Around 1855, local landowner Henry Bockstoce built a school on what is now Academy Avenue. After the Civil War, the building became a dance hall and skating rink, making it Mt. Lebanon’s first “rec center.”
In 1898, John Hallam established the first Beadling soccer team as an outlet for the coal miners who lived in the area. Nine years later, on July 4, 1907, a group of local golfers, equipped with lawn mowers, scythes and rakes, gathered at the George Smith farm and built a golf course, which became the Castle Shannon Golf Course the next year.
An April 1909, a South Hills News article reported the “Mt. Lebanon A.C. will open baseball season on May 1 on the home grounds at McKnight Park,” which was located opposite Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church. The ball field included a small grandstand.
In 1912, the Mt. Lebanon Country Club opened along Bower Hill Road between Kenmont and Coolidge avenues. It offered a nine-hole golf course, a clubhouse and tennis courts, which when the mercury dropped below freezing, were flooded and used as ice rinks. At this time, the most popular winter sledding course was down Cedar Boulevard from Washington Road to Cochran Road—and then climbing back up the hill to do it again. Summer became a lot more fun in the 1930s, when Mt. Lebanon’s first pool, built as a Works Progress Administration project, opened.
Indeed, sports and recreation have always been a part of Mt. Lebanon’s history, although most of the activities mentioned above were considered fun pastimes and not sports. Before cars, TVs and computers, no one needed a gym—kids walked everywhere, and there was farm work to do.
In 1949, just a year after the municipality purchased the nine-hole Castle Shannon Golf Course (on which 24,000 rounds are now played every year), the idea of building a local ice rink was first tendered. But the idea was voted down in a public referendum. By 1970, however, interest had mounted, and studies supported the economic viability of such a project. Still, there was furious controversy as elected officials debated the cost and size before settling on a single complex with community rooms, an ice rink and a new swimming pool. The facility, paid for by general obligation bonds of $4.1 million, opened in 1977.
Every year, thousands attend rec center programs and classes—in 2011, nearly 70,000 people used the ice center, and pool attendance was just over 54,000. Combine the recreation department’s programs with those of the school district and you get a wide variety of activities for all ages and abilities, including team sports—from soccer and lacrosse to baseball and paddle tennis—and programs designed to keep bodies fit and minds alert.
Keeping minds alert was behind the 1932 venture to create Mt. Lebanon’s first public library. Members of the Lions Club and the Boy Scouts worked together to collect about 6,000 books from residents that were then housed in space donated by the fire department on the second floor of the municipal building. In its first year, circulation was 30,162. But by 1961, the library had outgrown its space, and voters approved a referendum for a $315,000 bond issue to build a new facility on Castle Shannon Boulevard. The new building, completed in 1964, underwent a $4 million renovation between 1995 and 1997, which more than doubled its size. In 2011, the library’s circulation was 531,098.
Public and private partnerships, like the one that launched the library, have contributed to the wide-ranging, affordable recreational opportunities that draw families to Mt. Lebanon. Consider the tennis story. From just one playable court 50 years ago, the tennis center, which has twice won the coveted USTA Outstanding Facilities Award, now has 15 courts, eight of them lighted, and in the winter six courts are under bubbles, permitting year-round play. Under a unique arrangement, the municipality operates the courts in summer and the private, nonprofit Indoor Tennis for Mt. Lebanon, founded in 1967, operates the six bubbles in winter. In 1994, a 4,000-square-foot tennis building opened; it houses a pro shop, lounge, multipurpose room and maintenance area.
Cooperation among various groups is not limited to tennis. Though at one time sports boosters competed actively for limited funding and field space, today various sports associations work together to promote organized athletics and the sharing of facilities. Groups such as Aqua Club, Mt. Lebanon Baseball Association, Mt. Lebanon Soccer Association, the Blue Devil Club, Parents Athletic Association and the Youth Sports Alliance offer financial support, put fans in the stands to root for the teams and work closely with the municipality and school district to troubleshoot space needs problems and plan for the future.
That cooperation is evidenced when it comes to unorganized and passive recreation in Mt. Lebanon, thanks to the Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy and the Parks Advisory Board. Whether families are looking for a place to picnic, a playground, a nature walk or a class about bird watching, these organizations help ensure that Mt. Lebanon’s remaining green space is preserved and shared. But the relatively harmonious attitude that exists today toward recreation did not come easily—the prospect of building a soccer field in Bird Park, off Beadling Road, set off a controversy that rocked the community in the 1980s. As soccer became more popular, playing fields had become scarcer. The issue was not whether another field was needed; the debate centered on its location and whether it was necessary to radically change the nature preserve that Bird Park represented. Those opposing the field filed a number of injunctions and two lengthy lawsuits grew out of the dispute. An amicable resolution finally was reached in 1985 when both sides agreed that a soccer field and a nature area could successfully coexist in Bird Park’s 40 acres.
As Mt. Lebanon’s centennial approached, the need for more fields continued to be an issue. Starting in the 1970s, more girls began playing team sports, and today it is difficult to find a child who is not involved in some team sport activity. Mt. Lebanon, however, has few options in regards to space for new fields and over the last decade several options have been explored to remedy the dearth while new ideas continue to be proposed. If history is any indicator, Mt. Lebanon will find a solution that makes everyone happy