|April 28, 1996 | By Joseph S. Kennedy,
WEST POINT - When Hezekiah Zieber returned home
to West Point from his army service in the Civil
War, he was looking for a new direction in life.
He then had a thought: ``If you build it, they
will come.'' So he went ahead and built it and
called it Zieber's Park. And thousands did come
during the summer months.
During the last half of the 19th century and
well into the 20th, it was the premier picnic
park, representing a local rural haven from
increasingly expanding industrial and urban
The records of the Historical Society of
Montgomery County disclose that Zieber was one
of the last draftees into the Union Army from
Gwynedd Township. When he returned home at the
end of the war, he was 41, married and with a
family, and owned a large plot of undeveloped
land along Broad Street in the village of West
Point. And it was on that ground that he built
his field of dreams.
Among local historians it is a matter of
conjecture just how Zieber came up with the idea
of creating a picnic park. But it is believed
that he got the idea when he was a huckster in
the year before the war, selling balloons at
local country fairs. There he was able to see
that many people just had fun eating outdoors.
Zieber had been living with his family on the
20-acre plot since he bought it in 1857. Upon
his return from the war he set about developing his land into
Hezekiah Zieber built this house and
lived here on what is now called
Garfield Avenue. It originally had a
On Zeiber's property were his house, a few trees -
mostly maples - and a small brook. He planted
other trees to create a series of shady groves
and dammed up the brook to create a small
artificial lake with a dot of an island in its
center. To this he added picnic tables and
open-air pavilions. During the summer of 1867,
the park, by then called Zieber's Park, was open
At the time the village of West Point was a stop
along the Stony Creek branch of the Reading
Railroad. That made it possible for the park to
draw its pleasure parties from some distance.
Most of the people who came were part of social
clubs or family and Sunday school groups. They
came to get away from town and city to enjoy a
day of peace and pleasure.
According to local resident and retired
journalist Robert Fretz, Zieber went on
improving his park for the next 11 years.
He apparently added a number of dining halls,
more pavilions, a carousel, and a building amply
stocked with unusual objects and bric-a-brac he
picked up during his huckstering days, writes
The lake that Zieber created was first used for
canoes and rowboats. Later, a boathouse was
added to make way for swan-boat and paddle-boat
rides around the lake.
Fretz noted that in its heyday, Zieber's Park
was not an amusement park, and that people were
entertained simply by fresh air, good food and
good company. He also said that at the time of
Zieber's death in 1898 at age 74, the park was a
thriving business. The society's files show that
in 1905 the Montgomery Traction Co. established
a trolley stop at the entrance to the park. That
enabled more people to travel comfortably and
cheaply to West Point to enjoy the park.
Into the 20th century, the Zieber family
continued operating the park and added a house
band for the pleasure of their patrons. Old
photos show that bands of gypsies had wagons and
tents in the park to read palms for two bits.
Another attraction was a semiprofessional
baseball field developed next to the park where
people could take in a few innings while still
enjoying the park.
The family sold the park in 1942, when the
operation became a full-fledged amusement park.
The central attraction was no longer picnicking
but a roller-skating rink. The rink burned down
in the 1950s, and the park passed to a man named
William Evans. He renamed it West Point
By 1989, Evans had closed the park and sold it
to a local land developer. In 1990, the rides
and refreshment stand were dismantled and houses
built on the property.
Today, if you drive down South Broad Street and
turn off on Park Street into an
upper-middle-class housing development, you will
run into a small pond with a dot of an island in
the middle and the remains of an old boathouse.*
They are all that remain of Zieber's Park.
*Note: the old
boathouse is no longer there. There is a picture
of it in the Then/Now section of the website