All That Glitters: Mansions of the Gilded Age and The People Who Built Them

Gilded Age Glamour, With Some Updates

Over Thanksgiving break this year, my mom and I went on a tour of some of Pittsburgh’s remaining Gilded Age mansions. The tour was open to the public to raise funds for the Pittsburgh symphony. There were a total of 6 or 7 homes on the tour, all but one of which remain private residences today. It was interesting to walk through these homes that I had read about in books and passed while driving and see that parts had been modernized. They had 21st century appliances and furniture and featured other updates like pools and playsets. Three houses that I toured were worth mentioning: the Moreland-Hoffstot House, the Gwinner-Harter House, and the Willis F. McCook mansion.

Moreland-Hoffstot House

The Moreland-Hoffstot House is the most iconic of Pittsburgh’s remaining Gilded Age mansions. Anyone who has driven or walked down Fifth Avenue though Shadyside is likely to recall the palatial home echoing the style of Rosecliff, a famed newport mansion featured as Gatsby’s house in the Robert Redford version of the film, and the Grand Trianon in France. The home’s first owner, Andrew Moreland, made his money in iron. The second owner, Henry Phipps Hoffstot, was a part of Pittsburgh’s steel industry.

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Today, the home is owned by a grandson of Hoffstot who is in his nineties and never allows the public to enter. He made the exception for the tours due to his involvement with the symphony. It was exciting for me to see the inside of this house, as I had seen the outside many times and could not help but be curious about its interior. The home did not disappoint, with a massive marble grand staircase through its central room, an ornately decorated French-chateauesque dining room, and huge canvasses adorning the walls and ceilings.

Gwinner-Harter House

The Gwinner-Harter house is not as conspicuous as its next-door neighbor, but it is still an impressive home. Its Second Empire-style fascade does not even hint at what you find inside. The home is more English hunting lodge than French chateau, with detailed wood paneling on walls and ceilings. This mansion was also more modernized than the Hoffstot house, with a modern kitchen, outdoor swimming pool, and TV room that looked like a larger version of what most of us have in our homes.

“I’ve always felt this house was Pittsburgh’s house, and we’re caretakers of the home. It should be available for Pittsburgh people to see. I am happy to have people here,” owner Marina Lehn said of her home, recognizing its importance as part of the city’s history.


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Willis F. McCook Mansion


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The McCook home, unlike the others, has been converted into a bed and breakfast called Mansions on Fifth. The mansion was built in 1905 for Willis F. McCook, a lawyer who defended Henry Clay Frick during his fallout with Andrew Carnegie. The gray stone home is Elizabethan Revival in style and its insides mirror this look. While the interior has been updated, unique original features, like a fireplace with tiles painted to show knights on horses in battle and dark wooden ceilings, walls, and floors. My mom and I had brunch at the hotel, and I really enjoyed getting to spend a few hours sitting in the home and noticing these cool original features.

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The main entrance room in the McCook mansion. In the righ-hand corner, you can see the tiled fireplace I mentioned. Photo courtesy of:


All factual infomation about these homes comes from Melanie Linn Gutowski’s book, Pittsburgh’s Mansions.

4 Responses to “Gilded Age Glamour, With Some Updates”

  1. Corey Capooci

    Pittsburgh has such an abundance of opulent mansions. The history involved is almost as fascinating as the houses themselves. It tells of a different time when steel and railroad magnates reigned supreme. It must be bittersweet to see them modernized. I personally think that a lot of the appeal comes from learning about the original aspects of the mansions. Yet, I also think the modernization brings the best of the past and the present.

  2. Brenna Fisher

    First of all, I am always in awe of these beautiful mansions. They are just gorgeous and I think more people should take the time to appreciate their beauty. I also think its funny to see the connections between many of the rich homeowners of the 20’s. Frick and his lawyer are a perfect example of the high society “clique” that existed.

  3. Apoorva Mathur

    I would love to see the canvases in the Hoffstot house. I’m sure he must have had some amazing art. The fact that the Gwinner – Harter house has wood paneling is very cool. Wood work can be very pretty if done well. It sounds like the paneling in the Gwinner-Harter house is like artwork in itself. I have only been to Pittsburg once. but I will make sure to check out some of the houses there next time I visit.

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