Officially known as the Shrines and Sunken Gardens at Mount Assisi, this beautiful spot is located on the grounds of the Saint Francis Friary at Mount Assisi on the edge of town and adjacent to the university. However, while the grounds are currently a friary, they were once owned by one of the most prominent men from America’s industrial age: Charles M. Schwab.
Schwab, who was the president of U.S. Steel and Bethlehem Steel, was raised in Loretto, PA. While he had a large mansion in New York City, he wanted a summer home in Cambria County where he could get away and relax.
The home, designed by architect Richard Henry Dana Jr, the grandson of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was completed in 1919. It was a modest 44 rooms in size, half the size of Schwab’s mansion in New York City. It was known as the Limestone Castle and is an impressive sight to see to this day.
After falling on hard times during the Great Depression, Schwab would die heavily in debt, and his castle in Loretto was sold. Today, it has become the home of a friary, and the gardens below the mansion are open to the public throughout the year.
The Mount Assisi Gardens are a bit over 3.5 acres in size and offer the chance to see beautiful flowers, fountains, religious statues, and much more.
The entrance to the gardens and the parking area can be found along St. Francis Drive to the north of the university and the town of Loretto. The official address for the gardens is 131 St Francis Dr, Loretto, PA 15940.
Entering the gardens from the parking area feels a bit like entering a secret hideaway thanks to the small metal gate and stone arch through which you enter.
Once inside, there are a series of paths that allow you to explore this beautiful space in whatever direction you’d like to head.
The gardens are oval in shape, and the two curved ends feature beautiful walkways that pass below a stone structure that’s covered with incredible vines. It really feels like you’ve stepped back several centuries while walking through this space.
In the center of the garden, there is a series of small ponds and fountains that leads towards an impressive view of Schwab’s Limestone Castle on the hillside above.
Cascading down the hillside is a beautiful fountain that would create an incredible waterfall if it was on. Unfortunately, this fountain appears to be typically (or possibly permanently) turned off. While it’s still a breathtaking scene, it would be even more awe-inspiring if the fountain were flowing.
That being said, there are several smaller fountains sprinkled around the garden that visitors can enjoy during the warmer months of the year.
While the three spots mentioned above are the undisputable highlights of Mount Assisi Gardens, the rest of the space is quite enjoyable for a stroll. Throughout the space, you’ll find well-manicured grounds and beautiful plants that are sure to be relaxing. There are also many interesting statues that you can find tucked into corners throughout the gardens.
Ultimately, the Mount Assisi Gardens is a beautiful spot to visit if you find yourself near Loretto, perhaps traveling along Route 22 or visiting some of the nearby train viewing spots.
While this isn’t somewhere I’d personally travel far out of my way to see, it’s a beautiful spot to check out if you are already in Cambria County, especially if you love beautiful gardens and horticulture.
Mount Assisi Gardens
Address: 105 Saint Francis Dr