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Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The Shoot-the-Chutes tower in Rock Springs Park was so tall it could be seen above the trees at the lower park entrance.

I have found instances of injuries on rides including the Cyclone, and the Merry-Go-Round in Rock Springs Park, and reported them here, but this is the first instance of an injury sustained on the Shoot-the-Chutes, and all I can say is, “Ouch!”

The Daily Times, Beaver PA -- June 18, 1908

Miss Alice Beaulean, of Hinds Street, Rochester, met with a serious accident yesterday while attending Rock Springs Park. She, with several friends, were enjoying a ride on the Shoot the Shoots [sic] and was thrown to the bottom of the boat in some manner the ligaments of her liver were torn loose. She was brought to Rochester last evening and conveyed to her home in a carriage, and said to be resting as easy as could be expected.

For a description of the Chutes ride and a wonderful picture of the boatmen in sailor suits see Images of America: Rock Springs Park pages 48 – 49. In the meantime, click on the YouTube video below to see one in action at Coney Island. Notice how the boat skips due to the curved ramp at the bottom of the chute. One can easily see how a young woman could lose her balance and be injured from a fall.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Good for What Ails You

In an age in which one can jump into an automobile and travel wherever one wishes after work, it’s hard to imagine a life completely dependent upon public transportation for any trip out of town. In the summer of 1904, C.A. Smith’s East Liverpool Traction and Light Company offered, for the first time, evening trolley excursions during the workweek to Rock Springs Park so that townspeople in the Beaver Valley area could enjoy “the cool, life-giving, ozone-laden breezes from the pine-clad mountains of West Virginia.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

The Daily Tribune, Beaver Falls, PA – June 20, 1904

A Popular Move

Rock Springs Special from Beaver Valley Will Be Popular – Low Rates

The Rock Springs Special, to be run from the Beaver Valley to East Liverpool, over the Pennsylvania lines, on Tuesday evening, June 21, promises to be one of the most popular innovations ever attempted in the excursion line in this section. An opportunity of spending an evening at beautiful Rock Springs Park has never before been granted the people of the valley at so low a cost. In fact, the rate is so low that any young man can take his best girl on this trip cheaper than he can take her to the opera.

The schedule of the special has been so arranged that the entire evening may be spent at the park and yet no time need be lost from work or employment. This is expected to prove one of the most attractive features of this excursion, as many people would spend an evening in the woods if they could do so without loss of time from their work.

Rock Springs Park has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful and popular picnic grounds and summer resorts in the part of this United States, and it is visited annually by hundreds of thousands of people. Some twenty different forms of amusement may be enjoyed by visitors. Among these are dancing, bowling, boating, tennis and all kinds of outdoor sports. Large and costly roller coasters and merry-go-rounds furnish amusements for the young people.
But to the majority of people the most attractive feature is the cool, life-giving, ozone-laden breezes from the pine-clad mountains of West Virginia. An evening's outing in such an atmosphere will repair the ravages of weeks spent amid the dust, dirt and smoke of the towns.

The special will leave Beaver Falls at 6:45; New Brighton, 6:52; Rochester, 7:00; Beaver, 7:10, Eastern time. Returning the special leaves East Liverpool at 11:30 and arrives Beaver Falls at 12:30, Eastern time. The fare is fifty cents for the round trip.

This postcard picture shows that the dirt and smoke of the city soon encroached on Rock Spring’s “ozone-laden breezes.”

1904 marks the beginning of the automobile craze in the United States, including the introduction of Ford’s first car, the Model B.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Where the Heck Is Coshocton?

The article below appeared exactly 109 years ago, today, in the Coshocton Democrat and Standard. It offers a great description of a typical all-day excursion to the park in the early years. I know I learned a few things: like the fact that the dining halls had gas heat and stoves for cooking and that there was a ball field and grandstand in 1902 prior to the one C.A. Smith spent $6000 to build in 1907. I also appreciated the fact that the article mentions the Poe Brothers and the number of pottery works at the time. But there was one big question that lingered after I finished reading it. Where the heck is Coshocton?

