Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Former Valley Park/National Amusement Park/Harmarville Park, Blawnox, PA

This write up is very article heavy. I am not finding archived photos of anything. It seems like it was a really big operation. 
A 1927 naming competition for a new park? Oak heavy? It is a shame they seem to be mostly gone. 
This park was located at about the same point on the Allegheny River as Kennywood is on the Monongahela River. 
1927 naming contest: "Harmarville Park." The name was submitted by someone from the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, the place the Brit and I call home.
So we see the three names of the park: Harmarville Park, Valley Park, and National Amusement Park. It is strange that they had three different names for it.
1928 Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Contest for a park slogan:
Convention at the park in 1928
May 26th, 1929: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

And just like that, we have a mystery on our hands. Not much information/documentation exists about this park. This may be one of the most tangible things that we can see that a park once existed in this spot. The location is a picturesque spot along the Allegheny. It was located in Blawnox, PA near Pittsburgh. All indications say that this was the location. On one side is the current RIDC Industrial Park, and on the other is an apartment tower. The Allegheny River flows next to the property. 

Next to the park was the Allegheny Workhouse, a hard labor prison for hard criminals and the severely mentally disabled. A full working farm and orchard, and it was located on the expansive prison property. 

What we do know is that the park had a coaster designed by John Miller that is claimed to have been the "speediest in existence." We have no documents about coaster. If anyone does, please let me know. Judging by the looks of this photo, it seems that this ravine traversing coaster may have had a lot in common with the GCI "Wood Coaster" in China. Very ahead of its time. An urban legend says that this coaster succumbed to fire by arson from the family of someone who lost a loved one on the coaster, even though we have no documentation on this. Our article about a fire at the park says that the coaster was spared. Nothing is said about the demise of the park though in the newspaper.

Mill Chute Ride, a popular ride during this time period.

If there was a park fire, was this a case of arson by someone at the prison? Was this arson the case of a rival park trying to take them down? If there was not a fire, starting a park in 1929, with the huge expenses incurred through building a coaster to open the park, it does seem likely that the park could have closed with the changing economic situation during the Great Depression. 

1928 advertisement for workers:
This blurb from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 1928 advertises fireworks at the park, along with the Thunderbolt coaster, and ballroom dancing, nothing too far out of the ordinary for a park in that time period.
1930 was when things really tanked with the Great Depression. To entice visitors, the park showed free movies. Those darn suspected wets up in the Chautauqua/Jamestown, NY area were getting illegally searched by some agents too. The Depression and Prohibition. Bad times all around!
September 1930: A devastating fire sweeps through the park and levels thirteen buildings, including bowling alleys and a bingo hall. I wonder why more parks no longer offer indoor attractions like bowling alleys and banquet halls for some offseason revenue. The article says that the Thunderbolt was spared.
July of 1930. As with many other parks in this time period, it appears that vendors operated different attractions in the park. A dog racing track was there and appears to have gone into receivership, an extremely common occurrence during the Depression. I am not sure how much of a connection they had to the park. Not much information exists here after this point, but different sources around the web pinpoint this park having closed in the early 1930s. This may have been a final nail for the park. 
After a brief closure, the dog racing track reopened with a futile attempt at running with betting banned, but it thankfully seems to have finally died in 1931.
1931 saw plans for a boxing bowl to take the place of the track. These plans did not come to fruition. This article is interesting for it talks about other area boxing venues. The guy who owned Motor Square Garden, made the new plans. It is clear that there were some seedy things going on right at and around the park.
With it being torn down in 1932. It seems there was someone eying up that land for development at the time. It should be noted that the Guyasuta name lives on through the nearby Boy Scout's camp, Camp Guyasuta.
It seems that the park still lived on after the dog racing track was torn down. This article from 1932 shows a band playing at the park. Other small blurbs mention skating as a popular activity at the park. So far we have a roller coaster, carousel, bowling, roller skating, music, dancing, and other fun activities. It seems like this place was quite an entertainment venue.
So we have a mention of roller skating at the park in 1937. We don't have any mentions of the roller coaster though. 
The next article I can find with a mention about the park is from 1943 about a car accident near "the old National Park on Freeport Road." So we know it closed sometime between 1937 and 1942. Hmmmm. The more I find, the less answers I seem to have. What we do know is the date of the park closing around 1930 is incorrect, and that it closed as the result of a fire.

The grounds today:
1947 and the park is long gone. In this image from Historic Aerials you can see the outline of the dog racing track still.
1952 and suburban sprawl came along! It is interesting to see American history progress shown on this plot of land.

It is tough to image that such a grand coaster and recreational venue once operated in this super quiet area. One of the hundreds of amusement parks that have failed within their first ten years. The Pittsburgh area has lots of those.

1 comment:

  1. Another trolley park like Dreamland in Wilkinsburg and Southern Park in Carrick where there is absolutely no trace left and memory's lost. It appears between the Great depression and St. Patrick Flood of 36 which condemned many of these parks and trolley lines that people wanted to forget the good times they once had..