadway in the northwest portion of the Borough, as a result.

            Sewickley Heights was established as a Borough in 1935, but its roots lie in the histories of Ohio, Sewickley and Aleppo Townships, from which it was formed.  Early settlers in these townships were Hamilton, Lynn, McPherson, Morrow, Lutz, Ferry and Wintermantel.  The first settler in present-day Sewickley Heights is believed to be Frederick Merriman, c. 1808, who had three sons.  Today we have Merriman Road on the eastern edge of the Borough.

            The area was mostly agricultural, with settlements clustered near the runs–Little Sewickley Creek on the west and Kilbuck on the east.  Oil and gas were discovered in the 1880s, and several small, abandoned wells remain in the Heights.

            The birth of Sewickley Heights as it is known today appears to have been closely related to the construction of the Allegheny Country Club, which was moved from the City of Allegheny (now Pittsburgh’s North Side) in 1902.  This athletic and social Mecca brought wealthy members who had the means to construct houses with the comforts of the city and more–farm buildings, separate servants quarters, even elaborately disguised private water towers.  Family and servants were transported from Pittsburgh by train.

             With the improvement of technology and transportation, as well as the increasing noise and pollution of the city, the seasonal population of the Heights gradually became a year-round one.

             Sewickley Heights residents formed an impressive list from Pittsburgh’s business world.  Oliver, Jones, Snyder, Scaife, Robinson, Chalfant, Dravo and Heinz are some of the families who “settled” Sewickley Heights as it is known today.

             The glory of Sewickley Heights has diminished over the last forty years due to demolition and dilution.  Large mansions were torn down when their huge size became impractical, among them: the Jones estate (Fairacres), the Rea mansion (Farmhill), the William Thaw estate (Thawmont), and the Robinson estate (Franklin Farm).

             In the 1950s the Borough annexed 3,200 acres from surrounding townships.  In the 1970s a townhouse complex as developed near the Snyder mansion, just over the Borough line in Aleppo Township.

             In the 1960s, a notable success story in preserving the rural character of Sewickley Heights was the creation of a 130-acre park, formerly part of the Lewis Park estate.  This land, slated to be the site of a new public school, was purchased by residents at the last hour to be set aside for park use in perpetuity.

             The Sewickley Heights Trust also contributed greatly to preserving the rural character of the Borough by purchasing a 500-acre tract in the northern portion of the Borough.  In 1993, the Trust donated this land to the Borough Park.  Other residents, wishing to preserve the Borough’s rural character, who have donated land to the park system are Emily Oliver, W. R. Jackson, Jr., and G. W. Snyder.

             Architecturally, Sewickley Heights is noteworthy for retaining many structures from its early history; it is now the only Borough in the Commonwealth designated entirely as an historic district.  The distinctive character of Sewickley Heights Borough deserves careful protection.