Nestled in the scenic hills of Lawrence County, McConnells Mill is a paradigm of beauty and solitude for Pennsylvania natives and visitors alike. This state park is filled with endless natural wonders, including waterfalls, breath-taking overlooks, and a variety of trails perfect for hiking. And because of its close proximity to Pittsburgh (only 40 miles outside of the city), McConnells Mill makes a perfect day trip for families and friends interested in packing a picnic basket and taking in the sights of Pennsylvania’s beauty as well as participating in some outdoor fun.
Before nature-lovers and hiking aficionados first set foot in this park, McConnells Mill was formed by the gradual melting of huge glacial lakes that eventually created a massive gorge and numerous valleys, housing endless, majestic boulders beneath their watery surfaces. It was hundreds of years later that the settlers of this area began to harness the power of this outstanding land. In 1852, local Daniel Kennedy built the very first gristmill on Slippery Rock Creek, which was used to grind and supply grain for the local community’s breads and baked goods. When a fire wrecked havoc on the mill a few years later, Kennedy rebuilt in 1868.
However, changing technologies and new age equipment caused Thomas McConnell (now the park’s namesake) to take over the gristmill in 1875 and implement a more modern design, replacing the old waterwheel with a water turbine and the heavy grinding stones with various rolling mills. Such advances put McConnells Mill on the map as it was one of the first rolling mills in the United States, and it supplied corn, oat, and a diverse array of wheat for the local population just as Kennedy’s mill did years before.
As time passed, McConnell’s Mill soon became unable to compete with the new age of technology and production, causing the mill to close in 1928 due to poor profit and archaic design. Nevertheless, local civic leader, Thomas H Hartman, decided to take steps to conserve this historical site and natural phenomenon in 1946 when he conveyed the land to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (and later the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) in order to preserve it for future generations to enjoy. Such a wish was taken to heart as McConnells Mill States Park was formally dedicated in October 1957, and more than 50 years later the mill still attracts endless tourists and locals alike to take in the sites, sounds, and history of this remarkable place.
With its fascinating history, formation and beauty, there is no wonder why natives and visitors alike flock to this lovely spot year round to take part in what Mother Nature has created.
For those interested in hiking, McConnells Mill offers 11.2 miles of scenic trails fit for novices and experts alike. Among the more difficult trails, the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail is filled with plenty of hills to climb and slopes to scale, as it features Hell Run Valley, the broad floodplain of the Walnut Flats, and the Eckert Bridge. And for those just starting out, McConnells Mill also features easier trials, more akin to beginners. Hell’s Hollow Trail is a breezy pathway that features beautiful Hells Hollow Falls and various smooth paths. After working up an appetite, head over to the Kildoo Picnic Area where you can enjoy a nice lunch overlooking the scenery that McConnells Mill has to offer. This area also features a open air field that encourages visitors to use for recreational activities, such as a kickball game. Other physical activities the park has to offer include Whitewater Boating, fishing, and climbing.
The Covered Bridge & Historic Mill
One of the most interesting yet unassuming elements of the park includes the red covered bridge. Built using the Howe Truss Design, this bridge gives visitors a peek into the architecture of yesteryear, filled with charming wood and red paint that spans 91 feet. In terms of its history, the bridge was built in 1874 and is still open to vehicular and foot traffic. The bridge also serves as an access point to the mill. For those interested, guided tours are provided so that guests are able to learn about the history of the area and the gristmill. There are multiple interactive portions of the tour including an industrial grain scale that guests can weigh themselves on and pelts of local wildlife that children can feel.