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Local money pushed Shady Grove to front of amusement scene

| Thursday, March 6, 2014, 12:02 a.m.

The announcement came in a brief story on the front page of The Charleroi Mail on May 12, 1920, under this headline: Local Owners Sell Shady Grove Park.

Located in the village of Lemont Furnace, between Uniontown and Connellsville along the West Penn Railway, the park had thrived for a number of years under the ownership of Charleroi businessmen Robert S. Coyle, Tom P. Sloan, D.M. McCloskey and John K. Tener.

The Mail said Shady Grove had been operated “as a place of amusement and in the past proved to be a very popular recreation center.”

It further noted that Coyle, who served as manager of the park, said the facility had been sold to Bert Miller and his mother, Anna M. Miller, of Connellsville. The charter for the park was turned over to the new owners, who took immediate possession.

In speaking of the property transfer, the Uniontown Evening Standard stated: “People of Fayette County will deeply regret the severance of business relations (of Mr. Coyle) from the park as he has conducted the business on a systematic basis and has made numerous friends by his management and general courtesies.”

The Mail said the park opened in 1895. Jerry Storey of the Tribune-Review, however, wrote in 2006 that it was built “in the early 20th century by the West Penn Power Company as a destination to boost ridership on its trolley line.”

Debut of the park notwithstanding, the first media reference to local ownership came on May 5, 1906, with an announcement that Shady Grove would open on May 21.

The Charleroi Mail said, “This is of special interest to many Charleroi people from the fact that the park is promoted by Charleroi capital. Robert S. Coyle of Charleroi will manage the park and will be assisted by a number of local people.”

The story continued:

“A big amount of money has been spent in equipping the park, which is a beautiful plot containing 48 acres. Among the amusements and attractions is Lake Edisonia, a ferris wheel, a roller coaster, an old planatico, a House of Mirth, an Electric Theater, a gypsy camp, a shooting gallery, a photo gallery, doll racks, a restaurant and two large dance pavilions. It is one of the best equipped parks in Western Pennsylvania.”

Individuals and groups from the Mid-Mon Valley made their way to Shady Grove for a variety of events during Coyle's tenure as manager.

On Tuesday, Aug. 31, 1909, for example, members of Charleroi Order No. 494, B.P.O. of Elks, participated in a picnic there.

The Mail proclaimed the outing was “a grand success in every particular. A good crowd attended the affair and enjoyed themselves during the day.”

The Charleroi Elks joined lodges from Donora, Monongahela, Monessen, Uniontown, Scottdale, Greensburg and Jeannette for the traditional event. An estimated 1,400 people were in attendance.

“Charleroi members have the reputation of being excellent entertainers and the committee in charge of the outing yesterday enlisted by Manager Robert S. Coyle of the park, who is a member of the Charleroi lodge, did not overlook a feature that would add to the pleasure of the guests,” the newspaper reported on Sept. 1.

“The gathering reminded one of a big family reunion. The little Elklets had the time of their lives while the mothers and the other children of the families enjoyed themselves to the limit.

“The local lodge went from Charleroi in a special Pennsylvania Railroad train of seven passenger coaches and a combination smoker and baggage car. Stops were made at towns south of Brownsville in which members of the lodge reside, the last stop being at Brownsville, where a large number of Elks and their families began to band together with members from out of town, and at the noon hour every man, woman and child was being fed on the best in the land.”

While the park attractions did an elegant business all day, the newspaper said, the big feature and drawing card were two baseball games in the afternoon.

The Charleroi team outplayed both Uniontown and Connellsville, defeating the former by a score of 3 to 2 and the latter by a count of 3 to 1, The Mail reported. It also emphasized that both games were “fine exhibitions of the national sport.”

During the day, Coyle entertained a number of guests at his bungalow at the park.

The committee in charge of the Elks outing comprised chairman Harry Hormell, secretary-treasurer E.I. Brown, John Mathias, William Garrett, Joe Edwards and Robert McKean.

District Elks held similar outings in the ensuing years, one of the biggest being on June 14, 1911. An exhibition baseball game between teams from Charleroi and Monessen highlighted that affair, with Monessen rolling to an 11-4 victory.

Not all area organizations opted to journey to Shady Grove for their outdoor festivities.

On Thursday, July 11, 1913, the Charleroi Business Men's Association, a forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce, chose to hold its annual outing at nearby Eldora Park in Black Diamond on Thursday, Aug. 7. The Charleroi group's decision came one day after businessmen in Belle Vernon selected Eldora Park for a similar event on Aug. 6.

The Charleroi association considered three sites for the 1913 picnic – Eldora Park, Kennywood Park and Shady Grove. Representatives of all three amusement centers attended the CBMA board's meeting. Among those agents was manager Tom P. Sloan of Eldora Park. A fourth choice, the Charleroi playground, was nominated but received only one vote.

When Robert S. Coyle wasn't busy with his myriad duties at Shady Grove, he brought a popular feature of the venue to the theater that carried the family name in Charleroi.

The Charleroi Mail called attention to that on June 14, 1912, in announcing that a “rare musical treat is promised theatre-goers in Charleroi next week at the Coyle Theatre when manager R.S. Coyle will bring the Shady Grove orchestra here for a three-day engagement on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.”

“Because of increased business and attendance at Shady Grove Park, Mr. Coyle is obliged to enlarge his dancing pavilion and is having the two dancing pavilions thrown into one,” the newspaper explained. “This will require a matter of about three days and while the work is in progress Mr. Coyle has made arrangements to bring his orchestra to the Coyle Theatre.”

The Mail noted that the orchestra, “under the leadership of Professor Louis Ritsko, the famous Gypsy violinist, who is well known in Charleroi,” included such accomplished musicians as Ralph Wheeler, pianist; Harold Decker, cornetist and former leader of the famous Tenth Regimental Band, and Prentice Benson, drummer.

Shady Grove continued to enjoy popularity and success long after Coyle and his business partners sold the park in 1920. Among the many, many events that drew media attention over the next decade were these:

Sept. 5, 1925 – Dave Harmon and his Edison Records Orchestra will be at Shady Grove Park over the weekend, playing for a dance tonight and another on Labor Day, Sept. 7. The Monessen Daily Independent touted the events by saying, “Those who have had occasion to hear Dave Harmon and his Syncopators are familiar with the fine brand of music they play and will likely take advantage of the Uniontown engagement to hear him again.”

July 15-17, 1927 – Jazz/Blues legend ”Jelly Roll” Morton presented shows at the dance pavilion.

June 7, 1929 – “Everybody's Happy, Everybody's Cool” was the overline in an ad for the “New Shady Grove Park – Uniontown and Connellsville's Playground.” The ad also alerted the public that every Tuesday would be “Free Kiddie's Day … Free Rides from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. … Free Candy” and said 25 prizes would be awarded to mothers at the park.

Aug. 5, 1929 – Paid advertisements in regional newspapers focused on a “Bathing Beauty Contest … Chance To Get In The Movies” on Tuesday. The event was promoted by Monster Movies and also included an evening dance. Women from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland were expected to compete for the title of Miss Tri-State and prizes that included those for “most daring bathing suit.”

The list goes on and on with far too many names and events to mention here.

But the park has been the scene of such festivities as school picnics, family and high school class reunions, political rallies, memorial programs, swimming and skating parties, concerts by national entertainers and even wedding receptions. It also became a campground.

The swimming pool at Shady Grove did not open for the 2013 season and the future of the site reportedly is in question.

But the park's legacy among western Pennsylvania amusement centers transcends time, and its successful early chapters were written by four enterprising men from Charleroi.

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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