Recreation Park (Pittsburgh)

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Recreation Park
Former names Union Park, 3A Park, Pittsburgh Coliseum
Location Allegheny City, PA (pre-1907)
Pittsburg, PA[1] (1907-1911)
Pittsburgh, PA (post-1911)
Coordinates 40°27′17″N 80°01′07″W / 40.4547°N 80.0186°W / 40.4547; -80.0186Coordinates: 40°27′17″N 80°01′07″W / 40.4547°N 80.0186°W / 40.4547; -80.0186
Capacity 17,000
Surface Grass
Pittsburgh Enterprises, Xanthas and Olympics (circa. 1876–circa. 1887)
Pittsburgh Allegheny (IA) (1877-1878)
Pittsburgh Alleghenys (AA) (1884–1886)
Pittsburgh Alleghenys (NL) (1887-1890)
Western University of Pennsylvania (1898–1904)
Pittsburgh Stars (NFL) (1902)
Official name First Professional Football Game
Designated November 3, 1992[2]
Recreation Park on 1893 map

Recreation Park was a sporting grounds and stadium located in what is today Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The stadium existed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During the park's heyday, the location was considered to be within Allegheny City, but in 1907, the entire municipality was annexed by its larger neighbor and eventually became Pittsburgh's North Side.

The field was the first National League home for the Pittsburgh Pirates (at the time referred to as the Alleghenys)[3] of Major League Baseball. It also hosted many football games of the University of Pittsburgh (at the time referred to as the Western University of Pennsylvania) of the NCAA. In November 1892, the park was the location of the first known American football game that included a professional player.

There are no known pictures of the grounds situated in its baseball stadium format,[4] though some newspaper photos of later football games played there do survive.


Known prior to 1885 as Union Park,[5] the stadium had an early capacity of 2,500,[3] and was later expanded with wooden grandstands to allow up to 17,000 spectators.[6] After the Alleghenys moved a few blocks south in 1890, the main tenant became the Allegheny Athletic Association, and the grounds would eventually be referred to as 3A Park. Beyond the turn of the 20th century, it was called the Pittsburgh Coliseum, in line with the cycling phase. The park was located within the blocks of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, and Grant (now Galveston) Avenues and Boquet (now Behan) Street. In 2001, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates built stadiums not far from this site.


In the late 1860s and early 70s, no less than three local amateur baseball teams—the Enterprise Club, the Xanthas, and the Olympics—competed, most often at Union Park. In 1876 a professional Allegheny club played its first game against the Xantha club at Union Park, winning 7-3.[3] This club lasted for three years, playing mostly other squads from the northeast within the International Association, but occasionally taking on National League teams in exhibition games. One long remembered match took place in early May, 1877, when Pud Galvin both threw a shutout and hit a home run for the only score in a 1-0 game against the Boston Red Stockings. The 1882-organized Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the American Association moved from Exposition Park II to Union Park in 1884. .[7] The team posted a record of 18–37 at home that season, finishing 11th in the league.[8] In 1887, owner William A. Nimick transferred the club into the National League,[6] and on April 30, the Alleghenies defeated the Chicago White Stockings by a score of 6–2 in front of 10,000 spectators. This was the first officially recognized contest of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise by the team.[9] Legend has it that, prior to that opening game of the 1887 season, Pittsburgh's catcher Fred Carroll buried his pet monkey beneath home plate.[6] Also during that season, a local businessman by the name of Walter Brown organized what would be an early attempt of a league for black ball players, with his Pittsburgh Keystones taking up residence at the park.
In 1891, after the collapse of the Pittsburgh Burghers baseball franchise and the Players' League, the Alleghenys moved to the third incarnation of Exposition Park, which had been constructed for the Burghers.[4]

1899 WUP team at Recreation Park


On November 12, 1892, the Allegheny Athletic Association football team hosted a game here against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. The Allegheny Athletic Association won the game, which was the first in professional football.[10] The team had hired Pudge Heffelfinger, an all-American guard from Yale, for $500.[11] Decades later the Pro Football Hall of Fame discovered a page torn from an 1892 account ledger prepared by Allegheny manager, O. D. Thompson, that included the line item: "Game performance bonus to W. Heffelfinger for playing (cash) $500."[12]

In 1902, a Pirates-backed football team, the Pittsburgh Stars of the first National Football League, played all of its home games at the field. The Stars would go on to win the league's only championship against the Philadelphia Athletics, by a score of 11-0, at the field.[13] The Western University of Pennsylvania (WUP) football team played their first game of the 1898 season at Recreation Park, defeating Westminster 5–0.[14] Though WUP did play some games at Exposition Park as early as 1900,[15] games were still hosted at Recreation Park until the University signed an exclusive contract with Exposition Park in 1904.[16]

