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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Say Hello to Summer Fun!

One of the fondest childhood memories shared by dozens of fans of Rock Springs Park at book signings and on the Web is of finding park tickets in their final report card envelopes. It’s a part of growing up in Chester and the surrounding area that I and my generation missed out on and one, I have to admit, of which I was a little jealous, until I realized that I have experienced a similar thrill in my adult life.

For twelve years I have been employed as a teacher with the Greater Latrobe School District and for each of those years I have found a small white envelope containing reduced price tickets to Idlewild Park in nearby Ligonier in my teacher mailbox. It’s one of many exciting signs that the school year is winding down and summer fun is just around the corner. School and community picnics like the one to be held at Idlewild on June 9 were also a huge part of Rock Springs Park’s success.

One-time Rock Springs Park booking manager, John Hickey told the Pittsburgh Press on May 16, 1954, “Over half of the picnics arranged at the park were for school children,” adding, “Youngsters of today behave exactly as they did when I began 33 years ago.”

In June of 1909, The Daily Times, Beaver, PA, reported that students were charged a uniform rate of 50 cents “in order that they may enjoy a more exclusive evening” on the night of their school picnic. At that time the main source of transportation to community days were trolley lines provided by the Ohio Valley Scenic Railway. Specials ran straight through to the park while regular cars required a transfer in East Liverpool. Tickets were sold at half price to all school children. These special trolley cars continued to carry picnickers to and from the park until 1934 when bus lines were then used.

Manager C.C. Macdonald in a “gesture of friendliness toward the community” in 1932 provided transportation to Rock Springs Park via special cars at “no charge” and gave each child five free amusement tickets. He also created “Bargain Day” the day before the community picnic in which all ride tickets were half price. The Daily Times stated, “Macdonald has always had a fine reputation for handling of large groups and the park employees are men who have been in this type of work for years and are noted for the way they handle children.”

In 1935, school students from Beaver, PA enjoyed a boat ride aboard the steamer, Washington, for their annual school outing. The steamer, capacity 2,000, had been carrying picnickers to the park since 1928. At that time there was an eight-piece orchestra, free dancing, and free ice cream onboard. Boat tickets in the twenties were priced at 15 cents for students and each child received four amusement tickets on the boat in addition to the number bought at school. “Price of amusement tickets at school or on the boat is two for five cents,” said the Daily Times. The Washington was eventually replaced by the new steamer, St. Paul, in 1937.

In June, when school is out for me, I will be thinking of those youngsters from a hundred years ago racing out of school with report card envelopes in their back pockets and strips of park tickets in the fists. It’s hard for me to imagine what it must have been like to have whole towns close down for a day of fun at Rock Springs Park as the article below from June 25, 1927 suggests, but is not difficult to imagine the thrill of school ending and summer fun beginning with the thoughts of all the smells, thrills, and excitement of a day at the park.

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