Historic park remembered for its tourism during 19th century
HUGHESVILLE – On Thursday, February 11 the Muncy Creek Watershed Association met at the Hughesville Library to listen to an interesting program on the history of Fern Dale Park. Going back to the 1800’s, presenter and local historian Carol Shetler gave a topographical description of the 82 acre property in Moreland Township that was once home to a recreational park and originally owned by Phillip Opp Jr.
After Opp’s death, his daughter, Anastasia and her husband Philip M. Smith became owners. During their ownership, they turned 2 acres of the property into a park. Activities at the part included speeches using a stump as a platform, minstrels, fireworks, dancing in the pavilion, and when in season, promenades to the farm for corn roasts. There were open air concerts with young people singing and playing instruments. “Often on the site were Cornet Bands such as the one from Clarkstown,” Shetler added.
In her research Shetler reported, “P.M. Smith was a genius at publicity. In the Muncy Luminary, rosey ex-posies were submitted describing on-going improvements. It may have been a plus that the Smiths were personal friends of John Gernard, at the time, owner of The Muncy Luminary. An unfortunate occurrence for Gernard was that daughter Lydia fell while picnic-nicking at the park and died a few month’s later. While Lydia was convalescing, the park owners sent her a trout, raised in a tank cemented in the stream to raise fish.”
Upstream from the park is Laurel Run, a major tributary to Muncy Creek that made the park a popular spot for summer recreation, many coming from other states to visit. Also back in the hey-day were major industries along Rt. 442 leading into the park. Some may have heard of Stadon’s Woolen Mill, Faus Park later renamed Hemlock Grove, and a brick factory near the village of Opp where the two tributaries, Little Muncy and Laurel Run meet to form Muncy Creek.
“As a convenience, Smith provided for parties of 50, a stove, cooking utensils, dishes, plus knives and forks.”
A well known frequent visitor to Fern Dale was John Megennis who wrote the first history of Lycoming County according to Shetler. “The author’s name is one of several carved on the top of a wooden table retained by a descendant of the Smith family,” she added. “A tally count for one year was 3,000 visitors. This number included a day’s total of 200, and at least every alternate day, others came from far and near to enjoy themselves.”
The park was located on a two acre island in the curve of the stream, so boating and fishing were very popular then.
Newspaper clippings saved by June Grube’s great-grandmother who was Anastasia Opp, describe the spot as having ledges jolting 200 feet skyward. Growing to heights as much as 100 feet, the area was shaded by birch and hemlocks. Many of the trees are still standing today. June Grube also provided a photo taken in 1893 of her grandparents Howard Lee Bieber and wife Margaret Smith, the park owner’s daughter.
“It had its hey day,” said Shetler. “It came and went.”
By 1930 and under the proprietorship of the Smith’s son, Harry, attendance had waned. “Perhaps due much to the availability of the automobile, and also because of the newly constructed Route 442 that was not built near the park,” Shetler explained.
Shetler gave a virtual tour of the park’s location east of Clarkstown. Many of the attendees were familiar with the site. Wayne Sager whose childhood home is along Muncy Creek downstream from Fern Dale Park, often hunted on properties in and around Fern Dale Park.
Barbara Fague Wood’s ancestors operated the general store at Opp where her grandmother was post mistress.
In 1942, Philip Sholtis’ parents purchased property along the Laurel Run, a tributary of Muncy Creek. As a youth, Philip hunted, fished and had a trap line along waterways of Laurel Run and Muncy Creek.
Those who came all agreed that a tour of the property would be welcoming, and Ashley West, President of the Muncy Creek Watershed Association said that he would try to organize a future walking tour for anyone who is interested.