The property was originally acquired in 1903 by state senator William Flinn, one of Allegheny County's most powerful politicians, who, after his retirement from politics, established himself as a gentleman farmer at his summer residence on Dorseyville Road. Flinn called his new enterprise "Beechwood Farms."
Occupying more than 350 acres on both sides of Dorseyville Road, Beechwood Farms became the site of Senator Flinn's many farming interests, which ranged from roses, to rabbits and poultry, to cattle, with special buildings constructed for his various projects. The farm became famous for its herd of registered Guernsey cattle, which provided much of the fresh dairy products for the northern Pittsburgh area. Rachel Mellon Walton eventually acquired the bulk of the old farm property and its aging buildings, and her daughter, Mrs. Joshua Whetzel, Jr., acquired William Flinn's old summer cottage.
In 1977, Mrs. John F. Walton, Jr. and Mr. and Mrs. Joshua C. Whetzel, Jr. donated 90 acres of farmland to The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. The Conservancy, while retaining ownership of the land, chose Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania to manage and operate the property as a nature center.
This most generous arrangement resulted in the establishment of one of the largest nature reserves and environmental education centers in western Pennsylvania. Beechwood's 134 acres contain more than five miles of walking trails, which are open to the public from dawn to dusk everyday, year-round. The reserve offers a variety of outdoor experiences.
In the mid-seventies, the Evans Foundation of Pittsburgh agreed to donate approximately $500,000 for the construction of a nature center on land that was being donated to the Conservancy by the Whetzels and Mrs. Walton. In the spring of 1977, Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania officially took charge of the operation and stewardship of what would later be known as Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve. The nature center operations began in August 1977. The Evans Nature Center, a barn-like structure joined to the original farmhouse, was completed in 1979.
Wildlife, including deer, red fox, skunks, raccoons and screech owls, has always been abundant on the reserve. Shortly after the Evans Nature Center opened in the fall of 1979, the grandchildren of Thomas Raymond Evans presented ASWP with intricately carved Great Horned Owls, which have become an emblem for Beechwood. Created by the now internationally famous artist Larry Barth while he was a student at Carnegie Mellon University, the owls are permanently housed in the Audubon Nature Store at Beechwood.
During the next decade, Beechwood's environmental education programs expanded. The pond was built in 1981, attracting Mallards and Canada Geese, which still nest there. In 1984, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy purchased 32 acres of adjoining land, including century-old oaks that comprise parts of Spring Hollow and Woodland Trails.
In 1989, ASWP completed construction of an energy efficient educational wing and finished remodeling the farmhouse. The education building's award-winning design is a unique demonstration of construction techniques that conserve natural resources. The building is equipped with a solar array on the roof, a furnace that operates at 98% efficiency, an air circulation system to cool the building without air conditioning, clerestory windows which provide natural light, waterless toilets and many other features. Like the homes of the field, pond and woodland community animals that surround it, the education building blends with and takes advantage of Beechwood's abundant natural resources.
The newest additions to Beechwood are Audubon Center for Native Plants and DiscoverGround. Audubon Center for Native Plants sells plants that attract birds, butterflies, and wildlife. And DiscoverGround provides outdoor, natural play opportunities for kids and their parents. Both are located adjacent to the Beechwood parking lot.