Eldora Park Walking Tour

Prior to availability and affordability of some of the more modern modes of transportation: the automobile and the bus; steam-powered trains and electric-powered trolleys were the major modes for moving people longer distances. While some in Donora had automobiles, Donora was a self-contained town that had everything one would need to live their day-to-day lives for work, church, school and shopping, so automobiles were not a necessity, and people tended to walk. When walking wasn't conducive at all times for longer distances, Donorans would also travel by train or trolley. While trains almost always followed the flat terrain of river banks, trolleys could go almost anywhere and navigate the hilly terrains of hollows and the undulating streets of towns throughout Western Pennsylvania.

The Pittsburgh Railways Company supplied trolley lines all around the Pittsburgh area and extended to points south through the Monongahela Valley and mostly paralleled the Monongahela River all the way down to Roscoe. Often the trolleys would travel right through the center of the towns they would connect. While the trolley line did extend south to Donora, it was only as a spur and dead-ended at First Street on McKean Avenue. The spur started off of the main line in the Black Diamond section of Carroll Township on Route 837 just south of Monongahela and north of Donora, while the main line would travel uninterrupted up Black Diamond Hollow to bypass Donora and connect Monongahela to Charleroi.

One of the many benefits (albeit unintended) of urbanization and industrialization was the development of leisure time for the laboring masses. What was once the exclusive domain of the “Idle Classes,” wage laborers, working timed shifts, found themselves with two things they never had before: free time and discretionary income. This newfound leisure did not go unnoticed by enterprising entrepreneurs who realized that providing service to fulfill the needs and wants of this new class meant big business. One of the more interesting combinations of service and entertainment was the trolley park. As the urban landscape expanded, mass transportation became a necessity in moving people from place to place. In an effort to increase ridership, provide a rural escape from urban living, and tap into discretionary income by selling entertainment, the trolley park was born.

People from Donora, as well as neighboring communities, enjoyed their leisure time by picnicking which sometimes also included entertainment. Prior to the founding of Palmer Park in Donora in 1921, they would often venture to places like Putt's Grove on the outskirts of Donora by foot or the newly created Eldora Park outside of Donora by trolley. After 1921 they probably spent more time in Palmer Park, but still continued to visit Eldora Park.

Eldora Park followed in the pattern of Kennywood, Luna, West View and dozens of other parks across the United States. Located three miles west of Donora and the western bank of the Monongahela River on land leased on the Wickerham farm, Eldora Park opened in 1904 to an overwhelming throng of five thousand people. Compared to the more famous trolley parks, the amusements were relatively meager: a gravity roller coaster, a carousel, a “bamboo” slide, and games of chance and skill. Just as important were the picnic pavilions, the bandstand and dance pavilion (converted into a roller rink in the winter), an “Electric Theater,” a picture gallery, and a restaurant. Still, this tiny, out-of-the-way trolley park was able to attract world renowned speakers and performers. (Photo to the above-left courtesy of Richard Rockwell)



So why, if Eldora Park is not in Donora's geographical boundaries, do we promote it?

While Eldora Park does not lie within the geographical boundaries of Donora, we promote Eldora Park primarily because its part of Donora's history. As stated above, people from Donora picnicked at Eldora Park and enjoyed all the entertainment and amenities it had to offer. After launching our Bruce Dreisbach Glass Plate Negative project years ago, we discovered glass plate negatives of Eldora Park (see the first photo above of the Eldora Park arch.) Dreisbach's wife Lulu was a friend of the Wickerhams and the Wickerhams would often spend time in Donora.

In 2013, we collaborated with former Carroll Township resident and Eldora Park expert Richard Rockwell (see his website link below) in the exchange of information and photos. Rockwell then graciously conducted an Eldora Park presentation at the Donora Historical Society for the general public. Since the presentation proved to draw people interested in hearing stories about the Park and the fact that Rockwell now resides in New Jersey, we decided to develop our own presentation and supplement it with research of our own, that included research from former newspaper reporter Ron Paglia and local Eldora Park presenter Len Marracini. After we presented Eldora Park: The Mid-Mon Valley’s Trolley Park Retreat, 1904-1946 at the Mon Valley YMCA during its History Enthusist's Day in 2016, it created such excitement from the over sixty in attendance, that they wanted to know where Eldora Park actually existed. We contacted the current landowners, who also happen to be descendants of the Wickerhams, to see if we could bring people to do a walking tour. They were positive about the idea of keeping the stories of their family and Park alive. In 2017, we conducted our first Eldora Park Walking Tour, which proved to be successful. In 2018, we held not one, but two more successful Eldora Park Walking Tours. We will continue to offer the tour as long as people find it interesting.



Eldora Park Walking Tours:

Our third annual Eldora Park Walking Tours are tentatively scheduled for Saturday, March 30, 2019 and Saturday, April 6, 2019, both at 12:00 noon. The Smog Museum will close early these days at 1:00 p.m.

Our Eldora Park Walking Tours  will start at the Smog Museum in Donora with a photo and newspaper-article presentation titled Eldora Park: The Mid-Mon Valley’s Trolley Park Retreat, 1904-1946. You can also see our two century-old Eldora Park panoramic photos, newly acquired in 2017 as donations from Mon Valley residents. The presenter is Smog Museum curator and archivist Brian Charlton. After the presentation, we'll drive the three miles to conduct the Walking Tour portion in the Eldora section of neighboring Carroll Township to the historic Wickerham farm, retracing the trolley line and ending up at the Park site to describe, among the few remaining ruins, where the Park amenities once existed. One of the Wickerham descendants will accompany the walking tour to help share stories. The cost is $12 per person and you should allow at least two hours for the presentation and walking tour.

These Eldora Park Walking Tours  are held only once a year and  are scheduled after the winter has lessened the forest's undergrowth. Two hiking routes can be taken, one more demanding than the other. You may do as much or as little hiking as you'd like. Guides will be on hand to answer all of your questions. Appropriate dress and footwear is required due to potentially wet and muddy conditions. Hiking poles/sticks are also encouraged. You can bring your own or borrow one of ours. Bottled water is also encouraged.

If you have any questions about the Eldora Park Walking Tour itself or would like to be added to a signup list to RSVP, please contact the Historical Society by calling or emailing, as space is limited. You can find our phone number and email address on our Contact Us  page.



To read about Eldora Park on Richard Rockwell's website click on this link: Eldora Park - Richard Rockwell.

In April 2017, the Washington Observer-Reporter published an article written by Gideon Bradshaw about our first Eldora Park Walking Tour titled History lurks under the surface at old Eldora Park.  Click on the link to read the article - Observer-Reporter - Eldora Park. (Color Photos courtesy of Washington Observer-Reporter writer Gideon Bradshaw who attended our first tour in April 2017.)



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