Part of ca.1883 Barnum's newspaper advertisement


Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss secured a lease on the park in 1901 as a preventative measure to keep the upstart American League from establishing a competing baseball franchise in Pittsburgh. Hoping also to profit from the grounds, Dreyfuss put in a modern bicycle track to be used for motor-paced races featuring the stars of the sport.[17] Baseball umpire and boxing referee Tim Hurst was manager of the facility,[3] which opened in May 1902 under a name variously spelled as "Colosseum" or "Coliseum." The track was a smooth wooden oval with 20-foot-high bankings and encompassed a multipurpose field. Surrounding the track was newly built seating for 7,000 spectators, comprising two covered grandstands—one each on the north and south sides—and open bleachers.[18] The venture was not long in proving a failure: Cycling did not catch on as a spectator sport, and the stadium's alternative use as a football venue was less than lucrative.[17] No longer fearing an invasion by an opposition baseball team,[19] Dreyfuss let the lease expire in April 1904. The track was torn down and the grounds turned back over to the owners.[17]

Other Uses[edit]

Beyond simply major sporting events, the park often also doubled as a venue for circuses, carnivals, various ethnic and holiday celebrations, and track meets. Prior to the evolution of the Exposition grounds for major gatherings, Union Park was a main local gathering place, sitting immediately next to the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway, that could easily and closely accommodate large crowds for exhibitors. Popular national figures such as Adam Forepaugh and P. T. Barnum would often hold their shows here, spending often up to three days located at the park before moving off to other, more typical one night shows in smaller towns.

Recreation Park has a reference in the city directory as late as 1914, but the open land was soon covered over by various industrial buildings, since the early 1900s.


  1. ^ In 1891 the United States Board on Geographic Names forced the city of Pittsburgh to undergo a controversial name change by having them drop the "h" at the end of the name, making the city's official name until it was able to get the "h" restored in 1911.
  2. ^ "PHMC Historical Markers Search" (Searchable database). Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 2015-06-18. 
  3. ^ a b c d Lieb, Frederick (1948). The Pittsburgh Pirates. New York: GP Putnam's Sons reprinted 2003 by Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0-8093-2492-X. 
  4. ^ a b Finoli, David; Bill Ranier (2003). The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia. United States: Sports Publishing L.L.C. pp. 485–6. ISBN 1-58261-416-4. 
  5. ^ "The Pittsburghs". Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette. March 5, 1885. p. 6. 
  6. ^ a b c "Exposition Park". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 2006-07-11. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  7. ^ "Pittsburgh Pirates Attendance, Stadiums and Park Factors". Pittsburgh Pirates. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  8. ^ "1884 Pittsburg Alleghenys". Pittsburgh Pirates. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  9. ^ "1887-1900". Pirates Timeline. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  10. ^ "Nov. 12: Birth of pro football". Pro Football History. Retrieved 2008-08-22. 
  11. ^ The Birth of Pro Football Pro Football Researchers Association
  12. ^ National Football League NFL History
  13. ^ Carroll, Bob (1980). "Dave Berry and the Philadelphia Story" (PDF). Coffin Corner (Professional Football Researchers Association) 2 (Annual): 1–9. 
  14. ^ Western University of Pennsylvania. "Foot Ball.". Western University courant 14 (1): 27. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  15. ^ Western University of Pennsylvania. "Athletics". Western University courant 16 (2): 46. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  16. ^ Alberts, Robert C. (1986). Pitt: The Story of the University of Pittsburgh, 1787-1987. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 65. ISBN 0-8229-1150-7. 
  17. ^ a b c "The Colosseum Track Will Be Destroyed". The Pittsburgh Gazette. 8 April 1904. p. 9. 
  18. ^ "The New Bicycle Track". The Pittsburg Post. 19 May 1902. p. 6. 
  19. ^ "Dreyfuss' Doings" (PDF). Sporting Life 42 (7): 2. 31 October 1903.  (See also "Pittsburg Points" on the same page.)

External links[edit]

  • Flickr album with various photos of the park in its "Colosseum" phase
Preceded by
Exposition Park II
Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates
Succeeded by
Exposition Park III
Preceded by
Exposition Park III
Home of the Pittsburgh Panthers
Succeeded by
Exposition Park III