Mt. Vernon Park - The Scottdale Connection
Author's note: Bullskin Township Historical Society will be hosting the annual Heritage Day Festival on Oct. 20. Activities will take place at the historical Mt. Vernon Furnace site near Wooddale. A name and major attraction, forever synonymous with Mt. Vernon Furnace, was Mt. Vernon Park. Incorporated in 1931, the family-oriented amusement park and swimming pool was situated adjacent to Mt. Vernon Furnace. The following article describes the formation, successful operation, and the effects of the Great Depression of 1929 upon this venture and Scottdale capital employed.
The Scottdale Investor
Three life-long friends and residents of Scottdale, Ed Percy, Mike O'Toole, and R.J. (Bud) Stoner, undertook a business venture in rural Fayette County. The project envisioned was the construction of a swimming pool and amusement park situated centrally to Mt. Pleasant, Scottdale, and Connellsville. The year was 1931, and long-term leases were secured from Jess Eutsey and Charlie Weinbrenner who owned separate parcels. The site of the proposed park included a historic landmark known as Mt. Vernon Furnace. This charcoal fired facility had been built, circa 1801, by the accomplished ironmaster, Isaac Meason. One of the recipients of the iron produced by the furnace was the steel-making complex in nearby Scottdale.
Pool and Bathhouse Construction
The intent of the three principals was to construct a family-oriented park, which included a large swimming pool (70 feet by 140 feet) with an attending bath house (for changing clothes). An artesian well and Mountz Creek supplied water for the pool. West Penn Power Company designed and installed a lighting system that illuminated the general pool area and facilitated night swimming. An excavated pond, situated to the upper side of the swimming pool, served as a reservoir and warming impoundment. Future plans included expansion of the pond into a large lake, but economic conditions brought about by the “Depression Era” stopped this project from further development. Another casualty of expansion affected the proposed construction of a miniature golf course to the lower side of the swimming pool. Execution of that plan progressed no further than a blueprint rendition.
At the onset of park construction, a document entitled “Letters Patent,” describing the proposed corporate name and activity, was submitted on Aug. 10, 1931 to the State of Pennsylvania. The Governor of our state in 1931 was Gifford Pinchot (pronounced Pinch-o). He was best known in Pennsylvania for improving roads for rural residents, The term “Pinchot Road” is still revered by the farming communities in Pennsylvania. Better known nationally, Gov. Pinchot was an active conservationist, and was a contemporary of President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir. Roosevelt and Muir provided the impetus that created Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks. With Gov. Pinchot signing both the “Letters Patent” and the “Articles of Incorporation,” the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved the corporate charter of Mt. Vernon Park on Sept. 21, 1931.
Attractions within the park included a performing stage, merry-go-round (carousel), shooting gallery, refreshment stand, popcorn stand, bingo stand, weekend movies, pony rides, many picnic tables placed among large trees, and some privately owned cottages.
The performing stage was host to what we called “Hillbillies.” The ones that stand out in memory were Cowboy Phil, Joe Barker, Curly Miller, Happy and Jetta, Little Shirley and her washboard, Jughaid and Muleskinner, and a 10-year-old yodeling cowboy named Don. These performers were favorites of radio listeners, (WHJB-Greensburg), and usually performed on weekends. A local act, featuring Buddy and Shirley Mulroy from Scottdale, also appeared on stage.
The shooting gallery was operated by the Cox brothers (Bob and Bill) from Scottdale. Rifles, (.22 caliber), were employed to shoot out the “B” in targets placed to the rear of the stand. Weekend movies featured animated favorites such as “Betty Boop” and Disney characters. The movie screen was set up outdoors, and occasionally was blown down by summer storms sweeping down from Chestnut Ridge. The popcorn stand was a favorite hangout, and was operated by Barney O'Toole.
The picnic area was enjoyed by many folks throughout the years. Church picnics and family reunions were held in the shaded grove, which was located fairly close to the pool and other activities. The park was situated on level ground, which made access much easier for older picnickers. Cottages located on the park's perimeter included those owned by the Bash, Minerd, Kepner, and McCairns families.
The refreshment or concession stand was a very busy place. Two favorite confections were frozen Snicker Bars and “Sugar Daddy” suckers. Coca-Cola and Orange Crush beverages were popular as well.
An early lifeguard at Mt. Vernon Park pool has been frequently remembered by those who swam at the pool. Dean Pershing was one of the original lifeguards, and taught many people how to swim. The second lifeguard was this author's cousin, John Marlin. John also assisted in the construction of the pool and bath house before relocating to Steubenville, Ohio in 1932. John, arguably the best swimmer and diver to come out of this area, possessed Olympic level skills in platform diving, springboard diving, and the freestyle swimming stroke. His diving exhibitions with Mildred Wilson are legendary throughout the late 1920s and 1930s.
The ‘Depression Era' impact
Mt. Vernon Park, under the original corporate charter, operated until approximately 1939. The intent of the three main investors was very ambitious, yet the timing proved to be fatal to eventual corporate success. The “Depression Era” prompted an economic slowdown, and any hope for park expansion was exhausted. The Scottdale steel mill, (American Sheet and Tin Plate Company), being the employer of the investors, became an immediate casualty of the Depression. Perhaps no community in the United States has felt the wrath of the “Depression Era” more acutely than the town of Scottdale. The coal mines, railroads, steel mills, and general business community ground to a marked slowdown, and in many cases, final halt. It is unfortunate that economic conditions forced a major change in the development of Mt. Vernon Park. The trio of investors were compelled to sell their interest, and like so many other people of that era, weathered the “Great Depression” storm.
Today, Mt. Vernon Park has been relegated to a memory. The bath house serves as a private residence. The refreshment stand has been dismantled and now stands at a Wooddale site. The swimming pool and warming pond have been filled in, and no longer echo happy sounds of water activity. The inoperable West Penn Power light standards, the nerve center of night swimming, rust away, unabatedly. The smells, including cigar smoke, pool chlorine, and the aroma of popcorn, forever linked to Mt. Vernon Park, no longer permeate the air. The crack of rifle fire at the shooting gallery no longer breaks the park's occasional silence. Gone is the experience of riding on the merry-go-round. The performing stage entertains no more.
But through it all, the ever-producing artesian well serves as a sentinel to past activities that once reverberated throughout this gateway to the Chestnut Ridge.
Bob Percy is a freelance writer.