By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
“Family” is a word often said in Green Tree. It’s a word that residents use frequently when talking about the borough they call home. “Family” describes not just blood relatives, but neighbors, customers, the hard workers who keep a municipality running like clockwork, the business that your father ran and his father ran before that. Family is integral to Green Tree.
Located immediately southwest of downtown Pittsburgh, Green Tree sits nestled in the rolling South Hills off I-376. While originally named for a large sycamore tree that was a meeting point in the town’s early history, “Green Tree” still serves as an accurate moniker. Trees and other greenery line the streets and fill the view in the distance.
This connection to the natural goes back to Green Tree’s earliest roots. Family farms made up the majority of residents in the borough at the time it was incorporated in 1885. In fact, it was these farmer’s disputes with the miners in neighboring Banksville that contributed to the decision to incorporate Green Tree as a separate borough.
“[Green Tree was] the closest farming area to the city of Pittsburgh until 1950,” says Walt Heckla of the Green Tree Historical Society.
The turn of the century would bring big changes for Green Tree. In 1904, the first train would christen the tracks of the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railroad and stop at what is now known as Rook Station, one of the first major rail stops in the borough. It would provide both passenger and cargo service between Pittsburgh’s southwestern communities.
Rook Station proved influential on Green Tree over the next decade, bringing in more commerce and residents from the city, causing the borough to grow. The years between the opening of Rook Station and the end of the 1920s saw the creation of Green Tree’s police force, the dedication of its first park, and even early public transportation in the form of the Oriole Motor Coach Company, which operated a route from Green Tree to West End.
By the end of the ’20s, however, Green Tree was beginning to stagnate. While the population had nearly doubled from 685 in 1890 to 1043 in 1920, the surrounding communities had seen population growth five times larger.
Furthermore, the city was no more accessible to Pittsburgh proper than it was in the 1880s, relying on the poorly maintained Washington Pike, now Greentree Road. The Pike became the subject of many grievances from residents until it was paved in 1929 after a prolonged period of negotiation between the borough, the city of Pittsburgh and the state of Pennsylvania.
The start of the Great Depression late in 1929, however, would put a hold on any major new developments in Green Tree, a hold that would last through the Second World War.
The 1950s would be a turning point for Green Tree, with the construction of the Penn-Lincoln Parkway. The Parkway itself opened in 1952, causing a boom in population growth in Green Tree virtually overnight. The completion of the Fort Pitt Tunnels in 1959 would connect the borough to Pittsburgh like never before, now just eight minutes of driving time away.
The Parkway would accelerate the pace of development in the borough. The 1960s saw the borough’s first apartments and shopping centers. The 1970s would bring the massive Foster Plaza and Parkway Center business complexes, which dominate the Green Tree economy today. Development has continued into the modern day, with the construction of more housing and office space, and the arrival of major chain restaurants and hotels.
Despite this suburbanization, Green Tree is far from a concrete jungle. The borough is not for want of green space, with seven local parks. The first, Johnny Wilson Park, was dedicated in 1923, and the most recent, Green Tree Park, was dedicated in 2002.
Nor has Green Tree lost its family values with the onset of increased commercialization. Many people think of Green Tree as a place for chain stores and restaurants. In reality, family-owned businesses are commonplace and often long-lasting, with Aracri’s Greentree Inn and Alexion’s Bar & Grill having been open for over six decades each. Another of these family businesses, Scoglio’s Italian Restaurant, sits in the Foster Plaza Complex. The restaurant originally opened in downtown Pittsburgh 28 years ago, according to co-partner Paul Kennedy.
“My aunt and uncle started Scoglio’s almost 28 years ago, my mom worked with them forever with her husband,” Kennedy says. “When they decided to get out of the business, my mom decided to take over this place, and we’re at almost ten years here in Green Tree.”
Scoglio’s current space used to be a different Italian restaurant than the one where Kennedy’s grandmother used to waitress. This family connection was part of the draw to bring the restaurant to Green Tree, a move which Kennedy says he doesn’t regret.
“The neighborhood is extremely welcoming. I think a lot of people don’t give Green Tree its credit,” Kennedy says. “It’s a beautiful borough, and everyone, the police, firemen, municipal people, they’ve all been great, they’re family.”
Across the borough from Scoglio’s sits Antney’s Ice Cream, another family-run neighborhood gathering place. The founder of Antney’s, known simply as Anthony, began his business as a Rita’s Italian Ice franchisee, but became driven to be his own boss. Having made ice cream as a hobby for many years, Anthony, who learned his trade through the famous Penn State Creamery program. opened Antney’s 15 years ago, and has since built a loyal customer base in the region and beyond.
“I have people come all the way from West Virginia for a licorice flavor I make,” Anthony says.
Connecting with the community is imperative for business at Antney’s. Anthony will accept customer suggestions for new ice cream flavors, which he sometimes names after those who suggest it.
“We actually name them like ‘Becky’s Gooey Butter Cake,’ and ‘Becca’s Chocolate Macaroon,” Anthony says.
Anthony also makes a point of welcoming the neighborhood dogs to Antney’s by offering “pup cups” for sale to dog-owning customers, a large demographic in Green Tree.
“Oh, [the dogs] come down here and jump on the counter, they order it themselves!” Anthony says.
Anthony believes that level of service has contributed to his loyal customer base, something he is very thankful for. “Our customer base, I wouldn’t trade those guys for the world, we know them by name,” Anthony says.
The community members of Green Tree are not just connected to each other, but also to their history. Many buildings built before 1900 in Green Tree are still standing and in use today, from houses to government buildings. The Historical Society is also currently working to place plaques at several of the historic locations in the city, from Rook Station to the location where the original “Green Tree” grew.
The end result is a borough with a firm foundation in its past, looking brightly toward its future.