City of Girard, Ohio
A Walk Through Avon Park
By Local Historian
Frank (Bud) Macek
When I was growing up in Avon Park many stories about the amusement park that once flourished here were told by the old timers. Tales about the zoo, roller coaster, lake, etc were heard but nothing was ever validated. The tales about the park kindled a passion inside me that would never be satisfied unless I did everything I could to find the truth about Avon Park. I was proud to claim Avon Park as my home. As a child, after visiting out of town relatives, we had a tradition. As we left Girard city limits at the cemetery entrance heading north on St. Rt. 422 we would sing the Avon Park song “O We Are From Old Avon”. We were happy and proud to be back home. It wasn’t until 1991 when I organized an Avon Park reunion that I was able to uncover the history of what the Avon Park Amusement Co. really was. The reunion I organized was for residents of Avon Park, past and present, hoping to learn all I could from pictures and stories. However it wasn’t until Wendell Lauth, longtime president of the Girard Historical Society gave me original photographs taken by a Mr. Goodrich in 1905 that I was able to piece together the actual layout and plot plan of the original park. I spent several hundred hours viewing microfilm at the Youngstown Public Library, the Warren Public Library and the Girard Free Library. It was through this that I found and made more than 600 copies of articles and advertisements about the amusement park located, just “north” of Girard Village. I also learned that the parks first name was Squaw Creek Park. In 1902 the name was changed to Ferncliffe Park and in 1903 it was named Avon Park.
This history contains actual details of Avon Park business and daily activities, a description of the layout, and names of performers. Many names of local people and park attendees are also included, so that reference might be made of Girard’s early residents.
Prior to 1897, The Village of Girard picnicked at the Lotze picnic ground on the west bank of the Mahoning River. The people of Girard Village realized they needed to find another spot to hold social affairs only after U. S. Steel Corporation announced that they would soon be dumping slag on the Lotze picnic area. Thus, the birth of Avon Park.
The first Warren Tribune article found was in the Tuesday, May 25, 1897 edition. It read:
Squaw Creek Park
It Will Open Next Month
A Large Enterprise
“Squaw Creek Park is the name adopted for the new resort soon to be opened this side of Girard. A company has been formed by local and foreign capital and organized as “The Squaw Creek Park Company”. E. H. Lotze of Girard, being one of the promoters of the enterprise, has secured 80 acres lying a half mile from Girard.”
Contracts have been let for dams, which will give an abundance of water for boating at the north end of the property. Below this will be another shallow pool specially adapted for children’s wading. The river bed at this point is solid rock and perfectly level. Below this will be a swimming pool where the creek divides and makes a beautiful island. The contract has been let for a dancing pavilion, 74’ by 125’, two stories, the upper floor being used for a dining hall. There will also be a bicycle track and ball ground. The property is being enclosed by a seven-foot tight board fence, and the entire grounds will be lighted by electricity.
Mr. H. B. Gladwish of Painesville, who was one of the originators of Euclid Beach Park, Cleveland has the entire management.
The 80 acres which made up Squaw Creek Park in 1897 was part of the Francis Tylee Adams farm. Mr. Adams’ farm had consisted of 180 acres and was a part of the 700-acre farm of his father David Augustus Adams. The property had been owned by the Adams family for more than 103 years.
Work began in early 1897 with carpenters, masons, electricians and amateur landscape artists toiling with zest on the new park site. The acreage extended from the Liberty Girard Union Cemetery on the south to Center St. on the north. The west boundary was State St. (street car line) and the east line was the Goist Farm (Squaw Creek Drive where it enters Seneca Woods). The property was thoroughly cleared of all brush; picnic grounds were prepared; lover’s lanes cut; and a small lake formed by the erection of a dam built by William R. Dennison of Youngstown. “It was said by Girard’s oldest residents, that the natural beauty of the creek was such that the hand of man could accomplish little if any improvement other than the clearing of the sites.”
The grand opening of Squaw Creek Park was heralded throughout the Mahoning Valley for July 3, 1897. After many weeks of working at a hectic pace, the enthusiasm with which residents of the valley accepted the new park may be judged by the fact that over 15,000 people visited the new park July 3 and 4.
The first newspaper ad - June of 1897
A Tribune article dated July 6, 1987 read: “Great excitement prevailed at Squaw Creek Park Monday afternoon, when the bridge leading to the ‘German Village’ gave way, and piled 60 people in a heap nine feet below. Fortunately, no one was hurt.”
July 15, 1897, the Tribune wrote about the Butcher’s Picnic held the previous day. The crowd was estimated at from 15,000 to 30,000. The dancing pavilion was so crowded that all could not be accommodated, and patrons complained that the street car service was inadequate.
Two and a half oxen and four sheep with twelve barrels of buns fed the multitude.
The Farmer’s Picnic of Aug. 18 was attended by 6,000 to 7,000 people. E. Hake of Girard won the mule race, distancing five others.
The half mile running race was won by a horse owned by A. Powers of Girard. The oldest couple prize went to John and Mary Grove of Austintown, 83 and 84.
After the exhibition Lieut. Gov. Jones, Judge L. W. King, Senator J. J. Sullivan and S. D. Jackson addressed the assemblage.
