BUHL PARK II: Clubs and Library
In the Sharpsville of my youth, Memorial Day meant the end of the school year (by a day or two), a parade down Main Street, and best of all the opening of the swimming pool at Buhl Park. That was around 60 years ago. According to the Mercer County Historical Society, this year (2015) is the 100th anniversary of Buhl Park.
Buhl Park and other Buhl legacies are popular subjects when it comes to Sharpsville memories. Here is the second story about Buhl Park written by Irene Caldwell O’Neill, SHS 1960.
BUHL PARK II: Clubs and Library
I couldn’t write about my childhood in Sharpsville without mentioning Buhl Park, also known as Buhl Farm. It was once owned by the local philanthropic couple, Frank and Julia Buhl, who had donated all 300 acres to the community in 1914 to be used as a park.
When I was young my favorite feature was the park’s huge swimming pool, open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I and my siblings, as well as most young white people in the valley, went there almost every summer day to escape the sweltering Pennsylvania heat. (I remember that the African-Americans or “Negro” residents were allowed to use the pool only one day a year, the day before it was drained for the winter.)
A big white colonnaded building, called the Casino dominated the park and was the focus of a lot of childhood activities. The pool was located on the building’s right while on its left and continuing around the back was the picturesque Lake Julia, itself covering eleven acres. Most winters Lake Julia froze deeply enough to provide ice skating and the Casino floors were covered over with rough wood planking so we could wear our skates inside and purchase hot chocolate. We played crack-the-whip and ice tag until our ankles couldn’t bear any more.
In the summer we would lie on the adjacent sidewalk and look down into the lake’s green and murky depths studying the moss, frogs, and fish. The Caldwell kids weren’t the only children to take home tin cans or glass jars filled with lake wildlife.
My mother’s family, the descendants of Robert and Jessie Cline Black, held a few of their family reunions at one or another of the park’s covered picnic shelters. While the children would go off to the pool, one of the playgrounds, or chase through the gardens, our dads had plenty of space for a ball game and the women would sit and talk, relaxing after all the meal preparations and planning done to get their families there.
My sister Judy and I, hoping to become respectable tennis players, chased our balls around one of the tennis courts a few times. The courts were in a sad way in the mid-1950s but usable enough for our poor game.
When my oldest sister, Bobbi, married in 1958, some of her wedding photographs were taken in the sunken garden at the park. This was a common practice at the time and I think it would be interesting to know how many years are covered in Buhl Park wedding photos.
So much has been written about the park’s Dum-Dum Golf Course that I won’t be redundant. All the same, I must mention that it was fun to walk across and that many of my male classmates caddied there in mild weather.
My brother and other boys in the Shenango Valley attended the Boys’ Buhl Club while I went to the one Julia Buhl donated for the girls in 1936, both located in downtown Sharon. I took tap dance and ballet lessons there, as well as simply enjoying the well-equipped facility. It had a kitchen (presumably for culinary lessons), bowling alley, and a comfortable, posh in fact compared to what I was used to, common room where my cousin and I met to play with the stock of board games, jacks, and Pick-Up-Stix.
A shower room was located off the gymnasium and for a girl who had only taken baths this was a heavenly experience. I’d be ashamed to admit how long I stood under that blissful hot water. The girls’ building closed in 1987 having consolidated with the boys’ club. Sad, but probably necessary, as the endowments were almost gone.
The Buhl Library (courtesy of the same pair) was located above and in the same building as the boys’ club. I frequently rode the bus (for ten cents) from Sharpsville to Sharon, spent time at the girls’ club and then visited the library where I checked out the maximum number of books I could carry home. If my cousin met me at the club we often walked up State Street to her house on the corner of Baker Avenue. I could get a ride home from there with Dad on his way from work or take another city bus.
-Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA, May 2013
To this day, Buhl Park, a member of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, serves as an “exceptional recreational, ecological, and scenic” area for the enjoyment of the community. Read more about the park’s history and its current activities here.
Click on map to enlarge image.