David D. Erskine grew up in the Charlotte Apartments on Riverview Ave. He is a retired Project Engineer from BAM International in Butler Country, PA and still does consulting work. He loves sharing the stories of his youth growing up in Riverview Park from 1950-1967.
My earliest recollections as a kid growing up in Riverview were hard to recall at first. However, it just took one trip back with my wife, Donna, to show her around and my childhood memories came flooding back.
The sun-parlor windows at 157 Riverview Ave. were my “windows on the world”. When I was just a toddler, I’d crawl and sit on top of the huge cast iron radiators that lined the windows and just take it all in. I watched the park employees busy at work. Peter, the master stone mason, chiseling and re-pointing some of the stone on the steps leading up to the beautiful flower gardens adjoining the park office. Louie and another park laborer weeding and planting in the flower beds. My dad would invariably appear and wave to me. Sometimes I’d see him walking up the observatory road, past the old barn road, headed up to what was called back then the observatory garage. Dad worked part-time doing small engine repair on the myriad of gasoline powered mowers and tractors that had replaced the old work horse teams kept down in the old barn. I still remember there were two of the huge old horses that were long retired kept as pets down there. Now and then, dad would take me down to the old barn and sit me on the stall rail to get nuzzled by one of the gentle giants.
Other times, dad would take me down to the Wissahickon Nature Museum, where he also worked part-time with Mr. Harvey, the head naturalist. Wissahickon, in its glory days, was a wonderful place full of live animal, bird, and reptile exhibits. It was like having a local miniature zoo. Dad, Mr. Harvey and the volunteers would “milk” the live Copperheads and Rattlesnakes that were kept in large glass snake terrariums for their venom. Drug companies would then purchase the venom to make antidotes for people who were bitten by a snake.
Being a kid in Riverview was really an incredible experience. Mom and dad used to take me on my tricycle-tractor down to the old merry-go-round area behind the apartments. They’d let me pedal all over the paved walkways while they sat on one of the many stone and wood benches or the steps of the old merry-go-round. The old merry-go-round hill used to be steeper than it is today. We would sled ride down it in the winter, sometimes making it halfway across the field to the old Chapel Shelter.
As I got older, summer days at the Riverview swimming pool and winter days at the old ice pond playing hockey with my friends were the norm for us Riverview Brats. Whether it was summer or winter, one of my favorite adventures was packing up some food, blankets and sleeping bags then heading to the old Watson Cabin in the park to camp with my family and friends. Built as the Watson family homestead back in the 1700’s, it was a piece of living history that hadn’t changed much over the centuries. It had a huge walk-in fireplace with a stone chimney. In the winter, dad and I would build a roaring black locust fire that would ember-down and last most of the night. Mom would bake potatoes on the hearth and cook chili in an iron pot near the coal. Back then, there was a crude sleeping loft made of boards laid across the log beams. We’d just drag our sleeping bags up the loft ladder to stay warm as we slept. It was like we had lived there in a past life. It was our home away from home and all within hiking distance from the apartment.
We spent a lot of time hiking. We’d hike past the old road house site, down over the long, long, wooded hill into the Woods Run border area of Riverview. What a downhill hike! On the way back, we’d take the Valley Refuge road back up to civilization. We liked to stop along the way at Joe Himmelstein’s Dairy to get cold, fresh milk and pet the horses and cows. We’d then continue on up the valley road, sometimes stopping in to visit my dad at the valley maintenance garage. Occasionally, we’d pick through the huge dump they had there to find weird treasures to take home (yuck!). We spent so much time in Riverview Park, we hardly went anywhere during dad’s vacation times. The park was always there. Everyone knew everyone in those days. It was like one giant neighborhood.
Thank you for allowing me to reminisce about my wonderful memories of growing up in Riverview Park. It is a tonic, indeed. Even though my employment and circumstances prevent me from visiting Riverview and the Observatory as often as I’d like, I still manage to get down to Pittsburgh now and then. I usually stop in at Primanti’s for a sandwich then go visit the Observatory and my beloved Riverview Park. If anyone would like to talk about their experiences with me, please email me at email@example.com or contact the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy http://www.pittsburghparks.org.