Summary of Proposed Book Content
Rock Springs Park was an amusement park located in the Ohio River Valley town of Chester, West Virginia. Native Americans originally visited the springs and surrounding glade for hunting, and it is widely believed that George Washington drank from Rock Springs on one of his trips along the Ohio River. According to A History of Chester: The Gateway to the West by Roy C. Cashdollar, the land for the park was first donated for church picnics in 1857. Rock Springs Park was developed in 1897 in conjunction with a local bridge company to increase ridership on the new street car railway. Over the years, the park grew steadily, attracting large crowds daily until it was closed in 1970 to make way for a new bridge and cloverleaf ramp.
The story of Rock Springs Park is the story told in many communities across the United States in the twentieth century. A local trolley park was created at the turn of the century as a profit-making venture for a big transit company, became a weekend destination for hard-working men and their families, sponsored school picnics and offered boating, bathing, dances, and amusements, until peaking in attendance and profits around 1927. It then began a gradual decline and, like others of its kind, disappeared completely due to the automobile and returning war veterans who saw the world and did not want to sit at home. The park represents a significant period in American history, and even though it no longer exists, Rock Springs Park somehow draws people back to their lost childhoods.
I was only six years old when the park closed and eleven when the buildings were razed and the land leveled to make way for Route 30’s approach to the Jennings Randolph Bridge. But, for me, there was something hypnotic about the ghostly sun-bleached skeleton of the Cyclone roller coaster that ran parallel to the first base line of our school playground’s ball field. It was something that drew me away from my right-fielder responsibilities, so I found myself staring though the gate at a fantasy land wondering what magical things were happening on the other side. I could see the face of a green goblin mocking me from the front doors of the spook house dark ride and daring me to climb over the fence. I could practically reach out and touch the first hill chain lift of the Cyclone, and would imagine the carousel horses trapped inside the boarded up octagonal pavilion. I wanted to toss down my baseball mitt and wander over the tree-lined hillside and drink, just once, from the famed Rock Springs.
Those are my personal memories, but the fact is that this park was a magical place not only to me but also to thousands of others who hold memories of Rock Springs Park, people who would certainly enjoy the opportunity to share those memories with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren through a book about the park.
My book will cover the history of Rock Springs Park, from its use by Native Americans through its heyday and eventual demise, with dozens of never before published photos. It will tell the story of the thirty-two year search for the park’s famed 1920s carousel, one of the last produced by the Dentzel Company, and recount for the reader the dramatic events of the sudden blaze that destroyed the Old Mill, in which “pandemonium reigned” and “scores of women fainted in the red glare of the flames.” My book will also highlight the pursuit of many from the Tri-State area who have tried to recapture the magic of Rock Springs Park. People like Dr. James Smith who left his hometown following graduation in 1944 and, influenced by his boyhood trips to Rock Springs Park, amassed one of the largest collections of penny arcade artifacts in the world. Lou Holtz, famed Notre Dame Football coach, who’s Hall of Fame Museum, houses the original carousel Wurlitzer organ from Rock Springs. And fifties teen heart throb, Bobby Vinton, who remembers the Rock Spring Park dances as “a very “romantic time with the music…almost like something in the movies.”
Please permit me to revisit Rock Springs Park and let the magic live again.