Remembering Carbondale: The Kiddies Picnic in the park

 

No one would chance doing it today, but there was a time when owners of trucks didn't give a second thought to loading their vehicles with youngsters and taking them to Newton Lake amusement park for the annual Kiddies Picnic.

Trucks of all types collected youngsters from the city's playgrounds, sat them down on benches in the cargo area and headed for the popular amusement park near Finch Hill in Greenfield Township for a day filled with good food, fun on the rides, prizes and maybe a swim.

It was an annual ritual for Carbondale kids and just about everybody who owned a truck — from contractors, to freight lines and even those who delivered coal in dump trucks — pitched in to help. As far as I can remember, nobody mentioned insurance, liability or any of the legalese that makes the rounds today.

For some reason my brother, Dean, and I didn't get to go to any of the picnics, maybe because when we were of the proper age there wasn't a playground in our neighborhood.

In later years the East Side Playground was established on East Garfield Avenue and our mother was elected president of the sponsoring association.

I haven't been able to find out how long the picnics at Newton Lake continued, but there was one story in The Advantage telling of a bicycle being donated by the Carbondale Trinity Club for Kiddies Day at Russell Park in 2013 sponsored by the Kiwanis Club.

That story reminded me of the way some bikes were awarded at Newton Lake in the late 1940s.

Jimmy Beamish, who was The Scranton Tribune's Carbondale reporter, came up with the idea.

He had photographer Bill Nally take a photo of a group of kids at the picnic. When the picture was delivered to The Trib office, Beamish circled one of the faces with white ink. The photo was published the next day and the kid in the circle got the two-wheeler.

Newton Lake was a great place for the Kiddies Picnic, or any outing for that matter. They called it the "Playground of the Anthracite."

The 50-acre park was established in 1917 by Franklin B. Wagner and operated until 1976 when it was sold to a developer who had plans for townhouses, a theater and other commercial ventures that never became a reality.

Throughout the years rides at the park included a miniature railroad, whip, heyday, dodgems, Ferris wheel, boat rides, several kiddie rides, carousel and a roller coaster.

According to nepalostparks.com, the carousel, which featured 48 hand-carved wooden figures, was constructed in Austria in 1881. It was reported to be one of three of its kind in the world.

The ride was originally purchased for the D&H Railroad's popular amusement park at Lake Ladore, near Waymart. After the park closed in 1915, it was moved to Newton Lake.

Unlike most amusement parks, the one at Newton Lake was not located on a railroad or trolley line but, thanks to improved roads and the increased popularity of the automobile, during its heyday it attracted large crowds. Reportedly on one July Fourth, there were 75,000 people there. Many were attracted by the popular bands — local and national — that played at the big dance pavilion.

There were plenty of special attractions, too. In 1933 the park teamed up with The Scrantonian newspaper for a competition to select "Miss Anthracite."

"Who will be Miss Anthracite?" an ad in the Sunday newspaper asked. It promised 200 beautiful girls in what was billed as the biggest beauty pageant in the country. Admission to the pavilion where there were 3,000 reserved seats was only a dime.

The Rogers family got to the park once in a while. I remember riding the miniature train and several other rides but, needless to say, we never made it to the beauty pageants.

(A detailed story on the Newton Lake Park can be found at nepalostparks.com/parks/newton.html)

Ed E Rogers is a Carbondale native who spent more than 70 years as a reporter and editor for regional newspapers. He frequently shares his memories of his home town with Advantage readers. He can be reached at EdERogers@aol.com.

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