McGill family farm transformed into a botanical garden

This year’s McGill family reunion held a special significance.

Family members came from as far away as Texas, Colorado and California to share memories but also to see what the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is doing to transform their family farm.

A good portion of the 460-acre botanic garden is being constructed on the land once owned by the McGill family and where flocks of chickens gathered and wheat rippled in the breeze.

Beth McGill Ellis still has fond memories of growing up on the farm, which she shared with family members young and old, who gathered in a wooded grove Friday near the newly paved main parking lot of the Botanic Garden.

She remembers feeding chickens by hand, collecting eggs and the sweeping vista of fields of sweet corn, wheat and vegetables planted by her father, William.

“Dad was especially proud of his sweet corn,” she said, and the McGill family sold eggs in the nearby towns of Oakdale and Carnegie.

“Bill only sold perfect eggs,” she said.

In 1971, their farm became part of Settlers Cabin Park that spans sections of Collier, Robinson and North Fayette, but it was not developed for recreational use, and the land reverted back to scrub forest.

In 1998, the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden leased the land from the county and began plans to build the botanic garden on the site.

“When the county approved the sale in 1971, my parents were happy the land would be put to public use. They loved that land and were thrilled it would not be developed,” she said.

“It was hard to drive away from the farm through my tears, but I knew I could return with my children and grandchildren. It was the answer to my dreams. The Botanic Garden has embraced the values of the McGills. We both value, the land, education and family. I can’t think of a finer tribute.”

“The memory of the farm will be kept alive as long as the garden is here,” said Kitty Vagley, the garden’s director of development.

Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer:

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