History of North Park

Historic black and white photo of the boathouse
North Park Boathouse, 1964

On February 11, 1927, Allegheny County Commissioners passed a resolution establishing North and South County Parks. North Park, at 3,094 acres, is the largest park in the system, more than 1000 acres greater than its sister facility, South Park.

To design North and South Parks, Allegheny County Commission E.V. Babcock hired Paul B. Riis, a well-known landscape architect famous for using native plants and materials to construct landscapes and structures that felt like part of the environment.

Over the last century, North Park has been home to many unique features, some of which have faded into history. Early in the park’s history existed a Game Preserve on Flagstaff Hill, where bison roamed and a family from Blackfeet Nation watched over the heard. North Park also hosted a Civilian Conservation Corps camp during the Great Depression and benefitted greatly from other New Deal investments during that era. Other unique aspects of the park are still enjoyed today, including two lakes, the Boathouse, miles of nature trails, and a Swimming Pool. A wide variety of plants and animals rely on the park’s woodlands, meadows, wetlands, and aquatic habitats bringing great joy to the visitors that encounter them and enriching our county’s ecological systems.

North Park Lake, fed by North Fork Pine Creek to the north, is the largest man-made body of water in Allegheny County. This beloved lake empties into Pine Creek which then feeds into the Allegheny River in Etna. The idea of North Park Lake, and of fishing in the lake, was advanced by County Commissioner John J. Kane. When the Old Pine Creek flowing into a marshy area was eventually transformed into a lake, the notion of stocking the lake with fish followed. At the request of the County, North Park Lake has been stocked each year by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania since at least 1940, when “hundreds” of anglers attended the casting of the first lure, including Commissioner John J. Kane and Parks Director George E. Kelly.

The swimming pool in North Park was once considered one of the largest in the world and holds two and a half million gallons of water. In the 1930s and 1940s, before pools proliferated at homes and private organizations, the monstrous North Park Pool seemed a logical response to the "bathing" needs of everyone north of Pittsburgh. A large South Park pool was also created, and the two pools, the only major swimming facilities in the county, attracted some 300-500,000 people per season during their first two decades.

In December of 1928 plans were made to build outstanding golf courses at both North and South Parks. Spacious and well-planned, the golf courses were an immediate success and continue to be to this day.

North Park continues to serve many functions: a fishing hole, a picnicker's getaway, a hiker’s paradise, and much more. Explore this page to discover more of North Park’s rich history and see what has changed over time.

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The Clio website will help you visit historic sites without leaving home! And when you are out-and-about, the mobile Clio app will let you know about nearby historical places you might want to visit or learn more about.

Historic Sites around North Park

Historic Park Maps

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History Videos


Historic black and white photo of the boathouse
North Park Boathouse, 1938