Riverview Park turns 127 years old on July 4, 2021.

Photo: Watson Cabin, according to Park Ranger Nancy Schaefer, was the only building in Riverview Park when it opened. Courtesy of the author

The 4th of July is a special day for Riverview Park, as the park celebrates its birthday: This year it’s turning 127 years old. Back when the park first opened, the Northside was known as Allegheny City, separated from Pittsburgh by the rivers. Pittsburgh created Schenley Park in 1889 and although Allegheny City already had the Allegheny Commons Park, it was decided that to keep in competition with Pittsburgh, Allegheny needed a new and larger park, away from the smog and soot of the downtown area. Within five short years, Alleghenians raised the funds needed to purchase Watson Farm which was to become Riverview Park.

Assisted by the Allegheny branch of Carnegie Library, Allegheny Historian Charles Rohleder prepared a special report about the events surrounding Riverview’s grand opening on July 4, 1894.

“Funds for the land purchase were acquired by public subscription. Over 400 citizens contributed $110,000. Included in this amount were childrens’ donations of pennies, nickels, and dimes. Pupils in every Allegheny School pitched in their spending money. The deed to the park consisted of 217 acres, included were a few parcels of donated land. In later years, new acquisitions brought the total acres to 300. To celebrate the park purchase and deed, Allegheny City was decked out in red, white, and blue bunting. Flags fluttered in the breeze. About 35,000 people from everywhere came to witness the presenting of the Riverview Park deed to Mayor Kennedy by Thomas M. Marshall, Esq. Citizens came by horse and buggy, packed Perrysville Avenue street cars, horseback, bicycle, spring wagon and on foot. The day was clear with sunshine and about 5 p.m., came a sudden shower. The ladies were disturbed – the rain spotted their Sunday dresses.  

Thomas M. Marshall, Esq., presented the deed to Mayor Kennedy and the City of Allegheny. The crowd stood up and cheered. Marshall said ‘This Park contains 200 acres and is as beautiful a sport as can be found in Pennsylvania. Within its broken hills, nooks, dells, and secluded sports, the young can whisper in each other’s ears and can draw pictures of the future without either paint or brush. This giving of this park is more than a charity. It is a beneficence that shall grow more beautiful as the trees shall grow.’

Mayor Kennedy accepted the deed with thanks to the contributors, and predicted future hopes for the growth of Allegheny City stating, ‘Allegheny is the most beautiful residence city in the United States, go up on that hilltop and look at the lovely scenery.’

Six hundred people crowded the bandstand: prominent citizens, speakers, the Grand Army of the Republic band, 200 school children, dressed in white with pink badges and carrying small flags, sang.  Colonel W.A. Stone was the main speaker. He warned in this 30-minute speech that anarchists were undermining our country and spoke on the dangers of foreign immigration. A fireworks display began at 8 p.m. and lasted two hours. The Grand Army of the Republic Post 128 fired a salute of 44 guns. There were many stands selling all kinds of food.”

For many years after, the 4th of July was celebrated in a big way in Riverview Park. As time has gone on, the significance of the date has been forgotten by most, however the peace and beauty that the park provides to residents has remained constant. The “Stars at Riverview” Jazz Series of summer concerts will return to Riverview with the Reggie Watkins Quartet on Saturday, July 10 at 7 p.m. in front of the Observatory. Help celebrate Riverview Park’s birthday by joining neighbors for the first “post-pandemic” program in the park: Find the full schedule of performers here.

Nancy Schaefer is a City of Pittsburgh Park Ranger in the Northside’s Riverview Park.

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