Looking back on Beatty Park

Local woman seeks info, stories, photos to compile a history of Steubenville park

SEEKING SOME HELP — Flora Verstraten-Merrin, president of the Jefferson County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, grew up in the South End of Steubenville and was a frequent visitor to Beatty Park. While she has her own memories, she has been researching and collecting information, photos and stories to compile a history on the park. The local woman, shown sitting at the park’s entrance, is seeking specific information as part of an overall history she’s compiling on Beatty Park — historical information, memories, stories, photos and timelines on employees while it was a working park from 1930 to the 1970s. She is especially interested in hearing from anyone who has a connection to the South End and Beatty Park, while the old (original) pool was open and during the brief years of the new pool. -- Contributed

STEUBENVILLE — Flora Verstraten-Merrin is certain that lots of people have lots of memories about Beatty Park in Steubenville.

The president of the Jefferson County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society has them herself as one who grew up in the city’s South End and enjoyed walking there with her sisters, Cathy and Marianna.

But the Richmond-area resident is seeking specific information as part of an overall history she’s compiling on Beatty Park — historical information, memories, stories, photos and timelines on employees while it was a working park from 1930 to the 1970s.

What interests her at this point of the project is hearing from anyone who has a connection to the South End and Beatty Park, while the old (original) pool was open and during the brief years of the new pool.

Why Verstraten-Merrin wants to compile information about Beatty Park at all brings multiple explanations.

She’s a history buff enthusiast who was surprised to learn that a history has never been done on the park, despite its historical significance and memories. The history goes back to 1797 on the land, which was then known as the Huscroft farm prior to having been sold in 1854.

Her obvious personal connection is another.

“I grew up in the South End and have a lot of fond memories of the park and my childhood, spent innocently with my sisters and my friends,” Verstraten-Merrin said. “I think that there’s a need to reconnect with our past and our childhood.”

But there’s a story, she said, that further explains her motivation and rationalizes why the project is worthy of her time and research, which has meant meeting with people at McDonald’s at 6 a.m.; getting calls and answering texts at all hours of the night and day; and spending hours in the library or online, reading and researching any tidbit of information that references Beatty Park.

“I have a client — a member of my Silversneakers (fitness) class — who shared a story that her mother had told her,” Verstraten-Merrin began.

“Her mother told her that she was a diver in the early days of Beatty Park. She told her several specific stories about the swim shows that the park would put on for the fourth of July and other holidays. These stories included diving from fire truck ladders into circles of fire,” Verstraten-Merrin said.

“While these stories seem a little far-fetched for our-day thinking, I thought that maybe her mother was a diver, and some of her mother’s stories may be true because times were different back then, and entertainment was different as well,” she said. “While I was interviewing a fellow, he also told me that his father was a diver in the early days, and his story almost matched my client’s story exactly. While I was researching the Herald-Star newspaper, I ran across an article about the grand opening of the pool in 1931 and the article listed the divers by name, and, lo and behold, there was my client’s mother’s name and also the gentleman that I met with, his father’s name as well,” she continued.

“When I told my client about seeing her mother’s name in the article, her eyes welled up with tears. All of the stories that she was told during her youth were true. I’ve asked her for a photo of her mom so that I can see what she looked like. She said she has a senior picture, so that will be perfect. I will be able to visualize her mother and what she looked like and being taken back in time, even if it’s just a few minutes, to a time of innocent entertainment and fun,” she said.

Some of the memories that have already been shared with Verstraten-Merrin include those of diving competitions, swim teams, swim practices, picnics, playgrounds, reunions, Boy Scout camps, YMCA day camps, snacks at the concession stand, the concrete bleachers during rest period and “tons of memories of our friends and all of the fun times we had growing up,” she said.

Specific things she’s seeking include the following:

¯ Photos, old and recent, even if they’re not dated;

¯ Memories of experiences that would be helpful in creating a timeline of events and activities at the park;

¯ Dates (years) of any employees at the park, including lifeguards, concession workers, basket workers, caretakers, etc.;

¯ Information about when the trees were cut down at the park;

¯ Information about the caretaker home (the first home and then the second home) and who lived in them;

¯ Memories of trails — where, how many, where they came out, etc.;

¯ Memories of stairways — where, how many, where they came out, etc.;

¯ Memories of shelter houses — where, how many, and where they were located; and

¯ Any other information or memory of interest.

