Short-lived Trip: Taking A Trolley To Rides At Park

Posted: December 01, 1991

On May 30, 1907, women in long flowing dresses and ribboned hats, men in formal suits and children in their Sunday best rode the new suburban Philadelphia & Western trolley to Beechwood Amusement Park in Haverford Township.

About 5,000 visitors streamed into the park on that day, as the Royal Italian Imperial Band, clad in red and green uniforms, serenaded the visitors. European acrobats captured attention as they flipped and tumbled through the crowd.

Families celebrated the opening day of Beechwood's first season 84 years ago - but the fun didn't last long. In 1909, after only three seasons, the park shut down. The roller coaster never again caused stomachs to drop as riders sped down the curving track. No more would the tunnel of love attract courting couples.

Beechwood Park, which lay to the west of the P&W tracks and was bounded by Mill and Earlington Roads, was built by P&W to complement the suburban trolley line that had opened eight days before the park's debut. It was constructed to entice P&W riders to travel the railways.

"The only way people could get there was to ride the trolley," said Ronald DeGraw, assistant general manager of planning and development at SEPTA, and author of several books on the history of the suburban trolley lines. ''They made money not only because people paid to ride the amusements, but they also paid to ride the trolley."

It took about five minutes for passengers to travel from the 69th Street Terminal to the Beechwood stop.

The park, which was open from Memorial Day until Labor Day, could accommodate 15,000 to 20,000 people. Ten of the park's 20 acres were devoted to amusements and music - the rest of the land was reserved for picnic grounds. To the east of the trolley tracks was a man-made lake created by two dams, where picnickers paid a quarter to rent rowboats.

Elizabeth Hoffman moved into her home on Beechwood Road in Havertown in 1958. In the early 1960s two men knocked on her door and asked permission to tour her back yard. The men, who were brothers, told her that her home had been the lake's clubhouse.

"One of the men said he 'sparked' his wife here," she said. "He would give his younger brother a quarter to go out on the lake, so he could spend time alone with his wife."

The tiny window where clubhouse employees collected quarters remains a part of Hoffman's home and the original hooks that held the oars still exist, embedded in the walls.

The park guests were mainly middle class city residents, DeGraw said. "In those days most people worked six days a week," he said. "Sunday was the only day that people had off. They would take picnic lunches and spend the day."

At the center of the amusement park grounds, a 30-foot-wide boardwalk formed a rectanglular border around a set of swings, a bandstand and a square for showcasing circus acts. Flanking the walkway were booths containing everything from a photo gallery to palm readers.

Other attractions included a small Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, Japanese Garden and moving picture show. The park also featured live music, a dance hall and a restaurant, but the sale of liquor was prohibited.

Even with its many draws, the park began to lose $700 a week after being open just two months. Beechwood Park was unable to compete with other amusement parks in the area, which included those in Willow Grove, Chestnut Hill and Washington Park.

DeGraw quotes Frank H. Libbey, who was the bond holder and treasurer of the amusement park, and who attributed Beechwood's demise to "bad weather and poor management." DeGraw also said the park's reputation was damaged after a riot occurred in front of the fortuneteller's stand.

In 1909, the P&W abandoned the park, and the buildings began to crumble. Most of the structures were dismantled shortly after that. Now, all that remains of the glittering carnival are a few cement stanchions and the hollow skeleton of the old power house that provided energy to fuel the P&W fairy- tale land.

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