As cofounder of Pittsburgh Plate Glass, John Pitcairn was one of the leading industrialists of his time with business and social contacts that included Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Clay Frick, and Henry Flagler. Often traveling abroad and throughout the United States, Pitcairn met Gertrude Starkey in Philadelphia in 1877. Two years later he asked her to marry him. She gently turned down his proposal. Her hesitation lay in her strong New Church beliefs, particularly its ideal of marriage, which required her to examine the depth and spiritual nature of her feelings for him. Undeterred by her rejection, John Pitcairn persisted in his courtship of Gertrude for four and a half more years before he prevailed and she said yes in the fall of 1883.
John Pitcairn’s considerable fortune allowed him to build Cairnwood Estate in 1895 as a home for Gertrude and their children. Gertrude died just three years after moving into Cairnwood. Heartbroken, John never remarried. When asked why, he responded, “I would no sooner remarry than if Gertrude were standing in the other room.” Among the teachings of the New Church, which the Pitcairns held dear, is the belief that marriage between a man and a woman is a holy covenant with the Lord that can last for eternity.
John Pitcairn remained in Cairnwood until his death in 1916. His eldest son Raymond lived in the Estate with his wife Mildred Glenn Pitcairn, remaining with their nine children until their new home, Glencairn (now Glencairn Museum), was completed in 1939. Following in the footsteps of her parents and grandparents, Gabriele Pitcairn Pendleton moved back into the Estate with her husband Willard Pendleton. Their family reopened Cairnwood’s doors for gatherings in the late 1940s. Upon Mildred’s death in 1979, the Pitcairn family donated Cairnwood Estate and Glencairn to the Academy of the New Church. Cairnwood remained empty for a more than a decade before beginning its transition into the National Historic Landmark it is today. Although modifications were made through the generations, the home has been predominantly restored to its original 1895 appearance. A host of steadfast employees and volunteers continue to work to preserve Cairnwood Estate for the enjoyment of future generations.