New Lease Gives Pittsburgh Botanic Garden a Historic Farmstead

Jan 16, 2012

The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is getting a little bigger. Allegheny County agreed to lease 6 more acres of land to serve as the public entrance to the garden's 460 acres when it opens next year. The Botanic Garden will be the largest site of its kind in the region.

"Pittsburgh really doesn't have an outdoor botanic garden where people can see artistic and horticultural displays of native and exotic plants," said Pittsburgh Botanical Garden President Greg Nace.

The farmstead still houses a log cabin and farmhouse built by two brothers who settled the land, then on the edge of the frontier, in the late 1700s.

"We're going to interpret the history and build heritage vegetable gardens, and we're going to repurpose the barn as our welcome center," Nace said.

Over the next year, work will continue to restore both buildings and rework the land nearby to demonstrate its history. Between the cabin and farmhouse, for example, researchers found evidence of an old apple orchard, which will be replanted with heirloom varieties historically grown in the area.

"One of the varieties we found was one Johnny Appleseed used to bring to farmers in the area," Nace said.

Directly behind the farmhouse, visitors will find hiking and biking trails connected to nearby Settler's Cabin Park, which originally encompassed the farmstead. Alongside, 60-acres of woodland gardens feature trees, shrubs and perennials that recreate habitats found in the U.S., Asia, and Europe.

"People will be able to compare our native flora with flora from Japan or England or Eastern Europe," Nace said.

The garden staff has a 30-year master plan to gradually develop the remaining 400 acres, but the first step will be to reclaim sections of the garden polluted by underlying coal mines. The owner of the mine donated his royalties to help pay for the $7.9 million project.