Friday, December 27, 2013

Chestnut Hill Park

Freshly polished, a sugar bowl engraved with CH Park,
Chestnut Hill Park.
Among our many family heirlooms is a silverware set and sugar bowl engraved with C H Park, which is short for Chestnut Hill Park, an amusement park also known as White City Park which existed in the early 20th century. It was located in Springfield Township near Chestnut Hill where Bethlehem Pike and Paper Mill Road meet. We have these anitiques because my 3rd great grand uncle, Clinton Rorer, was one of the founders and briefly president of the park before he died in December of 1899. While doing research on the park, I was surprised to find no Wikipedia page for it and so I created one myself. After Clinton's death, the park was purchased by White City in 1906, a chain of amusement parks across the nation and even international. There was a pre-existing Wikpedia page for White City with a list of locations, most of them without their own individual pages so if anyone has enough information about the other parks, please consider creating a page for them as well.

Silver plated forks engraved with CH Park
As I have mentioned before, Clinton Rorer never married or had children so everything of his was given to his two nieces, Mary Ann (Rorer) Fallows and Emma G. (Rorer) Aiman. Mary Ann was my 2nd great grandmother and the C H Park merchandise was passed down to her daughter, Emma Sarah Fallows, and then to my grandfather, Chester Harold Godshall Jr. The fact that my grandfather shared the initials C.H. is pure coincidence, although it did lead to some confusion when my mom was a small child and thought her father once owned a park.

Sadly, Chestnut Hill Park did not exist for very long. In February of 1898, the Chestnut Hill Casino Company purchased 25 acres of land for it's development and it was ready to open by May but due to heavy rains, the opening had to be pushed back until June. Over the years, it featured many attractions including a large lake with row boats and electric launches, 50,000 fragrant plants, a carousel, a live brass band, and later, a rollarcoaster, pony track, and roller skating rink. It also hosted events and entertainment such as athletic meets, vaudeville performances, acrobats and gymnasts, and the presentation of a baby elephant named Little Hip.

Close up of the engraving
The park was intended to provide a more affordable option to Willow Grove Park for the middle to lower class of Norristown and Philadelphia. Although both parks offered free admittance, the trolly fare to Willow Grove was 30c whereas Chestnut Hill was only 5c. Unfortunately, the upper class residents of Chestnut Hill resented the crowds of lower class vistors to the area and in February of 1912, despite the previous year being the park's most successful, several wealthy locals pooled their money, bought the park, and immediately shut it down before the seasonal opening in the spring. After demolishing it, the land remained unused until 1927 when Erdenheim High School was built on part of it, which now operates as the Philadelphia Montgomery Christian Academy. Just north of Montgomery Ave, also on what would have been the park's land, is Antonelli Institute, a photography and graphic design school I coincidentally graduated from! Also north of Montgomery Ave is a small street named after Clinton Rorer called Rorer Street. There is also an Auchy Road, named after one of the other owners.

It's a shame the park only existed for 13 years and it's also a shame Clinton only lived long enough to see it operate for two years. However, I may not have been able to attend my photography school had it not been shut down and I am grateful these beautiful memorabilia have survived. Unfortunately, I can't share any of the surviving images of Chestnut Hill Park because I don't know what the rights situation on them is but if you google it, you can find some postcard images. And I can, of course, share images of the Chestnut Hill Park antiques.

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