Help the History Center Get Outdoors!

This post is part of an ongoing series seeking images and documents in connection with the #Pixburgh: A Photographic Experience exhibition opening this fall at the Heinz History Center. Read all posts related to the project by searching the #pixburgh tag on our blog.

Pittsburghers love their city. But at certain times of the year, people eagerly head out of town to seek a dose of nature. Whether visiting the lake for a summer holiday or joining the guys at deer camp after Thanksgiving, Pittsburghers have been gathering at some of their favorite nature spots for more than a century. Where do you and your family get away and enjoy some fresh air?

The History Center is currently seeking to build our collection of images and artifacts that tell stories about leisure and recreation in the great outdoors. Here are a few examples of what we mean. We’re sure you can think of more.

Conneaut Hotel - The_Pittsburgh_Press_Sun__May_26__1940_
Advertisement for Conneaut Lake Park, The Pittsburgh Press, Sunday, May 26, 1940. This advertisement greeted Pittsburghers over Memorial Day weekend, 1940. In the early 1900s, regular train excursions ran between Pittsburgh and Conneaut Lake; they were replaced by bus lines later in the century.

Lakeside Memories

What’s better than a day by the water? Since the 1800s, Pittsburghers have headed to the region’s lakes and rivers to relax under the sun and perhaps catch a few fish. The area’s two largest natural lakes – Lake Erie and Conneaut Lake – have attracted boaters, beachgoers, and fishermen since the early 1900s. In the History Center’s collection, a pair of swim trunks and a family photo from 1934 document the John W. Thomas family’s day along Lake Erie at Linwood Park in Vermilion, Ohio. Many lake resorts actively advertised in Pittsburgh newspapers. Sometimes, multiple families from one city neighborhood built their own colony of summer cabins along a favorite northwestern Pennsylvania lake or river. Local corporations also developed resorts geared to attract Pittsburghers, especially along Lake Erie.  By the 1930s, places such as Linwood Park even celebrated “Pittsburgh Days.”

New destinations emerged over the next few decades as dams for hydroelectric power and flood control created places such as Deep Creek Lake in Maryland (1925), Pymatuning Reservoir in Crawford County, Pa. (1934), and Canonsburg Lake (1943). Summer trips to boat, water ski, and fish became family traditions shared by generations of Pittsburghers.

Did your family have an annual waterside gathering spot? If so, what traditions did you enjoy?

Ray and Louise Kins gather the kids for a picture with the boat, 1950s. Kins Family collection, MSS 20, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
Ray and Louise Kins gather the kids for a picture with the boat, 1950s. Wrangling everyone together for a vacation photo is never easy. The round beach rocks visible in multiple images in this collection suggest that this may be a Lake Erie setting. Kins Family collection, MSS 20, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
Picnickers enjoy a chilly feast by Pymatuning Reservoir Lake, 1950s. Allegheny Conference on Community Development collection, MSP 285, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
Picnickers enjoy a chilly feast by Pymatuning Reservoir Lake, 1950s. Increased access to personal automobiles and better roads after World War II encouraged Pittsburgh families to get out of the city on weekends. This group was not deterred by some windy weather from enjoying a picnic on the shores of Pymatuning Lake. Allegheny Conference on Community Development collection, MSP 285, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
The John W. Thomas family enjoys a day at the beach along Lake Erie at Linwood on the Lake, Vermillion, Ohio, 1930s. Marian Nelson papers, 1998.0042, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
The John W. Thomas family enjoys a day at the beach along Lake Erie at Linwood on the Lake, Vermillion, Ohio, 1930s. Many resort towns along Lake Erie actively worked to attract Pittsburgh visitors. Marian Nelson papers, 1998.0042, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
Getting ready for a boat ride at Camp Lynwood near Morgantown, West Virginia, 1960s. Records of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, MSS 389, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
Getting ready for a boat ride at Camp Lynwood near Morgantown, West Virginia, 1960s. Camp Lynwood was one of multiple outdoor recreation camps that Pittsburgh’s Jewish community operated and maintained through the years to encourage the development of children’s health and well-being. Records of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, MSS 389, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
Frying up the day’s catch at Cook Forest State Park, 1940s. Allegheny Conference on Community Development collection, MSP 285, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
Frying up the day’s catch at Cook Forest State Park, 1940s. A mother prepares an open-air meal in a cast iron skillet as the family waits to eat during an outing at Cook Forest State Park. Created out of land purchased in 1927 to preserve old growth forest along the Clarion River, Cook Forest became a popular destination for Pittsburgh campers and fisherman. Allegheny Conference on Community Development collection, MSP 285, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
Summer fun at the Ammon Center pool in the Hill District, 1941. Dorsey-Turfley family photograph collection, MSP 455, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
Summer fun at the Ammon Center pool in the Hill District, 1941. Many Pittsburgh residents found summer relief within city limits at public parks and pools. The Ammon Recreation Center, built in 1940, was one of the earliest city pools that permitted use by African-American residents. Dorsey-Turfley family photograph collection, MSP 455, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.

