Sutcliffe Park Gets a Facelift By Jack Coll
Sutcliffe Park Gets A Facelift
Just In Time
By Jack Coll
I see Conshohocken’s Borough Council members have agreed to give Sutcliffe Park a much needed facelift with improved parking, and a complete makeover of the children’s playground area. Some of the playground equipment was antiquated with a splash of up-grades added over the years, the entire playground area has been leveled awaiting new, modern playground equipment.
The Sutcliffe Park playground up-grade is part of a borough wide park up-grade taking place with Aubrey Collins Park already completed. I say these up-grades are just in time because apparently members of our Council have realized that many of the late twenty-something’s and early thirty-something’s that move into our community into one of the high-rise apartments, excuse me, “condos” live here for a short time before getting married, followed by children. It seems to me that once a child comes along the young couple would prefer to move further out into the burbs rather than buy a house here in Conshohocken.
This strikes me as rather odd because Conshohocken has a lot to offer young couples within our small borough. We have a fitness room in our Fellowship House Community Center, surrounded by a number of fitness centers led by PIT fitness center located on East Elm Street. We certainly have a church for everyone’s religion, a boathouse, a bike and walking trail, a fantastic nightlife highlighted by our award winning restaurants.
We have some great community events starting with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Conshohocken Ambucs Restaurant Rallies, The Conshohocken Car Show headed into its sixteenth year sponsored by the Conshohocken Mayor’s Committee led by Mayor Robert Frost, one of the area’s leading fireworks displays held at Sutcliffe Park, a nationally recognized Soap Box Derby sponsored by the Conshohocken Ambucs, a Halloween parade sponsored by the Mayor’s Special Events Committee, and a Holiday Tree lighting ceremony with a visit from Santa Clause sponsored by the Ambucs and Mayor’s Special Events Committee. Add to that the number of youth activities with little league baseball and football to go along with the Fellowship House Community Center programs, when you package all this up very few communities can compete with Conshohocken. Along with all this we still live in one of the safest communities in the state of Pennsylvania.
Mary Jane Sutlciffe Park was a gift handed to the borough by her husband Frank Sutcliffe, he donated the thirty seven and a half acres in honor of his wife Mary Jane back in early 1930. Frank Sutcliffe was born in Rochelle, England in 1881 and immigrated to the United States in 1905 at the age of 24. He first settled in Norristown working at a number of jobs before opening a Pattern Shop in 1907. Two years later young Sutcliffe landed a job with the John Wood Manufacturing Company located in Conshohocken. By 1911 Sutcliffe was running the Wood’s pattern shop.
Sutcliffe became an American citizen in 1911, and the following 20 years of his life were nothing short of remarkable. Sutcliffe rose from immigrant obscurity to international repute and industrialist. By 1919 Sutcliffe was appointed President of the John Wood Company, a position he held until his retirement in 1933, the company thrived under Sutcliffe’s leadership.
While Sutcliffe was President of the Wood Company he simultaneously held the presidency of six other companies in this country and Canada, the Wood firm at that time was the world’s largest manufacture of electric weld products.
One of the positions Sutcliffe held as president was for a Conshohocken reality firm that developed a good portion of the upper part of Conshohocken and it was then when his firm held title to a good portion of the properties that were being developed into houses that Sutcliffe donated the thirty seven and a half acres to the borough to be used as a playground.
The park was dedicated on July 4th, 1930. A cool brisk breeze was sweeping across the fields of the park area that was dotted with trees and overgrown shrubs and weeds. A formal dedication of the Mary Jane Sutcliffe Park made it official that the ground would forever be used as a playground and park for the residents of this borough. The Independence Day Celebration in 1930, started at 9:00 AM with a flag raising ceremony over the park. Katharine Kay and Jack Foley were picked from among the many children who were playing at the park to help hoist the flag. (Playground equipment was installed two months before the formal dedication). Katharine Kay was the granddaughter of William Heald, the Borough’s Chief of Police at the time.
Mary Jane Sutcliffe was a native of Rockdale, England and had lived in the borough for 27 years at the time of her death in the fall of 1947. Frank and Mary Jane lived at “Artella” located on North Lane, the house is still standing but serves as an apartment unit. Mary Jane was proud of the Victory Gardens planted in Sutcliffe Park in 1943. The Victory Gardens were part of a nationwide effort to show support for the American troops fighting in World War Two.
Frank passed away just seven years after Mary Jane in 1955 at the age of 74. Along with his donation of the park to this community he was also instrumental in building the John F. DeHavan Post Headquarters following World War One at Second Avenue and Forrest Street, (still standing, also apartments), he also contributed to the building of the Knights of Columbus Building, currently part of The Great American Pub Restaurant.
Ironically the park hadn’t even been dedicated when on June 6, 1930, just about a month before the dedication workers installed the park’s first merry-go-round, (then located in the middle of what we call the main ball field in the middle of the park). Within an hour of installation the first accident occurred when Gerald Jacquot, the seven year old son of John Jacquot of 423 West Tenth Avenue was struck by the merry-go-round after he had jumped from the amusement device and had his right leg broken below the knee. (And no kid has ever jumped off a merry-go-round since then, NOT).
The merry-go-round at that time was designed for children not over eight years old. Young Jacquot, with a number of other children were enjoying the amusement when a number of older kids gathered around the hexagon shaped device and continued pushing it until it was traveling at a high rate of speed, faster than it was meant to travel. Young Jacquot jumped of the high speed rotating device, swung around and one of the corners struck him on the right leg knocking him down.
Thomas Nevins heard the cry for help and upon arriving found Jacquot in pain unable to move. He was removed from the park to the office of a local physician who found the leg to be broken and ordered his removal to Bryn Mawr Hospital.
And that’s the way it was all those years ago, Frank and Mary Jane Sutcliffe should never be forgotten and the citizens of this great community should be forever thankful, not for the merry-go-round, but for the facility we call Sutcliffe Park.
Hats-off to the members of the 2016-2017 Borough Council members for recognizing the needs in our parks for our children and perhaps the unborn children of the young couples who might consider purchasing property and living in our borough. I say “Our” borough because this borough belongs to all of us, young and old, new residents as well as the longtime residents. We are the care-takers for future generations, and I take that role very seriously.
It’s nice to see and be part of our council members making sure that tax dollars being brought in by these high-rise office complexes are funneled back into our community making it truly a pleasant place to live.
See you at the park on July 3rd, for the fireworks, and of course the kickoff for our 62nd little league baseball season. Of course I’ll see you for the concert in the park series and I plan on spending some time with my grandchildren checking out the new park equipment. I hope they have a merry-go-round, I used to love spinning my kids around as fast as I could and watching them holding on for dear life, my grandkids are in for a real treat!