Railroad Parks

Shortly before the dawn of the automobile age, two Centre County railroads established summer recreational parks that attracted thousands of visitors annually. Hecla Park and Hunters Park were built to create modest but dependable sources of income that helped railroads weather the ups and downs of the freight business.

The Bellefonte Central Railroad (BFC), organized in 1892, purchased 18 acres along Buffalo Run in Benner Township from the Hunter family and established Hunters Park that same year. The park was six miles west of Bellefonte, on a bluff overlooking the BFC’s line between Bellefonte and State College.

Two years later, the Central Railroad of Pennsylvania (CRR) opened Hecla Park on a 30-acre tract near the abandoned Hecla Furnace in Walker Township, eight miles east of Bellefonte and adjacent to the CRR’s track connecting Bellefonte and Mill Hall.

Hunters Park was built by the Bellefonte Central Railroad along Buffalo Run in Benner Township. (Michael Bezilla Collection)

The Bellefonte Central succeeded the Buffalo Run, Bellefonte and Bald Eagle Railroad, an ore carrier that became insolvent when the local iron industry it served experienced a sharp decline. The BFC’s owners aggressively sought new business, and Hunters Park was one of the results.

By 1894, the company had spent $12,000 for land acquisition plus construction of a baseball field, bicycle track, boating pond, grandstand, and picnic grounds, interconnected by walkways and enhanced by newly planted shrubs and trees. Roundtrip train tickets cost as little as 15 cents; nearly 10,000 were sold in 1893.

Numerous civic, business, church and school groups soon found that an outing at Hunters Park was an ideal way to spend a summer afternoon or even an entire day. The park attracted visitors from communities beyond Centre County. The paper mill at Tyrone, for example, annually chartered a special train to carry employees and their families to the park for a company picnic.

At Hecla Park the Central Railroad offered the same amenities as at Hunters but on more spacious grounds with a three-story brick pavilion for dancing. The CRR was affiliated with the New York Central System, and large groups attending the park often traveled on special cars or trains that originated on New York Central lines as far away as Clearfield and Williamsport.

The most popular event at Hecla Park during the 1890s and early 1900s was the Centre-Clinton County Business Men’s picnic, with attendance surpassing 10,000 in some years. During winter, the CRR harvested ice from park’s ponds to be forwarded by rail to Eastern cities.

Recreational parks were common features of short line railroads nationwide. How much revenue the parks generated for the railroads is unknown, but a day at one of the parks was surely the highlight of the summer season for thousands of people.

Widespread adoption of the automobile beginning by 1910, along with the economic stringencies associated with America’s entry into World War I in 1917, helped put an end to train service to the parks in 1918.

Nature quickly reclaimed Hunters Park; the BFC sold most of the land in 1931. The CRR, never a financially healthy enterprise, permanently ceased operations in 1918.

Hecla Park, easily reached by car, thrived under new ownership as a popular summer recreational spot for decades. As late as 1961, the park featured dancing to live music by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Roller skating, the park’s final offering, ended in the late 1970s.

Michael Bezilla


Sources

Bellefonte Central Railroad, Two Famous Resorts: Hunters Park and University Inn. Pamphlet. Bellefonte Central Railroad, n.d.

Bezilla, Michael. Branch Line Empires. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017.

Bezilla, Michael, and Jack Rudnicki. Rails to Penn State: The Bellefonte Central. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2007.

Mauser, I.H., The Central Railroad of Pennsylvania, A Description of Its Route, etc. Milton, Pa.: Milton Printing Co., 1894.

Walker Township Historical Committee. History of Walker Township, 1810-1999. Walker Township Historical Committee, 2000.


First Published: February 25, 2024

Last Modified: February 27, 2024