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History of Hillman State Park

Settlement in this region was limited due to continued conflicts between the settlers and Native Americans. Settlements in this area were frequently attacked over land ownership disputes. Many settlers built forts consisting of a central structure surrounded by a stockade for protection.

Matthew Dillow settled the land along Dilloe Run in the northern edge of the park and along with other settlers built Dillow’s Fort in 1779. This fort, as well as Fort Dugan located six miles north in what is now Raccoon Creek State Park, was built along a Native American path that ran north and south through this area.

During an attack on the fort in 1782, Matthew Dillow was killed. Peaceful occupation of the region did not occur until the end of the 1700s with much of the area devoted to farming.

During the 1880s, the abundant mineral resources were discovered and many farmers gave up agriculture for a more prosperous opportunity. The first gas wells in this area were drilled by the Citizens Fuel Company.

In 1885, oil was discovered near the center of the park and the boomtown of Five Points was born. A significant portion of the Florence-Five Points Oil Field is located under Hillman State Park and was once one of the most prolific oil fields in southwestern Pennsylvania.

More than 170 oil wells were drilled in the park by the South Penn Oil Company, most of which are now abandoned. Currently, there are 28 active wells owned by the Cassidy Oil Company of Florence.

During 1914, John A. Bell began strip mining for coal in a small area within the park. J.R. Elec operated a 17-acre deep mine during the 1920s along the southern edge of the park.

Harmon Creek Coal Corporation

The nearby Florence Mine was purchased in 1928 by the Harmon Creek Coal Corporation, and, during 1932, the company began purchasing the land that is now the state park. This was the largest bituminous coal strip mine in Pennsylvania with more than 15 million tons of coal removed by 1968.

Private roads used to haul coal were constructed and maintained by the company, some of which can still be seen today and are used to access the park. Following World War II, augers were used for mining and the former village of Five Points was eliminated during these mining operations.

The Harmon Creek Coal Corporation considered reclamation as an integral part of coal mining and began conservation practices in 1937, well before the practice became law. The first statute passed in Harrisburg requiring only partial restoration was in 1945.

The company’s conservation department pioneered the restoration of strip mined lands by restoring spoil banks into useful purposes. Two years prior to an area being strip mined, restoration plans were made and included:

  • Reusing stockpiled topsoil
  • Contouring the land
  • Adding fertilizer
  • Planting a cover crop

They operated a nursery that provided 30,000 pine, oak, ash, larch, chestnut, and multiflora rose seedlings each year. By the late 1960s, more than two million trees were planted in the southern end of the park and grasses, clover, and vetch were planted in the northern and western sections.

In addition, the company’s wildlife program includes developing food plots of corn, sorghum, and sunflowers, stocking of pheasants for hunting, and stocking fish in the lakes and ponds.

Conservation of a State Park

During 1969, this property became a state park when James F. Hillman, president of Harmon Creek Coal Corporation, donated 3,654 acres of land to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for outdoor recreational purposes. At that time, the donation was reported to be the largest single land gift for a state park in the country and was valued at more than one million dollars.

As part of the planning process for Hillman State Park, an Operation Scarlift Report was completed due to known abandoned mine drainage problems that existed on the site. Operation Scarlift was part of the Land and Water Conservation and Reclamation Fund authorized in 1967 for the elimination of land and water scars created by past coal mining practices.

From 1970 through 1977, the Department of Environmental Resources, now DCNR, spent $1.7 million to complete reclamation projects including filling, grading, erosion control, soil treatment with fly ash, and additional plantings at Hillman State Park.

Model Airplane Field

During 1949, an engineering student from the University of Pittsburgh asked James F. Hillman for a place to fly model airplanes. Mr. Hillman contributed a 20-acre fenced area at the southern end of the park with a:

  • Two-section field
  • 200 foot asphalt runway
  • Operations building
  • Public address system

The field was called Hillman’s Model Wing Airport.

This airfield was closed in 1977 and a new airfield was built in the northern end of the park. This new airfield was named after K. Leroy Irvis, aviation and model airplane enthusiast, and a former state representative and Speaker of the House who helped obtain funding for the project.

The model airport includes:

  • Covered shelter
  • Asphalt runways and taxiways
  • Asphalt and grass pit areas
  • Wind sock poles
  • Frequency board
  • Parking area
  • Spectator area

This activity or structure is ADA accessible. The airfield is ADA accessible.

The K. Leroy Irvis Radio Control Model Airport is operated and maintained by the Greater Pittsburgh Aero Radio Control Society, a chartered club of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). All users must

  • Have an FCC license
  • Maintain and display a current AMA membership
  • Preregister with Raccoon Creek State Park to utilize the facility

Contact the Raccoon Creek State Park office at 724-899-2200 for more information and to preregister.

Lyle Covered Bridge

Built during 1887, this 38-foot long, queen post truss bridge is located on Kramer Road and crosses Brush Run at the eastern border of the park. The Lyle Covered Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is owned by Washington County. The bridge is open to vehicles and pedestrians.