George Gibson McMurtry was born near Belfast, Northern Ireland. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised on a farm by an uncle. He tried farming and the army before coming to America to better his life. He drifted from city to city, finally arriving in Detroit almost penniless, where he found work. He began his career in the steel business with the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company in Chicago and was transferred to Pittsburgh. After serving as a Major in the Union Cavalry during the Civil War, he became associated with the Volta Galvanizing Company. He was made president of their operation in Apollo, PA., called the Apollo Iron & Steel Co. The company prospered and McMurtry became a significant shareholder. Lacking room to expand the plant, he convinced company directors to build a new mill and town on farmland downriver from Apollo. For ideas, he visited industrial villages in France, Germany, and Russia. He hired Frederick Law Omsted to design his new town, where workers would be healthy and happy. His dream included clean water, parks, a cultural center and comfortable homes for his workers. Vandergrift stands as a lasting tribute to McMurtry's dream.
Frederick Law Omsted The Designer, 1822-1903
The spirit of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famed landscape designer who worked in partnership with nature, is evident in Vandergrift's natural layout—in its curved, tree-lined streets, in its parklets, and in its wide mall leading from the old railroad station to the historic Casino town hall.
In 1895, Olmsted's firm designed Vandergrift near the end of his distinguished career, which began with his design of New York City's Central Park. His many landscape achievements include the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, the campus of Stanford University, the Biltmore Estate and city parks from Boston to San Francisco. His master plan for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair helped bring him to the attention of Vandergrift's founder, George McMurtry.