H. B. Gladwish, general manager of the park, treated the speakers to a ride on the merry-go-round, which the honorable gentlemen enjoyed very much.
In late Aug. of 1897, there was a serious concern about Sunday baseball games at the Squaw Creek ball field. Aug. 31. 1897 headlines read,
“BALL PLAYERS AT SQUAW CREEK PARK SUNDAY WERE UNEASY”
“Squire Swain of Sodom, sent the constable from the east part of the Township over to Squaw Creek Park yesterday to arrest the ball players. The constable was on hand, but the game progressed without any interference.” More than 5,000 people attended that game in which New Castle defeated Springfield 8 to 2. Each team was paid $100.00
A Tribune article in August 1897 about an Indian burial ground along Squaw Creek explained how the creek was named. “There are one or two old residents of Liberty Township who have recollections of a tribe of Indians that lived along the creek about the beginning of the present century, 1800. The band, says a Girard correspondent, seems to have been followers of Spotted John and was composed principally of squaws whom he and his companions got by barter or theft from neighboring camps, as he was known to be a bad Indian of no particular tribe. These squaws were left in charge of the camp most of the time and from their apparent monopoly of the place, the creek took its name.” Spotted John was killed at Salt Springs by Richard Story. “The bodies of the dead Indians were reburied, as an old account has it, at a small Indian settlement five miles down the river from Salt Springs, which was undoubtedly Spotted John’s camp at Squaw Creek.”
Many questions were being asked in September of 1897 as to why Squaw Creek Park Co. had to go into receivership after such a great opening year. Unpaid bills were the cause for this. Success, in the case of Squaw Creek Park, was not measured by its popularity. The Vindicator stated in their September 1897 article that the park grossed at least $12,000. Admissions to the park were ten cents. Children, horses and carriages were free.
Despite the financial woes of the previous year the park opened June 7, 1898 with Charles C. Stumm as the new manager. Advertisements in The Vindicator were very small compared to the first year. The biggest ad was one column wide by one and one half inches long. The Tribune ran no ads.
The entire Mahoning orchestra played on opening day and every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening for dancing pleasure at the pavilion. The Casino attractions were soon to be announced and several large picnics were booked. Every indication pointed to a prosperous season for this “Garden Spot.”
The Casino Theater at Squaw Creek Park opened June 13, 1898 with two performances daily, 2:30-5 p.m. and 7:30-11 p.m.
The opening week’s first-class artists were John H. Price, the celebrated dialect comedian and musical wonder; The Raymonds, Fred & Sadie; singers, dancers and comedians had just arrived from New York last evening. J. W. Lewis, the baritone singer and Miss Stella Mayhew, the very charming little comedienne, making a neat and inoffensive show. Mr. John Evans, the clever harp soloist, was also in attendance.
Uncertainty about the park again surfaced three weeks after opening with an article about a change in ownership.
The article read: “The future of Squaw Creek Park will soon be known, the sale to the highest bidder taking place on Saturday at 1 p.m. With a company full of push and energy it would be a success. The valley is without an institution of this kind and the population is enough to support it. The new proprietors, whoever they may be would be wise in retaining Mr. Chas C. Stumm as park director. Mr. Stumm is a careful manager, systematic in his ways and judicious in his advertising methods. He has years of experience in catering for public patronage and no better man could be found to furnish the amusement for the park patrons, knowing all the best vaudeville companies playing the large cities. If he has the support of his employers he can bring the park into public favor again.”
July 4, 1898 saw a huge crowd at the park looking for old times, from early morning until late at night. Families, private parties and young men and their sweethearts were there in numbers. More than 2,200 people danced during the day. A waltz dance contest was the evening entertainment. The winner received a lady’s gold watch.
A Mr. Wirt bought the park at the auction but had trouble with four men that were going to manage it. J. C. Krehl, receiver for the creditors, refused to turn over the books and the management transferred to Geo. Dingledy, Geo. Dingledy, Jr., a Mr. Dennison and a Mr. Deemer, because performer engagements had already been booked for the week. Mr. Krehl requested them to let him run the week out and finish up his business and for them to arrange to take charge of the park Sunday, June 17 and start with the beginning of the week. The purchase price and court costs were never paid, so Mr. Krehl refused to turn over the park. When the money was paid, Dingledy, Dennison and Co. emphatically refused to accept the park. Mr. Krehl was asked to go ahead and see what he could do to keep the operation open.
Park manager Stumm severed his job with Squaw Creek Park on July 18, 1898. He went to New York, as did Robert Manchester, last year’s advertising manager. Mr. Stumm got the job as general manager and advance agent by the Rays “Hot Old Time,” which opened in September 1898 in New York. Mr. Stumm was a great believer in Squaw Creek Park as a summer resort. He was going to make an attempt to return in 1899 and lease the park.
The years 1899, 1900 and 1901 are a mystery. My research sources revealed nothing on these three years. In 1902, Squaw Creek Park became Ferncliffe Park. Judging by press coverage and the lack of advertising, Ferncliffe Park did no better than Squaw Creek. It lasted just one year.
