Published in the Sunday Journal Gazette
FORMER PATRON RETURNS TO ROBISON PARK
By Forest J. McComb
I was a youth, and didn’t realize it at the time, but I was enjoying the brilliance of Robison Park when it was right in its prime. I’d grown up with the park, and to me, it was there, and would continue to be the same as winter, spring, and summer.
A beautiful park, it lay along the St. Joseph River about seven miles northeast of Fort Wayne. It was owned by the Fort Wayne Traction Company, which was controlled by a board-of-directors in the East. No doubt Allen County interests helped promote the park, but it was built primarily to make money hauling passengers on the electric line to and from the park.
Before the automobile, people had much trouble getting outside the city, and large crowds welcomed the opportunity to enjoy riding in the open cars on the double-track line. The scenic park soon became famous and people were coming from far away places to enjoy it.
The park was open through all the summer months. Our farm, five miles away, was in easy driving distance. So many horse conveyances came from around the countryside, and Fort Wayne too, that the management put up sheds for stalling and feeding the horses. The entrance was from the Leo Road (R.R. 1) and an admission fee was charged. The park had vast acreage, and the land was rolling, wooded and picturesque.
From the horse barn, we walked on into the park on a wide gravel road. It met a road on the bluff of the river that connected the two parts of the park. A right turn took us on high, level land to a large pavilion, and beyond that was the dance hall. The electric cars unloaded at a terminal here. Except for the dance hall, this was the quiet part of the park.
Back at the river road, a sharp left turn led to the amusement part of the park. A large ravine here formed a natural lagoon, with hills on each side. The water in the lagoon was increased by a dam at the river and a footpath led across it. But the main road ran downhill around the outer rim of the lagoon, across a bridge, and uphill again to the concessions on the opposite side of the lagoon. This part of the park held the most interest for young folks. The noise from the concessions could be plainly heard, and they hurried to join the excitement.
The circle swing was on a small island in the lagoon. The cables holding the gondolas were strung with electric lights, and at night it was a beautiful sight as the cars swung out over the water.
The roller coaster, named the Blue Streak, was to the left off the bridge, and was the most popular concession of all. When the park had a large crowd, the cars ran continually. Their roar, and the shouts of males and the squeals of girls could be heard for a half mile.
The chute-the-chute was built on the natural hill incline, beside and parallel to the river. It had a long double ramp – one to take the boats up by endless chain, and the other to slide the loaded boats down.
Each held about a dozen passengers, and an employee stood in the back with an oar poised for use when it hit the lagoon with a resounding splash. The oar was used for a brake, then to bring the boat back. The ride brought more squeals from the girls, and needless to say, some got splashed!
Interspersed conveniently in and around among the trees, were the theatre, merry-go-round, doll racks, ring-a-cane, shooting gallery, bowling alley, monkey cage, pony ride, and food concessions. For added attraction, the merry-go-round had a brass ring to be grabbed for a free ride, and when an unsuspecting person jumped off the electric bench and started patting himself like mad, you knew the switch had been thrown in the concession stand.
Some Just Rode, And Others Stayed
My brother, Arthur and a girl friend, were in a holiday crowd trying to get on the roller coaster. The trouble was – the ones riding had a fistful of tickets. One man and girl in particular, had ridden and ridden. When they came around one more time and didn’t exit, a country boy turned to Arthur on the loaded platform and said disgustingly, “I guess he’s just sold his oats!”
Holidays were the big days, but the management booked many free acts during the season. I once saw two beautiful white ponies perform. One would jump from a high tower into the river, and when he came up, swim across, provided his mate was over there. Then they’d bring the other over, and he’d do the same.
Saturday night and Sundays were always good for crowds and fireworks were featured on July 4th. During the week, Ladies’ Day, Children’s Day, and Baby Day were scheduled. The manager, on Children’s Day, would scatter a sackful of pennies through the park, and be followed by a pack of kids who picked them up, only to spend them at once.
Conventions and family reunions were welcome, too. I saw a mute convention there once, with several hundred of them on hand. The photographer complained, when he tried to take a group picture. He could get them to keep their hands still at the same time – they were too busy talking!
It was a park for young and old. A person could spend lots of money or very little, whichever they chose. I’ve seen people who came just to rest. They’d be sitting in the shade reading, or stretched out on the grass sound asleep. Many young folk didn’t get any farther than the dance hall. I met a girl there I knew, one evening. She seemed to be alone, and we danced. I then invited her to go and get a soda, and she accepted.
We were sitting in the middle of a large pavilion enjoying the cold drink, when who should walk in but her boyfriend. He looked at us, grinned, purchased something at a counter, and left. The girl broke into a hilarious laughter.
“What’s so funny?” I asked. “Oh ________!” she had trouble controlling her laughter. “We’re having a spat – and this couldn’t have happened any better!”
I saw my first moving picture at Robison Park, and I’ve gone there on Sunday, caught a car and went to Fort Wayne to see a professional baseball game at old League Park. We can do neither one today.
Robison Park became the victim of “progress.” World War I, and the automobile brought many changes! During the war, many people resented the sugar quota allocated to the park. Then in 1920 the electric line was found to be worn out, and the roadbed would have to be rebuilt. Many people came by automobile in 1919, and the traction company wasn’t in the automobile business. So it was decided to abandon the park. No one came forth to save it, and it was soon dismantled and torn down.
I’ve seen many parks in my time, but none with the beautiful and natural setting of old Robison Park, and it has left me with many fond memories!