 Deer Camp Days

When warm summer days turn to crisp fall air, different outdoor activities become the focus. Hunting has always been a part of Western Pennsylvania culture. Who didn’t enjoy that extra day off from school for the first day of deer season? For some Pittsburghers, this meant packing up and heading to the woods for a week of deer camp – maybe trekking south toward Somerset or north toward the big woods in Forest and Elk County.

While hunting excursions in the early 1900s were often organized by railroad companies, the increasing availability of cars and better roads led to more Western Pennsylvania “nimrods” – a name of Biblical origin referring to “ a great hunter” – heading into the woods as organized groups in the 1920s and 1930s. Hunting and fishing clubs sprouted up in city neighborhoods across Pittsburgh. Many offered their members access to facilities located in the heart of the traditional hunting lands, although accommodations were far from luxurious.

Whether the real goal was bagging a deer or enjoying the rustic camaraderie was an open question.  (And we’re talking seriously rustic: dorm beds, outhouses, communal living, sleeping bags.)  For many, the experience was about fellowship as much as it was about hunting. Deer camp was a highlight of the fall calendar, a tradition that also linked generations of family and friends.

Has your family preserved a hunting tradition? Where do you go and what rituals do you cherish?

Of course there are a wealth of other outdoor activities that haven’t been mentioned here. Did you inherit a passion for ice fishing? Do you come from a family of diehard hikers and picnickers? Talk to your family and friends. Think about other outdoor pastimes that hold special meaning for you, then let us know.

William Wylie and fellow hunters pose at Hoover Farm in Elk County, 1905. Margaret Pearson Bothwell Collection, MFF 2275, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
William Wylie and fellow hunters pose at Hoover Farm in Elk County, 1905. Many more hunting camps and lodges opened up during the years between World War I and World War II. In the early 1900s, parts of Pennsylvania suffered from a severe deer shortage due to market hunting. Restocking efforts started in 1906. Margaret Pearson Bothwell Collection, MFF 2275, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
Evelyn Evans posing after a day hunting in the field, 1950s. Evans Family papers and photographs, MSS 818, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
Evelyn Evans posing after a day hunting in the field, 1950s. Who said only men hunt? A member of the family that ran Macbeth-Evans Glass Company, Evelyn Evans was an avid outdoorswoman who hunted and was active in dog shows and horse shows. Evans Family papers and photographs, MSS 818, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.

Leslie Przybylek is curator of history at the Heinz History Center.

Use the form below if you have old images, documents, or artifacts related to Pittsburgh’s past. We’d love to talk with you about adding unique content to our permanent collections. Please include a brief description along with your contact information and a History Center team member will be in contact with you.

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For example, you might explain who owned them and when or how they were used, or why they were produced. Please include which collection (saloons, Strip District, outdoor recreation, etc.) you're submitting to. Additionally, we are looking for material with a Western Pa. connection, so please include relevant information here.

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