Allegheny Commons Park – Pittsburgh’s Oldest Park
Allegheny Commons has anchored the North Side for over 150 years. The public commons predate the City of Pittsburgh’s annexation of Allegheny City. This treasured Victorian gem is our oldest park and recalls the grandeur of Central Park.
ALLEGHENY COMMONS AMENITIES
The Allegheny Commons were officially established and designated for common pasture in a plan for the Town of Allegheny in 1784.
Three years later, the Act of Assembly which created Allegheny in 1787 stated, “…and within the said town, 100 acres for a common pasture…” Of the original 100 acres, 84 acres have remained as a park. It was officially dedicated for park purposes by Allegheny City in 1867.
The park was designed by the firm of Mitchell and Grant in 1867 utilizing a combination of formal, classical planning and picturesque landscape design which was ideally suited to its unique site. The park saw significant changes to some of its features during urban renewal efforts in the 1960’s. Today, efforts are underway to restore the park to its former glory.
Lake Elizabeth is named for Elizabeth Kirschler the daughter of Charles F. Kirschler, the final Mayor of Allegheny City.
A fixture since the parks opening, the lake was a popular space for swimming, boating, and skating. The lake came to its current form in the 1960’s. As part of the Allegheny Center conversion by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the lake was redesigned as a concrete water feature with pedestrian bridges.
Efforts are currently underway by the City of Pittsburgh, Parks Conservancy, and North Side community to redesign the lake to more closely resemble its original intent.
The original Northeast Fountain was built in 1868 when Allegheny City officially turned the pasture into a park. The fountain was demolished sometime during the City of Pittsburgh’s Renaissance One urban renewal efforts and buried on site.
A partnership by the City of Pittsburgh, Parks Conservancy, Allegheny Commons Initiative, and Northside Leadership Conference restored the landmark fountain in 2019. It was dedicated after campaign chairwoman and longtime North Side parks advocate, Patricia Regan Rooney in 2021.
Allegheny Commons is home to numerous landmark pieces of public art. Guests of the park can visit the:
Made of two sections of welded steel, this piece was featured in the Society of Sculptors’ 1976 exhibition, Sites: Public and Private. The artist, Peter Calaboyias, choose the West Park location for the sculpture.
One of Pittsburgh’s oldest pieces of public art, this iron deer has had its home in West Park since sometime in the 1870’s. Its history predates Pittsburgh’s annexation of Allegheny City. Allegheny City Councilman James Orr had promised a trophy for Allegheny City Mayor Fleming on a hunting trip. When he returned unsuccessful, he commissioned the statue to make good on his promise.
First erected on nearby Monument Hill, today CCAC, this monument to Allegheny County soldiers was originally an elaborate structure, with multiple life-sized figures, bas-reliefs, commemorative panels, and a staircase leading to a balcony of stone forty feet above ground. During a redevelopment program in the 1920’s, Monument Hill was levelled and the monument was removed. It was installed in its current location in 1931 with only the spire remaining.
The City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and the Veterans of the Spanish-American War shared the expense of this memorial, dedicated on September 16, 1914. The torpedo tube and armored porthole of the salvaged Battleship Maine were intended to be surrounded by water from Lake Elizabeth. The relic is backed by three commemorative panels, including one in honor of Lt. Jenkins, the only Pittsburgh officer killed in the Maine’s destruction.
Armstrong, a resident of nearby Lacock Street, was a well-known labor leader and advocate of workers and veterans. Working men nationwide contributed funds for his memorial which was dedicated two years after his death.
The granite statue of the first President of the United States was unveiled following a lavish parade on Washington’s Birthday in 1891. The face was copied from a 1788 marble statue of Washington at the Virginia State House. The Memorial was commissioned by the Junior Order of United American Mechanics of Western Pennsylvania, whose symbol of an arm and hammer with a square compass can be seen on the end panels.
Anna Hartzell, an organizer of the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society was memorialized by her husband James in a fountain designed to reflect her love of animals. It featured an urn for birds, a fountain for people, and a large ground level basin for horses, dogs, and other animals of the park. In 1977 the fountain was moved to Market Square before returning to Allegheny Commons in 1990.
Pittsburgh’s public parks once contained thirty of these bronze fountains featuring a dolphin motif. Five now remain. Vittor who worked prolifically in Pittsburgh is most famous for his large-scale sculptures.
Most of Pittsburgh’s 23rd Ward is comprised of East Allegheny. This honor roll recognizes the wartime service given by members in both World War I & II.
The Pennsylvania Independent Light Artillery, Battery F, was called Hampton’s Battery after its first captain, Robert B. Hampton. The members of this Pittsburgh unit served Civil War battles including Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, and Antietam. Of the 80 local men brought into service in 1861, only 28 survived. The cannon displayed, was captured in Cuba in 1898 during the Spanish American War.
The City of Pittsburgh opened the $340,000 facility on August 10, 1952, two years after ground was broken. The facility was built on the site of the original Phipps Conservatory which had been destroyed by fire.
At its beginning, the Pittsburgh Aviary consisted of a walkthrough tropical marsh. In 1967 an expansion that featured the wetland rooms was constructed. In the 1980’s the Aviary began to move towards its mission of wildlife conservation.
The Aviary was operated by the Department of Parks & Recreation until 1993. At that time, a declaration by the United States Congress gave the institution honorary “National Status”. Today, the National Aviary is managed by a private non-profit organization in the City of Pittsburgh’s behalf.