(Left) Charles (C.A.) Smith from the 2001 Class of Lou Holtz/Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame Inductees
I had recently been reminded that Rock Springs Park owner, Charles (C.A.) Smith, was born in Wellsville on April 14, 1867, after discovering his obituary in the archives of the Youngstown Vindicator. The article dated October 14, 1953, describes Smith as a “transit company owner, pottery manufacturer, oil operator and gentleman farmer,” adding “he also operated Rock Springs Park, an amusement resort in Chester.” All facts I planned to share later that evening with the Wellsville Arts Club.
I was checking the time on the dashboard clock, when a tall, well-dressed, young man with a cell phone pressed to his ear, passed behind my car and rounded the front of the First Christian Church. I guessed that he must be a young pastor, youth minister, or perhaps a choir director. I spent a lot of time in church social groups in my younger days and this kid had the look of a guy who was responsible for recruiting volunteers and then trying to keep them in line on a weekly basis.
This could be my chance. I pressed the button on the clock to light it again, “6:05.” I was scheduled to meet Arts Club member “Phyllis” at 6:30 p.m., but if I could get in nearly an hour early to set up my projector and laptop, I could relax and have more time to meet the volunteers and talk about the park and their connection to it. I have discovered, having done a couple of these events, that people will disregard any order of operations and get in line to get a book, so they can avoid a late rush or skip out before the program begins. The Arts Club meeting would not be like that. They were organized and kept to their agenda. In fact, the acting first vice president was so on top of things, contacting to appear that night, back in August 2010.
As I got out of the car, I noticed an old building next to the Wellsville Carnegie Library across the street. It was dated with large white numbers, “1867,” making it, ironically, the same age as C.A. Smith. Smith is well-remembered by the older citizens of the Tri-State Area as a very colorful character. Roy C. Cashdollar said, “C.A. Smith put Chester on the map with that park,” and wrote in his History of Chester: The Gateway to the West, “Many residents of the town can remember C.A. Smith and what he meant to the city. They tell how he used to drive his first car, the first automobile in town and a Stanley Steamer, across the river when the water was low, and how Mr. Smith was stopped by a State trooper on his way to New Cumberland, as Mr. Smith liked to travel fast as he was always in a hurry. He told the officer to make two citations as he would soon be coming back and traveling just as fast.” A story I would later share during my presentation – one which would get the biggest laugh of the night.
I saw the thin young man still on his cell phone through the window of the church office. I rapped loudly on the gray metal door which led to the social hall. He looked up and I waved sheepishly. He paused, crossed the room, and opened the door seemingly a little perturbed by the interruption.
“Hi, I’m scheduled to talk to the garden club this evening about Rock Springs Park and I was hoping you could let me in early so I could set up.”
He raised an eyebrow, but the cell phone remained fixed to his right ear. “You mean ‘The Arts Club.”
“Oh, ‘Arts Club?” I stumbled. “Yeah, Why did I think it was the Garden Club? ‘Arts Club!’ That’s even better. I like the arts.”
He opened the door wider and motioned me inside. “The social hall is to the right at the end. The light switch is outside the door on the left.”
“Thanks! This is great. I’ll be making several trips, by the way. Is that all right? Lots of equipment, you know. Thanks so much! It’s always nice to be able to make sure everything is working, before…”
He was gone. “No problem,” he called, already back to work recruiting choir members for the sunrise service. I knew it!
The social hall was about the size of a large classroom with a kitchen along one wall and a ping-pong table and some kind of tabletop bowling game on the opposite side. Tables for the meeting were arranged in a large U facing a chalkboard and podium. It took three trips, but I was able to have all my equipment in the hall with about 45 minutes lead time and 15 minutes before Phyllis was scheduled to arrive.
It’s always a little nerve-wracking when I first arrive at an event, because my presentation relies heavily on the slide show. I could talk for hours about Rock Springs Park, but like people who buy the book; attendees want to see pictures – lots and lots of pictures. If my equipment were to fail, the presentation would be ruined. So, it was always my first order of business to get the computer up and running and the slide projector operating. Once this is done, I can relax a bit and socialize.
Just as planned, two Arts Club women stood smiling in the doorway promptly at 6:30 with their arms full of green party supplies . The club, I later learned, meets on the first Tuesday of every month and decorates the hall and serving table with a holiday theme. Coming off a gray and lifeless February (a month the Arts Club did not meet due to winter weather conditions) the green of St. Patrick’s Day decorations seemed especially bright and immediately jolted me into the stern realization that was already March 1st. Teachers back home at the elementary school where I teach hadn’t even taken down their red hearts and cupids, yet.
I looked up from the floor, still untangling wires. “Is one of you, Phyllis?”
“She is,” the taller club member said pointing to the shorter one.
I knew at that moment that Phyllis had a story for me. She had that excited look in her eyes that I've seen from fans of Rock Springs Park before, not unlike the folks predicted to appear in droves at the door of that iconic white farmhouse in Field of Dreams.
"People will come Ray. They'll come for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past."
Somehow, I knew, the topic of Rock Springs Park was going to make Phyllis stand out that evening and I was right.