It was never completely clear to me, while researching the book, whether or not C.C. Macdonald purchased Rock Springs Park in 1926 or just leased it. His family suggested he bought the park, having always wanted to own one during his years as manager of Euclid Beach Park in Akron, Ohio. However, the documents I uncovered all listed Macdonald as “lessee” or “president” of Rock Springs.
What is clear is that he spent A LOT of money improving the park prior to his first full season in 1927.
C.C. Macdonald (Partial image courtesy of Tish Hand; see full photograph in Images of America: Rock Springs Park)
The old Victorian trolley park had fallen into disrepair following its glory days under the ownership of Charles (C.A.) Smith Sr. Smith bought the park in 1900 and added the carousel pavilion, lake, pool, and the World’s Greatest Scenic Railway. His park was hugely successful until a law was passed in 1912, prohibiting the Pennsylvania Railroad from offering reduced-rate excursion tickets; a law which would not be revoked until 1929, negatively affecting profits for Smith for many years.
Large group excursions continued to be the biggest moneymaker for the park until it closed in 1970.
Except for the final days of its existence, the carousel pavilion saw its worst years toward the end of Smith’s tenure as owner/operator. The image above shows the pavilion with broken windows and roof stains on July 4, 1917. Much later photographs show that even when the park sat vacant from 1970-1974, the repaired windows of the carousel pavilion remained intact.
When Macdonald leased the park in 1926, he vowed to restore it to its former glory. He removed the old scenic railway, which had been converted into something resembling a modern coaster, and built the Cyclone roller coaster from the ground up. He also upgraded the dance hall, added a small zoo and go-cart track and a restaurant in the lower trolley loop.
The red and green striped roofs of the park’s buildings, which I still remember seeing as a child, were added as a part of Macdonald’s original improvements.This image shows the striped roof of the Crystal Pool Bath House.
Images of America: Rock Springs Park fully explains the Smith to Macdonald transition, including why Macdonald and his wife, Grace, left Rock Springs after just a few years to become part owners of Idlewild Park in Ligonier. (See the Macdonald Years 1926 – 1934)
A recently discovered newspaper article from the Youngstown Vindicator dated October 7, 1950, suggests that Macdonald did not own the park, even though he had spent a lot of money in upgrades as lessee:
East Liverpool, Oct. 7. – Charles A. Smith Jr., today announced the sale for $70,000 of Rock Springs Park at nearby Chester, W.Va., to Mr. and Mrs. R.L. Hand, who have managed the 50-year-old amusement resort since 1935.
This article, if true, would establish that C.A. Smith’s son owned the park at the time of the sale to the Hands instead of the Macdonalds as was previously thought.
One detail, that should be mentioned, is that whether they were lessees or managers or owners both C.C. Macdonald and the Hands spent large sums of money in their early days as operators. Macdonald spent hundreds of thousands in upgrades and new features, and the Hands slowly purchased rides and buildings from 1935 to 1950.
It is most likely the *$70,000 price tag was mainly for the land, an investment which would pay off in a big way when the state bought the property to construct a highway extension and new bridge in 1974.
*$70,000.00 in 1950 had the same buying power as $640,526.69 in 2010.
Annual inflation over this period was 3.76%.