Fayette Weekly Dispatch

Trolley parks served Charleroi residents

By R. MITCHELL STEEN
For the Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review, 1990

Much is being said, much written about the "golden days" of Charleroi, now observing its 100th year.

While Charleroi area residents struggled to build a town in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they still found time to seek avenues of relaxation and fun.

There were all sorts of fun-related activities available for those pioneer Charleroi residents. Not to be overlooked, however, is the phenomena that sprang up at the time — the amusement park.

Spurred mostly by trolley interests — as was Kennywood Park — Charleroi in the early 1900s depended mostly on two similar enterprises — Eldora and Beechwood parks.

The Pittsburgh Railways trolley company, operating between Black Diamond (near Monongahela) and Charleroi, reportedly built Eldora Park between 1900 and 1905, leasing land from the Wickerham family. The purpose was to encourage use of the trolley service.

It turned out to be highly successful for more than two decades, especially on Sundays, then a day for relaxation from the strenuous demands of a hard-working clientele. It's not sure when the park closed, but for a time it was used as a camping ground, then later abandoned with little trace remaining.

Eldora was an elaborate undertaking for the time. It boasted of a roller coaster, a merry-go-round, an electric theater, a bamboo slide, long walkways, pavilions, a bandstand and a massive dance pavilion, which attracted top touring bands of the time, including the likes of Ted Weems, Lawrence Weld (sic) and Kay Kaiser.

That dance pavilion was used for many years as a site for many early romances, as thousands took the trolley to the park to meet partners. Johnny Jenkins, a Charleroi band, played there regularly for many years. When the park closed, it was Jenkins' wife who was instrumental in the Charwood Girl Scout organization. It was that group that bought the pavilion and chartered the grounds on June 19, 1946.

Charleroi residents were instrumental in Eldora from the beginning. Steve Woodward, Guy Moffit and Tom Sloan reportedly were early financial backers, along with others. Mrs. J.P. McKenna of Charleroi, in those early years, was in charge of all amusement rides and it was her responsibility to make sure all rides were kept in operation.

Eldora was not just a summer fantasy. It featured many winter sports including ice skating, roller skating and dancing. Many touring vaudeville troupes played in the park.

A former Monongahela resident, Joe Barone, who moved to Florida, recently penned is recollections of Eldora while growing up in the 1920s.

He remembered the many school outings at Eldora, recalling that most used the trolleys to get to and from simply because "there were few automobiles in those days."

His most vivid memory of Eldora?

"It happened one night after I had graduated from high school. I had found a job and earned enough to make a deposit on a new 1924 Ford Coupe, the first kid in Mon City to own his own new car. What a showoff I was. It was then that I and my good friend, Charles 'Cussy' Read, took to chasing girls and running all over the Valley to dances. Eldora was one of the best and most popular places for dancing.

"They featured some of the biggest and best bands in the country. Also, there was the 'Golden State Eight Orchestra,' a Valley group then highly rated and led by Al Zeffiro of Donora. What a great orchestra it was.

"One night during one of those dances, we were struck by a terrible storm, a veritable tempest. We all began to worry about driving from the park since the road was narrow and unpaved. We worried but still danced.

"After the dance we all hit that road of deep mud, which was a big mistake. We should have stayed on that dance floor all night. There must have been close to 100 cars, and it didn't take long down that road before all were stuck.

"When we got out of the cars and stepped into the mud, we were all shocked to find that someone had removed tires from most of the cars. Someone went back to the park and telephoned for help. It was a soaking wet and muddy night of shoving and pushing, a miserable night to remember. I eventually got back to Mon City and later learned a band of thieves had come from Washington, Pa., and took away a truck-load of tires."

In those days the trolley lines used "summer cars" with open sides, very popular for travelers. They were a delightful and thrilling experience for many youngsters riding those cars for a day in the park.