How Mary Elizabeth Croghan became Mary Schenley and one of the city’s greatest benefactors is a romantic, shocking tale from 1842.
That’s when the 15-year-old teenager eloped from a New York girls’ boarding school with Captain Edward W. Harrington Schenley, a 43-year-old British army officer who was a veteran of the 1815 battle of Waterloo and twice a widower.
The couple sailed first to a Caribbean island and later to England, scandalizing the nation and prompting the bride’s father, Colonel William Croghan Jr., to suffer a slight stroke.
Col. Croghan denounced Capt. Schenley as a fortune hunter. To prevent the officer from getting hold of his daughter’s money, most of which was tied up in real estate, he persuaded the Pennsylvania Legislature to pass legislation that put all of her property in his name. For years, Queen Victoria would not allow the couple to be presented at court because of the scandal.
Several years later, Col. Croghan visited his daughter and son-in-law in England and the family reconciled. Mary Schenley remained in England with her husband and the couple raised six daughters and one son.
In 1889, she gave 300 acres to Pittsburgh for a park on the condition that it bear her name and the land could never be sold. The city bought an additional 125 acres from her for $125,000.
Andrew Carnegie was thrilled with Mary Schenley’s gift of land because it cleared the way for construction of his Carnegie Institute, a complex with a large library, two museums, a music hall and lecture hall. Carnegie, one of the trustees of Mary Schenley’s fortune, often visited her at Mont Fleury, her villa in Cannes in the south of France.
In 1895, she gave the Fort Pitt Blockhouse at Point State Park to the Daughters of the American Revolution. The blockhouse is the oldest structure standing in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Mary Schenley died in London’s Hyde Park neighborhood in 1903.
Today, Schenley Park, a 425-acre oasis in the heart of Oakland, is filled with visitors who stretch out on the grass to read, work on their sun tan or listen to live music. Gleeful children ride the carousel. People walk their dogs or play tennis. Friends gather at outdoor tables for coffee. Hikers commune with nature during long walks on winding trails. And, of course, lovers of all ages stroll hand in hand.