[Photo copyright 2003 by Jim Jones - all rights reserved]
West Chester's Everhart Park:
Copyright 2013 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.
The Borough of West Chester has an extensive system of public
parks and an award-winning recreation program to administer the
system. One of Borough's most beautiful parks is Everhart Park,
located on the west side of town south of Miner Street between
Brandywine Street and Bradford Avenue. Everhart Grove became West
Chester's second public park in November 1905.
The land that became Everhart Park lies in a region of underground springs and surface creeks that feed a tributary of the Brandywine Creek.(1) When Europeans first settled the area, it became part of Emmor Trego's claim,(2) but he sold it to John Rankin in 1790(3) and Rankin sold it to William Wollerton in 1808.(4) Wollerton offered his farm for sale several times, but was unsuccessful until 1828 when local businessman William S. Everhart purchased 102 acres located south of Gay Street and west of High Street.(5)
Everhart's accomplishments deserve an article of their own. He built more than one hundred buildings in West Chester including its most fashionable hotel, a very successful dry goods store and its first permanent farmers market. He also laid out Market Street, as well as four residential streets named after his friends Isaac Wayne, General Barnard, Charles Miner, and Dr. William Darlington.(6)
For forty years, Everhart Grove remained undeveloped at the western edge of Everhart's land: too steep, too swampy and too far from the center of town to warrant investment. A farmer named John Wright lived there in 1857,(7) and George W. Sharpless built a wheelwright and paint shop in the northwestern corner in 1877,(8) but Everhart made the only substantial investment, a twenty-five bedroom resort hotel on the north side of what later became Miner Street.(9)
After Everhart died, his estate passed into the hands of his children -- three brothers and two sisters -- who managed it without adding to it (other than a fountain which is described below). One by one, they passed away and in January 1904, Benjamin M. Everhart inherited everything from his sister Mary. (10) When Benjamin succumbed less than nine months later, his will divided the estate among several dozen recipients and left the largest part, including Everhart Grove, to a cousin named Isaiah (also spelled Isiah in some sources) from Scranton.(11)
Everhart Grove at the beginning of the last century
[From an early postcard, courtesy of Robert Sheller]
|Isaiah was the youngest son of William's brother James Everhart Jr. Raised in Berks County, he studied science at Franklin & Marshall College and medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. After serving with the Pennsylvania Cavalry during the Civil War, he settled in Scranton near his father's coal mines.(12) By the time cousin Benjamin died in 1904, Isaiah was a wealthy retired businessman and a widower (since 1898) who was estranged from his only child Edwin.(13) He became devoted to collecting Pennsylvania flora and fauna and started thinking about housing it all in a museum.(14)|
|Benjamin's will gave Isaiah the means to fulfill his dream. It distributed 52 properties to long-time tenants, servants and friends, and gave Isaiah the rest -- 76 properties worth more than $185,000.(15) Within less than six months, Isaiah rewrote his will to set aside $40,000 for the museum and $100,000 for its endowment.(16)|
West Chester property
investors were aware of the museum plan and fearful that Isaiah
might try to finance it by liquidating the estate all at once.
Isaiah offered reassurances through his West Chester lawyer, John
J. Gheen, and the Daily Local News noted "This relieves
the feeling of anxiety indulged by some that there might be a
sale of a large amount of real estate, thus disturbing values and
unsettling some business enterprises."(17) Instead, Isaiah allowed
Gheen to sell them off slowly, and was evidently pleased with the
results. On December 16, 1904, he complimented Gheen on his sale
of 128 E. Chestnut Street and joked that he should abandon his
law practice and go into real estate.(18) He gave Gheen complete
authority to dispose of the rest of the properties, and within
less than a year, began asking Gheen for nothing more than an
accounting of properties and their sales prices by mail.(19)
Gheen was also responsible for managing the Everhart Estate properties. Although the records are far from complete, correspondence between Gheen and Isaiah show that relations between Everhart and Burgess Charles Pennypacker were strained. Pennypacker sent a series of increasingly stern letters regarding property maintenance problems like an overflowing water closet at 231 W. Barnard, leaking water pipes at 124-126 N. New, and weeds at various lots.(20) In February 1905, Pennypacker complained to Everhart about Gheen(21) and in October Everhart's instructions to Gheen -- "Please have the matter attended to and stop his fuss" -- suggest no great affection for Pennypacker.(22)
By the summer of 1905, Gheen devised a plan to mollify the Burgess and simplify the disposal of the estate. The grove at the western edge of the Borough had been used as a sort of "English commons" for many years, with the approval of the Everhart family. Activities included political and religious revival meetings, bonfire gatherings, firewood scavenging, family picnics, strolling in the woods, and possibly serving as terrain for young boys playing soldier or explorer.(23)
Who was John J. Gheen?
