Collecting Delaware Books

Brandywine Springs, the Amusement Park

This article was published in December 1993.

Brandywine Springs Amusement Park Echoes of the Past (1886-1923) by Mark R. Lawlor was published in October. A party to celebrate the publication and thank the many people who contributed material and information was hosted by Lawlor and his wife, Mary Lou, at the restored Greenbank Mill on October 20.

This important new book takes up the story where C. A. Weslager's Brandywine Springs The Rise and Fall of a Delaware Resort leaves off.

It is hard for us to understand today the appeal that amusement parks had around the beginning of the century. But what else was there for a young couple or a family to do on a day off? Motion pictures were in their infancy. Commercial radio did not begin until 1922. Television and shopping malls hardly existed before 1945. Very few other amusements were available, so as many as 30,000 people crowded Brandywine Springs on a busy day.

The rise of this Delaware amusement park is matched by that of others in every part of the country. The best known among them was Coney Island in New York.

The Brandywine Springs amusement park history was gleaned from many interviews and hundreds of newspaper citations. More information was gathered from physical evidence at the site, now a New Castle County park. The book includes a map of the park today and a matching map reconstructing the 1911 features. The two make an interesting guide for walking the area on your own.

Typical of the hundreds of stories related is the following. "Children's Day was held Wednesday, August 9 [1911]. At 11:30 in the morning, the children all met at the new promenade bridge over the lake where they were presented with souvenirs and a half pound of candy each (probably Govatos candy). They were also given strips of tickets entitling them to ride all the amusements for free between the hours of twelve and two. The children presented an exhibition of dancing in the Summer Theatre (Bandstand), and later in the day, after the parade and voting, gold watches were presented to the boy and girl voted best looking."

Lawlor's 163-page softbound book includes around 100 illustrations. The care taken in printing the old photos adds greatly to the appeal and value. When previously photo-engraved pictures are printed a second time, there is often a loss of quality. This was avoided here, and many of the illustrations bring the old park back to life.

The success of Brandywine Springs was due in part to the trolley. In the early years, there were no automobiles even in later years, the ordinary working families could not afford them. Everyone piled on the trolley to go to the park. There were even trollies to meet the Wilson Line steamboats from Philadelphia and Chester. Transportation is well covered by Lawlor.

This book is good reading and good history. As Dr. Barbara E. Benson, Executive Director of the Historical Society of Delaware, says in her forward to the book, "[These] questions belong to the historian, and Brandywine Springs Amusement Park has been fortunate to have Mark Lawlor as its interpreter. Lawlor brings the park back to life through text and an extraordinarily rich collection of photographs. He relates the exciting changes of each season as well as the natural and manmade tragedies of the park, recapturing in this book a place and an era now all but forgotten."

The author was born in the Fairfax area in 1956 and now resides in Newark. He owns a residential painting firm specializing in historic restoration. Mark became interested in Brandywine Springs while a student at the University of Delaware and has spent five years on the research.

The following paragraph is obsolete.

Brandywine Springs Amusement Park was published in an edition of 2000. Copies can be purchased for $20 at Mitchell's Family Store in Forfeits Shopping Plaza or Community Plaza, Ninth Street Bookstore at 110 W. Ninth Street in Wilmington, Books & Tobacco at Millcreek Shopping Center and Lantana Square, Books Inc. on Kennett Pike in Greenville, or at the Wilmington & Western Railroad Gift Shop at Greenbank Station. It can also be ordered by sending a check payable to M & M Publishing for $22 (includes postage) to M & M Publishing, 207 Nathaniel Road, Newark, DE 19713.

Brandywine Springs Amusement Park is bound to become a valuable reference and a Delaware collectible over the years.

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