The Democrat and Standard – Coshocton, Ohio, Friday, June 27, 1902. Rock Springs Park. The Greatest Excursion Attraction Ever Given the People of Coshocton and Vicinity Will Be Given. Thursday, July 3, 1902.

The people who have never visited the state of West Virginia will get a view of her most beautiful, almost mountainous scenery. You will go over that magnificent Ohio River Bridge which will give you a view of all the scenes along the Ohio River for many miles, among the most picturesque in all the country. The river banks are literally lined with potteries, tile works and brick yards. Then to watch the boats plying up and down the river is worth the trip. Access to the largest pottery works in the world, over forty in number, will be given.

On the picnic grounds you will find a great hall with free orchestra, the greatest roller coaster in the country, tables, dining halls, with free use of stoves and gas heat for coffee making, Merry-go-rounds and other attractions.

Splendid ball ground with grand stand, spring water from rocks in abundance, dining halls and restaurants plenty, and basket lunchers amply provided for.

Street cars running every eight minutes to East Liverpool crossing the Ohio River.

In fact, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been expended to beautify the place with buildings, flowers, trees and walks.

It is near the home of the Poes, the old Indian fighters, some of the grandchildren living nearby.

The German Sangerfest will be held in East Liverpool all the week.

Greatest trip for the money yet given or will likely be given again. Take your baskets if you desire.

Three ball games may be arranged for.

Trains land passengers within feet of the park.

The picnic grounds are by far the finest and best equipped of any yet visited by Coshocton Excursionists. The people from surrounding towns and country are invited to to go with us. Thursday, July 3.

Three Trains going - 1st train, 6:30, 2nd train 6:45, 3rd train 7:00. Return - 1st train 5:30, 2nd train 5:45, 3rd train 5:50

Fare: Adults, $1.00; Children, 65 Cents; Under six years, Free

It seems everybody is going. By consent, business will be suspended. July 3rd will be substituted for July 4th. See circulars and booklets. Net proceeds are for benefit of the Coshocton Public Library.

Coshocton is approximately midway between Canton and Columbus Ohio and is the county seat of Coshocton County. The Poe Brothers are important to Coshocton for the fact that Andrew and Adam Poe defeated the Wyandot chief, Bigfoot, and the town of Coshocton was across the Tuscarawas River from Conchake, the former site of a Wyandot village.

The Poe/Bigfoot fight occurred in September 1781. This painting is obviously made from recollections; Andrew is fighting Bigfoot, the Wyandot Chief; Adam is rushing to save Andrew. The fight occurred near Tomlinson's Run, WV. This painting of the famous fight currently hangs in the River Museum, Wellsville, OH. Others were involved in the fight; there was death and wounds on both sides. Andrew's arm was permanently disabled by the tomahawk. A historical marker along Route 2, just a mile south of Mountaineer Park and Casino, commemorates the spot where Bigfoot was killed.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Park and Ball Club Profitable for Millionaire Smith

One-time Rock Springs Park owner, C.A. Smith, (pictured center) had one of only two O & P Baseball League teams which earned a profit in 1908.

According to the Butler Times, August 4, 1908, “Two clubs of the Ohio and Pennsylvania league are making money. One has a winning record and the other a losing team." C.A. Smith was on the right side of both counts as his East Liverpool Potters were just as competitive as they were profitable. An Erie franchise also “came on the right side of the ledger" according to their owner, a fellow by the name of Baumeister, who pondered the odd notion that "businessmen who have made money in other directions will scatter their coins ruthlessly when they get into base ball [sic].” He explained that bad business decisions are made in the sport due to "town pride." The article continued, “C.A. Smith, the millionaire owner of the Potters, is having a good summer. His team plays at Rock Springs Park, a noted and well patronized picnic place. Picnics have helped the ball team and the ball team helps the park, the two combining to get the money either way."

Smith built his baseball park in Rock Springs in 1907 for $6000 and the following year promised "to give the people of East Liverpool the best base ball [sic] team it is possible to assemble."