Isaiah Everhart's lawyer, John J. Gheen, was a well-connected native son with a penchant for horticulture. Born on a farm in East Bradford in 1855, Gheen grew up in Doe Run, Concordville and at 26 S. Church Street. After attending the State Normal School (opened in 1871), he traveled in Europe for 18 months and then returned to West Chester to study law with noted attorney J. Smith Futhey.
Gheen gained admission to the Chester County Bar in 1878 and took over Futhey's office in 1881. A lifelong Republican, he was elected district attorney on his second try in 1884. The following year, he married Carrie O'Neil of Williamsport, Maryland at a ceremony attended by guests from Philadelphia, West Chester, Chester, Bristol, Hagerstown, Williamsport, Havre de Grace, Baltimore and Annapolis.
By 1892, Gheen had his law office in the rear of 13 N. High Street behind David M. McFarland's National Bank of Chester County. According to an article in the Daily Local News, Gheen's office looked out onto a sort of "public garden" filled with roses, dahlias and other flowers. In 1906, he moved from 320 N. Matlack Street to 234 E. Biddle Street facing Marshall Square Park.
Gheen continued to work for the Republican Party and served as a delegate to the National Convention in 1912 where he supported Theodore Roosevelt. He enjoyed baseball, fox hunting, and in later years, golf. When he died in November 1924, his funeral attracted numerous public figures including I. N. Early Wynn, George S. Dewees, George D. Baldwin, Judge William Butler, Judge J. Frank E. Hause, Thomas Hoopes, A. T. Parke, William P. Sharpless, William T. Nields, Thomas W. Baldwin and Elisha G. Cloud.
| The summer before, the
Daily Local News had noted that "the people have long
desired [Everhart's Grove] as a public park."(24) Gheen's plan was to offer
Grove to the Borough for use as a public park. Although I've
found no document that states this explicitly, it seems likely
that he hoped to obtain some good will from the local authorities
and at the same time, dispose of an unprofitable parcel.
Gheen travelled to Scranton on August 19, 1905 to get Isaiah's signature on a number of documents. In his last letter to Gheen before the visit, Isaiah expressed pleasure that Gheen was coming to him (Everhart had already visited three times since his cousin died) and told him to bring "an account of the taxes with you and any other matter that acquires (sic) my attention."(25) Gheen evidently made the suggestion to donate the Grove at this meeting because he got Isaiah to sign a deed on August 23.(26) Gheen brought the deed back to West Chester, but did not present it immediately for recording. Instead, he held it for three more months while he and Isaiah settled claims against the estate. Isaiah came to West Chester again at the end of September(27) and stopped at Gheen's house one night in December during a hunting trip,(28) but was absent from the Borough on November 17 when Borough Council held a special session to accept his donation.
