About Me

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Park Owners and Potters Were Traction Magnates

According to the publication, Glass & Pottery World, Volumes 11-12, Rock Springs Park owner C.A. Smith and his brother W.L. Smith of the Taylor Smith and Taylor and McNicol potteries were also “developing rapidly into traction magnates.” In August 1903, the Smith Brothers were granted a franchise by the court at New Cumberland to add a second electric railway line to the one which connected Rock Springs Park to East Liverpool via the Chester Bridge. “The Smith syndicate has announced that it will begin operations forthwith, and states that they expect to have cars running before the year closes."

To the west, potters Joseph G. Lee and W.E. Wells of Newell, West Virginia, along with a grant from the U.S. government, were planning to construct a bridge across the Ohio River (The Newell Bridge) and running their own electric railway line from East Liverpool to their, then secret, industry site in Newell. “The Plans of the Lee syndicate have not been made public, but there is little doubt they have something interesting up their sleeves, as the Newell site has no equal now along the Ohio valley, and would be simply perfect for the location of an immense steel plant, and it is freely rumored that something good in the industrial line is practically assured to Newell.” The “immense plant” would not be for steel but rather the world’s largest pottery plant ever constructed, The Homer Laughlin China Company. Looking to expand and finding no available land in East Liverpool W.E. Wells and Homer Laughlin chose to build Plant 2 across the Ohio River in what is now Newell, West Virginia. The company’s history claims, “The proposed site was farm land, about three miles in length, lying about 50 to 100 feet above the Ohio River.” The location would have access to the railroad, abundant fuel, and improving river navigation. In order to develop the land into a usable industrial site, the Laughlin company created the North American Manufacturing Company to undertake such tasks as building a water system, laying out streets, and selling lots. In 1901 the only way to cross from East Liverpool to Newell was by ferry, but in June 1904 work began on a new metal suspension bridge. On July 4, 1905, the first traffic used the bridge, and to this day the company’s toll bridge serves the people on both sides of the river. The population of Newell grew rapidly.

Connected with Plant 2 was a 100-acre recreational park. It was situated in the valley just south of the plant and included a spring-fed brook, a lake, a zoo, a formal garden, and an outdoor theater where vaudeville players appeared and silent movies were shown. This park was the conception of George Washington Clarke, perhaps the greatest salesman in the history of dinnerware. His work in the Middle West was largely responsible for the expansion of the company, and he devoted much of his income to beautifying the company’s park. Tragically, he did not live long after the park was built, succumbing to an apparent heart attack in 1911. Laurel Hollow Park has been recently reclaimed. Check out their website at http://www.laurelhollowpark.net/.

Completed in 1905, the Newell Bridge is historically important as one of the first all-steel suspension bridges.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lake Drained in 1952 to Add Picnic Grounds in Lower Park

This grassy area was once part of the lake at Rock Springs Park. (1970)

According to Billboard, June 7, 1952, manager Robert L. Hand ordered a full-scale operation to fill in the lake at Rock Springs Park “in order to provide additional picnic space.” The work was done prior to the 1952 summer season. Two new rides were also added at that time – the Bisch-Rocco Kiddie Airplane (pictured) and the B.A. Schiff Kiddie Boat Ride (pictured). The 3.5-acre lake was created fifty-two years earlier by then-owner C.A. Smith at a cost of $50,000. In 1906 a report by The United States Bureau of Fisheries under the subject “the propagation and distribution of food fishes ,” reported that the lake at Rock Springs was stocked with 150 “fingerlings, yearlings, and adult” large-mouth black bass. Of course, those who remember the lake in later years saw it substantially reduced in size with only small fish and no boating (see picture). What remained of the lake was drained in 1974-75 when the park was razed to make way for the redirection of Route 30 and the approach to the new Jennings Randolph Bridge.

Kiddie Airplanes and Kiddie Boats in Rock Springs Park (1968)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Catholic Church in Chester Owes Part of Its Existence to RSP

If you grew up in Chester, WV, or visited the firemen’s carnival on 4th Street, then you are sure to remember Sacred Heart Church on the hill. Perhaps you went there.

Research shows that Rock Springs Park played a part in the construction of this beautiful Catholic Church in town.

According to the publication The Catholic Church in the United States of America, Volume 3, in response to the appeal of seventeen Catholic families from Chester in 1902, a Bishop Donahue sent Father O.H. Moye and Father Galway, of the cathedral, to Chester to investigate the possibility of sending a permanent priest to the new town at the top of the northern panhandle

“Although their report was favorable,” cites the volume, “the Bishop hesitated in sending a priest to so small a parish.” He eventually did send pastor, Rev. Wm J. Sauer, on December 16, 1902.

Prior to that time Mass had never been celebrated in Chester, consequently the new pastor borrowed chalice, missal, and altar stone from the Cathedral and bought vestments, “on credit,” from the Tabernacle Society of Wheeling.

The first Mass was celebrated in the home of Patrick Burns on December 21, 1902. At that time there were only two boys at the proper age to serve at the altar. A fair was held for the benefit of the church at Rock Springs Park Pavilion in January 1903 and “over $1800 was cleared." During the following summer Mass was celebrated in the Hotel Chester, where Father Sauer was staying. By August 1903 a new rectory was built and a little over two years later, in October 1905, the first floor of the new rectory was completed.

