Moraine State Park is named for the glacial moraines that cover its land. The moraines were formed at the conclusion of the Last glacial period, a time when glaciers covered much of North America. A tongue of the glacier reached into Pennsylvania and, as the ice receded, left deposits of gravel, sand and clay. These created a landscape of gently rolling hills.
Nearby historic structures also include Old Stone House, an historic tavern and trading stop that has been turned into a museum by Slippery Rock University. McConnell's Mill is a rustic early American grist mill and central attraction at neighboring McConnell's Mill State Park.
Farmers cleared the land of trees and drained the swamps, but farming was difficult due to the glacial till beneath the shallow soil. Other settlers turned to the natural resources left behind by the glaciers and mined sand and gravel deposits. Limestone and clay mines were opened in the area; shale was discovered and was mined, as well as bituminous coal. Coal mining was a profitable enterprise and seven coal beds were deep mined and later strip mined. Later still, wells were drilled to extract oil and natural gas from deep within the Earth. When the mines were cleared and the wells tapped out, the land was left barren. Since the mines were left uncapped, the topsoil eroded from the land.
The rebirth of the land in and surrounding Moraine State Park can be tied to the efforts of one man, Frank W. Preston, who moved to nearby Meridian in 1926. He had emigrated from England to establish a glass research lab. In addition to his work with glass, Preston was also an geologist and naturalist. On a trip to the Muddy Creek Valley he noticed that despite the barren landscape that had been left by the oil wells and strip mines, the valley had a rich natural history of moraines. Preston worked to form the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which purchased the land that became Moraine State Park, recreated the glacial landscape and preserved open spaces. Muddy Creek was dammed to form Lake Arthur.
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy worked with the state to reclaim the land. The mines were sealed, over 400 oil and gas wells were capped, and the land that had been stripped was covered again with back fill, and graded to resemble its former condition. The soil was specially treated with fertilizer to allow for the growth of thousands of trees, shrubs and grasses. Lake Arthur was completed in 1970 with the opening of Moraine State Park on May 23, 1970.