Pittsburgh's Frick Park Overlook: Gritty Industrial Views of the Mon Valley and Kennywood

The first thought of a scenic overlook in Pittsburgh naturally leads one to think of the beautiful views of downtown from Mt. Washington, West End Overlook, along the rivers, or in North Side from around the stadiums. The views looking more eastward and out of the city are pretty in their own right, but often do not show important cultural landmarks of the kind of scale you see of immense skyscrapers and stuff like that. Additionally, in general, it is not often that you get a view that gives you a birds eye view of commercial and industrial areas and an amusement park. 

This spot in Pittsburgh's Frick Park gives a view over the eastern and southeastern industrial and commercial cities heading out of Pittsburgh, Homestead, Braddock, Duquesne, McKeesport, and Clairton, all the way out to Kennywood Park. This is the only spot that you can get as expansive view down the river valley that has powered so much industrial growth in this nation, and produced our way to victory in World War II as part of what FDR referred to in the term "Arsenal of Democracy." Industrial advances have been made in this valley, as well as advancement in the creation of worker rights. Every era of business in the history of this country can be found in this view of the valley, from individual small business, to heavy industry, to the big service and retail industries of today. Within this one single view, you can see a microcosm of the foundational elements of everything that America stands for, specifically Rust Belt America, especially in a place where there still is some economic opportunity and industry left.

To reach this spot, hike up the Overlook Trail in Pittsburgh's Frick Park. Frick Park is a wonderful urban oasis that offers lots of hiking and nature opportunities in a very urban, industrialized, and commercial area, which was initially started with land that was bequeathed from the estate of brutal industrial magnate Henry Frick, who has a record of business success, but also a villainous legacy of violence in anti worker and anti union activities, most notoriously with the Homestead Strikes where he hired goons to shoot down his own employees who were striking for fair treatment. His mansion in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh serves as a neat museum.


Mt. Vernon Furnace: Restored Early 19th Century Iron Furnace in Fayette County

Mt. Vernon Furnace, also known as Jacob's Creek Furnace and Alliance Iron Works, is located in Bullskin Township, Fayette County, near Mt. Pleasant. It is a pretty neat spot that is appreciated and boosted through care by the local community. It is a pretty early furnace, dating back to 1795, rebuilt in 1801, and it went out of use all the way back in 1825. Nowadays the spot is a great place to reflect upon industrial history and to have a picnic lunch at.
It ended its life after it was converted to a Blast Furnace. The Bullskin Township Historical Society has aggressively restored this furnace and restored elements that would have been present during operation, including a casting shed, and a water wheel for cooling. 
Picnic shelter area

The work they have done to restore this and make it a nice gathering spot is fantastic. Definitely worth checking out if you are in the Mt Pleasant/Laurel Highlands areas. 


Cowan's Gap State Park Revisited: Fulton County

Cowan's Gap State Park is a lovely place to unwind and relax. They have lovely CCC era historic cabins, a really nice campground and facilities, a nice little lake for boating, fishing, and swimming, and beautiful trails and scenery. The hiking is excellent, ranging from an easy trail that goes around the entire lake, to vigorous, in climbing up and across mountains. The Standing Stone Trail and the Tuscarora long distance trails pass through the state park as well. 

Like many of the great state parks across the state, the infrastructure for this was built up by the CCC in the Great Depression era, putting young men to work and creating recreational relaxation places that have been enjoyed for the better part of a century. 

This state park is a gem and absolutely lovely. On our last article, we wrote about a visit we made to the state park. The photos from this article are from a stay we had. The ranger programs at this state park are awesome as well. This visit was a few weeks before Thanksgiving and the rangers had a program where they made an entire delicious Thanksgiving meal over the campfire. 

Some nearby awesome places to check out include Carrick Furnace, Buchanan's Birthplace State Park, Big Mountain Overlook, and lots of natural beauty surround this awesome state park. We definitely recommend spending some time here and taking in nature. 


Lehman/Port Royal Covered Bridge in Juniata County

Lehman's Port Royal Covered Bridge is a pleasant span in Juniata County. It is 107 feet long and utilizes a double Burr Arch bridge method of construction. We visited when there was a light rain, which is such a pleasant thing to do with that kind of weather, being able to listen to the pitter patter of the rain drops on the roof of a covered bridge. It is 107 feet long and it was completely rebuilt, albeit with a steel stringer structure and the wood portions built on top of it, using original timber, after the devastation inflicted upon most of the state during Hurricane Agnes in 1972. The bridge crossing originally dates back to 1888.

If you are in the area, we definitely recommend checking out this cool bridge. 


