Monday, September 21, 2020

Sylvan Dell Park, Williamsport

Sylvan Dell Park 1895-1930, Began as a private park named Mountain Grove, in 1888.  In 1895 the name was changed to Sylvan Dell, and it was opened to the public.  An article in the August 17, 1919 Williamsport Grit described the Sylvan Dell as "The Most popular resort of it's kind near Williamsport."

The Sylvan Dell was situated four miles below the city, beautifully located on the banks of the Susquehanna River, reported the 1919 Grit article. Extending for one mile, overlooking the riverfront, are cottages of every description. Many Williamsporters take their family there each year for a week or more of vacation during the summer months, while hundred of others take advantage of the river ride to have a picnic or dinner at the park."

The park has a dance pavilion with live music nearly every night of the week, a baseball field, restaurant, merry go-round, miniature railroad, and other attractions. A double decker steamboat took passengers from a dock in Williamsport, 3 and a half miles across the river to the Sylvan Dell Park.

W. Clyde Harer ran the Goose Island Bathing Beach in his high school days. He was interviewed in 1979, at age 93.

"It was a beautiful sandy beach" recalled Mr. Harer. "They changed clothes aboard a barge that docked there.  I used to rent bathing suits, and they weren't bikinis either.  They were full length leggings made of wood.  When I washed 'em out each evening, they were so heavy I could hardly handle 'em.  They believed in modesty in those days."

Goose Island, with the exception of a strip of land across the river from Newberry, was the only bathing beach in the vicinity of Williamsport capable of accommodating a large number of bathers.

In 1909, the Sun Gazette reported that Goose Island "used to be a plot of land surrounded by the limp water of the Susquehanna, and didn't cut much of a figure on the map. The scenic investiture was not gorgeous enough to attract even the eye of a passing mosquito.

But look at the Goose Island of today! It has been remodeled, revamped, and reconstructed, until now there is some class to it, and it attracts the eye of all lovers of bathing and swimming for miles and miles around."

The bathing beach was fully equipped with bath houses, lockers, bathing suits, and "all the up-to-date conveniences found at the seashore." In fact, reported the Gazette, "there is no use in making a trip to the shore when there is such a splendid place near at home for a cool dip and a swim and there is no undertow to carry you out into the danger zone either."

As for Sylvan Dell Park, the Gazette recommended that to enjoy a few hours respite from the "hurly burly of city life", a party should take the 4-6:15 boat, carrying supper with them. Remain for the evening dance, in the big and airy pavilion, "where the celebrated Stopper and Fisk orchestra four nights a week renders the most entrancing dance programs imaginable". The entire trip, including the dance, would cost only 30 cents. "a nominal sum indeed for so much healthful enjoyment!"

"The park was one of the great picnic areas of the time. " recalled Mr Harer. " Our church, the First United Evangelical, always had it's own outing there. We each took our own basket lunch. There as a big dance floor with all kinds of entertainment. Most everybody took the old paddlewheel steamboat on its regular run between the Market Street Bridge and the park."

See More Photos of the Hiawatha Steamer Here:

"At first they lit the boats with oil lamps" recalled Mr Harer. "Electricity was just coming in. When they installed electric lights on the boat, it looked beautiful streaming down the river to the dance pavilion. For smaller groups of 30 to 40 people, they had a gasoline launch to take people to the park. Gasoline engines were just coming in then also."

Although the park could be reached by railroad, water, or road, after the loss of the Hiawatha paddleboat in 1914, the park no longer attracted the thousands who had formerly made the trip. 

The Pennsylvania trains would not stop at the park unless they were guaranteed a certain number of passengers.  The road, especially in rainy weather, was in extremely poor condition, and few automobiles traveled it.

In 1922, Clyde Bastian, son of the parks founder, purchased the stock of the Sylvan Dell Park Association in 1922. Not long after, he dissolved the association and sold the lots for summer cabins. Some built year round homes on the lots. Mr. Bastian was also interviewed by the grit in 1979, when he was 87 years old.

"A man names George Boatman was the boss of the Hiawatha II.  The engineer we knew only as 'Old Man Nelson'.  The band would play on the open deck until midnight.  Monday nights private dances were held in the pavilion.  One Tuesday through Friday there were public dances.  On Saturday night, the picnickers and the 'cabin people' would get together in the pavilion, it must have been 40 by 100 feet in size"

"It [the pavilion] was torn down by a Chicago man about 1947.  Not long after that I sold the remains of the building and the five acres of the park to a man named George W. Cassady. he rebuilt the pavilion and turned it into a storage and repair shed for machinery."

To reach the park, some local residents would take a rowboat ride offered by Clay Whitmoyer, who lived at the park until he was 10. At age 76, Mr Whitmoyer recalled, "I took at least two or three riders at a tie, leaving from Canfield lane on the west side of the Loyalsock Creek. I was about six years old then. I still remember how the passengers would shout out to me from the river bank. When they got our of the boat they'd usually give me a nickel, or something like that."

In their 48th year in 1875, Lionel Legare's Spiral Tower was a feature

The spiral tower was featured at many evens throughout the valley, and would be an incredible act to see!


Find More Local History & Stories From Nearby Towns Here:


Sun Gazette August 1909

 From the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, June 14, 1902: "...Pennsylvania Railroad trains 30, 32 and 6 eastward and 3, 31 and 1 westward, will stop on flag, weekdays, at Bastian (Sylvan Dell) to receive and discharge passengers. Round trip rate from Williamsport twenty (20) cents." There was likely no station or shelter here, although there may have been a station sign or small platform.

A 1909 newspaper article about Goose Island gives the location of Sylvan Dell as  "Farther down the river is the far-famed Sylvan Dell, the beauty-spot of all Central Pennsylvania, the natural attractions of which make it the logical location for a picnic or a REAL outing."

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