Help Me to Find Rinehart’s Circular Staircase

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s residence on Pittsburgh’s North Side. This particular neighborhood is now branded as Old Allegheny. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Rinehart wrote “The Circular Staircase” at this residence. (Photo: Dennis Woytek)

Mary Roberts Rinehart grew up on Pittsburgh’s North Side. She wrote her first novel, The Circular Staircase, in the North Side house pictured at the top of this blog post. (MRR’s old neighborhood now markets itself as Allegheny West and it sits behind Heinz Field. Heinz Field is where the Pittsburgh Steelers play.)

(My father-in-law, Dennis Woytek, took this photo when we toured this house on the Old Allegheny Victorian Christmas House Tour several years ago.)

Now, here’s the thing:  I don’t positively know which house actually inspired The Circular Staircase. This novel takes place at a summer home in the countryside.

Now, I have a copy of History of Old Allegheny Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, From Prehistoric Times to c. 1876 by Rev. Reid W. Stewart, Ph.D., self-published in 2005. Stewart claims that this house which inspired The Circular Staircase “stood toward the southern end of River Forest Golf Course in Allegheny Township.” (This is near Freeport, PA.)

Stewart claims that Duncan Karns built this mansion in the 1870’s but that he lost his fortune in oil speculation. Finally, he claims that Mary Roberts Rinehart visited the house before it burned down.

7 thoughts on “Help Me to Find Rinehart’s Circular Staircase”

  1. This is not that house. Melrose Castle Estate in Casanova Northern Virginia is the house that inspired Sunnyside the haunted mansion in The Circular Stair. This house in Pittsburgh was her residence during the time she wrote the book and published.

    1. Hi Susan:

      Thank you for reading my blog and commenting. I posted a photo of this house (located in a neighborhood on the North Side of Pittsburgh) because my father-in-law, Dennis Woytek, took the photo.

      I was under the impression that the inspiration for The Circular Staircase “stood toward the southern end of River Forest Golf Course in Allegheny Township.” This golf course is near Freeport, PA. This mansion is no longer standing. Freeport is approximately 35 miles up the Allegheny River from Rinehart’s Pittsburgh residence that I pictured above.

      As noted above, my information came from History of Old Allegheny Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, From Prehistoric Times to c. 1876 by Rev. Reid W. Stewart, Ph.D., self-published in 2005.

      I would be interested in updating this blog post based on newly discovered information. Do you have a citation for your information about Melrose Castle Estate? I see that the Wikipedia entry for this structure claims that it inspired The Circular Staircase. Wikipedia includes the following source for this claim: Heincer, Amanda (May 24, 2017). “Historic castle for sale in Warrenton”. Fauquier Times. Retrieved 2018-10-13. However, the article as it is currently available online doesn’t actually provide any sources to cite this claim.

      When I Googled this today, the first page of results include a link to this article on http://www.virginialiving.com. This article also claims that Melrose Castle is the inspiration for The Circular Staircase. But I don’t see any information in this article to back up that claim.

      I’m very much encouraged that people claimed that multiple places (in different states!) were the inspiration for Rinehart’s work. My late mother-in-law, Fran, enjoyed reading books written by Rinehart. I have a very nice memory of her reading to me an excerpt from a Rinehart book. I believe that Fran would be very excited to know that someone from cyberspace reached out to me on this.

      To be honest, after Fran passed away in 2016, I haven’t personally met another person who expressed as much excitement to me about Rinehart’s work. The self-published book that I used for my source referred to the house in Allegheny Township (near Freeport) as the Duncan Karns mansion. This mansion reportedly burned down decades ago. I didn’t even know that it existed until I read about it in Rev. Reid W. Stewart’s book. I figured out the approximate location of the Duncan Karns mansion based on my knowledge of River Forest Golf Club. I realized that I travel past the site of this former mansion several times each month in the summer. It’s near a four-lane highway and a major intersection. I mention all of this because – in my opinion – the former Duncan Karns mansion is not currently a beloved local landmark.

      Per my quick Google research, it appears to me that Melrose Castle is in fact a beloved local landmark for the people of Casanova. I even located a Facebook page for “Fans of Melrose Castle.” I have a sibling who currently lives in Northern Virginia. Perhaps I will visit Casanova when I visit my sibling. Per my Google search, it doesn’t appear to me that Melrose Castle is currently open to the public. Do you know if the building is viewable (and photographable) from a public street?

  2. Hi!
    I have found a clue right in the story. The Casanova Electric company is mentioned in the 2 nd chapter. Melrose Castle is in Casanova, Virginia.

    However, at this time, I haven’t found any reference to Mary Roberts Rinehart visiting the place before writing the book.

    Interesting

    1. Thank you, Victoria! That’s pretty interesting. I did some more digging through a Google search of local news coverage. The archive for the former local newspaper (which is now branded as Trib Total Media), http://www.triblive.com, mentions in several different news stories that the Duncan Karns mansion on the site of the current River Forest Country Club (upriver from Pittsburgh) inspired the novel. I personally find it fascinating that the book was once so popular that two different places in two different states claim to be the inspiration for it. Maybe they both inspired the author.

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