In 1903, a new life was given to Girard’s park. It was renamed Avon Park because of the “romantic” sound of “Avon”. Joseph Wess was hired as the new manager. “While Mr. Wess is comparatively a stranger in this section he is well known in and about New York as a thoroughly up-to-date manager. For over a score of years he has been associated in that capacity in the theatrical profession and during that time has successfully managed such attractions as the Metropolitan Opera Company, and John Rigou’s well known Hungarian Gypsy band. Aside from the experience on the road he has had the management of many big attractions at Coney Island, where he was for fourteen years, and other noted summer resorts.”
This ad appeared on 10 of 12 pages in the Youngstown Telegram – June 4, 1903
Portable awnings were hung on all four sides of the pavilion in case of a storm. The picnic grounds, as well as the rest of the park, were put in first-class condition. Settees, benches and swings of various descriptions were built. A new ride was built that ran from the dam at the south end of the park to the north park limit. A Tribune article called it the Emery Scenic Railway because it was built by a Mr. Emery.
Another park improvement was the enlarging of the race track from a ¼ mile ellipse to a ½ mile one.
The ball field was inside the current track. The present grandstand was torn down and a new and more commodious one was erected so that the spectators had a full view of the homestretch.
Manager Wess’s intention was to go east and visit the leading tracks, there to gain a good list of entries for the races to be held at Avon Park. He wanted to provide a solid month of racing for the sports lovers of the Mahoning Valley.
Manager Wess was a tremendous promoter. He scheduled only the best vaudeville acts at the casino. Every Thursday night, and at times on other nights, he provided elegant fireworks displays. Few people knew that he hired two expert fireworks men who worked right in Avon Park making the pyrotechnics. Large ads were in The Vindicator just like in 1897, the park’s first year.
A Japanese garden was also built in place of the German Village. Two genuine sons of Nippon presided over the garden.
It was through Manager Wess’s effort that Avon Park, a.k.a. Squaw Creek Park, a.k.a. Ferncliffe Park, regained its once glorious days of old. Huge crowds once again visited the “Garden Spot” along the Squaw Creek.
Postcard of the Avon Park dance pavilion in 1903
Twenty thousand people were on the park grounds for the Welsh Pioneers Picnic, Aug. 19, 1903. The crowd had been expected, so it was no surprise. The park band, the park orchestra, and the Warren Juvenile Band played. At 3:30 p.m., Mr. Wess turned the casino over to the picnickers and the elaborate literary and musical program of the pioneers was carried out in detail.
Some of the names mentioned were D. Owens, T. J. Powell, Miss Viola Simmons, Prof. J. D. Evans, Rev. T. M. Griffiths, David Williams, Evan Gething, T. B. Lewis, Morgan Thomas, Philip Matthews, D. J. Hughes, J. Jones and David Davis. Miss Agnes Perry and J. Taranlais Evans sang a number of songs and some of them stirred the audience to sing the chorus.
On Aug. 17, 1903 Manager Wess entertained the orphans of the Mahoning Valley. The article read, “The unfortunate little ones who have no parents, enjoyed themselves at the casino, on the merry-go-round and all other places of amusement.”
Postcard of the bridge over Squaw Creek - 1903
In 1903, solely through the efforts of Manager Joe Wess, the old Squaw Creek Park, now Avon Park, challenged Idora Park for the best amusement in the Mahoning Valley. This rivalry would continue for several more years.
Manager Wess proclaimed every Wednesday as Ladies Day. Ladies were admitted to the park and casino free of charge and were delighted by evening fireworks. On June 5, 1903, “each lady was given a cluster of carnations.” “An assistant stationed at the entrance gave away 2,000 such bouquets, compliments of the management.”
Competition, between the Mahoning Valley’s two amusement parks intensified toward the end of the 1903 season. Idora Park, noticeably, copied many of Avon’s attractions. Their advertisements were almost identical. Manager Wess of Avon Park was determined to regain and keep the popularity of what was once Avon’s. Mr. Stanley, manager of Idora Park, was not about to let Avon do this without a fight. Both men marketed their parks well in order to get the huge organization picnics that meant so much to their success. Evidence of the competition between Avon and Idora was even seen in the Youngstown Telegram ads that were run by both parks. Sept. 5, 1903, Avon Park’s ad stated that “Imitation is the sincerest flattery. Only the best is imitated. That is why other parks sought to follow the example set by the only Avon Park.” Two days later, Avon’s ad read, “Watch those who say that they never misrepresent. Avon Park is the park that always delivers the goods! The public is the jury.”
After Labor Day 1903, both parks offered free admission to the grounds as the season ended.
Manager Wess resumed advertising in a big way in 1903 in the Youngstown Telegram. Several one column by five inches ads were run almost daily. Along with these paid ads, Mr. Wess or his P.R. person had Telegram reporters at the park witnessing something that was newsworthy.
The reporters wrote about all the daily events, attendance figures, winners of races, vaudeville acts, park security, streetcar service, maintenance, etc. Almost every article had Avon Park in big capital letters in the headline.
A poet from Miles, P. J. O’Day, loved Avon Park, and wrote the following poem as testimony.
If you want a day’s amusement,
I”ll tell you what to do,
Go to Avon Park, take your wife
And children, too.
Get right on the street cars
And take a little ride,
And then get off at Avon Park,
Old Trumbull’s joy and pride,
There everything is up to date,
And you will not find it stale,
For Manager Wess is O.K. and
He don’t know how to fail.
