The story of Cairnwood begins with a Scottish-born immigrant with nothing more than an elementary school education who, through hard work and ingenuity, rose through the ranks of the booming Pennsylvania railroad industry in the mid to late nineteenth century, going on to found the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, which grew into the largest manufacturer of plate glass in the United States. Hence, this Scottish-born immigrant who began with nothing amassed one of the greatest fortunes in the United States at that time, on par with those of families with names like Carnegie, Vanderbilt and Mellon. His name was John Pitcairn.
In 1895, toward the end of the period known as “The Gilded Age”, John Pitcairn completed the construction of his home – which he named “Cairnwood” – in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. The house and gardens were designed by some of the most prestigious architects and designers of the time, and in 1895, it cost just over $160,000 to build ($161,638.82 to be exact).
Today, that amount barely covers its upkeep.
On Friday, April 19, of 2013 the estate held a fundraising “Garden Gala”, the proceeds of which are to be used to restore and improve the grounds and gardens of Cairnwood in the spirit of their original design… no small feat.
What is most impressive about Cairnwood, and its fundraising Gala, is that most of the funds raised (just under $50,000.00) come from generous donations and efforts of the residents of the Bryn Athyn community itself. Even the chairman of the Cairnwood Board of Governors – Brent Pendleton – is the great-grandson of John Pitcairn. So many of the Gala attendees were residents of Bryn Athyn, and many of those were also descendants of Mr. Pitcairn himself.
The name “Bryn Athyn” has Welsh origins, with the word “Bryn” meaning hill, and the word “Athyn” meaning cohesive, and/or tenacious. With the word “cohesive” meaning “to stick together” and the word “tenacious” meaning “to not let go”, today’s Bryn Athyn community certainly reflects both of these attributes. Where so many other Gilded Age homes were either abandoned, neglected or sold off, Cairnwood not only survives, but thrives due to the diligence and dedication of the very community that surrounds it.
It takes a village.