It is interesting to note that the Ohio and Pennsylvania Baseball League's most popular venue was in West Virginia and that it had something of a spending cap in 1908. Smith proposed in an article which appeared in the Youngstown Vindicator on March 10, 1908, "I will keep within the salary limit and I will desire a fast club." He further promised to continue improvements on his baseball park and to "keep the game clean and up to the highest standard possible to attain."

In its first year of operation, Rock Springs Park and Smith's Potters requested to play Washington PA, as it would be "a good drawing card" for the O&P circuit. According to The Washington Reporter, the game was scheduled to be held on August 13, 1907, "the greatest picnic day of the year at Rock Springs with 150 coaches of people who will visit the park."

I have not been able to find the score of the August 13th game in the archives, but did find a score from June of that same year which led with the headline, “Smothered Sharon.” It tells of a 9 – 0 Potters victory in which 8 of the 9 runs were scored off of 5 hits against a poor chap named Muldowney in the first inning. So, it is also possible the Potters defeated Washington. I'll keep looking!

Historical Marker Moved Three Times

This is the present location of the Rock Springs Park historical marker. Note the distance to the large white house in the distance as compared to the smaller image below.

In the June 19, 2009 edition of the East Liverpool Review, it was reported that the Chester City Council had agreed to apply for a grant from the W.Va. department of transportation that would enable them to install historical markers at several sites in the city. Some of the sites for potential signage were listed as the old Chester Bridge, a tin mill (pictured above) that once stood where Allison Elementary is currently located, the McDonald-Calcott home and the Matthews home. It also mentioned several of the historic markers which are currently in the city, including the one at the former location of Rock Springs Park. The paper has not said whether or not new markers have been approved, but the article reminded me of an interesting fact I uncovered while researching the park: its historical marker, which by the way incorrectly reads “Rock Spring Park," has been moved three times since it was installed 1980.

This site along the southbound approach to Route 30 from Chester was the original location for the Rock Springs Park historical marker.

On May 6, 1980, the Rock Springs Park historical marker was placed at the site of the old merry-go-round. Planning Committee Member, Frank DeCapio, along with Fred Armstrong of the West Virginia Archives and Dan Pennell of the West Virginia Department of Highways spotted the sign where the carousel pavilion once stood east of the old Chester High School building. This made logical and sentimental sense, but due to the excavation for the cloverleaf approach to the Jennings Randolph bridge, it placed the historic marker directly along Route 30. Armstrong and Pennell soon learned that markers such as these cannot be placed on a national road, perhaps to avoid having people pull over to read them or taking pictures on the side of a highway, but more likely because it is not state property. On September 22, 1980, Armstrong and Pennell along with then mayor, William Scarry, respotted the sign inside the inbound turn of the Jennings Randolph Bridge off-ramp which curves to the east toward the "upper end" of Chester. At that time, as you can see below, there was a large mound of dirt covered in vegetation behind the sign. Roy Cashdollar, also pictured below, noted, “Perhaps the sign can be moved back somewhat once the ‘mountain’ next to it has been removed.
The “mountain” was removed and the land leveled for improved sight lines for drivers and to control water run off. At that time, the historic marker was moved again approximately 40 yards west along Carolina Avenue to its present location just across the Route 30 on-ramp and adjacent to the Virginia Gardens Memorial Park. It is interesting to note that Cashdollar was already thinking about a park in 1980 when he suggested that the spot where the sign was placed in September 1980 could be cleared and “the area could possibly serve as a little park, complete with benches." This area remains a flat grassy plain with a few recently planted trees and newly added light post, but a memorial park with birdbaths and a gazebo was added in 1983.

If the present grant goes through and Chester is given funds for new historical markers, the City Council has promised that they will “choose the oldest places and the ones with the most historical significance” and that after the signs are installed “the city will make a walking tour brochure that maps each site's location.” I hope that they will also add the old markers including Rock Springs Park as part of that tour as it was once the tourist stop in Chester, or better yet, make a new sign that properly identifies the park as "Rock Springs" with the final 's.'

Friday, June 24, 2011

Motor Square Garden

My foggy morning photographs do not do justice to this late Victorian office building in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Known as "Motor Square Garden," it is a historic landmark which played an important role in the fate of not only Rock Springs Park but also Idlewild Park in Ligonier, PA.

After spending thousands of dollars upgrading Rock Springs Park in the late 1920s, owner C.C. Macdonald found himself in severe financial straits following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. He was desperate to find someone to lease the park as he was left penniless when the banks closed. When he could not find a lessee, he earned extra money working in the off-season at the Motor Square convention center in Pittsburgh. (See page 53 of Images of America: Rock Springs Park for a quote about this period from son R.Z. Macdonald.)

The construction of Motor Square Garden was financed by the Mellon family of Pittsburgh, it was built from 1898 to 1900 as a city market—after one of their real estate subdivisions failed to sell enough houses. Richard B. Mellon learned of C.C. Macdonald’s impressive amusement park experience and asked him to help improve Idlewild Park in Ligonier, PA, which he owned at the time. In order to diversify, Macdonald accepted Mellon’s offer and spent four years dividing his time between the sister parks. Eventually he would take on Idlewild fulltime and leave Rock Springs Park in the hands of his daughter Virginia and her husband, Bob.

In the 1920s, Motor Square Garden was used as a sports venue, especially for boxing, and was used intermittently as the home court of the University of Pittsburgh's basketball team.

In 1988, AAA bought the property. Landmarks Design Associates of Pittsburgh redesigned it as an upscale shopping mall. The retail mall failed, but AAA expanded to occupy the building, along with a tenant, the UPMC Shadyside School of Nursing.

Interior dome (from Landmarks Design Associates)

Interior commercial space (from Landmarks Design Associates)

FACT: The first ever broadcast of a sporting event occurred on April 11, 1921 at Pittsburgh’s Motor Square Garden when a 10-round, no decision fight between Johnny Ray and Johnny Dundee aired on KDKA.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Carousel Wurlitzer 153 Band Organ

Rock Springs Park’s carousel with band organ just visible in the background (Courtesy of Rich Brookes; Photo by Clarence O. Durbin)

Rock Springs Park’s Carousel Band Organ was sold at auction in 1974. It was purchased by Dr. James Smith of Connecticut. Dr. Smith, an East Liverpool High School alum, collected amusement park machines, especially games of chance, and displayed them in his suburban Connecticut barn. The band organ under the title “Truck-a-Tune” was often played at local fairs and parades. When his collection was sold at Sotheby’s in New York for millions, he permitted his children to take their favorite pieces and donated the Wurlitzer 153 Band Organ to the East Liverpool High School Alumni Association. It is now on display in the window of The Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame Museum.

Wurlitzer 153 in the window of the Lou Holtz Hall of Fame (Courtesy of Christian Comm)

In 1970, my friend Dick Bowker made a recording of two of his favorite march rolls on the Wurlitzer Band Organ in Rock Springs Park. He and two friends tape-recorded the rolls eight times and a recording company in Cleveland cut three LPs of the best takes. According to Dick, who still has one of the records but has misplaced it in his home, “they did not sound very good because even though the park spent a lot of money to restore the organ in 1969, a leaky roof damaged it in winter.”

Now Dick has a collection of band organ CDs which we listened to while scanning photographs and postcards for Images of Ameica: Rock Springs Park. His favorite is the “Spiffy” march roll, seen in this photo along with some others.

March rolls including "Spiffy March" (Courtesy of Richard L. Bowker)

You can hear Rock Springs Park’s band organ play again at the Lou Holtz Museum for 25 cents. Until then, get a feel for a breezy summer tune by clicking on the YouTube video below which features Cafesjian's Carousel’s 153 with “164 pipes consisting of trumpet, trombone, flute, violin and cello voices, and a 13-note glockenspiel, called 'bells' in organ parlance.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Rock Springs Animal Man Meets Death

Alert reader, Jackson Edward Wilson of Chester, sent me an article he discovered on microfilm from the May 3, 1911 edition of The East Liverpool Evening Review. It describes a violent elephant attack on a trainer which occurred while attempting to load the animal onto a circus freight train. The trainer and his elephant “Daisy” had appeared in Rock Springs Park the previous season.

Apparently elephant attacks are not a new phenomenon. Google the subject and you get dozens of hits, including some gruesome videos. But why do elephants inexplicably seem to snap and turn on their trainers? It must be the combination of being in a confined area, having been taken from their herds and families in Africa and Asia, being trained using a heavy rod with a metal hook on the end called a “bullhook”, and their enormous intellectual capacities lacking stimulation.

Rock Springs Animal Man Meets Death

Little Elephant at Park Last Year Commits Deed

James Hildebrand Was the Victim

Keeper Prodded “Daisy” and She Promptly Ran Tusk Into Him

Dayton, Mo., May 2 – (Special) – James Hildebrand, employed as a trainer for Hall Enterprises, while engaged in loading several elephants on a train for shipment to an eastern circus, was attacked by Daisy, the smallest of the elephants that were exhibited at Rock Springs Park last season.

The animal suddenly turned on Hildebrand, who had the animals in (his) charge for a number of years, picked him up and pierced his body with his tusk, tramped on him and threw him 30 feet, killing him instantly.

Hildebrand was well known to local patrons of Rock Springs amusement resort, having spent last summer here in charge of the elephant that killed him and two others. On orders issued by Mr. Hall, the proprietor, the elephant was shot.

Mr. Hildebrand was known by local people, many of whom talked to him during his stay here, He was devoted to his “baby” elephant.

A very tramatic and dramtic story, but the part about tossing the man 30 feet left me wondering how that could be possible, so I did a little digging and found some more facts in The New York Times.

It was also confusing to me that a male elephant would be called “Daisy”, but I found a third article in The Yellowstone News dated May 6, 1911, which called him “Monte”. The Nevada Daily Mail added some additional details including the fact that Hildebrand was 45-years old and that Monte was considered “the most docile elephant in the herd.” It went on to explain that the western show was “The Kit Carson Wild West Show” and included the subtitle, “Crowd Screams in Horror and Women Faint as Body of Man is Mangled.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dick Bowker Letter

Dick Bowker (right) and Larry Podwoski (left) in Rock Springs Park 1970

In the Summer of 1970 my friend, Dick Bowker, spent nearly every weekend at Rock Springs Park. During that time he and a few friends tape-recorded their favorite march rolls which they played on the park’s 153 Wurlitzer Band Organ housed in the octagonal Carousel Pavilion. At summer’s end, Dick sent the following letter to park owner Bob Hand.

Dear Mr. Hand,
September 11, 1970

Sorry that I did not get to see you again before the park closed. Hope that you are better now. I wanted to express my thanks to the fine courtesies extended by you to me and my friends at Rock Springs Park this past summer!

Never have I known the management of an amusement park to be so friendly and accommodating. Especially I wish to express my appreciation for allowing my friends and me to tape your Wurlitzer Band Organ. I am very anxious to hear what the record that my friends are making for me sounds like. They taped your band organ eight times, so the record should sound pretty good by incorporating the best "takes" of each march.

Just talked with my friend from Cleveland on the telephone and he mailed me two records today which I should receive by next week sometime. One of these was ordered by young Bill Thorn for he wanted to give it to your fine manager, Dick McGurren. I will try to mail this to Bill next Saturday, September 19, 1970.

Had some chats with your son on Labor Day. He too wants a record of the band organ, so I ordered it from my friend on the telephone tonight. It will take awhile for them to make it and send it to me but I will send it on to Bob.

Again, I want to say I enjoyed my many visits to your park this past summer and I hope you will open next year also. Your staff, although quite young, are fine workers and I can't say enough for the great personality of Bill Thorn. Your manager, Dick McGurren too is certainly outstanding in handling all situations. Please extend my gratitude to Dick and Bill for all they did when my friends and I taped the band organ.

Thanks again for everything and I hope to see you next year. Tell your son I will be writing him when I mail the record. Never did I think I would be able to hear my favorite marches on a record!

Very truly yours,

Dick Bowker

Dick did not know it when he wrote this letter, but his trip to Rock Springs Park on Labor Day 1970 would be his last. He claims to have taken the last known ride on the Cyclone that evening as the lights were being turned off forever.

