The brilliant dome of the Allegheny Observatory atop Observatory Hill is an important focal point for Riverview Park. In the mid-1850s, prominent Pittsburgh businessmen formed the Allegheny Telescope Association and built an observatory on Perrysville Avenue in the City of Allegheny containing what at the time was the world's third largest telescope. In 1867, the observatory was turned over to the University of Pittsburgh to study sunspots. The observatory also was used to tell time by the position of the stars, supplying information for the official clock system of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
By 1900, the view of the stars at the original observatory was blocked by Pittsburgh's industrial pollution. The city's residents and millionaire businessmen donated money to build a new observatory atop the hill at Riverview Park. Architect Thorsten Billquist designed the brick and terra cotta structure in a mixed Classical style with Greek Ionic columns and Roman balustrades.
Today, the observatory is run by the University of Pittsburgh and houses three telescopes: the 30-inch Thaw refractor is used for research, and 13-inch and 16-inch refractors are open to the public on Thursday and Friday night tours. The Thaw telescope is viewable by the public during one open house event each year. Visit the observatory's website or call 412-321-2400.
The oldest building in the park, the Chapel Shelter began its life in the 1800s as the Watson Presbyterian Church at Perrysville and Riverview Avenues. When a new church was built in 1894, the original building was moved into the park, where it became a popular destination for picnics and events. The building retained its steeple and dormers until the 1950s, when a concrete porch was also added. By the 1990s, the building was infested with termites and scheduled for demolition. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy partnered with the City to restore the structure instead, bringing back its original design character while modernizing appliances and facilities for today’s users. The surrounding landscape also features a new trail that connects the Chapel area to Snyder’s Point, and it has been replanted with native trees, shrubs, and flowering plants.
To view a slideshow of the Chapel's transformation, click here.
To rent the Chapel Shelter for your event, contact the City's Department of Public Works at 412-255-2370.
Restored by the City of Pittsburgh in 2003, the Riverview Visitor Center was formerly the park office. The handsome stone building was designed as part of an entrance suite, along with a fountain that is now a flowerbed, in the 1940s. Today's Visitor Center features restrooms, park information, and occasional programming and is staffed by volunteers.
The Activities Building, located up the hill from the swimming pool, is a popular site for family reunions, picnics, and receptions. It was constructed on the former site of the carousel in 1961. For information on renting the building, call 412-255-2370.
A cheerful garden greets visitors at the Mairdale entrance at the northern point of Riverview Park. The trail leads into the Mairdale Valley, a beautiful wooded area featuring steep trails and the winding Wissahickon Stream. Due to excessive deer browse and an aggressive population of invasive plants, this area of the park has a severely diminished layer of native seedlings and saplings. The Parks Conservancy has been active in the Mairdale area for several years, working to restore the tree canopy and reduce erosion on the steep hillsides. Trails have been lined with fallen trees to keep pedestrians on the designated path, and open areas have been seeded with native plants.
Snyder's Point is the southwestern section of Riverview Park that once provided a broad, scenic view of the Ohio River and surrounding communities. For years, non-native, invasive plants, including Siberian elm, and porcelain berry and bittersweet vines encroached on the area, making it inhospitable to park users. For the past few years, this area has been a major focus of the Parks Conservancy’s restoration efforts. Volunteers have been removing invasive species, planting native flora and building deer exclosures for protection, and reopening trail paths to reestablish the river view. Ecological restoration in the area is bringing more wildlife and birds back to the area, making it a popular destination for bird watching.