When a young George Washington stood on a cliff overlooking the Forks of the Ohio during the 1700s, he realized that the stretch of land located at the confluence of three rivers was a perfect site for a fort. The smart Virginian saw what leaders of European empires battling for control of North America already knew. After the French built Fort Duquesne, then fled, the British built Fort Pitt.
In the 1800s, Pittsburgh grew from a frontier town into a bustling community and by the end of the 19th century, industry dominated its shores and skies. The city and its residents paid a steep price for that progress.
By 1945, the Point epitomized blight with its hodgepodge of rail freight yards, substandard commercial buildings, vacant land and houses of prostitution. Debris littered the river banks. Exposition Hall was a pound for towed cars. So much smoke poured from steel blast furnaces and filled the air that noon looked like night.
Local leaders resolved to transform the Point so citizens could enjoy the inspiring landscape of sky, hills and rivers that is visible today. Among the many key players in the city’s first renaissance were banker Richard King Mellon, Democrat David Lawrence, newspaperman Wallace Richards, public works engineer Park Martin and Arthur B. Van Buskirk, a lawyer and chairman of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development’s Point Park Committee.
These civic leaders received advice from New York City powerbroker Robert Moses and architect Frank Lloyd Wright. But as early as 1910, Frederick Law Olmsted, the son of the man who designed New York’s Central Park, had, in a written report, proposed turning the Point into a park.
Making that idea a reality involved architects, landscape designers, engineers and city planners who worked together for decades to create bridges, a highway interchange, wharves, landscaping, a museum and a fountain. Demolition of buildings at the Point began in 1950.
More than 30 years passed before the park was finally dedicated on the morning of Aug. 30, 1974, and its signature fountain gushed for the first time. That day, people streamed onto Pittsburgh’s front lawn to see what historian Robert C. Alberts called “uncluttered open space and a clear view to the west.”
Last June, the park reopened after a six-year renovation that cost $40 million. As a rejuvenated fountain shot its geyser of water 150 feet into the air, pride in Pittsburgh soared once again.