Inspired by our friends, we embarked on a recent waterfalling adventure that began in Cascade Park. Although our primary motivation for exploring this park was to see a large waterfall, we ended up coming back for another visit!
The tract of land that became present-day Cascade Park was owned by the United States government, until it was given to soldier Robert McWilliams for his service during the American Revolution. Although McWilliams operated a successful log-gristmill, he eventually sold the land. The property changed hands several times, until it was bought by Colonel Levi Brinton in 1891. In 1892, Colonel Brinton opened a small amusement park.
Brinton Park was sold in 1897 to the New Castle Traction Company. In this age, power companies found it profitable to develop amusement parks.
Brinton Park was renamed Big Run Falls, until a contest was held to select a new name. Ten year old, Edwina Norris chose the current name Cascade Park, after the cascading waterfalls. She won $10. Today, the largest waterfall is known as Big Run Falls.
Cascade Park opened to the public on May 29, 1897. The park could accommodate up to 25,000 people. Like other parks in the area, Cascade Park was known as a “trolley park”. Visitors were brought to the park by trains and streetcars. Up to 7,200 people were brought to the park each hour.
In 1898, a dance pavilion was built. At the time, it was the largest dance pavilion in Pennsylvania. It is still standing today. A major restoration was done in 1976.
Cascade Park consisted of 17 rides, a tourist camp for 2,000, a swimming pool and bath house, zoo, theater, baseball park, roller coaster, merry-go-round, picnic grove and fun house. Big Run was dammed to create a 15-acre lake that offered fishing, boating, swimming and skating. Cascade Park was said to have the most beautiful natural scenery in Pennsylvania. A park brochure from 1911, described the park as “a picture of grandeur unsurpassed”.
Nevertheless, park attendance declined in the 2nd quarter of the 20th century. After the Great Depression, cars began to be favored instead of the trolley, and in 1940, the trolley was replaced by the bus. Trolley parks lost their appeal and failed to draw large crowds. In 1934, Pennsylvania Power turned the park over to the city of New Castle with the stipulation that it forever remain a public recreation area.
Although the park struggled over the next few decades, it survived. However, the opening of Moraine State Park hurt Cascade’s attendance in the 1970s and the 1980s brought the collapse of the manufacturing industry. Vandalism spread throughout the park. The fate of Cascade Park was sealed when the dam on Big Run cracked, causing the lake to dry up. The city of New Castle lacked the funds to repair the dam. Shortly after the rides were removed.
Ruins of the old amusement park remain. The Comet roller coaster was legendary. Built in 1955, it notoriously darted past low-hanging trees and over water. The ride was 65 feet high and had a track spanning 2,400 feet. Its foundations and footings are still visible today.
Other ruins of interest include the cars for the Tumble Bug, the carousel building, train station and refreshment station. The current Bocce courts are the former Tumble Bug station.
A hike through Cascade Park is both eerie and enchanting.
We hiked the Ridge and Hillside Trails. Both trails lead to the lower falls, two bridges and a picnic area.
There is a narrow, unmarked trail after the bridges and picnic area that will take you to the ruins of the Comet and the cascades. While I believe it is possible to follow this trail all the way to Big Run Falls, we did not do so. We were uncertain of the water depth and terrain.
Despite its ample treasures, most visitors are drawn to Cascade Park to see Big Run Falls, which span to a height of about 20 feet.
Above Big Run Falls lies another series of cascades.
Today, the park is tended by local garden clubs. As in the past, the park is still noted for its trees.
Although we heard a lot of rustling in the leaves, we did not see much in terms of wildlife.
The terrain of Cascade Park ranges from flat to steep. The trails are both easy and difficult.
New Castle is known as “Little New York City” due to its ethnic, religious and racial diversity. It can’t hurt that it also has the famous Coney Island Hot Dog Shop and two replicas of the Statue of Liberty. It even has a town center reminiscent of Columbus Circle in Central Park!
Upon leaving New Castle, our waterfalling adventure continued with a stop at Springfield Falls in Mercer County. Also known as Leesburg Falls, these falls are fed by Schollard’s Run, and are located on State Game Lands Number 284. They are about 20 feet high and 40 feet wide. There are several viewpoints from which to view these falls. Non-adventurous people may prefer the large rock at the top of the falls and challenge-seekers can follow the steep, muddy trail leading down the gorge to the base of the falls.
A recent excavation of the area unearthed what may have been the first iron furnace in Mercer county. It was water-powered by a wheel at the falls.
A jewelry store overlooks the falls.
Springfield Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in Pennsylvania that we have seen. It was the perfect way to wrap up a day’s adventure!