The History of Ontelaunee Park
By: Marie Snyder Kistler
My father, Homer Nathan Snyder, son of Nathan H. Snyder, owned and operated the New Tripoli Garage from 1914 to 1930. Mr. Snyder founded, established, and operated Ontelaunee Park from 1929 to 1966, a total of 37 years.
My father was enthusiastic about purchasing a large area of land in hopes of expanding the park over the years. He contacted local farmers from Lynn Township who owned the park area and initiated negotiations to buy land. He clearly visualized the park, which would soon become a reality. His dream would require an organization with many people. Mark W. Hoffman, his friend, and neighbor, son of potato shipper, William Hoffman, agreed to become his partner, and not long afterward, the land was purchased from the following farmers:
Mary & Howard Bennighoff, August 29, 1929, three acres more or less, 150 perches, more or less;
Pearl & Fred Oswald, July 30, 1929, two acres more or less, $300;
Sylvanus Oswald Estate, William Milton & Lewis Oswald, July 24, 1929, 28 acres more or less, $2,000;
Elmer & Naomi Zellner, July 25, 1929, six acres, 71 perches, $644.28;
Menna & Lillian Sheetz, July 23, 1929, ten acres more or less, $700;
Reuben Weaver Estate, Rebecca, Leah, Mary Weaver and Lizzie & Orville Mosser, July 9, 1929, two acres, 66 perches, $250.
Ontelaunee Park was as busy in the summer of 1929 as it is presently. Many people were cutting and burning brush, clearing fallen timbers, erecting outhouses, building roads, and erecting the pavilion.
Construction was everywhere, but the longest summer job was moving the earth from the meadow and building the large sand-bottom pool. Neighbors and farmers helped build the pool with large scoops drawn by horses. My uncle, Arthur Snyder, and his son, Carl D. Snyder, helped build the pool. All the original sand was purchased in Atlantic City and shipped by railway to the New Tripoli Train Station, where it was transported to the park by Snyder's Brothers Contractors, owned by Paul & Arther Snyder (Homer's brothers).
The grand opening of Ontelaunee Park was held on Labor Day in 1929.
William Miller, former owner of the New Tripoli Hotel, was the food and beverage manager. Everyone in New Tripoli was a part of the opening day -- either by attending or working in the park. Over the years, practically all the children in the New Tripoli area worked at the park. Everyone loved to operate the train, fire engine, and merry-go-round. Ontelaunee Park was an ideal spot for all ages, especially since everyone could afford an afternoon there. All the rides were five cents, as were the sodas and candy bars; and hot dogs and hamburgers were only ten cents.
Patrons like to say it was "just a beautiful spot."
In ensuing years, we added two stone pillars at the entrance, constructed by local Mason, Dallas Beibleheimer. Also added were refreshment stands, a bathhouse, the merry-go-round building, more shelters, amusements for children, a baseball diamond with bleachers, a penny arcade building, and many picnic tables and benches built and painted by local people.
From 1929 through 1966, Ontelaunee Park was the mecca of fun for all ages.
The park pavilion was an ideal place for wedding receptions and anniversaries. In fact, Carl Snyder and his wife Kitty, held their wedding reception at the park on November 2, 1945. Free movies were held every Friday night. On Saturday night, many people enjoyed dancing. Square dancing was especially popular. Before New Tripoli Fire Company had its firehouse facilities, it held its oyster suppers and raffles at the park. Most of the family reunions and picnics from four counties were held there. In order to transport large groups from Berks County to the park,
arrangements were established with the Reading Railroad, which had an Ontelaunee Park stop
Folks from Berks County factories, businesses, and churches were transported to the park by rail on weekends. People in the area were excited to have a special train bringing hundreds of picnickers to the park for the day an returning them at nightfall.
This is a typical Sunday or holiday crowd at Ontelaunee Park’s shaded bandshell (1930s through 1960). Free entertainment was provided by local and Nashville country and western bands and singers. Some notable entertainers included: Willis Myers and his musical group; Dopey Duncan; Earl Keller and the Melody Rangers with the Promenaders and Little Jiggers; Shorty Long; and Sally Starr.
Fire Engine at Ontelaunee Park
Photo courtesy of Glenn Koch
On Sunday mornings, people arrived very early in the day in order to reserve their favorite picnic site.
There were lots of oak trees throughout the park that provided ample shade. Entertainment was held from 1 PM to 10 PM. Many people enjoyed the "cowboy" (country-western) and municipal brass bands. Hundreds of people enjoyed the beautiful sand-bottom pool, which was overseen by a corps of lifeguards from the Allentown YMCA and "local" qualified guards, instructed by Kenny Walters. A playground, kiddy and pony rides were provided for children. The merry-go-round, train and fire engine were packed every weekend.
Ontelaunee Park had its own baseball team
and played teams from the surrounding area on the weeknights and weekends. Many campers arrived and set up other tents in the woods by the pool.In the main pavilion, there was a barroom, dining room, and soda fountain. There were refreshments along the perimeter. Local beer and Wennter beverages were sold in the barroom. Home-cooked meals, prepared by my mother, friends and relatives, were sold for sixty and seventy cents, including soup, salad, and coffee. Yuengling's Ice Cream (during the prohibition era, Frank Yuengling constructed the Yuengling Dairy across the street from the Yuengling Brewery in Pottsville) and the famous Hires Birch Beer were on tap at the marble soda fountain. High school girls liked working at the candy counter and soda foundation, where many romances began.
People who lived there from 1929 to 1966 recall the "fun times" they had at Ontelaunee Park,
and will be happy to again return to the park they so fondly remember. Mark Hoffman was Homer's partner from 1929 to 1932. Homer owned and operated Ontelaunee Park with the help of his family, friends, and neighbors until 1966, when he retired and sold the park to Shorty Long, who ran a country-western bandstand. Sally Starr bought the park and then Big John, and then the era of Ontelaunee Park came to an end.
I give many thanks to Lynn Township and to the friends and neighbors who are helping Ontelaunee Park become "just a beautiful spot" once again.
The park area has now been acquired by Lynn Township through various grants and is being developed into a municipal park.
To reserve a pavilion, call Lynn Township at 610-298-2645.