The park is joy for old and young,
For big folks and for small,
And Avon Park, I’m glad to say,
Is the dandy of them all.
For the young folks there’s the merry go round
And the animal kingdom, too,
I am sure that Manager Wess
Is proud of his big zoo.
For the old folks there’s some pretty spots
to lunch right in the shade,
Although there’s no hard drinks on the
Grounds, you’ll find plenty of lemonade.
There is a grand dancing pavilion for
Young men and their girls;
How they will enjoy it as they
Go around in whirls.
But what’s the use in talking
You know that I am right,
For Avon Park, you bet your life,
Is the greatest thing in sight.
At the theater in the evening,
You’ll find a good show on.
A dozen laughs a minute,
You’ll enjoy it right along.
The scenery all around the park
Is beautiful, yes, grand;
And courteous treatment you’ll receive,
If you behave-now understand.
Now don’t take this for an advertisement,
Though it reads like one;
I am giving praises where they’re due
And then my task is done.
Good luck to Manager Wess,
May he prosper every day.
We hope that he and Avon Park
Have come with us to stay.”
P. J. O’Day
164 Second St., Niles
It sure sounded like an ad written by a Joe Wess fan, but, then again, he could have truly loved the beautiful park that was Avon Park!
The end of the 1903 summer season at Avon Park was the middle of September. However, Manager Wess had to be very excited about what was planned for the 1904 season.
December 30, 1903, Manager Wess signed an agreement with the T. M. Harton Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa. to build a one cross-over Toboggan Slide/Roller Coaster, pattern figure eight, at Avon Park. It was to be the same style and size as the one at the Pittsburgh Exposition, 85 by 225 feet. The Harten Co. was to build it, before May 30, 1904, at their expense, and run it for a period of ten years. Avon Park received 25 percent of the gross receipts as rental.
A January 1904 article in The Vindicator told of contracts that were let for a new dance hall and a new dining room. They were to be two of the biggest buildings in eastern Ohio or western Pennsylvania. The dance hall was 80 by 100 feet with a maple floor. It had a promenade of 20 feet in width.
A lunch room, 50 by 100 feet, was also built separate from the dining room that was 60 by 120 feet. All of the buildings were to be built in a most artistic manner and roofed in the Japanese style.
A contract for one searchlight of 2,000 candle power to overlook the entire park from the top of the new park office on the hill was also awarded.
A large animal zoo was being built at this time. Cages for large and small animals, as well as a large bird aviary were built along Squaw Creek.
The Girard House hostelry, located on the corner of State St. and Broadway in Girard Village was acquired by the Avon Park Co. in 1904. “A large sum of money was expended in getting the hotel in first class condition. The building remodeled, re-painted, the rooms re-furnished throughout and the newly named Avon Inn is now one of the most comfortable hostelries in eastern Ohio. The Avon Inn will be used largely by the actors and actresses who play at Avon Park.” It officially opened Friday the 13th, 1904.
The park opened on May 14, 1904. The Erie Railroad had a switch installed to accommodate Avon Park patrons. The Erie Railroad was the first line to come to Girard from Cleveland and must have felt it worthwhile to put in a switch so that Avon Park merry goers could have easier access to the park.
The Mahoning Valley Street Railway Company had negotiated with Mr. Wess last year, 1903, about plans to install a second car line to the east of Avon Park, possibly through Tod Park and the Shannon Rd. area of today. The streetcar company and Avon Park intended to be in some type of partnership because the park was to be paid $50,000 by the car line in consideration of the business that Avon would bring to the new line.
A new depot was built to handle the regular streetcar patrons. Several articles from 1904 mentioned that streetcars were backed up as far as the Liberty Union Cemetery, waiting to unload park-goers coming from the south.
George Webster, foreman of the Youngstown Consolidated Gas and Electric Company, installed 65 arc and several hundred additional incandescent lights in the park. All of the park buildings were painted a canary color.
The Avon Park Band, which consisted of 18 men, all picked from the local union, got new uniforms that were styled after the New York Yacht Club’s. A harp was on the caps with “AVON” in gold letters.
The stage in the casino was enlarged to many times the size of the former one. Its new size of 25 by 36 feet made it larger than the stage at the opera house. 1200 new chairs were delivered, which increased the casino seating to 3,500. This assured plenty of accommodations and comfort to the patrons.
Having spent more than $100,000 on new attractions and remodeling since the end of the 1903 season, Avon Park was ready for a successful ’04 summer.
A train carload of animals arrived in Girard via the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad May 3, 1904. They were shipped from New York and were accompanied by Oscar Koch and Max Lohman. These two men a assisted in parading the animals through the streets of Girard at midday on the way to the newly-built zoo in Avon Park. An elephant, several camels, leopards, zebras, monkeys, and an aviary of South American birds, 300 in number, were new arrivals to the park.
The night before the park opened, Manager Wess had a crew of 100 men work all night in order to get the park ready for opening day.
The entire park savored of newness. It was an attractive place last year, but now it was one of the largest outdoor attractions in the country. It was hard to pick a most popular attraction this year at Avon Park. The casino with the enlarged stage, new scenery props and seating for everyone surely made the vaudeville acts more enjoyable. The merry-go-round, which was the “Largest” in the country, had three horses abreast and was very popular with the children. The maze, the miniature railroad, picture machines, German shooting gallery, bowling alleys and countless other attractions entertained the guests.
