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Residents, hikers flock to Pen Mar Park

July 21, 2003|by JESSICA DAVIS

jessicad@herald-mail.com

CASCADE - Once a bustling amusement park that attracted visitors from all over the East Coast, Pen Mar Park now stands as the oldest county park and a quiet haven for picnickers and hikers along the Appalachian Trail.

The site for Pen Mar Park was purchased in 1871 by Col. J.M. Hood, Western Maryland Railroad president, for the purpose of building an amusement park that would promote passenger business for the railroad between the metropolitan areas of Baltimore and the park, according to documents maintained at Hagerstown's Miller House.

After opening to the public on Aug. 31, 1877, the park became so popular that more than 100 hotels and boarding houses were built in the area to provide lodging for the thousands of daily visitors.

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In 1878, a 2 1/2-mile road to the High Rock overlook was built to lead visitors to the two-floor tower observatory. From High Rock to Mt. Quirauk, two miles of road were constructed and a 90-foot observatory erected that offered a clear view of more than 22 counties in four states, according to information from the Washington County Buildings, Grounds and Parks Department.

By 1898, the Western Maryland Railroad had hauled more than 500,000 passengers to the Pen Mar area. A round-trip ticket to Pen Mar from Baltimore cost $1 and the 71-mile trip took about three hours one way.

Another way to get to the park was on the C.G. & W. Pen Mar Trolley, which made its first trip in 1903. It brought passengers from Hagerstown, and from as far away as Chambersburg, Pa. In its first year of operation, the trolley transported more than 2,000 passengers who paid 25 cents for the round-trip fare, according to a book titled "The Pen Mar Story," written by Judith Schlotterbeck.

The first buildings in the park were the dance pavilion and dining hall. A band played every afternoon and evening, and presented a concert every Sunday.

The dining hall seated 450 and was well-known for its 50-cent dinners, for which railroad workers got a 25-cent discount. Diners could choose from three meats and six vegetables for the entre, and have ice cream and coffee for dessert, according to Schlotterbeck's book.

On the second floor, above the dining hall, were sleeping quarters for the orchestra, restaurant employees, the proprietor's family and a few guests.

Throughout the early 1900s, as the number of daily visitors grew to as many as 20,000 on a busy day, more rides and amusements were added to the park. The miniature train ride, the observatory, Ferris wheel, pool and bowling alley were added in 1904. Five years later, the roller coaster and roller skating rink were available, and in 1920, the Sea Plane ride made its debut, Schlotterbeck wrote.

The photo studio was another popular attraction for visitors. Around the turn of the 19th century, photographers at Pen Mar used a tintype process but later progressed to black-and-white film prints. Visitors could choose from three backgrounds for their 10-cent picture: Devil's Race Course, High Rock Observatory or a plain curtain. The studio provided a film-developing service for park patrons, according to the county parks department's records.

Screams of mild fear and laughter could be heard from the Pen Mar roller coaster. Many people remember a sign in front of the ride that said "Hold your hat and Don't stand up," according to parks department documents.

A movie theater accommodated 200 patrons who sat on wooden chairs while black-and-white silent films were shown through hand-cranked projectors. At first, shows consisted of a feature film and a comedy, but later a newsreel was added.

For 5 cents, park visitors rode a carousel featuring hand-carved animals from Hamburg, Germany. The carousel was located in a building whose roof measured 80 square feet and also housed the penny arcade that allowed visitors to crank a handle and view their favorite pictures for a penny, according to the parks department.

The dance pavilion was, and still is, the center of activities during Everybody's Day, an annual event held in August that celebrates the park's original opening day. Contests held included those for the most handsome boy, prettiest girl, largest baby, the boy with the most freckles and the baby with the prettiest curls, among other titles. The contest's popularity is evident by records that show that 500 children were registered in the 1921 baby show, according to the parks department.

In 1904, the original miniature railroad station was built by William N. Fleigh, a Western Maryland locomotive engineer. He was granted a three-month leave of absence each summer to operate the train. From 1904 to 1907, the miniature train was named "The Little Wabash" after the Wabash Railroad, which then was operating the Western Maryland Railroad, according to parks department documents.

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