The park is named for Fort Ryerson. This fort was constructed by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1792 as a refuge from the raids of the local Native Americans who were resisting the settlement of the Ohio River Valley by the United States. Ownership of the land in this part of Pennsylvania was disputed among several parties including Virginia, Pennsylvania and the Native Americans.
The state acquired the land in 1958. Duke Lake was completed with the construction of a dam in 1960 and finally the park was opened in 1967.