Postcard of first dance pavilion after being repainted - 1904
However, the greatest point of interest was the zoo. The lagoon had swans and pelicans. The outdoor cages housed wolves, foxes, coons, wildcats, bears, elk, deer, an elephant and camels. The elephant and camels had custom-made saddles which enabled them to carry park visitors about in true safari style. A large cage kept many monkeys housed to everyone’s delight. Kangaroos and leopards were also inhabitants.
A very large aviary was built to house the 300-plus birds. Everything from ostriches and eagles to the smallest songsters could be seen by all present. Animal trainer Tom Ward supervised the zoo hospital. He was kept very busy in the beginning of the 1904 season. The weather was cold and rainy and in some cases didn’t agree with certain animals. The elephant needed to be greased all over every two weeks so that his skin didn’t crack. It was not safe to keep him out of doors, and like the camels, he was housed with a stove for comfort.
The new roller coaster called the Toboggan Slide was put into operation for the first time May 29, 1904. The cars were smooth running, commodious, and fitted with all manner of safety appliances. A long line of patrons was continuous all day.
Avon Park roller coaster called the Tobaggan Slide
On May 30, 1904, the new dance pavilion opened and the place was packed with people from Girard, Youngstown, Niles and Warren. Hundreds of couples glided over the highly polished floor until late in the night. It was the biggest dance in point of numbers that took place in this part of Ohio. The patrons were delighted. This pavilion, which is now the Avon Oaks Ballroom, was located near the park entrance and was claimed to have the largest dance floor in the state. The lower floor was to be devoted to a dining hall serving forth shore dinners at a later date. However, it was used Monday night by the dancers because the crowd was so immense.
A big Ferris wheel was ordered May l8, and was to be completed with the cannon coaster.
Another new feature at Avon Park in 1904 was a tug-of-war machine called the “Pow Wow.” It was continuously used.
Picnics scheduled at Avon Park in June of 1904 were by the Knights of Pythias, Warren Baptist Sunday Schools, St. John’s Parish, Westminster Church, Knights of Columbus, Salem Ohio Industrial Group and Royal Arcanum Society of Ohio and Pennsylvania to name a few. The Salvation Army brought 1,000 “poor” children to the park to be entertained June 12. They had the run of the park and were treated to ice cream and cake.
All of the improvements, the huge amount of money spent and the excellent planning of Manager Wess and his staff made the 1904 season look like a sure bet success. However, rainfall was heavy much of May, June and July. General attendance suffered greatly. Firework displays had to be cancelled and on several days park-goers were only able to huddle inside the dance pavilions and other covered structures.
The constant rain also interfered with the construction of the racetrack. The large force of men employed to grade the half mile oval was seriously handicapped but pushed forward as rapidly as the weather permitted. July 15, 1904 was the target date of completion.
On fair weather days, the park was very popular. Visitors came by the thousands and were not disappointed by what the park offered. One casino act that was engaged was the Kitamures Japanese Troupe. While appearing at Avon Park, two members of the troupe decided to get married. The story behind the love affair was extensive, and Manager Wess used it to publicize the park. Three straight days of lengthy Telegram articles told the story of Yose Haru and M. Mankicki. Parental approval was received and a Japanese minister arrived to perform the five-minute ceremony. The hype of the public affair proved successful for Avon Park, as more than 10,000 people were in attendance that day.
The Mahoning Valley Railway Company added a novel feature to their cars that ran to Avon Park from Youngstown and Warren. They were now illuminated, ablaze with many colored lights, adding a picturesque look along State Street.
An interesting feature was added to the new hexagon-shaped office building. It was a powerful searchlight installed in the dome of the structure that was made to revolve in any direction. When the operator turned the penetrating rays onto some of the park’s strolling groups, the effects were startling and at times extremely ludicrous.
This is a photo of the Avon Park Office (now 209 Glendale Avenue)
On June 27, 1904, William Bartels, one of the best known animal importers in the world, was a guest at Avon Park. While examining the zoo, he was badly clawed by a leopard that was in wait as he walked by. Also at the zoo, more than 200 birds were added to the aviary and it was now said to be larger than the bird exhibit at the St. Louis World Fair.
As the weather improved, more picnic bookings occurred. Now scheduling were the Primitive Methodist Church, New Castle Grocers and butchers, The Lady Maccabees of Mahoning Valley, the Hibernians, Welsh Pioneers and the Elwood City Industrialists. After an excellent week at the park in July, Manager Wess made the following statement, “If the weather man will only keep up the good work for another five or six weeks we will buy him a nice suit of clothes and provide a supply of winter coal”.
Avon Park postcard 1904
Ladies Day, a promotion offered every Monday and Tuesday, was cancelled on July 19th. It was started as a way to increase business but was no longer needed because of better weather. The promotion had cost the management thousands of dollars and added to the difficulty of breaking even financially for the season.
Rumors began circulating in July about the solvency of Avon Park. The $100,000 spent, the bad weather and the competition from other parks led Mr. Wess to rebuke all lies that were circulating about him skipping the country and leaving unpaid bills in his wake.
