Squirrel Hill is one of the larger and most well know neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. The communities name was most likely give to it because of the abundance of gray squirrels inhabiting all of the forestry throughout the hills in the area.
The early development of Squirrel Hill as a vibrant Pittsburgh neighborhood was along the banks of the Monongahela River. Colonel James Burd, a soldier stationed at Fort Pitt, reportedly built the first house in Squirrel Hill around 1760 in an area known then as Summerset. Not long after, another home, built by Ambrose Newton, was built, and is located on Overlook Drive near Schenley Park. John Turner then built an estate know as Federal Hill in 1778 on what is now Beechwood Boulevard. Turner Cemetery, his family plot, was donated to the community when he passed away in 1840. Here many of the original Squirrel Hill settlers are buried. In 1787 Robert Neill built the Neill Log House in what is now known as Schenley Park. This house was eventually sold to General James O’Hara. O’Hara’s grand daughter, Mary Schenley then gave the property to the city of Pittsburgh in 1889. It was actually rented to visitors to Pittsburgh until around 1969, when, in dis-repair, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks foundation re-builit it and it is now open for tours occassionally.
One of the first local inns in Squirrel Hill was built around 1820 by William “Killymoon” Steward along Beechwood and Brown’s Hill Roads. It was in operation for over a century. Squirrel Hill was now a growing neighborhood with a commercial district. In the 1840s, the Murdoch family founded a farm and nursery business in the northern part of Squirrel Hill. Today, it’s known as Murdoch Farms and many large and beautiful homes are located there.
Squirrel Hill was originally part of Peebles Township. In 1868, it was officially annexed into the city of Pittsburgh. After the Civil War in 1869 a women’s college was established in the area of Fifth and Wilkins Avenues. It is now known as Chatham University. As the 19th century progressed, the development of Squirrel Hill moved toward the neighborhoods of Oakland and Shadyside. Trolley lines contributed greatly to the area as it grew, with an electric trolley constructed in 1893. This allowed for the construction of hundreds of houses along it’s corridor, via Forbes and Murray Avenues and Shady Avenue. Believe it or not, Murray Avenue was still a dirt road in 1920!
The Boulevard of the Allies connected Squirrel Hill to downtown Pittsburgh in 1927 and allowed for an even more direct link for residents to travel back and forth. The area was now mostly populated. By 1953, the Parkway, as it is known, and the Squirrel Hill Tunnel opened. Thus completed the connection from the Eastern Suburbs of Pittsburgh through Squirrel Hill to down town.
The main commercial district in Squirrel Hill is located on Murray and Forbes Avenues. Along with many shops, restaurants, bars and coffee shops, there is also the Carnegie Library, the Children’s Institue and The Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, to name a few. The area also boasts several parks and other interest of natural origin, such as the Chatham University Arboretum, Schenley Park and Frick Park.
Schenley Park, now almost 460 acres, was originally established in 1889 on donation from Mary Schenley. Frick Park was donated by Henry Clay Frick in 1919 and was enlarged to over 600 acres through out the years with the original trust of $2,000,000 provided by Frick. It was most recently restored in 2006.
Both Chatham University and Carnegie Mellon University have parts or all of their campus in Squirrel Hill. Both are world-class learning institutions. The neighborhood is a vibrant and diverse area with many sites to see and things to enjoy. Residents of the Pittsburgh region as well as tourists flock every year to enjoy Squirrel Hill. Here are some places to eat in Squirrel Hill that come highly recommended.