Phipps Conservatory was presented as a gift to the City of Pittsburgh from philanthropist Henry W. Phipps, who wished to “erect something that [would] prove a source of instruction as well as pleasure to the people.” In a letter to City of Pittsburgh Mayor H.I. Gourley in November 1891, Phipps expressed his intentions to add this new conservatory as a complement to an already existing “Phipps Conservatory” built in 1887 in Allegheny, now known as the North Side. Henry Phipps stipulated that both conservatories operate on Sundays in order to allow the working people to visit on their day of rest.
On Dec. 7, 1893, Phipps Conservatory opened to the public. It showcased over 6,000 exotic plants originating from the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago — cacti, trees, ferns and more made the journey by train and horse-drawn cart to Pittsburgh and the nation’s newest and largest conservatory.
In 1895 Phipps Conservatory hosted the 26th Triennial Conclave of the Knights Templar, during which this iconic image was captured. In the photo, a woman, Angie Means, stands on a giant Amazonian water lily pad, or Victoria regia, in the Victoria Room.
In October 1898, the 27th Triennial Conclave of the Knights Templar was held in Pittsburgh. Horticulture staff decorated the Conservatory with flowerbeds designed as Masonic emblems for the Conclave’s visit on Oct. 13th.