BUHL PARK I: A 1950s Playground
by Ann Angel Eberhardt
[Click on image to enlarge.]
“This is just like Germany!” was a phrase we often heard from my father as we took a Sunday drive through Buhl Farm in the 1950s.
My brothers and I just rolled our eyes at the repetition of our dad’s words, but I realize now, after having visited Germany in my later years, that the park indeed resembled the German landscape: clean, green, and manicured. And I also realize now that it hadn’t been very many years since my father had lived in Germany as a soldier during World War II. Serving in the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps, he had seen cities destroyed by bombs, but he also drove many times on the autobahn through pristine and verdant countryside.
At that time, the park was still young, having been in existence around 35 years. The idea for a park was born when Frank H. Buhl, with his steel industry earnings, began purchasing land in Hickory Township in the early 1900s. By 1914 Mr. Buhl, working closely with landscape professionals, oversaw the creation of a 300-acre recreational park for the local community. It was designed with a four-mile-long roadway that wound through the gently rolling wooded terrain, connecting all the features of the park, such as tennis courts, picnic pavilions, a golf course, an artificial lake and casino, a children’s playground, and an athletic field.
Besides detouring through the Park on Sunday drives, our family would sometimes select its beautiful setting as a background for photos on special occasions. The Kodachrome slides my father took of us are fading now, but there we were in our Sunday best on Easter Day 1956. Standing on the Park’s thick green grass, squinting in the bright springtime sunlight, are my grandmother, mother and me posing proudly in our pastel-colored Easter hats and dresses and my two younger brothers squirming in their Sunday suits. Another time, a friend of the family and camera hobbyist took over a dozen slides of me as a young girl in the flower garden that was named after Frank Buhl’s wife, Julia, and added to the park in her memory by her family and friends in 1936.
On summer days with little else to do, we kids often visited the Park, willing to walk or bike the almost two miles in the hot sun up the Seventh Street hill, because at the end of this trek were the wonders of a day spent at the Park on our own.
What freedom we enjoyed, exploring the woods, riding the ponies, swimming in the (cold!) aqua-colored waters of the pool, attempting to hit a ball at least once back and forth on the tennis court, or romping about in the flower garden! And we didn’t have to pay a dime to enjoy any of the Park’s many offerings!
I still remember the skunk cabbage that grew in a swampy area near the swimming pool (its large broad leaves had a putrid smell when crushed), the rough cement of the swimming pool, and the Casino with its changing rooms, showers, and a foot bath we walked through before entering the pool.
With the help of an endowment, continued contributions from the Buhl family and local citizens, and government grants, Buhl Farm Park, located at 715 Hazen Road, Hermitage, Pennsylvania, has been maintained, updated, and improved upon throughout its one hundred years of existence. In this way, the Park has existed to this day as a vibrant activity center for the community.
Source of historical information (accessed 30 June 2014):
–Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, 30 June 2014.