Isaiah's apparent indifference contrasted sharply with the rhetoric of Borough Council. In the presence of Gheen, Council resolved to "tender Dr. Isaiah F. Everhart of Scranton Penna, our most sincere thanks for his most magnanimous gift of all that portion of ground known as Everhart's Grove and adjoining property as set forth in the deed, to the Borough of West Chester, Pa. Said property to be used as a public park. By this magnificent gift will be perpetuated the honored name of Everharts who resided in this Borough and whose efforts were instrumental in building a foundation for our Borough that will be a lasting tribute. The donor of this generous gift will ever be honored and revered by the citizens of our Borough, and to him are the residents of West Chester duly thankful."(29)
To show their gratitude, Council ordered their resolution engraved and transmitted to Isaiah.(30) Nine days later, he briefly mentioned the event in a letter to Gheen that said (in part): "And so the Everhart Park is a matter of fact. I have no doubt that the people of West Chester feel well satisfied and I trust they will make it a beautiful pleasure ground. By the way, what property have you bought and the price paid ..."(31) Two months later he wrote "I have received the engraved resolutions of the Borough Council [illegible] the gift of Everhart Park. It is handsomely executed and I am much pleased. Enclosed I send you my acknowledgement which you may please present to the Council."(32)
Burgess Pennypacker's August 30, 1905 letter to Isaiah Everhart complaining about weeds at his properties in West Chester
[Chester County Historical Society letter file #9349 ]
Isaiah Everhart's January 21, 1906 letter acknowledging Borough Council's thanks for his donation of the land for Everhart Park
[Chester County Historical Society letter file #9299 ]
That was all -- no
fanfare, no speeches, not even a trip to West Chester to make the
donation. Perhaps that was due to Isaiah's fatigue with West
Chester and its people. By this time, he was involved in a
well-publicized dispute over the estate with Mrs. Charles B. Lee,
another of Benjamin's cousins, and less than three weeks before
Council accepted the park, Isaiah complained to Gheen: "I have no
language to fully express my contempt for such actions. I don't
know that anything can be done except hold to the opinion that it
is an inexcusable outrage."(33)
Other letters mention Isaiah's resentment of the many people who
sought handouts,(34) and his
with Burgess Pennypacker was still going strong.(35) By December 1905, Isaiah had
probably lost any affection he might have felt for the Borough,
so he was content to let Gheen serve as his representative.
Isaiah lived for another six years and used them to construct his beloved museum in Scranton. During this period, he asked Gheen for advice on the properties of West Chester serpentine and Avondale granite,(36) described additions to his collection(37) and reported on the pace of construction.(38) Gheen stayed in touch and even visited Isaiah at least twice after he suffered a stroke in spring 1907.(39) Otherwise, Isaiah's relationship with the Borough consisted of occasional pronouncements regarding plans for the park. The Daily Local News claimed that Isaiah expressed the wish that it be called "Everhart Grove" rather than "Everhart Park"(40) and asserted that he "was in favor of making one portion at least of the park a practical pleasure ground for children where play should not be confined to conventional city ideas."(41) When Council informed him of a plan to move the "Everhart Fountain" from Market Street into the park in 1909, Isaiah gave his "permission to move the Everhart Fountain to Everhart Grove requested by the citizens and Council of the boro of West Chester. Of course it is understood the expense of moving and setting up will be born by the boro of West Chester."(42)
Given Isaiah's apparent lack of involvement in the donation of the park, there is something odd about the newspaper's insistence that he had a specific outcome in mind. The newspaper's goal becomes more readily understood when those statements are juxtaposed against another element of its coverage. The Local regularly lamented that Isaiah failed to provide additional funds to help improve the park. On April 16, 1908, someone wrote "let us hope he will see fit to further help us along and not turn us down as he is said to contemplate in Scranton's case" and on May 30, 1908, "Dr. Everhart still takes an interest in this place and it is intimated that he has future plans regarding its improvement and adornment." On February 11, 1909, the Local reported "It is hinted that he will yet remember West Chester in assisting to beautify the handsome old forest and park bearing the family name." On May 26, 1910, the newspaper included "... our people would be very grateful to him if he could see his way to erect the memorial gateway to Everhart Park at the Barnard Street entrance, as was at one time talked of and rather expected ..."(43) When Isaiah finally died in 1911, the Daily Local sadly observed that "West Chester, not being a residence, or even a familiar place to the decedent, was not, as was hoped, remembered" in his will.(44)
While the writers at the Local tried to shame Isaiah (or his representative Gheen) into providing more funds for the park, Borough Council wrestled with the question of how to use ten acres of overgrown forest and fields. The donation was nearly twice as large as the Borough's only existing park at Marshall Square,(45) and as shown by the list of improvements made by the Borough over the next several years, it was still in its natural state.
