It’s a place that time has forgotten.
Physically, there’s nothing left to see. The only things that remain are the fading memories.
The far-away echoes of children laughing. The imaginary feel of cool water splashing. The familiar smells of summer delights filling the air.
It’s a great example of why history is so fascinating. And it’s the perfect example of why local history is so important.
It was called Valley Glen Park, and it was one of Lebanon County’s only and earliest amusement parks. What is not known about it shrouds it in mystery, legend and lore.
But what we do know about it re-affirms who we are, and the fact that recreation is timeless and universal. History may not always be a predictor of the future, but it is an unparalleled teaching tool.
“I just think it’s fascinating,” said Craig Meyer, a local historian who resides in North Annville Township, a mere stone’s throw away from the former site of Valley Glen Park. “This park had a Merry-Go-Round, a steamboat and pavilions, and it pre-dated all of the amusement parks in the area. And now, no remnants of it are even visible.
“I think local history is very important,” added Meyer. “I think all history is important. It flushes out the tapestry in which we live. We come from a long history in this area. For hundreds of years, so many things have occurred in this area that people don’t know anything about. It’s really a rich area.”
Valley Glen Park was located off of what is now Valley Glen Road in the northwest corner of North Annville Township, not far from where the Quittapahilla Creek flows into the Swatara Creek. But the origin of its name is unknown.
The 40-acre park was the inspiration of local farmer and carpenter Daniel Light Kline. The heyday of Valley Glen Park occurred between 1888 and 1930, but the park is believed to have hosted visitors before and after those dates.
“I don’t know the origins of its name,” said Meyer. “There are no collection of houses there, or some other community. There’s a distinct possibility that that the name of the area came from Valley Glen Park. There was never any significant community there, besides the park.
“I really don’t know the genesis of the park,” Meyer added. “I think Mr. Kline was born on the farm that he eventually owned. But what drove him to build this very popular park? He had the property and the skills for working wood.”
Those woodworking skills came in handy in the construction of some of Valley Glen Park’s amusements. Kline carved some of the 23 wooden horses that adorned the park’s ‘Flying Horse Machine’ or Merry-Go-Round.
The steam-powered ride, which cost a nickel, operated from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on the summer days that Valley Glen Park was open. Torches set up around the Flying Horse Machine and the park itself lent a certain ambiance to the setting.
“[Valley Glen Park] was a very vibrant local attraction,” said Meyer. “One of the main features was the Flying Horse Machine, and the horses were carved by Mr. Kline. There was nothing like it in the immediate area. There were some other parks, but this was the closest to them (patrons from Lebanon, Annville and Palmyra). It was an easy ride there.
“It was a place for relaxation,” continued Meyer. “It was a little cooler there [than in towns]. You could escape to a private area that was clean. It was a nice outing for people.”
Another popular feature of Valley Glen Park was the ‘Shooty-Chute’, sort of a sliding board on steroids constructed 60 feet above the ground among the treetops that propelled adventurous riders on sleds into the waters of ‘The Swatty.’ The attraction was in stark contrast to the ride afforded patrons aboard Valley Glen Park’s ‘Steamboat Annie.’
Also at a cost of a nickel, ‘Steamboat Annie’ took its passengers on a quiet half-mile voyage on the scenic Swatara Creek. It was a channel dug from the bottom of ‘The Swatty’ that made ‘Steamboat Annie’s’ passage possible.
“You wonder how a boat could get in there,” said Meyer. “But the Swatty had been dammed right below [Kline’s] property. On its return, it would blow its horn to alert kids that it was coming up to the dock.
“Valley Glen Park was something that was very important,” Meyer continued. “It provided a serene setting. It was a place you could boat. It was a popular fishing place. In the winter, Mr. Kline would cut ice from the dam, store it for summer time and then take it around in wheelbarrows. Visitors would have this wonderful ice to cool them off on hot days in the summer.”
First and foremost, Valley Glen Park was a place for families, a place to leave the worries of the real world behind. It also provided visitors with a picnic grove equipped with tables, a refreshment stand and changing rooms – woolen swim suits could be rented for four bits.
“It was mainly people from Lebanon, Annville, and Palmyra who went there, church groups and civic groups,” said Meyer. “Like any amusement park, you’re going to have a lot of groups going there. It was a wide range of people seeking amusement and recreation. Lebanon didn’t have anything like it. It pre-dated Hersheypark.
“There’s a source that said on one Fourth of July there were 400 bathers at the park,” added Meyer. “There would be several hundred people who would stop by on a beautiful summer day.”
As the story goes, Valley Glen Park may have provided the onus for Hersheypark, which was founded around the beginning of the 20th century.
“Milton Hershey used to bring his workers there for recreation,” said Meyer. “One day someone said to Mr. Hershey, ‘Why don’t you build a park for your employees to relax. You could build it on the hilly part of your land where nothing can grow.’ I don’t know if that’s true or not. But it may be that Valley Glen Park was the inspiration for Hersheypark.”
Valley Glen Park began to decline in the 1930s. Now, visitors to its former site wouldn’t even know that a lively park existed there for more than 40 years.
“The popularity of the park was waning in the late 1920s and Daniel Light Kline died in 1936,” said Meyer. “The family tried to keep it going, but in 1953 one of the family members sold off Valley Glen Park. Today, the property is owned by various people along ‘The Swatty.’ A good portion of it is owned by North Annville Township.
“Certainly a lot of people in the area know it was there,” concluded Meyer. “In the 50s and 60s, people may have still gone there to fish and seen the remnants of the park. People who live here have heard the stories of Valley Glen Park.”
There will never be a place like Valley Glen Park again.
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