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Tuscora Park Turns 100 Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Friday, 21 September 2007

By Derek Wise

What can 75 cents get you these days?  75 cents?  A can of pop or a candy bar if you are lucky.  Some chewing gum maybe?

Take a visit to Tuscarawas (pronounced: tuhss cuh rrar wuhss) County just northeast of Columbus, OH, and you may find the best 75 cent investment you ever made.  Nestled away in a 37-acre city park in northwest New Philadelphia is a wonderful little treasure known for a century now as Tuscora Park.  

The park was opened on June 1, 1907, by the Reeves family of Dover, Ohio, who wanted to create a Coney Island-type of park in Ohio.  One of the parks first attractions at the park was a swimming pool which opened on Independence Day in 1907. Many area residents came to enjoy the refreshing waters of the pool and the picturesque setting surrounding the picnic park.

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The park continued to operate under Jeremiah Reeves and family until 1915 when the city of New Philadelphia purchased the entire place. It has remained a municipal facility ever since then. Though the city bought the park in 1915, the actual deed to the park was not turned over until 1923. The popularity of the park grew so much that Northern Ohio Traction Co. constructed a switch which allowed streetcars to make a run to the parks entrance from the main boulevard in town. This is unlike other trolley parks which were built at the end of trolley lines to increase trolley usage on weekends. The trolley actually sought to add this park to its line. Because they did, access to the park was made a little easier. Thousands of people visited the park in the summer. The park was now earmarked the Coney Island Park of eastern Ohio.

Management tried to keep guests happily entertained every summer.  As the era of ballroom dancing came into the limelight, the park built a large dance hall which provided much local entertainment for Ohioans. This dance hall was popular during the Great Depression. And like many parks of this day, the park probably survived the Depression because of the popularity of the dance hall. A story has been told that a young gentleman came by the park office to see if he could book his band for a performance. Unfortunately the dance hall was booked up for the next several weeks and he and his band did not have a chance to perform. He left behind a card with L. Welk on it. It is believed that this was Lawrence Welk who went on to television and big band fame years later.
As ballroom dancing faded into history, the park converted this building into a roller skating rink on the upper floor and an arcade on the lower floor. During the summer months, the lower area was also used as a picnic area. The skating rink was a big attraction for the youth of the area as they could use it to skate year round. A small zoo was added, with squirrels, bears, peacocks, monkeys, and parrots housed in cages next to the roller rink.

Sadly, on January 11,1961, the building caught fire and burned to the ground. A skating party had been held at the rink the evening before until 9:00 p.m., and Wayne Kiser, the man who leased the arcade and rink, left the building around 10:30. Two hours later the fire was blazing through the roof. By the time fire fighters reached the building, it was too late to save it. This was a big tragedy for the park.  They not only lost the roller rink and arcade, but also lost many of the items stored inside the building including the park benches, picnic tables, kiddie auto ride and plane ride parts, and the Ferris wheel cages.

The building also contained mens and womens changing rooms for the pool, a paint shop, and the work room for park repair and routine maintenance. Most of the zoo animals were killed in the fire as well. Damage was estimated at over $100,000 and insurance only covered a portion of the loss. The rink and arcade were never rebuilt. The zoo faded into history as well as surviving animals died off, and no new ones were brought in to replace them. However, new changing rooms were rebuilt on the same site for the pool patrons.


The Carousel and Ferris Wheel

One of the first rides at the park was the Herschell Spillman carousel, which was built in 1925. The portable carousel become a permanent part of the park in 1941. The records of its whereabouts prior to 1941 were lost in the fire. This carousel is a beautifully crafted piece of artwork with 36 hand-carved wooden jumpers and two chariots. There are 14 original oil paintings as well as 350 lights. A Wurlitzer 153 band organ provides music as patrons ride along the 40-foot diameter platform. In 1988, Jerry and Donna Schwab built a building to house the carousel in memory of their ten-year-old son who died. Their son, Douglas, always enjoyed the park and spent time playing there. A small brick wall with a plaque stands near the entrance as a memorial for the young boy. The carousel also had the benefit of a full restoration around this time thanks to the tireless efforts of the late Jerry Betts. For those of you who have the book Grab the Brass Ring by Anee Hinds, you can see the Tuscora Park carousel on the front cover sleeve.

Other kiddie rides at the park include an airplane ride; a Herschell rocket ship ride which came from Tiltons Amusements, a company in West Virginia just across the Ohio River from Marietta; and a car ride. The original car ride had pedals on it, in which riders moved the car around the track. There was a horse also out in front of the car. Though this ride has been replaced by another one, a piece of this homemade ride lives on at the local Dairy Queen. The airplane ride was also homemade. The current planes on it were made by one of the locals who put his talent to work to help entertain young children.

The Ferris wheel is an unusual one. It is one of only 10 made by the C. W. Parker company of Leavenworth, KS. The wheel came to Tuscora literally by accident. The carrier of the ride was involved in a locomotive accident as it traveled through town. The damage was extensive enough that the carrier could not be moved. The company just left the wheel there. It became a part of the park and has been there ever since. The hydraulics and framework were overhauled in 1984. The only other Parker Ferris wheel left is at Crossroads Village in Flint, MI. The swing ride was added in the late 1980s. It came from Xenia, Ohio. A Lions Club housed this ride and another kiddie ride. One of the club members contacted the local Rotary Club and offered to sell both to the park. Several members made the trip to Xenia, purchased the rides, and added these to the growing park.
T
he train ride was purchased for $3,000 from a closing park in Illinois in 1984. Several Rotarians loaded up the ride on a semi and delivered it to the part. (It would appear that the train may have come from Dispensa Kiddie Kingdom, which closed in 1984, as it was the only park in Illinois to close that year).
The latest addition to the park is the Mini Coaster, which is a kiddie coaster designed by Bradley and Kay. It is the Little Dipper design, the same as the one at Memphis Kiddie Park. Both parks allow adults to ride. The track is oval and it has one train with three cars on it, seating up to four people, two per row. The coaster has been at the park since 1990 when it was purchased from the defunct Vollmars Park outside of Toledo. The Rotary paid $3,000 for the coaster and again hauled it to the park in a semi.

If it seems I am mentioning the local Rotary often, it is because they have had a big impact on keeping the park open. Tuscora has struggled over the past several years, especially with paying the high insurance rates for running the rides. Several years ago, the ride part of the park almost closed because there was not enough money to pay the premiums. This is when the Rotary stepped in and formed a nonprofit group called RTY. By doing this, insurance could be purchased at more reasonable rates. Any money made through this is pumped directly back into the park. The Rotary runs all the rides and concessions. The shelter houses are still run by the city. The Rotarians work to save the park just goes to show what mighty things can be accomplished by a few individuals with love and commitment.

In addition to the rides, the park offers an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a second pool with diving boards (built around 1984). It also has tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, two baseball diamonds, several batting cages, and an 18 hole miniature golf course. Picnic tables surround the park on the shaded hillside. Park admission is free.  A hillside amphitheater is also a part of the park where local talent perform on Saturday evenings (also free). There is a fireworks celebration on the Fourth of July each year which Im sure will be impressive this year on the parks centennial celebration.

If you have never been to Tuscora, what better time to visit than this year to help celebrate its 100th season.
Tuscora Park is open Memorial Day through Labor Day, seven days a week and some weekends in the fall.  It is located at 161 Tuscora Ave., NW, New Philadelphia, OH 44663.  For park hours, special events and more information on your visit, call (330) 343-4644 or visit them at www.tuscora.park.net. 

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