The Changing Landscape at Cascade Park
By Jesse S. Wagner

The old roller coaster at Cascade. = Historic Cascade Park-New Castle, PA.
     The land that Cascade Park was erected upon, is located approximately three miles to the east of downtown New Castle, Pennsylvania, in what is today Shenango Township.  The particular topography of the land, which later made it ideal for development as a trolley/amusement park was created some 20,000 years ago when the Wisconsin Glacier was cutting across North America.  When the Wisconsin Glacier had finally receded, it left behind most notably, the Big Run stream and the waterfall known as Big Run Falls, along with angular rock formations and acres of fertile soil.  The land surrounding the Big Run stream served as a hunting ground for Native Americans living in the region, as evidenced by the tools and artifacts that can still be found in the area today.  Among the more well known tribes that once called the land around Cascade Park home, were the Lenne Lenape and the Seneca peoples of North America.  
     Following the defeat of the Native American Coalition led by the Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket, at the hands of American General Anthony Wayne and his army of 3,000 men at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in Ohio (1794), the first wave of settlement into western Pennsylvania began.  The tract of land that would eventually become Cascade Park, was one of many that had been surveyed and parceled out to American soldiers as payment for their service during the American Revolution.  The land had become personal/private property, and was considered subject to the established property laws introduced to North America during the English Colonial period.  The Cascade Park property was initially patented to a man by the name of Mr. Robert McWilliams.  McWilliams built a log-gristmill at the Big Run Falls site, he later built a frame mill and saw mill nearby.  He also eventually built a dam to control the water from the falls and to provide a free and limitless power supply.  Farmers came from miles around to have their grain ground at the mills and even to wash their sheep under the Big Run Falls.  As the then Borough of New Castle continued to grow, the area around the Big Run stream became a popular destination for swimming, fishing, and picnicking.  

     As the years passed, the land changed hands several times.  Eventually, Colonel Levi C. Brinton purchased the property and installed a few amusements, one of which was the very popular steam-powered merry-go-round.  However, he was eventually forced to sell his beloved "Brinton Park" to the New Castle Traction Company which invested extensively in the modernization of the site.  The New Castle Traction Company opened "Cascade Park" in the summer season of 1897 to rave reviews, and continued to make improvements to the park as the following two decades rolled by. 

     As the summer seasons came and went, even large disruptions to world peace and security like World War I in Europe, did not discourage large numbers of people from frequenting the park.  Even amid rumors that Cascade Park would close during the 1920's, the park continued to attract crowds of summer-fun seekers.  However, as the "roaring twenties" turned into the 1930's, significant changes were looming.  The biggest change came in the form of the automobile, as more and more families could afford to own cars, less people were using the trolley system.  The old roller coaster located on the western edge of Cascade's propertybecame the first casulty, it was torn down to make way for a massive parking lot.  Also during the early 1930's, the New Castle Traction Company which had opened the park approximately three decades earlier was absorbed by the Penn-Ohio Electric Company.  As the economic repercussions of the "Great Depression" swept across the country, Casacde Park began to see a decline in overall attendance.  

     In the year 1934, The Penn-Ohio Electric Company sold their now unprofitable park/land to the city of New Castle for the grand total of one dollar.  Cascade Park henceforth became a part of the city's public park system, but the story of Cascade Park was far from over.  With the advent of the "Big Band Era," the dance pavilion at Cascade was updated and enclosed.  The newly renamed "Rainbow Terrace," under the management of Mr. B.J. Biondi, became the focal point of entertainment in the park and was able to attract some famous big bands of the day.  As World War II ushered in the decade of the 1940's, folks continued to dance at the pavilion in Cascade Park.  During the summers, the big weekly occurance at Cascade Park was known as "Swing Lobby."  Actually, money raised by these weekly dance events was employed to fence-in the city's tennis courts.  During the early part of the 1950's, a local business owner named Paul Vesco signed a lease with the city of New Castle to manage Cascade Park.  He installed a few new rides, including a new wooden roller coaster and a modern merry-go-round.  Many local companies held their annual summer picnics at the new-look Cascade Park.  On an important social note, the long-time practice of segregation that had been strictly enforced in past decades began to ease, as local African-American children were allowed to use the swimming pool on the same days as white families. 

     On of the largest areas of environmental concern at Cascade Park was the fifteen-acre lake.  By the late 1950's, the lake was filled with approximately 40,000 square feet of silt and was essentially unusable.  A local jeweler by the name of Jack Gerson spearheaded an effort to have the lake restored to its previous grandeur.  Eventually, with funding from the local Optimist Club and the backing of Congressman Frank Clark, the Marines arrived with heavy equipment and set to dredging the lake.  By the spring of 1958, most of the silt had been hauled away and the lake was refilled and restocked.  Unfortunately, the beauty of the restored lake did not last, silt began to slowly pile up once again.  Also, the dam that made the lake possible had been severly weakened by local sewer line construction in Shenango Township.  The death-blow came in June of 1981 when a portion of the dam caved-in.  Shenango Township's main sewer line was severed, and as a result raw sewage flowed into Big Run.  The remaining water in the lake drained out through the crumbled portion of the dam and only the muddy lake bed was left behind.  Despite a noticable public outcry, the city of New Castle cited lack of funding and the dam was never rebuilt. 

     During the late 1970's, the city had an Olympic-size swimming pool installed, but by the year 2000 it was closed as well.  Once again, the city of New Castle claimed lack of funds to finance the necessary modernization work.  As time passed, vandalism and natural weather conditions continued to deteriorate the condition of the few remaining rides at Cascade Park.  In recent years, local clubs like the Lawrence County Garden Club, the Rotary Club, and the Lawrence County Bocce Ball League have helped with some modest revitalization efforts in the park.  Several walking/hiking trails have been built on the seventy-odd acres that comprise the Cascade Park property.  The largest event that takes place in New Castle, Pennsylvania during the summer months is the locally famous "Back to the Fifties," and Cascade Park serves as one of the host sites for the event.  Also, the park continues to host weekend concerts during the summertime, local ethnic heritage celebrations, receptions, and even family reunions.  All of this however, is a far cry from the heyday of the trolley parks that occured around the turn of the Twentieth Century.  Cascade Park will always stand as a prime example of the uniquely American trend towards affordable and accessible entertainment.  Cascade Park was a child of its time, a period in history when an growing number of people had an increasing amount of disposable income and more leisure time to enjoy.


A scenic hiking trail at Cacscade Park.