Elaborate country homes built by wealthy Americans during the Gilded Age were typically designed to establish social rank, for entertaining impressive guests, and not as the primary residence of the owners. In the case of Cairnwood, this “home in the country” was the only Pitcairn residence after 1895, and was intended to function as an integral part of the overall town plan for the religious community now known as Bryn Athyn.
The estate was built on a piece of land known as the old Knight farmstead, and was comprised of many buildings, gardens, and a working farm. The service buildings were a vital part of country estates built during this era.
The Carriage House is home to a remarkable collection of restored vintage carriages and sleighs. The stables include stalls for six horses and a separate area to keep two milking cows convenient for the family. Even though this building was meant to be utilitarian, there are still Beaux Arts details in the enormous limestone arches and two massive pocket doors that exit conveniently onto the Pike or onto the property.
Horses were housed here until the mid 1980s. Family and community members took advantage of a network of riding paths through the woods leading down to what is today the Pennypack Watershed.
Garage and Studio
Raymond, John and Gertrude’s eldest son, was responsible for designing and building the Garage Studio in 1910. Completed in 1911, it included the first garages for cars on the estate, an apartment for the chauffeur, and a photography studio retreat space for the newlywed couple to entertain friends in. It also housed Raymond Pitcairn’s custom 1927 Packard, which is displayed in the carriage house today.
An avid amateur photographer throughout his life, Pitcairn often entered photographs in local contests. He designed his studio with a large room, skylights, and an adjoining darkroom. In 1913, one of his posed studio photographs received second prize recognition in the a popular annual contest and exhibition held by John Wanamaker of Philadelphia. One of the judges was Alfred Stieglitz, remembered today as the father of modern photography.
Cairnwood Farms & Dairy
Country estates during the Gilded Age often incorporated a gentleman’s farm, recreating the idyllic settings of English and French country estates, offering retreat for city dwellers and the entertainment of fresh air activities. The Cairnwood Farms comprised of a dairy farm, orchards, poultry farms, and vegetable fields supplied the community with fresh produce as well as employment. As many as 60 men were needed to run the farm between 1895 and 1900. The Cairnwood Dairy closed in 1948 due to new pasteurization laws but the original dairy barn is still standing.
Greenhouse & Pergola
The formal gardens incorporated three Lord & Burnham Company greenhouses erected in 1896 that utilized large panels of Pittsburgh Plate Glass from the family business. A full time gardener, Mr. Louis F. Horner, was recommended by Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot, to manage the gardens and greenhouses. He laid out beds of tender vegetables and flowers in the green houses to supply the main house with cut flower arrangements year round.
When the garden house was designed in 1892, it was originally planned by the architects to serve both as a work space for the gardeners and as a cozy garden retreat for family members and their guests. A “modern” system of oversized boilers fueled by coal were located in the basement, producing steam heat for the entire estate. In approximately 1915, the garden house was converted into a design and production studio for stained glass windows while the Bryn Athyn Cathedral was being built. The “Glass House” design studio remained in operation and producing stained glass windows until 1960.
Over the years the building had fallen into disrepair, and its vital connection to the main house was severed by the deterioration of the original garden path. Due to the generous support from Cairnwood members, patrons of the Cairnwood Galas in 2008 and 2009, and a Glencairn Foundation grant in 2010, we have lovingly recreated the garden path and renovated the Garden House. Redesigned to function as an education and orientation center for Cairnwood and the Bryn Athyn Historic District, the Garden House now includes a welcome desk, gift shop, visitor orientation facilities, and some of the best views of the Bryn Athyn Historic District—the true legacy of John and Gertrude Pitcairn.