Parks Township, Pennsylvania Parks Township, Pennsylvania Parks Township, Pennsylvania Parks Township, Pennsylvania Parks Township, Pennsylvania
About Parks Township

History of Parks Township


Prior to settlement of the land, Indians roamed the region.  Delaware Indians frequented the Riverview area.  Numerous Indian relics including weapons and tools have been found.  Following reduction of strife with the Indians, settlers came to the area in greater numbers.  A catalyst in the reduction of strife was Conrad Weiser, one of Pennsylvania’s most noted travelers for journeys throughout Pennsylvania from 1737 to 1748 to explore, make contact and negotiate treaties with the Native Americans.  His most famous and final journey was in 1748 from Paxtang (Harrisburg) to Logtown (now the site of Ambridge) to “brighten the chain of friendship” with the western Indians, but was primarily to claim the Ohio and Allegheny country for the English Colonies.  His party traveled on the Kiskiminetas Path, also known as Traders Path – an old trail, along which many Indian towns existed, that ran from the Allegheny River near the New Kensington and Tarentum area, through Parks Township and crossing the Kiski River.  “Kiskiminetas Old Town” was a Delaware Indian town across the river from Carnahan run at the site where Peter LeFevre later ran his ferry for traders and settlers from 1800-1825.  The site currently houses a Bowling alley and Drive-In Theatre.


Parks Township was named for Robert Parks who settled the land in 1814.  Incorporated in 1878, Parks Township, along with Bethel and Gilpin Townships, was formed out of the obsolete Allegheny Township of Armstrong County.  His original purchase was 400 acres from the Alexanders in 1818, who had bought from John Montgomery in 1807.   Mr. Montgomery was the original owner and first called the area a “Farmer’s Delight”.  A patented land grant by that name issued by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania exists and is dated March 4, 1773.  Robert Parks later added another 250 acres.  In 1858, Robert Parks died at the age of 90.  He is buried on a private plot on his acreage.  The old barn, built in 1835, is still in use today.  Parks served in the Revolutionary Army and came to the area in a covered ox-drawn wagon with his wife and six children.  The original ox yoke is still on the farm.


The Parks farm originally operated as a dairy known as Farmer’s Delight Dairy.  Milk was delivered by a boatman who rowed across the Kiski River to the first customer, Thomas W. McCausland, who was then part owner of the Hyde Park Foundry.  The first pasteurizing plant in the community was added to the farm in 1944.  The dairy closed in the 1970’s and is now the site of Parks Bend Industrial Park, an expanding state of the art industrial park and business incubator.


Early settlers included Stitt, Hill, Foster, Guthrie, Heckman, Altman, Shaner, Kepple, McIntire, Lanning, Kearney, Greenberry, Wilson, Painter, Girt, Wyant, Gourley, and Crosby.  Descendants of these early families can be found living in the township today.  Early pioneer families lived in log cabins and were largely self-sufficient.  Family farms produced the food and agricultural products to be traded for needed goods and services.  Clothing was produced on home looms.  The women frequently walked barefoot to church in Leechburg and stopped outside to put on their stockings and shoes.


The best-known gristmill in the state was established along Carnahan’s Run by Stitt in 1818.  The building was constructed of logs and used water from the stream for power.  The mill had two burrs, one to grind cattle feed and the other to grind flour.  These grinding stones were purchased in France, shipped to Baltimore and transported to the site over the mountains by ox team.  John Stitt’s sons, Levi and Frantz, built the second mill on that site in 1847 and it operated until it was destroyed by the flood of 1880.  The Stitt’s had such a good reputation that the phrase “as good as wheat in Stitt’s Mill” was used across the country to denote quality and integrity.


A township landmark was the Klingensmith’s store started by Josiah W. Klingensmith on his farm in 1874.  Wagons were used for purchase of farm products and the delivery of goods from the general store.  Delivery was made to families living in Parks, Gilpin, Kiskiminetas, and Bethel Townships.  A post office was established in the store in 1881.  Two names were proposed, Dime and Egg, with Dime being selected.  Mr. Klingensmith was the first postmaster.  In President Cleveland’s second term, Amos Altman was appointed as postmaster.  The store was later operated by his two sons, John A. and Frank W., his son Paul, and a partner Elmer G. Vantine.  Three generations of the family were involved in the continual operation of the store for 76 years.


Levi Stitt was a master mechanic who worked first for the Apollo Iron & Steel Company and later for the American Sheet and Tin Plate Company.  He was instrumental in the erection of the Vandergrift Mill.  As a young boy, he walked barefoot to see the turning of the great wheels and the opening of the Rogers & Burchfield Mill in Leechburg.   John R. Long was the company engineer.


