Our Towns

Buhl Farm Park Carries on Industrialist’s Legacy

HERMITAGE, Pa. — There’s a lush 400 acres inside a city and neighboring suburbs filled with thousands of trees and shrubs through which walkers, joggers, and bicyclists exercise and children play in safety.

Within these same 400 acres are tennis courts, picnic shelters, a fitness course and an 11-acre lake for kayaking and fishing in the summer and ice skating, when temperatures allow, in the winter.

Throw in a swimming pool, an activities center and an amphitheater for the performing arts.

What comes to mind? Mill Creek Park in Youngstown? Central Park in New York City? Wrong. Wrong parks. Wrong cities. The inclusion of what is believed to be the only free public golf course in the United States to all these activities might ring a bell.

Ding. It’s Buhl Farm Park in Hermitage, Pa.

“This is like our bar after work,” says a runner of 25 years, Bob Malaniak, who regularly pounds the park pavement with a group of friends. “We don’t have to fight traffic and it’s like a social forum.”

The South Pymatuning Township resident and his family have traveled the United States extensively. Nowhere else, Malaniak says, have they never found a park with as many and free activities as Buhl.

“When my kids and friends come back home, they say they miss having a park like a Buhl Park in their area,” Malaniak adds.

Buhl Farm Park was the idea of millionaire industrialist Frank H. Buhl in the early 1900s. Buhl and his wife, Julia Forker Buhl, wanting to share their good fortune with others, did so in their home community. Between 1907 and 1911, the Buhls bought seven parcels of farmland in Hickory Township (since incorporated into Hermitage), Sharon, and Sharpsville, Pa.

Over four years of planning, Frank and Charles W. Hopkinson, a Cleveland architect, developed the land into a park. Initially, 75,000 trees and shrubs were planted.

One hundred years ago this November, it was deeded to the F.H. Buhl Trustees for $1. In 1915, the Buhls provided an endowment consisting of stocks and bonds valued at approximately $550,000 to care for “the farm.”

The park, privately owned and operated by the trustees, receives no public money. About $1 million is needed annually to maintain the grounds, provide services and compensate about 40 employees, most of them seasonal.

Because so many activities are free, the trustees impose fees on shelter rentals and swimming. They also have an ongoing charitable donation campaign. The park is not affiliated with the Buhl Community Recreation Center in Sharon.

“We’re starting a new 100 years,” says Tom Roskos, recently named director of operations. “We want people to come and enjoy the park and all it offers. We are looking for new ways to get more people to come.”

Roskos hopes that the inaugural Armed Forces Day, scheduled for Saturday, May 16, will draw hundreds to the park. Through educational programs, park officials are working closely with veterans to raise awareness of the role the armed forces play, especially reservists in civilian life.

The committee is inviting re-enactors that day to depict American military units throughout American history. Veterans will take part in a “footlocker display” where they can show the types of gear soldiers and sailors have used since the Revolutionary War.

On that day, the Performing Arts Center will be the stage for musical groups. Visitors, especially children, will be able to participate in events – from a cricket match to an obstacle course and other activities related to military training.

Ice skating on Lake Julia and a Frisbee golf course are among possible additions to an already busy park menu. Two recent Sunday experiments with ice skating, dormant the last 30 years, brought large, enthusiastic crowds, Roskos says.

Sherry Greenburg recalls her childhood when she grew up on Hazen Road in Sharpsville opposite the park and skated on the Lake Julia when it froze.

“It was good to see ice skating back in the park,” says Greenburg, of Hermitage. “I have many fond memories of always being in the park. We would walk in and run in there forever.”

When Greenburg was a girl, her Brownie troop met in a park shelter. As an adult, she became a runner in the 1970s, joining the Shenango Valley Roadrunners Club and logged many miles in Buhl Park and competed in distance meets.

The park’s free public 9-hole golf course will open in mid-April and allow play through September. The course, par 34, is 2,378 yards long. More than 4,000 free rounds of golf are played every year.

Buhl Park offers eight tennis courts, including one grass court and one clay. The courts will open Memorial Day weekend.

The park is the site of a 207,000-gallon swimming pool open to the public. The pool, near the casino and overlooking Lake Julia, offers a diving board, five 25-meter lanes during adult swims, and a shallow area for children.

The schedules of this summer’s concerts series in the Performing Arts Center will be announced shortly.

Bud Mehalko, director of safety/security, heads a park ranger staff of 10. The rangers patrol the 400 acres and are ready to summon the police departments from Hermitage, Sharon and Sharpsville should events warrant.

“We are most proud of our secure, safe environment,” says Deb Fait, grant writer for the park. “Our walkers and everyone who uses the park feel it’s their park. They will tell us if something may be wrong.”

Roskos is especially fond of a quote from founder Frank Buhl: “There’s just one thing about the Farm. You will notice when you go out there that there isn’t a ‘Don’t’ sign in the whole place. There never will be.”

Editor’s Note: Reported and written by Dick Davis.

PICTURED: The Buhl Park Casino is the park’s ballroom available for events. It’s surrounded by verandas that offer a view of Lake Julia.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.