“You can say,” said he, “that I will settle all claims against the park in the next 24 hours. What I want stopped are the senseless lies that have circulated to the effect that I contemplate running away and that I will not pay the obligations of the Avon Park Amusement Co. I believe the stories were circulated by persons who would profit by the ruin of Avon Park, a condition which is not at all likely to occur.”
In July 1904, Manager Joe Wess was sued for $300 by Prof. P.K. Mathus, the leader of the Hungarian Gypsy Orchestra. The band had performed at the park for seven and one-half weeks. Mr. Wess proved that he had paid everyone involved their full wages, stating that members of the orchestra, with the exception of Prof. Mathus, went to New York the next day, and since he couldn’t use a one-man band, he refused to hire the professor. The suit was dropped.
Then, in August 1904, Avon Park went into receivership with A. B. Camp, cashier at the First National Bank of Girard, appointed receiver. He immediately went to the park and took personal charge of financial management of Avon. The receivership was the direct outcome of a suit filed against the amusement company by D. Hauser & Son of Girard for $520 for meat furnished the park. This bill must have been a small one compared to the contractors’ bills for the many improvements made at the park in 1903-04. When it was found that floating indebtedness was incurred due to these improvements pressing for payment, and the company was threatened by litigation, it was concluded that in order to save the property and prevent the destruction of the business, a receivership was the best solution.
The weather was much better now and the park began making money as a result. It had no trouble in meeting its running expenses. Manager Wess mentioned that since the Mahoning Valley Railway Company benefited most by Avon Park that they might see fit to share a small portion of the profits with the park. The railway company denied the request.
Business at Avon Park got better and better after the 1904 season was half over. Newspaper articles continued on a daily basis telling everything that just happened, what was happening and what was about to happen. The casino stopped having vaudeville acts in favor of opera. La Mascotte was presented first, followed by the comic opera, Said Pasha, done by the Manhattan Opera Company. Next was Fra Diavola, featuring the singing of a sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor. The costumes were exceptionally pretty and Mr. Wess made sure that a large orchestra provided the music.
Another new attraction in Avon Park in 1904 was the Delmonico Restaurant. It was located on the first floor of the new two story dance pavilion. An August outing of this year booked 1,500 plates for their banquet. The menu was: Puree of Tomato, Celery, Olives, Filet of Lake Trout Tartar Style, Shoe String Potatoes, Boiled Spring Chicken ala Avon, Delmonico Potatoes, French Peas, Tokay Wine, Orange Sherbet, Encases, Waldorf Salad, and Saltines.
The park hosted somewhat of a fair in mid-September which caused Mr. Wess to rent several large tents, the size equal to those used by big circuses. This was necessary due to the large number of animals to be exhibited.
An article explaining where they would house the zoo animals during the winter months
February 23, 1905, the Avon Park Amusement Co. signed a contract with Mr. E.B. Blott to build a roller and ice skating rink within the park. The building was to be no less than 70 feet by 240 feet and was to be built, maintained and operated by Mr. Blott for a period of five years. Avon Park was to earn between 15 and 40 percent of the gross receipts of the skating rink. The percentage scale was based on the time of year of the income. At the end of five years, the amusement company had the option to buy the building for one third of the original cost. This information and much more were contained in a lease between the two parties, of which Wendall Lauth made a copy and supplied it to me.
Another lease copy he gave me was made May 2, 1905, between Avon Park and Frank and Paul Stein of Niles to construct a lake for boating and bathing with the privilege of cutting ice during the winter months. This lease also ran for a five-year period and granted the park 25 percent of gross receipts for the first year and 33 percent the remaining four years.
A photo of the dam at the bottom of Pittsburg Avenue built in 1905.
It was called Mirror Lake.
The big news April 19, 1905, was that the voters of Girard Village gave an affirmative vote to make the village “wet” again. The “drys” claimed that there were a large number of illegal votes cast, but they made no effort to contest the election. Despite the fact that Girard had gone “wet”, there would be no saloons in close proximity to Avon Park. It was not possible to place a saloon within three-quarters of a mile of the park on account of the fact that Liberty and Weathersfield Townships were both “dry”. The park was kept free from liquor as in the past, and the patrons were to have the freedom from the effects of it.
“Avonia” was the name selected for the before mentioned skating rink. It opened May 8, 1905 under the management of a new stock company. One of the pleasing features of the rink was that ladies were admitted free every day. The skating floor was one of the largest and finest in the country and the skates were of the most modern finish. The Youngstown city band of 20 pieces was booked for the season and they so arranged that the music was continuous.
The zoo at Avon Park was greatly enlarged in 1905, including, among other features, a couple of large lions. The zoo itself was now enclosed, and a small admission fee of five cents was charged. A very successful act at the zoo was a troupe of trained bears under the tutelage of Mme. LaVierre.
The half-mile race track was finally completed in June and contracts were to be let for a new grandstand and 200 stables. One subject that Avon Park management always stressed was that the park be a safe place for everyone, free from rowdyism of any sort. Women and children were in great numbers at all times. Manager Wess was always on hand to see that no objectionable characters were admitted.
The lake was filled in mid-June and it backed water up to the vicinity of the footbridge and roller coaster.