There were many coal mines in the region which provided employment for a number of workers.  The importance of the coal mines, coke production, and steel making in the regional economy began to be downsized by the 1950’s.


The first school in Parks Township was located on a branch of Carnahan’s run in 1812.  The first teachers were John Criswell and Samuel Taggart.  Another school was near St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on the eastern branch of Carnahan’s run.  Townsend Adams was its teacher in early days.  Parks Township is “famous” for having the first graded school in this section of the county.  As far back as 1866 there was a schoolhouse near Stitt’s Mill, also known as “Laurel Point”, from being on an elevated location just at the edge of the stretch of table-land.  The directors, having been petitioned to build another school in a distant part of the township, decided to double the capacity of the one here by building another room and grading the school.  The township citizens did not appreciate their foresight and took them to court.  However, the court very justly decided in the director’s favor.  Parks Township, while located in Armstrong County, is presently part of the Kiski Area School District, which is located in Westmoreland County.


William Hill, one of the township’s outstanding citizens, taught school at the Hill School for many years.  He was the grandson of Jacob Hill who settled in Parks Township in 1837.  Jacob Hill was a member of the State Assembly.  He rode horseback to Greensburg and then took the stagecoach to Harrisburg to attend sessions.


The St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, better known as Highfield, was organized in 1871.  The original building was extensively repaired in 1908 and a Sunday School was added in 1930.  A Parish Hall was constructed in 1949.  A new church was built at the intersection of Dime Road (Alt. Route 66) and Airport Road in 1991.  Another early church in the township was the Morning Star Baptist Church, located in the Village of Kiskimere, and chartered in 1918 with 18 members.


Laurel View Cemetery, more familiarly known as Stitt’s Cemetery, is located on land set aside by the Stitt heirs.  Shaeffer’s, Porter’s, Kepple’s, and Wonders are other old cemeteries in the township.  Graves of the founders, early settlers, and veterans of early and current wars are found in these cemeteries.  Three very old cemeteries also exist along Ridge Road, Piper Hill Road (near the old site of the Highfield Church) and in Riverview.


The Laurel Point Grange was organized in 1890.  Such organizations played a very important role in the early social life of the area.  The Laurel Point is still active today.


The towpath of the Pennsylvania Canal ran along or on what is now Route 66 from above Apollo to Leechburg.  A dam at Leechburg had water backed up the entire length of the Kiski River past Parks Township to the North Apollo area.  In 1906, after trains replaced the canal as the main method of transportation, an “electric railway” – the trolley- was established.  A trolley line operated from Leechburg to Apollo following the seven-mile level along the old towpath of the Pennsylvania canal or seven miles connecting Leechburg to Apollo through North Vandergrift, presently Route 66.  The trolley remained a major link for travelers until well after the depression, when the automobile became the primary means of transportation.


Riverview and Keppel Hill combined residential community was established about 1912 on the Susan Keppel farm.  The Keppel family name was later changed to Kepple thru popular use.  This farm was located on the Elderton tract and was deeded and signed by the then Mayor of New York in 1794.  It was then purchased and has remained in the Keppel family since that date.  Today the community has about 250 homes, a fire company and two churches.  George McMurty tried to purchase the William Keppel farm, establish his steel mill and build his town on this farm situated on the land known as Kepple Hill and Riverview.  Keppel was offered $50,000.00 but felt he could not keep his family secure on that amount but knew he could if he kept farming.  McMurty then purchased land across the river and built the present site of Vandergrift.


North Vandergrift was built up as a steel worker’s town in 1904.  The people crossed the Kiski River to the mill in Vandergrift via a pontoon footbridge, until a larger bridge was built in 1933, connecting the towns.  In 1905, Thomas J. Rowley established a grocery and general store in North Vandergrift, which is still operated by his descendants today.


Gilbert K. Myers brought the airplane to Leechburg.  Drafted into the Air Corps in World War I, he purchased an airplane and flew it from Betties Field in Allegheny County to a large tract of ground on a hill in Parks Township.  Two years later he purchased a Curtis airplane and started the Leechburg Airport.  He provided a passenger and sight-seeing service, and student instruction at the site. In 1940 and 1941, student pilots of World War I flew here.  In 1946, Myers opened a flying school to train pilots under the Veterans GI Bill.  The school was later expanded to include aircraft engine and mechanics training.  The airport closed in the 1970’s.


In 1995 the new Township Community Building, located in North Vandergrift, was completed.  The building provided for the operations of the Tax Collector, the Township Secretary and the Police Department, plus a public meeting room.  The building was constructed entirely by a volunteer workforce and donations. 


Today much of the township still exists as rich farmland interspersed with small communities and new home developments.