When I was younger I visited the street fair along 4th street and rode the Ferris wheel many times that was set up in front of Sacred Heart. While rocking at the top of the ride above the church rooftop but not nearly as high as the steeple, it never occurred to me that Rock Springs Park helped build this wonderful structure.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The East Liverpool Historical Society’s Website Shows Rock Springs Park in 1954

(from East Liverpool Historical Society Website, courtesy of Frank Dawson Collection)

The East Liverpool Historical Society’s website has some great photographs taken in Rock Springs Park in 1954, courtesy of the Frank Dawson collection. Check out the Jitterbug contest winners at Golden Star Dairy Picnic. They look like they walked off the set of Grease! See more at http://www.eastliverpoolhistoricalsociety.org/rospr54.htm.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Wintering in Rock Springs Park 1946

65 years ago this month, Bob Hand, owner of Rock Springs Park, Chester, WV, and his family were wintering in their log cabin at Rock Springs Park, according to Billboard magazine, January 12, 1946. The news brief under the headline, “While Strolling Through the Park,” in the “Parks-Resorts-Pools” section (p57), explained that Bob had just been released from the army, and planned to reopen the park for the first time since the start of WWII. At the time the article was written, the park was already operating Virginia Gardens as a skating rink and by July 13th of that same year, the park was open daily, excluding Mondays. 30,000 customers visited Rock Springs on July 4th even though only four rides were in operation: the Cyclone, Aerial Planes, Merry-Go-Round and Octopus. Other attractions that summer were the Penny Arcade, bingo, lead gallery, Funhouse, boating, and dancing with Eddie McGraw’s band. The concrete swimming pool was not in operation and unfortunately would never re-open due to the shortage of supplies needed for repairs after the war.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

You Can Go Home Again!

In his novel title, Thomas Wolfe suggests that You Can't Go Home Again, but I found just the opposite to be true yesterday when I returned to Oak Glen High School for a book signing and slide show talk on my favorite topic "Rock Springs Park." One of my major goals in writing the book has been to share the history of Chester and the park with area youth. Unfortunately, the talk was cut short by half an hour due to an impending snow storm, but I was able to present the entire history, leaving out only time for Q&A, and a ukulele song I had planned to perform.

The program was presented in the Little Theatre, a space which was once a second home to me, having performed in nearly every theatrical production from 1978 – 1982. No, I was not held back in my high school years, I actually began doing plays in eighth grade with Oliver! in 1978. The experience yesterday was extremely surreal as I haven’t been to my alma mater in over 28 years. The campus has changed quite a bit over the years, including several renovations which have connected all the Florida-style buildings with enclosed walkways and building additions. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings, but the theater space remained relatively unchanged, so I felt very comfortable there.

Although the question and answer period was eliminated at the end of the program, students who arrived early had many questions about Rock Springs Park; including its exact location and what happened to the Cyclone and Carousel rides after they were sold in 1974. I was delighted to tell them and explained that recent research may prove one of my book explanations to be not entirely correct. I recently discovered a second account telling who actually purchased the Cyclone and the reason for it. The explanation I gave in the book was one told to me by a long-time Chester resident. He had it partly correct. Bill Harper did purchase Virginia Gardens, but not the Cyclone. In my latest finding, a Youngstown newspaper dated July 1974, reported, ““William Johsnon of East Liverpool bought himself a one-mile-long roller coaster for the grand sum of $1.” It suggests that the wood from the Cyclone might still be around in a wooden structure built for an auto wrecking business in Calcutta, OH, run by Johnson and his father.

My next venture home will be to talk to the students at Allison Elementary in Chester. I can’t wait to show them images of their school as it looked in 1969 and 1970 with views from the Cyclone and one of the Ohio River and the school with the park in the background.

Godspell 1982

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Riverboat Excursions to Rock Springs Park Continued into the Late 50’s and Early 60’s

The Beaver Valley Times reported on June 4, 1958:

It was like old times today in Beaver County as two boat excursions were scheduled on the Ohio River by New Brighton Board of Trade and a group of Lions Clubs, respectively.

Despite a recent accident in which the excursion steamer Avalon was involved when the craft struck a lock gate at the Emsworth Dam, large crowds were expected to participate in both excursions. Both were to start and end at the Rochester wharf.

Those attending the New Brighton Board of Trade were to ride the Avalon, the only excursion boat operating on the Upper Ohio River, at Rock Springs Park, Chester, WV. After spending the day at the popular amusement, picnickers were to return to Rochester aboard the Avalon.

Then, this evening, the Lions Clubs of Monaca, Brighton Township and New Brighton were to sponsor a joint “Moonlight and Soft Music” excursion on the “beautiful Ohio.”

Time was when boat excursions were a regular and popular event in Beaver County. Frequent trips were made from Rochester by river steamers, with dancing as the main diversion for the gay excursionists.

Perhaps such pleasant cruises on the majestic and enchanting Ohio River, famed in song and story, again will become popular through excursions such as those scheduled today.