Verstratten-Merrin can be contacted by phone at (740) 346-2820 or by e-mail at jeffersoncounty1@att.net. She also can be found on several Facebook pages, including “Love where you Live” and “The Southenders” where visitors can post a message tagging her or personal message her from either of those sites.

The story of the pool began during the WPA, an acronym for the Works Projects Administration, in 1930, according to Verstraten-Merrin. “Maybe someone had a father or grandfather who helped build the swimming pool or built the entrance walls,” she said of her quest to collect photos, stories and information about past lifeguards, caretakers and concession stand workers from 1931 to when the new pool closed.

She said she would love to locate some old photos of the park and the nature trails and include the historical connections to the Steubenville Union Cemetery. Her intent is to compile information to publish a book about the history of Beatty Park and see if there is any interest. If so, she said she will take pre-orders for copies of the book for purchase.

Verstraten-Merrin has collected land and deeds records dating back to 1797.

Many early descriptions are of the acreage “with beautiful land and nature areas and a ravine (creek) which included the park and the cemetery,” according to Verstraten-Merrin, who spoke to several older citizens who have memories of the street cars dropping off or picking up passengers on Lawson Avenue to take a nature walk down through the cemetery and/or the park.

“Even earlier records show a water trough and well pump for the horses and hikers to stop and get a drink before entering the trail or coming up from the trail,” she noted. There are descriptions of farm land, large majestic trees, the old red brick house and later the land in and near the cemetery oil leased, stripped for coal and a pond/lake. Maps confirm that the street car ran and stopped at the top of the old sandstone steps that entered the cemetery/park areas at Lawson Avenue, which formerly was Lawson’s farm.

She explained that she located land and deed records dating back to 1854 when the cemetery board purchased the cemetery, which included Beatty Park and was described as “the nature area and ravine that would never be used for burials but would be used for trails and beautiful nature walks…” In the early days, the trails were full of “wild hemlock and ancient trees, which lined the McCook trail…” The sandstone walls, lined walks and staircases, and a little later, picnic areas, benches to relax and shelter houses were all built to create a “place of leisure.” A little later, swing sets and more picnic areas were added. Nature walks featured many wild plants, trees and flowers that grew a plenty throughout park area.

“The park was purchased by the city of Steubenville and then converted to a family friendly park along with two other city parks and swimming pools — which all three included swimming pools, but there was nothing like Beatty Park,” Verstraten-Merrin said. “Stanton Park, which once stood up on the hill where state Route 7 and U.S. Route 22 meet, was the only other park that could even come close to comparing to Beatty Park’s nature and beauty,” she said.

Verstraten-Merrin’s park memories are ones she savors.

“If it was summer, we could all be found waiting in line for the pool to open and than walking the long walk home at supper time,” she reminisced.

“It doesn’t surprise me that every person I’ve talked to has had a very similar memory of their childhood and teenage life at Beatty Park,” she said.

“The memories of my youth helped to mold me and teach me so many of life’s lessons. We didn’t have our parents driving us around — we walked. We didn’t have much money, but we saved and collected bottles to redeem to make sure we had money to get in the pool. We were dead tired at the end of the day, but no one picked us up. We walked home. We took care of our own arguments, with each other and our friends. We didn’t have any mediators. We didn’t have much, but we didn’t know that we didn’t have much, and we were happy and content. The life we lived growing up in the South End is a classic story of true Americana,” she said.

“I think that there are a lot of people out there with memories of Beatty Park or knew other family members who shared memories of growing up and spending time in Beatty Park — picnics, reunions, holidays, hiking, playing and swimming,” Verstraten-Merrin said.

“I am really excited to find people who want to preserve their memories, or those or their family or ancestors of a time not so long ago that was spent with a ‘day in the park.'”

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)