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'Road Show' explores evolution of North Hills

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Courtesy of Allegheny County Department of Public Works
This photo shows Perry Highway, looking north, as it was in 1919, in the vicinity of the location of North Allegheny Senior High School today. This is the type of photo that will be part of the 'North Hills Road Show' on April 14, 2014, at the Blueberry Hills Park Activity Center in Franklin Park.
Courtesy of North Allegheny History Museum
This is the photo of a gas station at the intersection of Highland and Willoughby Roads in McCandless. The building still is there and also has been used as a knitting shop and a candy store. This is the type of photo that will be part of the 'North Hills Road Show' on April 14, 2014, at the Blueberry Hills Park Activity Center in Franklin Park.
Courtesy of private collection
This photo of the McKinney barn was taken sometime between 1890 and 1893. The barn still is standing on McKinney Road, near Pearce Mill Road. in the section of North Park that is in McCandless. The photo shows Annie (Neely) McKinney, William S. McKinney Sr., other family members and a neighbor boy. This is the type of photo that will be part of the 'North Hills Road Show' on April 14, 2014, at the Blueberry Hills Park Activity Center in Franklin Park.

The Northland Public Library and the Franklin Park Parks and Recreation Department are inviting residents on a road trip through local history that doesn't require any driving.

The “North Hills Road Show” is a 90-minute presentation featuring more than 130 photos that depict the evolution of areas in McCandless, Franklin Park and Ross and Marshall townships from as early as 1919.

Franklin Park borough historian Debby Rabold and Northland Public Library executive director Amy Steele will conduct the free program, which will be from 1 to 2:30 p.m. April 14 at the Blueberry Hill Park Activity Center in Franklin Park.

“We'll be showing the evolution of the North Hills from the point of view of road projects that were done when this area was still very rural. We'll show landmarks and buildings. We'll show how our community has evolved into what it is today,” said Steele, 50, of McCandless.

When working on the local history section of the library's website, Steele spent two years poring over photos taken by the Allegheny County Public Works Department as crews transformed dirt roads into paved highways and thoroughfares, which ushered in an explosion of growth in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh. Many of these photographs, in addition to photos from the North Allegheny History Museum and Franklin Park's collection, will be used in the presentation.

“It's fascinating to see roads like West Ingomar Road or McKnight Road as they looked in the 1920s — rutted dirt roads lined with oil wells and an occasional farmhouse,” said Rabold, of Franklin Park. “It's neat to see all the changes that took place in the span of one lifetime.”

Rabold promises lots of interesting little stories to accompany the photographs.

Steele will focus on the development of North Park.

“One of the more fascinating things about North Park is that it was all farmland prior to the 1930s — just dirt roads and huge expanses of open fields. There were very few trees,” Steele said. “The trees were planted and nurtured by the country parks system, and the lake was man-made.”

When the park was new, Art Rooney held training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers there, she said.

Steele said she admires the vision of Allegheny County officials who set aside land and built a park in a location which, at the time, was extremely rural.

Workers involved with the Civilian Conservation Corps, Works Progress Administration and Civil Works Administration job-creation programs during the Great Depresssion were responsible for a lot of park development.

“Today, the park is a key part of our community. I can't imagine living here without it,” Steele said.

Rabold and Steele hope the presentation will help raise public awareness of local history.

“Photos don't do any good just sitting in a photo cabinet,” Rabold said.

The fun is peeking at them from time to time and retelling the stories that go with them.

“Debby has worked so much with Franklin Park residents to capture their stories and recollections,” Steele said. “She wraps personal stories in the photos to bring history to life.”

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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