Trolley park’s history revealed in new video

November 24, 2012
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Photo provided by Rich Rockwell
A family poses in front of the Figure Eight roller coaster, believed to have been built in Eldora Park by L.F. Ingersoll, who went on to build famous attractions at Kennywood Park.
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Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter
Amanda Lovelace, center, a film student at Douglas Education Center in Monessen, researches Mon Valley trolley lines at Greater Monessen Historical Society with its vice president, Gary Strelick of Charleroi, and Kiana Stephens, another DEC student. Order a Print
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The original layout of Eldora Park

MONESSEN – Film student Amanda Loveless enjoys a challenge, and she’s found one with an assignment to find someone still alive who remembers going to a Mon Valley amusement park that closed more than 70 years ago.

She is researching Eldora Park, which boasted a motion picture tent, bandstand and roller coaster among other attractions off a Carroll Township trolley stop, as part of a class project at Douglas Education Center in Monessen. It’s designed to provide Pennsylvania Trolley Museum with a short promotional video on the old tourist destination to use in its Chartiers Township visitors display, and also advertise the museum on YoutTube.

“Literally, I feel like I’m chasing ghosts,” said Loveless, 32, who grew up on a dairy farm in Denair, Calif., and now lives in Charleroi. “No one can tell me exactly why this park went down.”

William Henry Harrison Wickerham leased a large portion of his property circa 1900 to the Western Pennsylvania Street Railway Co. to establish a trolley park similar to Kennywood, said his great-great-grandson John Kifer, who still resides on the family homestead.

In turn, Kifer said, “they electrified the house and the neighborhood.”

The trolley line was operated by the Charleroi Interurban, with former Gov. John K. Tener of Charleroi as one of the original board members.

The park quickly became an active place, said Rich Rockwell, a 1971 Ringgold High School graduate who played as a boy in the park’s dilapidated buildings after the site became the Girl Scouts’ Camp Charwood.

“I imagined what it would have been like to have had a Kennywood practically in my backyard,” said Rockwell, of Bloomfield, N.J., who developed a website dedicated to preserving the history of Eldora Park.

“Some people are interested in knowing that Lawrence Welk and Frank Lombardi performed there,” Rockwell said. “I’m more interested in knowing that Eldora, the nearby housing plan, was aimed at Pittsburgh commuters who could commute into Pittsburgh by trolley. It never developed into a commuters’ suburb.”

Mother Jones, a West Virginia union organizer, once spoke at the park, as did Carrie Nation and Booker T. Washington.

Loveless’ video will help to bring to life the trolley museum’s collection of old photographs and “put the exhibit into context with its times,” said Scott Becker, the museum’s executive director.

While Loveless said she hasn’t found anyone alive who remembers going to the park, she’s hoping some people will come forward after reading about her project in the newspaper.

“I’m basically a history buff,” she said.

“It’s the land that time has forgotten. There are so many stories. I don’t want it to be forgotten. I think to be a good filmmaker you have to embrace the subject, go out there and figure out what it was like to live back then.”

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Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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