[Blogtober Day 16] A History of Riverview Park

Not many long-time Pittsburghers have high opinions of Brighton Heights. If you travel towards the city via the Ohio River Boulevard, it’s actually the first Pittsburgh neighborhood you’ll come across. Its high crime rate, steadily on the rise since the 1990s, is often the first thing folks think of when they hear its name. On the Pittsburgh Council, Brighton Heights is part of District One, and it sits directly across the river from McKees Rocks.

Why do I first mention the Brighton Heights neighborhood instead of the park? Because this is where our story begins. And why do I mention Brighton Heights when the park is actually in Perry North? Because this is how I know Riverview Park. Let’s chat about all three.

The Brighton Heights Neighborhood

An old neighborhood on the edge of the city, Brighton Heights is actually home to my church. It is full of relatively wide, straight streets and old architecture, with many homes being renovated in recent years. This neighborhood is also often referred to in sections: Brighton Heights, Brighton Heights East, and Brighton Heights Southeast. It’s actually the Brighton Heights East section that’s adjacent to Perry North, and where our story begins.

When I was a kid we used to be able to walk from our church in Brighton Heights to Riverview Park for the Easter Sunrise services held there every since year for over seventy years. This bridge used to be a major connection between the neighborhoods, as it was also considered to be part of the famous “Pittsburgh Steps” system. This was the Davis Avenue Bridge:

The Davis Avenue Bridge, which opened in 1899, spanned over Woods Run Ave. and directly connected Brighton Heights with Riverview Park in the Perry North neighborhood. After decades of deterioration and a lack of funding for a complete overhaul, the bridge closed to vehicular traffic in August 2001. By April 2009, it was determined that the bridge could collapse at any time, thus several residents whose houses were situated under the bridge on Woods Run Ave. were forced to evacuate. With a call made for its immediate destruction, the Davis Avenue Bridge was brought down with explosives on May 6, 2009. Since then, many long time residents of Brighton Heights have been distressed that this now unique transition to public green space no longer exists and are determined to bring the funding for a new bridge.

source

There’s not much history to be found online about Brighton Heights as a whole, but it is a unique corner within the Pittsburgh city limits. And that makes it worth visiting. While there isn’t a true “business district” one might think of when it comes to other ‘burgh neighborhoods, the Brighton Heights certainly has its own unique charm. Originally a German community, these immigrants brought with their architecture, churches and skills to the Pittsburgh region. Today, many events happen throughout the year for its residents, and my church takes part in many of these activities. We also hope a foot bridge can, one day, reconnect us to Perry North!

The Perry North Neighborhood

Known as a “sparse suburban” neighborhood, Perry North, like Lawrenceville, is seen as an up-and-coming place for young professionals to move. Its proximity to the city and easy access to both PA 65 and I-279 makes it a desirable location for the modern entrepreneur. One of the northernmost neighborhoods, Perry North is often called Observatory Hill. And if you’re looking for history on the area, you’ll have more luck typing “Observatory Hill” into your search bar.

Originally part of the old Allegheny City, it was incorporated into the City of Pittsburgh limits in 1907. Some histories are posted throughout the area on markers, and these histories are showcased on thehistoricalmarkerdatabase.org. Here are a few historical gems:

At the time of its settlement, Perrysville Avenue was a part of the Venango Trail, an Indian path leading north from ‘Allegheny Town.’ Commodore Perry used the trail to carry supplies from Pittsburgh to Erie for his lake battle against the British during the War of 1812. Known as Franklin Road during the early part of the 19th century, the roadway was used, after 1828, for the transport of cargo north from the Pennsylvania Canal. A private corporation rebuilt the road at this time, covering it with planks to lessen dust and mud. Tolls were then imposed on users of the Perrysville Plank Road.

thmd.org – on Perrysville Avenue

The observatory was founded on February 15, 1859, in the city of Allegheny, Pennsylvania […] by a group of wealthy industrialists calling themselves the Allegheny Telescope Association. The observatory’s initial purpose was for the entertainment of the Association’s members as opposed to research, but in 1867 membership had waned. The facility was then donated to the Western University of Pennsylvania, today know as the University of Pittsburgh.

source – History of Observatory Hill

There is, in fact, a whole slew of online records made available to the public by the Allegheny Observatory Records. These date anywhere from the 1890s to the 1930s, an impressive forty year collection of local history. If you’re conducting research, you can also use their “year search tool,” which is a very cool resource. And we’ve finally reached the park

Riverview Park

Photo taken by me in 2014

Riverview Park was created about the same time as the association that also brought to fruition the Allegheny Observatory. Once farmland, the leaders of Allegheny City saw the need for a space that could be used by the public and offered to purchase it from its owner Sam Watson. Several historic buildings have survived to this time in this rather large, very historical park.

This Edwardian era park is touted as one of the first major parks to be built in the area, especially in a more “urban” setting for the time. While the more wooded features of today’s park are popular with the residents who use it, the park did have some rather unique features in its early days such as elk, a petting zoo, a bear pit (what?!) and other attractions.

Final Thoughts

Today, Riverview Park is run and serviced by Pittsburgh City Parks, and many residents love walking, biking or running its trails. It truly is a little slice of heaven in a very urban city. With plans in the works to restore several of them, I foresee this park lasting long into the future.

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Budding #historian. Writer of #adventures and #sciencefantasy. Lover of mushrooms and libraries. Fan of #chocolate, #books and Pennsylvania history.
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