In 1906, Borough Council received a number of proposals for the park. In April, West Chester's most successful industrialist, Philip M. Sharples, had his personal landscape gardener, "Oglesby Paul" of Philadelphia, tour the park with Borough Council members and submit a proposal.(46) In June, County surveyor Nathan Rambo submitted his own list of suggested improvements,(47) and on June 29, Council adopted Rambo's plan.(48) By the end of the summer, the Borough had cleared underbrush, trimmed low-hanging tree branches, constructed French drains for the two springs and installed park benches and a "retiring room" (i.e. rest room) in the park.(49)
In 1907 Council spent
$1000 to install two drinking fountains plus some benches and
tables, construct a walk surfaced with cinders along Miner from
Brandywine to Bradford Avenue and a baseball field near
Brandywine, fill in low spots along Brandywine and Union Streets,
and remove additional underbrush and rubbish.(50) By year's end there were
to install a playground, but in its January 1908 report, the Park
Committee informed Council that "In accordance with the wish of
the donor to make the park a safe resort for ladies and small
children, baseball and such like games have been prohibited."(51)
Instead, Borough Council awarded a contract to William H. Jones for the construction of an octagonal pavilion that spans the stream.(52) Using a design supplied by Nathan Rambo, Jones built "a rustic building 24 X 24 with peak roof and seats around the floor circle."(53) In addition, the terrace along Brandywine Street was completely filled in,(54) a gravel sidewalk was placed along the terrace,(55) and additional benches were installed, bringing the total to forty.(56) The newspaper also began to carry reports of vandalism which targeted benches and swing sets.(57)
Sycamore trees along Brandywine Street
[Photo copyright 2004 by Jim Jones - all rights reserved]
In 1909 Council authorized the most ambitious improvement, the construction of an artificial lake. They hired Patrick Corcoran to dam up the stream below the two springs and form a four-foot deep lake. He also got the contract to build a walk from Barnard Street to the pavilion and a second walk perpendicular to the first.(58) The new lake was stocked with ornamental gold fish(59) and adorned with the "Everhart fountain" which had stood in the 100- block of W. Market Street since 1889.(60)
The pavilion in Everhart Park.
[Photo copyright 2003 by Jim Jones - all rights reserved]
The fountain at Everhart Park
[From an early postcard, courtesy of Robert Sheller]
How Many Trees
There are approximately equal numbers of new, young, mature and giant trees. That shows a balanced planting program that will insure the continued health and beauty of the trees at Everhart Park.
The Chester County Historical Society newspaper clippings file and Borough Council minutes contain little on Everhart Park until 1917. That spring, park superintendent Edward Ritter organized twenty boys into the Grove Garden Club to raise money for camping trips by growing vegetables in the park.(62) That summer, the Daily Local News reported that the pond was overgrown with weeds, but Everhart Park was more popular than Marshall Square Park thanks to its playground and the fact that Marshall Square Park was posted with "Keep off the grass" signs.(63)
One last effort was made to attract additional Everhart money for the park. In late 1920, work began on the "Everhart memorial gateway." This entrance, which was first proposed in 1906,(64) consisted of two stone pillars at the Barnard street entrance, each adorned with identical bronze plaques. Although Isaiah had been dead for nine years at this point, his executors, John Gheen and the Provident Life & Trust Company of Philadelphia, were still disposing of the estate.(65) There is no evidence that they contributed to the construction of the memorial.
Plaque at the `Everhart Memorial Gateway'
[Photo copyright 2005 by Jim Jones - all rights reserved]
The items that attracted the most attention were the lake and its fountain. On the one hand, they certainly added to the beauty of the park, but they also created maintenance and safety problems. The fountain had to be "closed up" each winter to protect against freezing, and the lake became overgrown with vegetation unless the Borough intervened. Even worse, small children fell in occasionally,(69) leading Council to consider lowering the level of the lake or even removing it altogether. Each time they did so, a group formed to oppose them until Council finally prevailed, draining the lake in the summer of 1943(70) and removing the fountain in 1953.(71)
During the Depression and World War II, park maintenance lagged. Each time, community groups lent a hand. The most visible project was a line of white dogwood trees planted in 1935 along the walk leading into the park from Barnard Street. They were planted by the Soroptomists of West Chester, a professional women's club headed by Lavinia King, who lived at 429 W. Union Street near the park.(72) The Junior Chamber of Commerce made repairs and installed benches in 1954.(73) After neighbors complained about unauthorized concerts held in the park,(74) the Borough's Recreation Department and a group of volunteers started the annual Turk's Head Music Festival in 1982. In response to Borough plans to rebuild the sewer through the park in 1989, neighbors formed the Friends of Everhart Park to lobby for the preservation of several old trees. After they were successful, they remained involved by replanting trees, raising money for the restoration of park structures and organizing annual clean-ups in the park.(75)
[All photos copyright by Jim Jones, 2002-2010]
|Copyright 2004, 2013 by Dr. James A. Jones|