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Monday, July 11, 2011

The Mystery of the Red Sticks

(Courtesy of Jeff Schneidmiller)

Weird coincidences and mysteries are part of what makes continued study of Rock Springs Park so fascinating to me, even after all these years. This week, one question I posted to a Facebook fan led to both.

I was thinking about doing a blog post about owner C.C. Macdonald’s upgrades to Rock Springs Park prior to the 1927 season, an effort which left him penniless after the Stock Market Crash of 1929. I particularly wanted to talk about the Cyclone Roller Coaster and focus on how Macdonald, even though he was in severe financial straits himself, promised all those who helped him that “he would repay them everything he owed or they could have the park.”

It was at about this time that I remembered seeing a message from a Jeff Schneidmiller of East Liverpool on Kassy Hand’s Rock Springs Park Facebook page.

Jeff wrote, “Rock Springs Park ran out of money to pay for the (Cyclone) Coaster. My Great-Grandfather had the Finley Lumber Company, so Rock Springs gave him stock in the coaster.”

This photograph of a blank Rock Springs Coaster Company stock certificate may be similar to the one Jeff’s Great-Grandfather would have received. (Photo by Joseph Comm; Certificate from the Collection of Bill Gray)

After relocating and rereading Jeff’s message I left a message of my own stating that his story matched the one I had heard from C.C. Macdonald’s son, R. Z. Macdonald, in the course of writing my book. R.Z. explained that his father did everything he could to earn money to pay off the workers and suppliers, including working at Motor Square Garden (a convention center in Pittsburgh) in the off-season, and diversifying his business interests by working in partnership with Richard Mellon on Idlewild Park in Ligonier, PA, while still managing Rock Springs in WV. Macdonald continued paying contractors, like the Finley Brothers, until the debt was paid in full by 1950.

In his original post Jeff went on to say that “The Finley Lumber Company also got 1/3 cent for every rider, till the Park Closed.”

Historical Notes: (Jeff's Story Follows)

The Finley Brothers played a huge part in Chester’s early history. One need only review the histories of many of the former and present structures in Chester, and you will see their names attached to them.

One of the earliest institutions built by the Finleys was a wood frame church, erected on the site where the present First United Presbyterian Church sits on Carolina Avenue. Joseph N. Finley was a ruling Elder in the church and built the original wood frame church for a nominal fee in 1898. A good portion of the fee was paid at the “bequest of the estate of A. B. Marks,” according to the Riverstyle Sunday Review, November 5, 2000. It was the Marks’ estate that had been purchased by J.E. McDonald and converted into Rock Springs Park; a park that the Finley Brothers had no small hand in constructing.

The Chester High School was erected by The Finley Brothers Contractors on January 4, 1906.

The Chester city building was built in 1927 by the Finley Brothers Lumber and Construction Co. They completed construction in 1928 and a plaque, which now hangs in the current city building, was created to commemorate the occasion.

Roy C. Cashdollar, in his History of Chester: The Gateway to the West (Part 2), gives the following account of The Finley Brothers Lumber Company :

Owned and operated by the four brothers: Joseph, Frank, Robert, and James along with their brother-in-law Joseph McCoy. Mr. McCoy was the husband of Pearl Finley a sister to the four brothers. Upon the death of Mr. McCoy, George Hasson of Virginia Avenue joined the firm. Joseph served in the state legislature in 1909 and was one of the original incorporators of the First National Bank. Mr. J. P. Finley, a son of Joseph, shortly after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh became the secretary-treasurer of the Newell Lumber Company, a branch of the Chester company. Virginia and Robert Finley, were also active in the company for many years prior to its closing.

The Finley’s were kept very busy in Chester’s early history and their beautiful workmanship gave the new town many of its landmark buildings, including Rock Springs Park's unique octagonal Carousel Pavilion and the ornate Casino Dance Hall (pictured below) in 1906.

The first floor of the Casino contained a Japanese Tea House, six bowling alleys, a billiard hall, shooting gallery, barber shop, toilets and park office. The 18,000 square foot hard white maple dance floor occupied the second floor.

Twenty years later The Finley Brothers’ Company built the Cyclone Roller Coaster for C.C. Macdonld starting in 1926.

Having thought about Jeff Schneidmiller’s comment on Facebook, and wanting to find out more, I messaged him to get further details about his family history.

“Jeff you shared that your Great-Grandfather had the Finley Lumber Company and stock in Rock Springs Park. Could you tell me his name?"

This is where the coincidence comes in: Just as my message popped up on Jeff’s screen, he was at that very moment taking photographs of a few of his family’s Rock Springs Park memorabilia and uploading them to share with Facebook fans of the park.

Jeff wrote back about what a coincidence it was and said that he needed to gather some more information from his mother and her sisters. He said his great-grandfather’s name was “James,” and ended with a question for me.

“I have found some old things from Rock springs Park. I would like you to tell me about the red sticks with the yellow ball on top .They say ‘Rock Spring Park’ on them. Thank you. Jeff.”

Jeff also shared a couple of vintage photographs of his ancestors at the park, including one which illustrates that not only were formal portraits taken at the park but also some very humorous caricatures.

A folding brochure-style map from the 20’s, like this one, is also part of Jeff's collection. It includes a mileage chart showing, Cambridge, Ohio, at a distance of 97 miles, as the furthest town from which travelers came to picnic at Rock Springs.

Jeff left his number and we picked up our conversation over the phone. I could tell he was very proud of his family’s legacy in Chester and the surrounding area and interested in sharing their story. That’s when I asked him about using our conversation and some of his images in this blog post.

Having seen souvenir bamboo canes in park photos I asked Jeff if possibly his two and a half foot sticks might be souvenir canes. “The average length of a cane is 3 feet. That's pretty close,” I reasoned.

But Jeff noted looking at them, “They are very thin .You can't put any pressure on them .I was thinking maybe a flag was on them or banner.”

That started the gears turning in my head, “Yeah, maybe a pennant!”

I went to bed and all the photographs I had scanned while working on the book started racing across my brain. By morning, I had a pretty god idea of the picture I needed to solve the mystery of the red sticks. I fired up the laptop and took only five minutes to find the picture I wanted.

I messaged Jeff. “BINGO! Here's your red stick with the yellow ball on top. This is Bev Springer with her Rock Springs Park pennant tied to one.”

Bev, herself, had been a Rock Springs Park mystery, until I discovered her name and wrote about it, in blog post “Mystery Woman Identified,” on August 20, 2010.

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