Buchanan's Birthplace State Park, Franklin County

Buchanan's Birthplace State Park is in a pretty remote location of south central PA. President Buchanan, the first of the two presidents to have been born in Pennsylvania, was born here on April 23, 1791. From here on he would go on to have an accomplished career in law, politics, and as ambassador to Russia. He went on to be catapulted to the office of the presidency in 1857 and would finish his term in 1861 and hand the baton on to Lincoln. Unfortunately he was unable to ease the tensions that led to the outbreak of the Civil War, but I cannot imagine that there would be anyone that could ease that fate at that time. He was and remains widely considered ineffective as a president and his moderate positions as president did not appease anyone and may have even hastened the breakout of the Civil War by emboldening southern positions. He was between a rock and a hard place as president and I do not think there were really any decisions that the office of the presidency could have made in that volatile time period.  
I would imagine that his steadfast stances in his moderation were built upon the rugged upbringing he would have had in this location. This spot is both peaceful and remote. This small state park is well worth stopping at for a picnic lunch. 

The memorial was built for him in 1907-1908 and dedicated in 1911. It uses local native stone and rubble and is a strange and unexpected contrast of a structure in a bucolic natural spot. 
The pups really enjoyed visiting this relaxing spot. The natural beauty of the spot definitely took my attention as the pups played. The history is cool, but living in the moment definitely took my attention here. 
These two had an absolute blast.

Buchanan's Birthplace State Park is definitely worth checking out if you are in the area. Beautiful Cowan's Gap State Park is not too far away and has more day and overnight facilities in a similarly beautiful natural setting. Historic Carrick Furnace is also pretty close. These roads themselves are a ton of fun to drive as well with tons of great rural scenery. 

Available is our book on Pennsylvania's historic amusement parks, Great Pennsylvania Amusement Parks Road Trip. It features Knoebels, Kennywood Park, Hersheypark, Dorney Park, Waldameer, DelGrosso's, Lakemont, Dutch Wonderland, Idlewild, and the sadly former, Conneaut Lake Park.

Thanks for your ongoing support over the years! 


Carrick Furnace Historic Site: Stunningly Preserved 1800s Furnace Complex, Franklin County

Carrick Furnace is something that is really special. This is probably the most well preserved of the unused historic furnaces that I have seen in the state. There is a fully intact steam powered blowing engines, which I have not seen before. The machinery that made this furnace work is fully intact, which is shocking. I would assume that scrappers have gotten the other similar equipment over the years, but this iron machinery with the furnace has lasted unused since the 1880s. 

The steam equipment with manufacturer markings "Weimer Brothers 1879, Lebanon, PA"

The original furnace was built in 1827, and in 1879 it was converted to a hot blast furnace. The historic society of the area has done a fantastic job of keeping this place up and it is an absolute treasure. 

It is within easy reach of other local natural landmarks, including Cowan's Gap State Park, Big Mountain Overlook, and Buchanan's Birthplace State Park. It is roadside so it is very easy to access. For more info on visiting, check out the website of the Path Valley Historical Society


RB Winter State Park Complex: RB Winter, Sand Bridge, and McCalls Dam State Parks, Bald Eagle State Forest in Central PA

There is something really special about the small state parks of the center part of the state. They are quiet places of respite that are not overcrowded since they do not serve huge metro areas. They are great places to go if you are really seeking out some quiet relaxation. The state parks are always beautifully wooded and the usually have a small lake that has an old mill dam or CCC/WPA era dam and a nice swimming area and picnic areas, usually with CCC built infrastructure buildings, cabins, and park facilities. 

The RB Winter State Park Complex fits the bill perfectly. If you are looking for a truly quiet place to get away, these places are awesome. 

Hemlock, Mountain Laurel, and Rhodendron are bountiful in this area. 

Halfway Lake at RB Winter State Park has the first of many cement and stone dam ever built by the CCC that serve as the centerpiece of public recreation areas all across the country. It is a cold water fishery year round, thanks to the constantly cold temperatures from fresh springs and the colder conditions of the area around the state park and Bald Eagle State Forest. 

RB Winter State Park is a giant 695 acre state park, though most of it can only be accessed through hiking. McCall's Dam State Park is located just a few miles away and is only eight acres in size. The picnic facilities built there date back to the CCC and the name refers to an old saw mill dam that is long gone. Sand Bridge State Park is only three acres in size and also boasts nice picnic areas. The name of that state park is a mystery because there is no sand bridge whatsoever. It is still a beautiful spot though that is worth checking out if you are in the area. RB Winter also has a full campground. 

This is a beautiful area to check out. 

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