(News-Herald, March 2003) As a student of local history, I have learned the answers to plenty of questions.
I know, for instance, where Coal Oil Johnny’s house stands. I have a rough idea of where the three forts stood in Franklin. I know where the bridge at the south end of Oil City used to cross the river to carry the trolley out to Monarch Park.
But there are certain local history answers that still elude me. Most of them are matters that are probably irresolvable, short of the development of time travel apparatus.
I keep thinking that some day, someone is going to come here with some serious high tech equipment and find the French plaque that Celeron planted down by Indian God Rock back in colonial times. In this day and age we ought to be able to beam some secret x-ray vision space satellite and spot where that little sucker has gotten to.
Some mysteries are just personal concerns. For instance, I don’t know the names of any of the original Franklin Silver Cornet Band members in 1856. I wish I did. Some of my other favorite mysteries are of more general concern.
Did George Washington fall into French Creek? Did he even have to cross it? I can believe that the young woodsman got his boots wet here on his colonial scouting mission, but fall in? I don’t know that anyone will ever be able to confirm whether or not George Washington slipped here.
Then there’s the carousel at Monarch Park. It’s widespread enough to count as oral tradition that the carousel was transported to Conneaut Lake Park when Monarch Park folded in the mid-twenties. It’s a cool story, and I’d love to believe it, but I’ve never come across anything that would corroborate it. I know lots of folks who have “always heard” it, but that comes a hair short of conclusive evidence.
I think there’s a lot of history still locked away in people’s heads in this area. For instance, I believe there still have to be many tales to be told about Monarch Park. The park thrived for almost thirty years at the beginning of the 20th Century; that’s a lot of warm summer evenings and sunny Sunday afternoons.
I’ve been out to the site of the park; bits and pieces of it are still in evidence. You can tell where the dance hall stood, where the trolley tracks ran. I stand there and try to imagine what it was like when thousands of area residents strolled through the garden, listened to a band concert or enjoyed a family picnic. There must be so many stories still to tell, and I wish I could hear, or read, each one.
The same holds true of the Sugarcreek Pavilion. It was a skating rink, a dance hall, and a revival tabernacle. It was this dance hall, and others like it, that helped put the nails in the coffin of places like Monarch Park—why sit and be taken, family in tow, on the trolley when you can hop in your automobile and go dancing with just your friends. Some of the hottest, best bands of the day played at Sugarcreek: Isham Jones, Fletcher Handerson, Coon-Sanders Nighthawks, Vincent Lopez. I wish I could know what it was like to hear them shake the rafters. Even as a skating rink, it must have been a sight to see. And Kathryn Kuhlman—well, I’ve seen pictures of her and while I’m sure her preaching skills deserve to be legendary, I’m guessing that it didn’t hurt that she was a major babe.
Then there’s Glenfern Park, apparently located on the lower end of Franklin, with some springs attached. I’ve encountered passing references to it but never heard any good stories, though I know they must be out there.
I’ve also come across indirect references in newspaper stories to a skating rink in Franklin, but never come across a direct mention of it. Where was it? What was it? Or was the writer making some sort of sly in-joke that has not aged well across seven or eight decades?
I bring this up now because it’s the mucky part of spring, not quite nice to be always out and about yet. This would be a good time to collect up some of these tales and set them down on paper, before they vanish into the dim past. You can lock them up in the family vault, send them to the Historical Society, or mail them to me here at the newspaper. The important thing is to hold onto these little bits of history.