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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The former Rock Point Park in Ellwood City, PA

The weather looked ok this past weekend, so we planned on spending an afternoon on the beach at Moraine State Park. A huge downpour started as soon as we arrived, so we ended up going for an aimless drive. I happened to notice the sign for the Rock Point Yacht Club in Ellwood City, and remembered that this was the site of an old Trolley Park. I had heard that some of the most well preserved ruins from a park of this era remain here. Needless to say, the results did not disappoint. My only regret is that the thunderstorms and torrential downpours prevented us from further exploring this site. We will definitely be back here at some point.

In advance I thank rockpointpark.com for pointing me in the right direction for an adventure, and Lawrence County Memoirs for some more in depth information on the rail history of this location. 

The entire area has essentially been left to grow back since the park closed back in 1911. The land has been open to the public as a natural area thanks to the Wild Waterways Conservancy, that purchased the land back in 1996. Prior to this, the Nastas family had purchased the land in 1940 with the hopes that the state would eventually acquire the land to create a natural recreation area similar to McConnell's Mill State Park. I would not mind seeing this happen, but the Wild Waterways Conservancy has a great thing going with this natural area. I would love to see it opened up to more recreational opportunities.

It is a wonder that there is anything remaining from the park after a century of sitting and deteriorating. Here are some railroad ties. I am not sure if these have been torn up from the area, or if they are for a project in the little picnic area/boat launch area that is set up here. At the top of these rocks is what is known as Rock Point, the natural site for which the amusement park was built around. The point looks out over the Connoquenessing Creek Gorge at the creek's confluence with the Beaver River. 
 This is a rugged area that looks to have some pretty great hiking opportunities. 
 The waters were running really high from the downpours at that point, and the heavy rains throughout the week.
The park was built up by the New Brighton and New Castle Railroad Company in 1886, a part of the Pennsylvania Railroad. A tavern built in 1836 served as the starting infrastructure in the park. A few years prior the tavern was purchased by a doctor and turned into a health resort based around a set of mineral springs. There was a craze in Victorian times for these mineral springs for it is thought that they had healing powers. Another one of these mineral springs exists in Raccoon Creek State Park, where that too was turned into a health resort in this same time period. 

As a railroad park, the train would stop just prior to the entrance of this bridge. This bridge dates back to 1903. It is currently utilized by Norfolk Southern. 
 I never noticed an old telegraph line holder off of the side of a railroad bridge like this. 
Now for the coolest remnant of the park, a nearly intact foundation from the Shoot-the-Chutes ride that was built in 1904. I am not certain how many foundations of these remain intact, but there cannot be too many. This is a pretty impressive feat for something that has been around for more than 110 years, and in abandonment for 104 years. That is nothing short of spectacular. I have to get back to this place and explore some more. The oldest Shoot-the-Chutes ride in operation is the Lake Winnepesaukah Boat Chute, which dates back to 1927. Kennywood's 1901 Old Mill (Garfield's Nightmare) once had a Shoot-the-Chutes drop at the end of the ride and is probably the closest example we have to what existed at Rock Point Park over a century ago. It amazes me that these concrete troughs are still intact after so much time. 
It seems that this park had multiple issues that led towards eventual closure. The biggest of which seems to have been an oversaturated market in local amusement parks. There were dozens of parks dotted all around the region. Neighboring Beaver County had three trolley parks of its own, including Junction and Morado Parks in Beaver Falls, Aliquippa Park, and Woodland Beach in Ashtabula, OH. 

At this point the Pittsburgh Railways trolley parks were still in operation, which included Kennywood, Southern, Calhoun, and Oakwood Parks, all within or near Pittsburgh City Limits, keeping local Pittsburgh picnic crowds in town. The Panic of 1910-1911, a slight economic depression, also sealed the fate for multiple parks that were on the brink, likely leading to the decision for the Pennsylvania Railroad to stop service to the Rock Point, the decision that ended up closing the park. 

Parks like Kennywood, West ViewNew Castle's Cascade, Youngstown's Idora, Conneaut Lake Park, and others, eventually began to thrive. These parks drew from the same Pittsburgh market, but also had larger local cities to draw crowds from. 

1911 Pittsburgh Press blurb. Many of these exist within the archives from the turn of the century until closure

This would prove to be the difference maker, for the Pittsburgh crowds, especially in the midst of an economic crisis, were simply not enough to sustain the park. Additionally, this park was considered to be primarily a day trip destination, even with Rock Point having a hotel. Conneaut Lake Park up north was another railroad park that was coupled with a resort area in which people would spend multiple days up to weeks at a time. 

I have to get back to this place to explore some more. It seems like a great place to picnic, hike, and launch a kayak into the river area. There is also one of the most intact sets of ruins around from any abandoned amusement park between what I have seen, and the other things that I have seen through the park experts at the Friends of Rock Point Park group. In having sat idle for more than a century, this place has more remnants than parks that have closed in the last few decades.

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