Fairview Park Gets Historical Status
By Richard Robbins
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
A Westmoreland County park with roots deep in African-American history has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and named a historic landmark by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Fairview Park in Salem Township, near Delmont, was created in 1945 in response to mostly or exclusively whites-only amusement parks throughout Western Pennsylvania.
The segregationist era began to crumble in the 1960s, and the amusement rides and other attractions at the park eventually were dismantled. Today, Fairview Park consists of aging swings sets and slides, a basketball court, a ball field and several picnic pavilions.
Ernest Jackson, president of the Fairview Park Association, said the state and federal designations were intended foremost to “honor the memory” of the men and women who founded the park and of the wonderful times the park made possible.
Originally organized by a coalition of black churches in Pittsburgh, Fairview Park hosted large gatherings until sometime in the 1970s, Jackson said.
The founders had “foresight and vision,” said Jackson, of the South Hills.
“Fairview Park enabled a lot of people, including a lot of young people, to get out of the inner city and spend time in the country,” he said.
He said photographs from the late 1970s show row after row of buses jammed with fun-seekers pulling up to the park entrance.
At the height of its popularity, the park featured a roller-coaster, merry-go-round, skating rink and swimming pool.
At 52 acres, today’s park is nearly half the size it once was. It is maintained by a small group of volunteers, Jackson said.
Each summer, the Fairview Park Association holds an annual Old-Fashioned Picnic at the park with a petting zoo and other amusements. The event is open to all, Jackson said.
The de facto segregation of blacks was a way of life in the northern United States during most of the 20th century. Blacks in Western Pennsylvania were routinely barred from public facilities such as movie theaters and swimming pools. All of this was in contrast to the Jim Crow segregation — mandated by state and local laws — practiced in the South.
Carol Lee, the state’s national register and survey coordinator, said Fairview Park is the only black amusement park in the state. “At least it’s the only one we know of,” she said.
That makes Fairview Park significant in the commission’s eyes, Lee said.
The state and federal actions recognizing the park were wrapped up in December, Lee said. The review process took about 18 months.
“Basically, it’s a matter of having bragging rights,” Lee said of the designation as a state and federal historical treasure.
There are no bars to private development of the property, she said. At one time, the park association was looking forward to the construction of a multimillion-dollar, assisted-care living facility on the property.
Jackson indicated that no project is planned, though he holds out hope the park’s enhanced status will stimulate interest in the park’s history and possibly development.