The year 1881 was a significant one for Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). In February, he made his first recorded purchase of a work of art: a wooded landscape by local Pittsburgh artist George Hetzel. Then, in the spring, Frick met Adelaide Howard Childs (1859-1931) and they were married December 15.
After returning from their wedding trip, the Fricks purchased “Homewood,” an eleven-room, Italianate-style home located at the corner of Penn and South Homewood avenues in Pittsburgh’s residential East End. Pittsburgh architect Andrew Peebles made interior and exterior modifications to the home, which was renamed “Clayton.”
The Fricks moved into Clayton early in 1883. Their son, Childs (1883-1965), was born in March. Two years later a daughter, Martha, was born (1885-1891), followed by Helen (1888-1984), and a fourth child, Henry Clay Frick, Jr., who died shortly after birth in 1892. The home was the family’s primary residence until 1905.
The Playhouse—which now houses offices —was built in 1897, when Childs Frick was 14 and Helen Clay Frick was nine. It was designed by the architectural firm of Alden & Harlow, which at the same time was constructing a new greenhouse nearby and adding additional bathrooms to Clayton.
The Playhouse was a center of activity for the Frick children. Helen played and entertained friends in the drawing room on the first floor, and upstairs a large room was used by Childs as a darkroom.
Family photographs show children gathered at the Playhouse for parties and events. Also, the Clayton Cadets, a military group organized by Childs when he attended nearby Sterrett School, met at the Playhouse for practice drills. There was also a bowling alley on the first floor.
By 1905, Henry Clay Frick’s business, social, and artistic interests had shifted from Pittsburgh to New York. In New York the family spent their first ten years residing at the William Vanderbilt mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue, which they rented.
While living on Fifth Avenue, the Fricks began building their summer home, Eagle Rock, in Prides Crossing, Massachusetts.
By 1912, the family was actively planning their New York residence at 1 East 70th Street, which was designed to accommodate Frick’s large art collection of growing international standing. The Frick residence, today known as The Frick Collection, was opened to the public as a museum in 1935.
After 1905, Clayton was no longer the family’s primary residence. However, the home was never sold and remained a part of their family life.
In 1908, Helen Clay Frick returned to Pittsburgh and Clayton for her society debut, although she continued to live in New York for most of her adult life and also spent considerable time traveling. Helen also owned a farmhouse in Bedford, New York. After her father’s death in 1919, Helen inherited $38 million dollars, making her America’s richest heiress.
Like her father, Helen Clay Frick was a passionate art collector who believed in the importance of providing public access to great works of art. To house her growing collection of fine and decorative art, she built The Frick Art Museum, which was opened to the public in 1970.
In 1981, Helen returned to Clayton to live full time, and stayed there until her death in 1984. She left provisions for the family home to be restored and opened to the public. Following a four-year restoration project, Clayton opened in 1990. Today, the home provides visitors with an intimate glimpse into the life of the Frick family more than a century ago and insight into late-nineteenth-century life in general.
The Frick has continued to grow in the years following Clayton’s opening in 1990. In 1994, The Café at the Frick opened. In 1997, the Frick’s carriage house, in which the family’s personal collection of cars and carriages were kept, was expanded to create the Car and Carriage Museum. A capital campaign and major expansion resulted in the opening of the Grable Visitor Center in 2014. Phase two of the expansion includes an enlarged Car and Carriage Museum, on-site collections storage, and a new Education Center.