The industrial picnic from Beaver Falls, Pa. was at Avon Park June 23, 1905. They brought 3,000 patrons with the help of six special trolley cars. A grand fireworks display was given. The greatest display of fireworks ever seen in the Mahoning valley was promised by Manager Wess on July 4th. Set pieces, balloons and the like composed but a minor part of the brilliant spectacle. There were battles to represent the great wars in the east and bombs and mines destined to raise the people “off their feet” in patriotic enthusiasm. It was an elaborate pyrotechnic display which was constructed mostly at the park and cost several hundred dollars.
July 4th also provided the only information that horse racing actually occurred at the new track. Both trotters and pacers ran that day on the “exceedingly” fast track. The absence of a regular program was the only thing to be regretted. Fisticuffs between a jockey and a tout enlivened the proceedings.
July of 1905 was not a good month for Joe Wess, manager of the Avon Park Amusement Co. The First National Bank of Cortland sued the manager for $1,100 plus interest from May 5 for a promissory note held by the bank.
Mr. Wess was next in court for operating the casino theatre on Sundays. In response to this charge, he said that it was all spite work on the part of a man who had an act which was cut out. He added that the best people in the valley are Sunday patrons of the Avon casino and that they will continue to see great performances.
Next, Edward Manley charged Mr. Wess with writing a check to him with the intent to defraud. Joe denied issuing a check at all and answered that Mr. Manley had accepted his personal note for $74. Over the past three years, Wess had given Manley about $2,000 in livery business. Mr. Wess’s public reply to this frivolous lawsuit was, “I regret very much that I have to be the one who has to show up some attorneys’ persecuting practice instead of prosecuting. During my three year career in this city (Girard) I have found that there are five attorneys who are not able to earn a living unless they prosecute somebody and make capital out of one or another unfortunate business man and use the laws of the state for their persecuting and selfish motives. I have always tried to do the right thing by everybody and will continue to do so. All I ask is fair play and a chance to prove and carry out what I have said.”
That statement was directed at Attorney Frank Jacobs, who incidentally represented Frank Palneri, the next to sue Manager Wess. Mr. Palneri had purchased a “privilege” at Avon Park, and, due to not making what he thought he should make, sued Mr. Wess for misrepresentations as to the size of the crowds assured. Manager Wess’s comment was, “When I talked to that man about coming here I gave him a fair estimate of the average attendance of the park. If he hasn’t made money, it’s no fault of mine. I paid out $300 for the enclosure he occupies and he owes me $100 rent. When people owe me, they sue me.”
Palneri’s suit was dismissed and Manager Joe Wess refused to settle out of court with Mr. Manley. Instead, he instructed his attorneys to file a $10,000 suit against Mr. Manley for damages.
Despite all the legal problems, Avon Park opened every day of the 1905 season. The Hungarian Magyars, the Butchers, Welsh Pioneers and the Kent Brass Band were a few of the larger picnics. The Butchers picnic was highlighted by a greased pole contest and a greased pig contest. Arthur Davis, amidst the yelling and laughter of the onlookers, was the first to reach the top and won a ham for his effort. After a most exciting chase which took him all over the park, Archie Thompson captured the greased porker, which he was allowed to keep.
At the casino were such acts as John Geiger, a trick violinist who claimed to make the instrument talk. Another act was Bertha Noss Russell, a former member of the famous Noss family of New Brighten, Pa. She did a novel musical and singing specialty called “The Saxophone Girl”. She played difficult selections on several instruments. One of the finest bands to ever visit the Youngstown area played at Avon Park Aug. 13, 1905. Weber’s Prize Band of America featuring Blanche B. Mehaffey, conceded to be the best dramatic soprano on the concert stage, gave a well-received performance.
Rainfall was not of a shortage during the summer of 1905. Over a three day period in July, 2.59 inches of rain fell. The Mahoning River was full of trees, branches, fence rails and cinder, floating south.
July 24, Girard, the village up the river, was visited by the worst storm in many years. Henry Schonefeld’s house and Thos. Pugh’s barn were struck by lightning. Water coming down Churchill Rd. flooded State St. from David Hausser’s up to the Ohio Leather Works.
Aug. 29 saw another torrential downpour over Avon Park. These three storms are mentioned only to point out the importance the weather played on the financial woes of Avon Park. No satellite-weather pictures, no T.V. newscasts, no forecasting of factual information of any kind was available in 1905. Avon Park did what they could to survive.
Avon Park began 1906 on a bad note. News out of Warren April 3, 1906 was that Berger Manufacturing Company sued Avon Park Amusement Company for $30,938.56. Under the judgment order, the court was to marshal liens and ordered that if the judgments weren’t paid within three days, the park property should be sold to meet them.
There were 13 different claimants in the judgment, among them C. F. Adams, owner of the property; Girard Hardware; Youngstown Ice Co.; Youngstown Paint & Glass; Minnie W. Johnson, mortgage, $5,925.31 and note of $2,359.55.
Miss Johnson agreed to take the 400-plus birds, the lions and the bears in the park zoo for $700, the same was to apply on the mortgage held by her.
Manager Joe Wess denied the news report that the park was to be sold, saying that the park will again open this summer under his personal management and that Avon Park will be bigger and better than ever.
