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A town of open spaces:
Parks along Perkiomen Creek attracted resident to Perkasie

by Corinne Miller

Two girls take a turn on the Perkasie Carousel.

Once upon a time, Perkasie was a hotbed of entertainment, a place where, more than a century ago, people commuted to the new boomtown along the North Pennsylvania Railroad for jobs and amusement.

Now Perkasie is a mostly residential town of 10,000 citizens – a place where people commute from rather than commute to. Despite its now quiet nature, Perkasie hasn’t forgotten its roots. The Upper Bucks suburb at the edge of Montgomery County has many landmarks and activities reminiscent of its prosperous early days.

The neighboring Menlo and Lenape parks, which total more than 44 acres and are situated along Arthur and Park avenues (Menlo) and along the east branch of the Perkiomen Creek (Lenape), were the location of a popular amusement park at the turn of last century. It featured the world’s longest toboggan ride, a 25-foot water slide, a carousel and a casino that had a bowling alley, billiards and a roller rink.

“I’m told Menlo Park was probably the greatest amusement park between Willow Grove and Allentown,” says Charles Baum, president of the Perkasie Historical Society.

In 1955, Perkasie Borough purchased Menlo Park for $115,000, and in the 1960s, all the attractions except the carousel, which the historical society decided to lease and operate as it does to this day, were torn down.

While the Menlo Park of yesteryear was certainly revolutionary, the modern day Menlo, considered tame by today’s amusement standards, is still the town’s main draw. The five-acre parkland still features its “crown jewel,” the carousel, which was built in 1895. The landmark has since been through two major renovations – one in 1951 when the borough purchased it and again in 1995 after a major snowstorm damaged the roof of the building where the carousel is housed. New to the twin parks, however, are the skate park in Lenape, and Samuel Pierce Library and Menlo Aquatic Center, where the casino was. The aquatic center, built in 2007, to replace the old Menlo Pool, mirrors the old amusement park in that it’s generating renewed interest in the park.

“The pool is drawing some new widespread interest that it hasn’t had before. I see a lot of out of area buses that are bringing in patrons,” says Baum.

Lenape Park is also the home of the 1832 South Perkasie Covered Bridge, which crosses land, not water. The structure was moved approximately 250 yards into the park 50 years ago to accommodate a more modern overpass. The 79-foot bridge was one of the first covered bridges to be built in Bucks County and is the oldest surviving. To celebrate the anniversary, the historical society reenacted the event Aug. 17 by hooking a replica bridge up to a moving van, which was trailed by a vintage car parade that tracked the bridge’s original location on Main Street to its present location in the park.

Those landmarks and more are detailed in Ivan Jurin’s book “Perkasie,” part of Arcadia Publishing’s Postcard History Series, released May 19. The old images show a glimpse into the past that reveal a special link between how Perkasie, Lenni Lenape for “where hickory nuts were cracked,” began and how it’s changed.

Jurin’s book captures the rise of Perkasie, a town he said, shot up almost overnight, thus qualifying it as a boomtown. He hopes readers will walk away from the book having learned about Perkasie’s rich history and its considerable change over the last century. “People were coming like crazy,” Jurin, a 57-year-old Hilltown resident and retired social studies teacher from Pennridge School District, explained. “It was a very busy town, probably a noisy town, with many trains and trolleys coming through, some at high speed.”

Though some of the landmarks featured in Jurin’s book have vanished amid urban renewal in the ‘60s and two major fires, Perkasie residents may develop a new understanding for existing buildings (such as the original Perkasie firehouse or Davis Feed Mill, both located on Seventh Street) by comparing them to how they looked a century ago. Much of Perkasie’s Victorian architecture can be seen in the buildings and houses that inhabit the downtown sector, including along Vine, Chestnut, Arch, Fifth and Seventh streets.

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