“If someday they say of me that in my work I have contributed something to the welfare and happiness of my fellow man, I shall be satisfied.”
Welcome to historic Westinghouse Park, a public treasure appreciated primarily by Pittsburgh residents of nearby neighborhoods. The pastoral charms of this 10.2 acre park are immediately apparent, but appreciating its history requires a bit of background.
Situated in the heart of what is now Point Breeze North, adjacent to Homewood and Point Breeze, today’s Westinghouse Park was from 1871 to 1914 the site of “Solitude,” the home and estate of inventor and industrialist George Westinghouse Jr.
Westinghouse was already a wealthy, self-made man at age 25 when he and his wife Marguerite purchased a house and five-acre parcel situated between Murtland Street, Lang Avenue, McPherson Boulevard and the Pennsylvania Railroad’s mainline in the then pastoral East Liberty Valley, six miles from downtown Pittsburgh.
Living along the tracks was a logical place for him to settle, since the railroad was a primary customer for the revolutionary air braking system he had designed.
They added to the house over the next few years, and when he acquired the adjacent 5-acre parcel, the Westinghouse estate expanded across McPherson Boulevard to Thomas Boulevard. At that time, Westinghouse had a private laboratory built under the stables and a 220-foot long tunnel dug between his house and his private laboratory.
During the four decades Westinghouse lived and worked at Solitude, numerous notable politicians, industrialists, and scientists were regular visitors, including Willam McKinley, Lord Kelvin, and Nicola Tesla, who spent several months in residence at Solitude as he worked on the principles of AC electricity. Other regular guests included notable neighbors, such as H. J. Heinz and H. C. Frick.
But the most spectacular episode that took place at Solitude was the discovery of a large supply of natural gas in three wells Westinghouse had drilled in his backyard.
Early in the morning of May 22, 1884, drillers he had hired pierced a significant pocket of natural gas at a depth of 1600 feet. The ensuing gusher spewed gas unchecked for a week while Westinghouse devised a method to cap the well. When the well was contained a week later, he lit a flare at the top of the derrick that burned brightly for months.
At that time, natural gas was considered too unsafe and dangerous to use. Over the next two years, Westinghouse patented dozens of inventions for the safe distribution, use, and metering of natural gas. His initial customers included the nearby mansions including Greenlawn (Heinz) and Clayton (Frick). Indeed, in early 1900’s the mile of Penn Avenue that passes through the East End was called the world’s richest neighborhood.
George Westinghouse’s innovations were instrumental in making natural gas an important new energy source for the world. The rapid development of natural gas both resulted cleaner skies over the Pittsburgh area and attracted new industries.
Westinghouse assigned these natural gas patents to the Philadelphia Company, an inactive utility he controlled, and began acquiring gas fields in Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. By 1889, the Philadelphia Company was the nation’s largest natural gas producer. Both Equitable Gas and Duquesne Light were created out of the Philadelphia Company.
After Westinghouse died in 1914, Solitude was bequeathed to his only son, George III, who in turn sold the property to the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania in 1918. On November 30, 1918, the society deeded the now 10.2-acre property to the city as a public park and a memorial to Westinghouse.
As per stipulations in the deed transfer, Solitude was razed during the summer of 1919, and the park was developed over the ensuing months. The stable/garage stood for 50 years, until it was torn down and replaced with a blank, cinder block park center.Other than the stone columns that stand at the estate’s old entrance ways, the sole vestiges of Solitude that remain are several copses of magnificent red oak trees, a pair of stately ginkgoes, and a spreading black oak.
But that situation is about to change.
The Westinghouse Park 2nd Century Coalition has been organized to improve, explore, and steward it for another 100 years. The Coalition’s kickoff event was the Centennial Celebration held on December 1, 2018, which elicited the following City proclamation: