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)