Chaney’s Service Station as seen from the trolley loop entrance of Rock Springs Park in 1970. (From the photographic collection of Clarence O. Durbin, Courtesy of Rich Brookes)
Just days before my December deadline to complete Images of America: Rock Springs Park, I was told about a book of photo negatives which belonged to Rich Brookes of Pottery City Antique Mall in East Liverpool. The book was a family Bible of sorts in that it had been passed down to several different owners and each one had written his name inside the front cover. The original owner, and the man who took all the photographs assembled in the book, was Clarence O. Durbin of Chester.
My father told me that Mr. Durbin lived just a few doors down from our home on Virginia Avenue in the western end of Chester when I was growing up; something I did not remember, but now deeply regret not understanding at the time. I’m sure Mr. Durbin would have had some wonderful and interesting stories about the park, as well as, the pictures to go with them. He did share one dramatic tale with Roy C. Cashdollar who wrote about it in his book, A History of Chester: The Gateway To The West by Roy C. Cashdollar. Roy wrote:
Mr. Clarence Durbin of Chester tells about an event that happened on the day of the “Old Mill” fire. He got on the street car in East Liverpool and the motorman headed for Chester. He made no stop to pick up or discharge passengers and had the car at full speed. He came to a stop on Carolina Avenue, just past Sixth Street near the old Ludovici Service Station, and took off running up over the hill toward the park. He had heard about the fire and the death of some children and his little daughter was at the picnic. Mr. Durbin and the other passengers followed and tell of the terrible sight of the bodies being wrapped and loaded to be taken to the hospital or the morgue.
If you’ve ever lost a child in a department store or at the beach for a brief moment or worse, you can begin to understand the panic and actions taken by the trolley motorman who worried that his own daughter might be among the dead. It’s easy to imagine the trolley racing across the bridge with the driver ignoring passengers and those waiting at the stops. One wonders if he shouted some sort of explanation or just drove on without saying a word. Did they think the driver had lost his mind? Were they angry, before learning why the man had disregarded his duty?
This is an example of one of the trolley cars used to carry passengers to the park in 1915. (Courtesy of Richard Bowker)
I was given a brief extension to my book deadline in order to process as many of the negatives from Rich Brookes’ album as possible. Mr. Durbin had meticulously created little hand folded envelopes for each negative with a tiny proof label including names, dates, and places of subjects. My only challenge was to decide what to cut from the original page layout in order to add some of Clarence’s collection.
This photograph taken by my mother, Margaret Comm, is of a park bench which used to line the sidewalk of our home for many years. The image was cut from the final copy of Images of America: Rock Springs Park to add some last minute images.
One of the things I included on pages 106 to 107, is a series of photographs showing the final turn of the Cyclone. Based on the date and the perspective of the pictures, Clarence must have walked the length of the Cyclone on Memorial Day 1971 to record the view and the condition of the 44 year-old wooden coaster before it was removed. If Clarence was a young man when he saw the accident at the Old Mill in 1915, he must have been in his late sixties or seventies when he scaled the tracks of the Cyclone – a daring prospect, as the photos suggest the coaster was missing sections of guardrail and planks in many parts of the the maintenance walkway.
Some of the other photographs I chose were of park patrons enjoying the park during the years 1968 – 1970. I had many pictures of employees and owners, but was lacking park guests riding rides and eating treats. Mr. Durbin's photographs, courtesy of Rich Brookes, were the perfect finishing touch I had been looking for.
Fans of Rock Springs Park owe a debt of gratitude to Clarence O. Durbin for his years of service to the park and the amazing document he left behind for all of us. This image of the Ferris wheel shows Durbin’s artistic eye.