Clio Logo

      The small island on Marshall Lake provides an oasis of calm and a great opportunity to see some of the most spectacular birds the park plays host to, including the Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, and Osprey. This lake provides a unique aquatic environment for both the flora and fauna, but it wasn’t created for that purpose. Marshall Lake was created between 1933 and 1935 to provide water to North Park’s golf course, buildings, and fire hydrants. Over that time two New Deal programs took part in the work, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Civil Works Administration. Following the completion of Lake Marshall, the New Deal’s Public Works Administration would help complete the water service project by constructing both the Filtration Plant on the lake’s edge and the Standpipe holding tank on North Ridge Drive.

Photo from the Pittsburgh Press on April 26, 1935

Black and white image of a lake, one inset picture shows a group of men planting shrubs, the second shows men standing on a series of rock steps with water cascading over them. Title of photo reads "Steps in the Development of North Park's Man-Made Lake. Description below the photo reads "Lake Marshall, in North Park is nearing completion as workmen level the sweeps of green about it and plant shrubbery along its expanse of 14 acres. The new body of water is shown above skirting the golf course. The work is being done under supervision of W.P. Anderson, park custodian. In the insert at left are men setting shrubbery. The right insert shows a closeup of the spillway."

Lake Marshall Spillway on May 6, 1937

Black and white image depicts a series of stone steps with water cascading over them, leading to a stone-walled stretch of creek. In the background there are mature trees and a large planting site of newer trees on a nearby hill.

Lake Marshall on May 6, 1937

Black and white photo of a lake, taken from a nearby hill. There is a small island at the center, connected to the shore by a small footbridge. On the distant shore is a stone building.

Lake Marshall Spillway on July 7, 2019

White water cascades down a series of steps from a lake into a stream. The banks on both sides are full of green trees and other plants.

The area that became North Park was dotted with farmhouses in the years leading up to the park’s formal opening on June 18, 1927. The water supply needs of a rural farming area differs greatly from the Peoples Country Club that Allegheny County had in mind for North Park. In order to keep the golf course green in top playing shape it would need an adequate water supply throughout the year. Fire hydrants and water lines were needed to protect the park’s office, residences, picnic shelters, and forest from the threat of fire. Thus, plans were drawn up to create a dam on North Fork Pine Creek, just north of the present-day Park Administration Building.

In June of 1933 the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph reported that the North Park Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) “recruits are clearing 14 acres of ground along Pine Creek, where the county will build a dam, one of two authorized by the United States Government.”1 The CCC workers had a very short commute to this worksite, as they were living in CCC Camp SP-1 within the park boundaries, off of Wildwood Road.

Later that year, in December 1933, another New Deal program stepped in to construct a small dam at the same site the CCC had cleared. The State Administrator of the Civil Works Administration (CWA), which had already started work on Pearce Mill Road earlier that month, approved the 33 jobs needed for constructing the dam on December 14, 1933. Work on the “smaller dam, erected to provide pure water for the park golf courses, fire stations and other park areas” was said to be nearing completion by that autumn.2

Allegheny County Parks Director A.M. Marion praised the work of the CWA in the 1933 Annual Report, writing that “Many improvements were started in the County Parks under grants of the Civil Works Administration of Pennsylvania.” “North Park improvements included the erection of buildings to house equipment, building 500 picnic tables, 50 outside toilets, constructing nearly 1,500 feet of rustic barrier, rebuilding Pearce Mill Road and building a dam near Pearce Mill Road and McKinney Road to provide water for the Golf Course and fire hydrants.”3

Unlike the CCC, CWA workers were drawn from unemployed men in the local area. President Roosevelt established the CWA by Executive order on November 9, 1933 to “provide work at regular wages for 4,000,000 unemployed persons in as short a time as possible, thereby stimulating purchasing power both directly through earnings and indirectly by the purchase of materials for the projects.”4 CWA employment on local work projects was discontinued by the end of March 1934. It is possible that the work on Lake Marshall was completed by County employees, but the available records at this time do not provide enough detail to confirm that. According to the 1934 Annual Report of the Parks Department, “Work was started and approximately 80 percent completed on a Dam at the intersection of the McKinney and Pearce Mill Roads, which will give us a fourteen acre lake area and an ample supply of suitable water for the Golf Course, as well as greater protection for our service, office and other buildings in case of fire. Water lines were laid to these buildings and fire hydrants installed.”5

The dam spillway was designed as a series of natural stone steps, creating a beautiful water feature that is visible to this day at the south end of Marshall Lake. By April 26, 1935 the Pittsburgh Press published a photo showing the completed spillway, ongoing shrub planting by workers under the supervision of the park custodian, and announcing that “Lake Marshall, in North Park, is nearing completion as workmen level the sweeps of green about it and plant shrubbery along its expanse of 14 acres.”6

The winter of 1935 saw the first skaters take to the ice on Lake Marshall, which would become a popular winter pastime for area residents for decades to come. Fishing, however, was forbidden on Lake Marshall. According to the Pittsburgh Press in the spring of 1937 it was stocked with bluegills, catfish, and yellow perch in order to serve as a fish nursery for the newer and larger North Park Lake downstream. That lake was created by another New Deal program, the Public Works Administration (PWA), through Federal Administration of Public Works Project number 9616. Once Lake Marshall was completed, the PWA would start the construction of the Filtration Plant, which would draw its water from Lake Marshall, and the large water storage tank called the Standpipe Observation Tower by the North Park Lodge, through PWA Project number PA-1422.


1. “North Park Forest Boys Clearing Site for Dam,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, July 12, 1933,

2. “Plans for Lake in North Park Again Studied,” Pittsburgh Press, November 17, 1934,

3.  A.M. Marion, “Department of Parks and Aviation”, in 1933 Annual Report of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh: Board of County Commissioners, 1934), 566.

4. Pamela Brown, Analysis of Civil Works Program Statistics (Washington, D.C.: Works Progress Administration, 1939), 5.

5. A.M. Marion, “Department of Parks and Aviation”, in 1934 Annual Report of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh: Board of County Commissioners, 1935), 414.

6. “Steps in the Development of North Park’s Man-Made Lake,” Pittsburgh Press, April 26, 1935.

Additional Sources

“Bucher Fired, CWA Prober Declares,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, December 15, 1933.

“John G. Mock, “Outdoors Questions,” Pittsburgh Press, April 11, 1937.

“Lake Marshall Open for Skating,” Pittsburgh Press, December 24, 1935.

“Plans for Lake in North Park Again Studied,” Pittsburgh Press, November 17, 1934.

“School Board May Get Jobs for Hundreds,” Pittsburgh Press, December 3, 1933.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Pittsburgh Press, April 26, 1935

Allegheny County Photographers Austen & Hefelfinger, "3251-North Park-Marshall Lake-Rip-Rap Slope Wall & Spillway," May 6, 1937, Allegheny County Parks Records

Allegheny County Photographers Austen & Hefelfinger, "3249-North Park-Marshall Lake," May 6, 1937, provided by Northland Public Library

Allegheny County Park Ranger McManus, "20190707_190115523_iOS," July 7, 2019, Allegheny County Parks Department Files