About Cairnwood Estate
Charles Eliot, of the famous landscape architecture firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot, drew up plans for the community and the Pitcairn estate in 1893. (Frederick Law Olmsted, regarded today as the father of American Landscape Architecture designed Central Park in New York City and the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.)
Carrére and Hastings, one of the country’s leading architectural firms at the time, designed Cairnwood in the Beaux Arts style. Correspondence between Gertrude Pitcairn and the architects reveals that she was heavily involved in the design process of both the Cairnwood gardens and the home itself. Ground was broken for Cairnwood in 1892, and construction continued until the home was finished in the spring of 1895.
The original country estate consisted of the main house, adjacent courtyard, and a formal garden with a garden house, green houses and a pergola. Just a few feet from Huntingdon Pike were the stable and the entrance gate to the estate. Across the street were many acres of farmland that provided Cairnwood and other homes with milk, eggs, produce and grains.
The most striking feature of Cairnwood when viewed from across the spacious lawn is an octagonal tower with a high-pitched roof. At the top of this tower is the family chapel, placed at the highest point in the house so that worshipers face east. This chapel is the embodiment of John Pitcairn’s strong spiritual beliefs. He was guided by the doctrines of Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century Swedish scientist, philosopher and theologian.
Among Swedenborg’s beliefs is that marriage between a man and a woman is a holy covenant with the Lord that can last for eternity.
Gertrude Pitcairn died a few short years after moving into Cairnwood. John never remarried. When asked why, he responded, “I would no sooner remarry than if Gertrude were standing in the other room.”
John Pitcairn remained in Cairnwood until his death in 1916. His eldest son Raymond moved into Cairnwood with his wife Mildred Glenn Pitcairn, and lived there with their nine children until their new home, Glencairn (now the Glencairn Museum) was completed in 1939. Cairnwood remained empty until 1945 when Raymond and Mildred’s oldest daughter Gabriele (Pitcairn) Pendleton moved in. Although modernizations were made during Raymond and Mildred’s stay at Cairnwood, the house has remained much the same as it was at the time of its construction.
In 1980, the family donated the house to the Academy of the New Church, the educational branch of the New Church. The house stood vacant until 1995 when, to raise money for the restoration project, Cairnwood opened its doors as a designer show house. Designers were invited to showcase their work within the beauty of Cairnwood’s architecture.
Today the mission of Cairnwood as an independent member of the Academy of the New Church Family is to maintain the home of John and Gertrude Pitcairn as an educational, cultural, and hospitality center serving the Academy, Church community and surrounding area.