Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Picnic With the Moms, Pops and Sweethearts

Picnicking used to be the prime source of weekend entertainment in Columbus. This was before the barbecue made its way into backyards. Also, this was before suburbia even existed. The city dweller or the tenement dweller wanted some open air, trees and water.

In early days, Columbus picnics were held south of town; maybe because the breweries were there. Picnic spots included Stewart’s Grove, Jaeger’s Orchard, and Maurer’s Meadow. The Maennerchor held picnics in the Gerhold-Lesquereux lawn, opposite the Clarmont, because that site was within wheelbarrow distance of Columbus Brewery.

Later, the names of picnic grounds included Lake Park, Minerva Park, Olentangy Park, Indianola Park, Glenmary Park, Hempy’s Grove, Edgewater Park, Columbiana Park, Catalpa Park, the Trees, Mac Park, Heimanndale Grove, Buckeye Park. Minerva and several other outlying parks were created expressly to increase the passenger load of streetcar and interurban lines.

Lake Park was an exception. Built by Jonathan Linton near the intersection of Frank Road and High Street, it could be reached by a canal boat that left the Main Street Wharf. A mule pulled the canal boat.

Columbus fishermen sometimes took a longer canal trip to Buckeye Lake; they stayed over at the Minthorn House. Worthington picnics were east of the village in Griswold’s Woods. Dublin had Aunt Lucy’s Thicket, and the picturesque gorge below Hayden Falls.

Newark was flanked by Idlewild Park and Black Hand Gorge. The Columbus-Zanesville interurban went to both, the cars cruising through a sandstone tunnel beneath the grove at the Gorge. Now you can walk the former canal and interurban paths at Black Hand Gorge. You could even take a picnic rather than stop at McDonald’s. There’s a giant picnic basket nearby – the Longaberger headquarters – to get you in the potato salad mood.

Moms and Pops and families would head for the curving slopes of the Big Walnut to parks, camps, and creeks. There was a day when parades went to Heimanndale (the site is now inside the city) just about every summer Saturday and Sunday. Marchers went down Parsons Avenue, swung eastward onto Groveport Park to the grove.

Taking the sweetheart to a picnic was touted in the sheet music of the day. If the prospective sweetheart fixed the picnic basket, it was a good test of her cooking skills for future reference. Can’t you just smell the fried chicken?

Bands, dancing, and later, orchestras, dance halls, theatrical productions, and amusement parks enticed the picnicker. Never was the weekend outing so sophisticated. But things could get wild on Independence Day. Two steam locomotives were permitted to crash head-on at Buckeye Park on July 4 in the 1890’s. The park was located between Columbus and Lancaster.

I was once allowed to stand in the cab of a steam locomotive as a small child. The flames of Hell rose before me in the tinderbox. The huge metal iron horse groaned and rumbled all around me. The engineer and my father laughed. It was a memorable experience; I wish they hadn’t destroyed most of them. An idle steam engine is not like a live one.

Christine Hayes

photo by Marion Richardson

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