Bob Hand died in October 1970 from complications from a heart attack.

In August 2009, I took Mr. Bowker back to the site of Rock Springs and to the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame in East Liverpool where he heard the Wurlitzer Organ play again after nearly 40 years. His visit was featured in The Review’s Riverstyle Magazine.

Without Dick’s love and appreciation for Rock Springs Park, one which led to an amazing collection of 8 albums of photograph’s and postcards, my book, Images of America: Rock Springs Park would not have been published.

Kiddie Park

Most amusement parks added or built up their kiddielands after World War II to give servicemen and women a place to take the Baby-boomer generation for a day of fun. One year before he came to Chester and managed Rock Springs Park, C.C. Macdonald, 20 years ahead of his time, created a kids-only amusement park in San Antonio Texas. According to his son, R.Z., C.C. invested in the Kiddie Park to give out-of-work buddies a place for employment. “Kiddie Park” is still in operation today and is “America's Oldest and Original Kids Amusement Park” having been around for kids since 1925. (Click here to see their website)

So, what Kiddie Rides were in Rocks Springs over the years? Let’s take a look!

The Turnpike Cars
Kiddie Cars
Kiddie Trolley
Kiddie Train (Courtesy of Sherry Emery)
Kiddie Whirlo
Kiddie Ferris Wheel
Kiddie Boats
Boats and Airplanes
Kiddie Airplanes
Rock Springs Kiddie Park Rides 1970

(Unless otherwise indicated, all images courtesy of Rich Brookes from the Clarence O. Durbin Collection)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Lower Picnic Park

At a slide show talk I gave in Chester in the fall of 2009 an audience member, who was not originally from the area, asked me to clarify what I meant when I referred to the “upper” and “lower parks” of Rock Springs. Although the landscape defined the two sections of the park since before the time it was used as a hunting ground by early Panhandle Archaic Indians, the difference in later years was more than just a simple matter of geography. Much has been written about the noise and excitement of the upper park, so in this blog post, as the title suggests, I am concentrating on the lower park, especially the years when the swimming pool and bath house were gone and the lake greatly diminished.

The lower park was carved out of the mountain by the bubbling springs and a creek which ran through its center called Marks Run; seen here in 1968 running below former owner C.A. Smith's house.

Millions of years of erosion created the wooded grove reputedly used by George Washington while camping on western lands.

The upper park to the east was a flat area just above the famous Rock Springs.

For most of the park’s history the lower park was used for picnics and outdoor recreation like swimming and boating while the upper park was known for its amusement rides, games and treats along the midway, and a dance hall.

This giant slab of rock was originally attached to the face of the famous Rock Spring until weathering and erosion separated them. (See a delightful postcard featuring people posing “On the Rocks” in Images of America: Rock Springs Park p. 31.)

The Old Mill was the only amusement ride ever to run in the lower park (1903-1915).

When the trolley line was extended in 1905 a loop or turnaround was added above Marks Run including a double-arched entrance and waiting station. Even in the final years of the park’s existence, the lower entrance was still being used and the trolley tracks and brick loop remained.

From the time automobiles first arrived at the park, the lower entrance and picnic area were used for parking.

This aerial photograph from 1927 shows Model Ts parked along the loop all the way to the bath house and lake.

These professionally poured cement stairs, seen here in winter, led past the spring to the upper park.

This large picnic pavilion had a unique curved roof and an open courtyard in the center.(See Images of America: Rock Springs Park p. 97.)

Small fish could be spotted in the lake in 1970 even though it had been drained significantly following World War II.

Little evidence remained that a huge swimming pool and bath house once graced this area of the lower park.

Even in its less than spectacular state in the 1950s and 60s, people from the Tri-State Region fondly recall picnicking in the lower park, fishing in what remained of the lake, drinking from the crystal spring, and climbing the stairs to the sweet scent of cotton candy being spun along the midway of the upper park.

(All photographs, with the exception of the Old Mill and the aerial photograph from 1927, were taken by Clarence O. Durbin and are from the collection of Rich Brookes)