There’s no finer time than Autumn for visiting South Park, especially now that we're creeping up toward Halloween.
Widely considered one of the region's best haunted attractions, the park's Hundreds Acres Halloween event is a hoot for ghastly celebrants of all ages, and it benefits homeless children and unwanted pets.
Better still, it’s located in a magnificent park that’s well worth a trip any time of year. In the Fall, the park’s lush greenery gives way to a breath-taking tapestry of rich green and golden tones as the deciduous trees turn.
Visitors and new arrivals to Pittsburgh often comment on how spoiled we are in these parts with our parks system. We have so many of them, and most of them are splendid. Yet somehow we manage to take them for granted.
That’s especially true for South Park, with all it means to the immense South Hills region. The park draws in those looking for a cool place to live, raise their families and enjoy themselves.
In fact, much of the Pittsburgh South area owes its existence to South Park. For most of Pittsburgh’s history, people lived in urban neighborhoods like Mount Oliver and Carrick because they were close to factories and offices in town. People later came to choose Upper St. Clair, Brentwood, Whitehall, Mount Lebanon and other well-established suburban communities because they were not close to smoky old Pittsburgh—they were close to South Park.
Beginning in the 1930s, many working people had had enough of the grit and grind of the city during the workday. In evenings and on weekends they wanted a sense of green, a feeling of country. South Park provided it and more—not just green space but recreational facilities of all kinds.
South Park was developed between 1927 and 1931 to preserve rural land as urban Pittsburgh grew outward. The initially nondescript land was re-forested and further developed under the direction of Paul B. Riis, a national parks expert who had helped develop Yellowstone National Park.
Much of the work in South Park was completed by the Youth Conservation Corps and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Remember, those were bad times for the nation, and Pittsburgh in particular. So-called “make work” federal programs gave otherwise-unemployed workers a living wage and an opportunity to use their skills, which were way above entry-level.
Look at the gorgeous masonry in the humble walls and picnic shelters throughout the park. These often were erected by master craftspeople who in better times would have made big money building churches, schools and custom homes.
Veteran carpenters, plumbers, roofers, electricians and others all wielded their tools for the region’s benefit as the fairgrounds complex and other built attractions were erected on the 2,013-acre site.
Beginning in the 1930s, South Park was the site of the Allegheny County Fair. At the time, the county had many farms to support the fair. However, by the late 1960s farming had been dramatically reduced, and eventually the fair could not be sustained. Even so, the majority of the fairgrounds buildings and landscaping remain in place today, though in a dilapidated condition.
Renovation and refurbishment of these key structures currently is under way. Still, buildings aside, the heart of South Park is grass, trees and water configured to provide a game preserve, BMX track, ice skating rink, both nine-hole and 18-hole golf courses, tennis courts and a wave pool.
There are playgrounds throughout the park as well as picnic shelters and ball fields. The park grounds lend themselves naturally to sledding, snowboarding and cross-country skiing, in season, and hiking, running and mountain biking throughout the year. There are official dedicated Girl Scout and Boy Scout camp facilities.
Two stand-out organized attractions are the South Park Theatre, a well-regarded organization offering mainstream dramatic presentations, and the Oliver Miller Homestead, an original stone house and agricultural complex dating to 1770, where re-enactors portray life in rural Colonial times.
This is but a cursory summary of South Park by a former resident who grew to love the place for all the opportunities it afforded him and his little boy, growing up there, for outstanding recreation, exercise and education.
But you can do better. South Park is well represented on-line. See, for example: