Post Cards from
  Zieber's Park 

 
April 28, 1996 | By Joseph S. Kennedy, INQUIRER CORRESPONDENT

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 development.

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 a park.
 
Hezekiah Zieber built this house and lived here on what is now called Garfield Avenue. It originally had a flat roof.


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 for business.

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 Fretz.

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 Amusement Park.

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


 
Location of Zieber's Park (later named West Point Park) in West Point.
Broad Street is to the left, West Point Pike to the right.
 
Gwynedd (including West Point) was once a forest. Zieber had to cut his way through it and he probably thinned the trees on either side of this path.