Our Town

A history of the Greylock mansion

by George McNeely
Posted 11/1/23

As the latest redevelopment proposal for Greylock Mansion is being evaluated and discussed, we pause to look at the creation of the house itself.

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Our Town

A history of the Greylock mansion


As the latest redevelopment proposal for Greylock Mansion is being evaluated and discussed in The Local and various community meetings, we pause to look at the creation of the house itself.

It was completed in 1909 for Henry A. Lachlan (1838-1922), a Pittsburgh steel magnate, to the designs of architect William J. Carpenter (1864-1953). 

Lachlan’s father, James H. Lachlan (1806-1882) was born to a Scots-Irish Presbyterian family in County Down, south of Belfast in what is now Northern Ireland. He may have been a small landowner but the family immigrated to the US and settled in Pittsburgh. 

He tried his hand in various businesses and eventually focused on the burgeoning local iron and (later) steel industries, building the company that eventually became Jones & Lachlan (J&L) Steel Company, which was one of the largest of its kind and continued as an independent company until 1968.

His son Henry Lachlan joined the family company and was instrumental in its expansion and success in the latter half of the nineteenth century. He was born, worked, mostly lived and is buried in Pittsburgh, so it is unclear why he built a house in Chestnut Hill when he was 71 years old. 

His club memberships offer some insight. His obituary in The New York Times notes that his club included, in addition to the old-line Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh, the Art Club in Philadelphia and the New York Yacht Club.

The Art Club was for men who, according to its charter, wanted to “advance the knowledge and love of the Fine Arts.” It was housed in a particularly handsome Italian Renaissance-style building that was completed in 1889 as the first major commission for the young architect Frank Miles Day. The Club dissolved in 1940, and its building was sadly demolished in 1976 and replaced by a garage for the former Bellevue-Stratford Hotel next door. 

Those memberships suggest that perhaps in Laughlin’s retirement he had business, social, and intellectual pursuits on the East Coast and needed a local base.

Instead of going with a local architect, Laughlin chose William J. Carpenter, who was then active in Pittsburgh. Carpenter is not well known today. A blog about him by his grandson describes him as “The Forgotten Man.”

Born in England, Carpenter apprenticed in the architectural field there before coming to the US at age 14 and declaring himself an architect at age 16 in the 1880 census.  He worked as a draftsman in the Baltimore offices of Edmund G. Lind, the architect of notable buildings in that city near Mount Vernon Place, including various churches and the Peabody Library.  

But in 1885, Carpenter began a series of western adventures to El Paso, Texas, Spokane, Washington, and then Vera Cruz, Mexico, where he was involved with a coffee plantation. Eventually, he married and settled down in Pittsburgh in 1890 and built his architectural practice there. It was during that period that he designed Greylock. 

Some years later in 1920, he moved to Deland, Florida (about 40 miles north of Orlando) and during that state’s land boom years he provided dependable if uninspired designs for smaller apartment buildings and schools around central Florida. During the Depression, he closed his office and switched to other pursuits.

His grandson’s blog notes that he designed three particularly large houses, the first back when Carpenter was working in Spokane, Washington in 1889.  That handsome Queen Anne-style house is standing today and is known as the Loewenberg-Roberts Mansion. 

The second was a house completed in 1907 for Willis McCook, a successful lawyer and legal counsel to industrialist Henry Clay Frick. It was built on a section of Fifth Avenue that was known locally as “Millionaire’s Row” in the fashionable Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

In a partnership known as Carpenter & Crocker, he designed for McCook a substantial house in a newly popular historical style that has been alternatively dubbed “Tudorbethan,” which is a mixture of architectural design elements from both the early Tudor and Elizabethan periods in England, or “Jacobethan,” a similar mixture of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. The exterior stonework is stolid and faintly institutional, but perhaps well suited for a proud self-made businessman in industrial Pittsburgh at that time. 

After some recent challenges, that house is now a thriving boutique hotel and event venue.

Shortly after the completion of the McCook house, Carpenter started work for Laughlin on Greylock. A comparison of the exteriors of the two houses suggests that the architect largely replicated the McCook house for his new client at the other end of Pennsylvania.

It is likely that Laughlin was familiar with the McCook house, as both clients were prominent in connected Pittsburgh business and social circles and many such families had houses nearby in the Shadyside neighborhood. So perhaps Laughlin particularly liked the recently completed McCook house and requested that Carpenter largely replicate it in Chestnut Hill?

The resulting Greylock is also in what might be called the “Jacobethan” style, constructed of Wissahickon schist reportedly quarried on site, edged with contrasting finished stone trim. Both houses feature similar distinctive horizontal bands, tall casement windows, stone gables, slate roofs, and tall canted stone chimneys and both have a faintly institutional air. Greylock is a house that takes itself very seriously.

Curiously, the interiors of Greylock, while grand, do not feature the elaborate dark carved wood paneling that remains at the McCook house. The earlier house also retains heavy dark wood ceiling beams, elaborate chimney pieces, and “Jacobethan” style plaster ceilings with busy strapwork and dropped decorative bosses. 

Instead of such dark heavy interiors, Greylock offers simpler plaster walls, white marble floor tiles in the halls, and a refined 18th-century French-inspired wrought iron railing on the main staircase. It is likely that the main entertaining rooms at Greylock had more elaborate chimneypieces, but those are gone. 

Perhaps given Henry Lachlan’s age, he wanted his house completed quickly and there was not enough time to create more elaborate interiors. Or perhaps his personal style was simpler than that of the McCook family. Overall, by comparison with the McCook house, the interior finishing of Greylock is more restrained and perhaps in the end more easily adapted for contemporary living.

While many houses of comparable grandeur in the Northwest have sadly been lost, Greylock has survived. Whatever happens next with the current redevelopment proposal, it is important that all parties work together to forge a better and sustainable future for Greylock and its surrounding acres.