Location: Chester, West Virginia
Years Active: 1897 – 1970
In 1855 Michael Trissler, a butcher in Lancaster City purchased land in West Lampeter township along the Conestoga River which he called Rocky Springs. There he built a brick 2 1/2 story hotel. The hotel was run by several different innkeepers from 1860 – 1875. During those first 20 years the grounds were used for picnics. One such event, held in 1871, was the Lancaster Maennerchor annual picnic. The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal (Intell), reporting on the event, says, “There was plenty of music, the Maennerchor singing several selections very finely. The dancing was kept up throughout the day and evening with great spirit.” Transportation to the grounds was by omnibus service from Lancaster City.
In 1899, Rocky Springs was sold to Mr. Thomas Rees of the Pittsburgh area. For the next 36 years the brick house was occupied by Mr. Herman Griffiths who managed the park. Many amusements were planned throughout the summer months including water shows on the river, rough riding and horse training shows, dancing in the pavilions and bathing in the resort area by the Conestoga River. A 2,000 seat auditorium was built and hosted vaudeville, music and variety shows. (This is the current site of the Bowling Lanes.) During these years John B. Peoples, who owned a competing bathing resort across the river, transported people to both parks on the Lady Gay steamerwhich ran a mile long circuit from Witmer’s Bridge at Bridgeport to the bathing resorts. On May 10, 1903 the Conestoga Traction Company began service to Rocky Springs with the only double track line on the system. During the summer months, as many as 20 Birney cars would be assigned to the line at one time, to handle the crowds. This was the last line to operate trolleys in Lancaster, being abandoned on Sept. 21, 1947, when Rocky Springs closed for the season. The trolley station still stands in the park.
In addition to the regular events at the park many large private events were hosted on the grounds. For example from 1899 until 1921 the Christian and Missionary Alliance held their annual conventions at Rocky Springs. As many as 10,000 people came from the districts of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and D.C. and camped in tents for a week each summer.
Mr. Griffiths’ management at Rocky Springs rides were added to the amusements including a figure 8 roller coaster and carousel. In 1923 the present carousel building was added and housed the Denzel Carousel. About this time a young Italian immigrant named Joseph Figari moved to Lancaster from New York and began working for Mr. Griffiths. Joseph Figari began selling shaved ice with syrup drizzled over it and later began other concessions at the park. In 1935 Mr. Figari became owner of the park. He also owned the candy factory in Lancaster city where he had once been an employee. Mr. Figari brought employees from the candy factory to the park to work during the summer months. During the years that Mr. Figari owned Rocky Springs, the park included rides such as the the Wildcat, the whip, cuddle-up, fun house, ferris wheel, miniature train, Auto Skooter, and Airplane swings. Shows were held on the stage area and in the amphitheater. The park also had a baseball field and a swimming pool. Young people spent much time at the Penny Arcade and the shooting gallery as well as the refreshment stands. Near the entrance to the park stood the Roller Rink which had an organ and organist supplying the skating music. The roller rink closed in the 70’s and burned down in the 1980’s.
The park closed in 1966 and set empty for several years until it was purchased in the late 70’s by Ben Brookmyer, Mary Corthouts, and Michael Ranck. These three fixed up Rocky Springs and reopened the park in 1979 and 1980 but the attendance was slim and the park closed its doors again. An auction was held in 1984 and the rides were sold. Soon after, the east side of the park was sold for condominiums.
Rocky Springs Park played an important role in the social lives of the residents in Lancaster County. The events held at Rocky Springs varied somewhat over time beginning with the days of the hotel and picnics on the grounds through the amusement park, trolley, and dancing years and into the 1970’s with the roller-skating years. Because Rocky Springs was just outside of the city limits and the trolley ran to it, the attendance was high. Many people living in Lancaster County today remember Rocky Springs as a center of social activity. This was the place to be. Many young people met their future spouse here and brought their dates here. It was a place to bring young children and develop family relationships and have fun. The rides may be gone but many of the buildings remain intact. The grounds and walkways, stage and spring still evoke memories of events which occurred at this park.