Around town: A stroll through Chatham University's second life, Eden Hall

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You know how it is when you run a 39-acre city campus and then pick up nearly 10 times that much land out in the countryside?

Of course you don't. Who does? So you can forgive Esther Barazzone, president of Chatham University, if she still has much to learn about Eden Hall Farm in Richland, the largest undeveloped plot of land in Allegheny County -- and soon to be the county's largest university campus.

The gift of 388 acres to the school was announced only May 1 and the deed transfer was yesterday. So Dr. Barazzone knew, for instance, about Puma, the wandering cat that comes with the place and has been known to hop in the car trunks of visitors. But the spring-fed lake and 14,000-gallon reservoir were news.

That hasn't been much of a lake for decades, the men who run Eden Hall Farm were saying yesterday, and the path to it is overgrown. But it all can be brought back.

Once the summer home of Sebastian Mueller, an executive of the H.J. Heinz Co., it became a retreat for working women upon his death in 1938. Mr. Mueller willed the farm for that purpose, and so women from Heinz and elsewhere spent time there for most of the past 70 years, hiking, swimming, horseback-riding, playing tennis and bowling.

"No alcohol was permitted," Dr. Barazzone said as we checked out the little bar beside the pool table and two-lane bowling alley in the basement of the retreat center. "So there must have been some pretty mean milkshakes."

As the years went on, fewer women were interested in the retreats. So when the Eden Hall Foundation looked to continue the legacy of Mr. Mueller, whose bearded image seems to be on about every third wall, it settled on Chatham. Its undergraduate college is still a place where the only graduates are women.

Dr. Barazzone sees Eden Hall as an ideal place for "addressing issues of environmental sustainability that will impact our lives." With rolling hills and white-rail fences, it has the look of a Virginia or Kentucky horse farm.

The trick, however, will be making this second campus stand on its own. Otherwise, the central irony of this acquisition would be scores of city students driving alone across half the county to study environmentalism. That's no way to save a planet, even if the half-hour commute ends at an organic farm.

Dr. Barazzone is aware of that and sees this campus as serving the North Hills. This rustic enclave is in a part of the county that's boomed over the past 15 years. Treesdale is just four miles away and the Pine-Richland School District is expanding at the farm's border. Gasoline at $3.60 or worse seems likely to hamper any further growth based on long commutes, but Westinghouse is relocating to Cranberry just a short drive away.

"We want to relate to and be of service to this community," she said.

Master's degrees in liberal arts and business administration seem good fits, but nothing is decided. Dr. Barazzone did promise that teaching will begin in September, and she expects adding a building or two, including a dormitory, in the next five years.

Chatham is the alma mater of Rachel Carson, the nature writer whose 1962 book "Silent Spring" awakened America to the poisons cavalierly spread around us.

Chatham's task now is to use this farm to help us figure out a way to live with dwindling resources. That it all comes with duckpin bowling is a bonus.

Brian O'Neill can be reached at or 412-263-1947.


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