East Park's overlook castle restored, ready for visitors
East Park's overlook castle has been restored to its original glory. Thanks to state grants and Arch Masonry of Pittsburgh, the local landmark now looks exactly like it did when the Works Progress Administration built it during the Great Depression.
Those who attend Sunday's Golden Reunion can see the project up close and share memories of the good times they had as youngsters at East Park, off Wills Road in Connellsville.
Tunnel project pending
Meanwhile, Connellsville Redevelopment Authority, which oversaw the castle project, is awaiting bids for a project there: New hand railing and lighting in a tunnel that allows pedestrians park access, according to Michael Edwards, the authority's executive director.
The Golden Reunion is in its second year. In 2012, approximately 100 classmates from Connellsville and Geibel Catholic high schools, along with graduates from the former Dunbar Township and Immaculate Conception schools, gathered for a day of fellowship during the Memorial Day weekend.
This year's event comes on the heels of the ninth annual Geranium Festival, which will be held downtown on Saturday. The class reunion will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday and will include a meal by Miller's Catering (Italian Oven) and Big Band music by the Wally Gingers Orchestra.
“We're hoping to double last year's attendance,” said Edwards, who also serves as president of Fayette County Cultural Trust, sponsor of the reunion.
All graduates are welcome, although the event honors those who have been out of high school for 50 years or more.
The East Park castle project was complicated because Arch Masonry had to disassemble the landmark piece by piece, numbering each piece. Its foundation was reinforced and the “new/old” castle was reconstructed during the fall of 2012. The $80,000 project was funded with cash from the city's state Community Development Block Grants from 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Historic restoration projects have strict rules to preserve integrity — and “historic” certainly applies to East Park, one of thousands of civic projects the WPA completed in the 1930s during The New Deal era of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Other local WPA projects include Connellsville Falcon Football Stadium, the Water Street wall near the Amtrak railroad station and the South Arch Street wall near the football stadium.
Before it was a park, East Park was known as Hogg's pasture, where cows grazed. The site was owned by James Breading Hogg, a Bullskin Township native who moved to New Haven Borough (now Connellsville's West Side) as a child. Eventually, the pasture turned into a dump and an eyesore.
Park dates to 1936
A 1936 Daily Courier article reported that city officials met to transform the site into a recreational area. Council members voted to apply to the WPA for a park — and the rest is history. East Park was built between 1936 and 1940. In October 1940, a grand opening featured a choir festival, a roller-skating contest on Pittsburgh Street, a Mardis Gras coronation and a Connellsville Cokers vs. Dunbar Mules football game.
Although the band shell needs repairs, the city's parks and recreation commission made use of it last summer when outside movies were held at East Park for the first time since the 1970s. The movies were such a hit that organizers said they will make an encore appearance this summer.
Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.