Were it not for Mary E. Schenley’s philanthropy, Pittsburgh’s great “civic park” and many other treasures would not exist as we know them. The tale of how this Victorian-era woman came to play such a large role in shaping our city begins with her grandfather, the industrial pioneer Gen. James O’Hara (1753-1819). O’Hara amassed vast tracts of land in the Pittsburgh area, and Schenley inherited one-third of the acreage. But she very nearly lost that inheritance through a romantic escapade that was a national scandal.
Mary Elizabeth was born on April 27, 1826, in Louisville, Ky., to Mary O’Hara and William Croghan Jr. After the steamboat allowed passage upriver, Pittsburgh became a favored destination of Louisvillians. It was on such an outing that Croghan met the prosperous O’Hara family, marrying daughter Mary O’Hara in 1821. After the death of his wife and infant son, Croghan passed the bar in Allegheny County and relocated the family to Pittsburgh.
He built a fine 22-room home in the Greek Revival style, called Picnic House, on extensive grounds near Stanton Avenue and Allegheny Cemetery. His daughter, Mary, was enrolled at age 15 in an exclusive boarding school on Staten Island, N.Y. Not quite a year later, Mary eloped with the 43-year-old British Capt. Edward W. H. Schenley. The newlyweds settled in London, and Mary was promptly disinherited by her broken-hearted father. Yet he couldn’t bear the break for long, visiting the couple and the first of many grandchildren in London a year later in 1843. Croghan reinstated her inheritance and built an addition to Picnic House in hopes that she would return. While his daughter made at least five trans-Atlantic voyages home, her asthma kept her from remaining in smoky Pittsburgh... read the full article