Five days later, Sheriff DeNormandie took possession of the effects of the New York Burlesque Company of Youngstown, of which Joe Wess was the head man. A few days after the receiver was appointed, a motion was made to dismiss him because the entire legal action by H. T. Jetty of New Castle was made of untrue statements. Mr. Getty was trying to collect a debt from the burlesque company by claiming their props, costumes and fixtures. However, the startling news was that the fixtures, etc. belonged to the Avon Park Amusement Co. and they were already mortgaged and the continuance of the receivership would work hardship to the bona fide creditors of Avon Park.
Despite all of Joe Wess’s legal problems, Avon Park did indeed open May 27 with a fine bill in the casino headlined by The Max Smith duo on the dancing ladders.
At this time in 1906, the Youngstown Telegram paper began running Avon Park and Idora Park news in the same article. The competition between the two local parks was no longer evident.
The only improvement made to Avon Park in 1906 was the Japanese Village which was established on the site of the “Old Wonderland.”
The Telegram article read as follows: “The Japs are here and are now fixing it up. Goods will be exhibited and tea will be served. This troupe of Japs were among the attractions of the White City Park in Pittsburgh, which was destroyed by fire.”
July 1, 1906, Girard police raided Avon Park and arrested the Wheel of Fortune and the Slot Machine concessionaires, arresting them for gambling. The men protested loud and long to no avail and as a result the Girard Village treasury was enriched by $50 and costs from each offender.
The Herald Square comic Opera Company was a huge success at the Avon casino. The pretty girls, light music and funny comedians came as a relief after a long season of vaudeville.
Manager Wess struck a popular chord with the society people of Warren, Niles, Girard and Youngstown, who patronized the Avon dancing pavilion in large numbers. He enforced the strictest regulations on the dance floor. It proved to be very satisfying to the patrons.
A new publicity stunt was added to promote the park in late June. An airship made regular trips from Avon Park to Youngstown and Warren carrying ads of the park. July 21, 1906, the paper mentioned that there would be a noted aeronaut making balloon ascensions and “parachute drops” daily.
July 25th was Girard Day at Avon Park. The populace, young and old, betook itself to the park! Again, Aug. 21st, Girard village folks were well-represented at the Welsh reunion at Avon Park. In fact, the entire town appeared to be Welsh, judging by the crowd. The grocery stores closed at noon, permitting the help and their bosses to attend the gathering.
A postcard of Mirror Lake and the Toboggan Slide - 1906
Manager Wess was forced to cancel several shows at the casino because some of the actors didn’t show up for their performances. Others refused to work unless they were paid in advance. To make matters worse, the union musicians at the theatre and the dance pavilion went on strike due to money matters. This occurred Aug. 7. 1906. Although Mr. Wess did manage a truce with the actors and musicians and the theater reopened, it was announced that Avon Park would be sold at auction to the highest bidder Aug. 23, 1906. Since the lease on the Avon Park property still had 17 years left, it was said that the creditors intended to buy the property and either run the park themselves or else sell it.
Who actually bought Avon Park was not made clear in the Telegram. Mr. Adams, the original owner of the land and owed more than $10,000 by the park, tried to run Joe Wess out of Avon Park after the auction on the 23rd. They got into a heated argument but Mr. Wess refused to leave. Mr. Adams, who bid on the park to protect his investment, seemed to have a right to evict the manager. However, when all was said and done, Avon Park management didn’t change. Joe Wess was the man, vowing to keep Avon Park the top resort in northeast Ohio.
1907 began relatively free of any legal problems either for Manager Joe Wess or the Avon Park Amusement Co. The new owner of the park was C. F. Adams, who owned the real estate that the park occupied since the very beginning, in 1897.
Some of the larger gatherings scheduled at Avon were by the Butchers, Welsh Pioneers, Gustavus Swedish Societies, National Tube Company of Oil City, Pa, and the Franen Verein Society of Warren.
July 2, 1907, additional help was brought in to handle the anticipated large crowd July 4. The help included a chef from the Fort Pill Hotel in Pittsburgh and several experts who were to assist in the discharge of the fireworks. The framework for the big pyrotechnic naval display had already been set up for what was to be the largest display of its kind ever produced at the park. The Telegram headline July 5 read “MANAGER WESS SERIOUSLY ILL.” Mr. Wess was at the Tod House in Youngstown under Dr. Blaine’s care and was believed to have over worked himself at the Avon Park July 4 celebration. Business at the park was phenomenal, being full one-third larger than any previous day.
Several articles in July mentioned that the big dance pavilion, now the Avon Oaks Ballroom, was pronounced to have the finest dance floor in this part of the country. And with Prof. Charles Liebman’s splendid orchestra, park visitors were assured of an enjoyable time.
Minstrels replaced vaudeville at the Avon Park Casino for a short time in July 1907. Manager Wess sought to give his patrons a brief respite from vaudeville, however due to a big fight going on in New York City over the booking and control of vaudeville acts, the same would soon return on a more elaborate scale.
Mr. Wess personally went to New York City and contracted to do business with the Klaw & Erlanger agency, which had the cream of the business. New imported acts from Europe were to come to Avon Park as fast as they arrived. The first of these “advanced vaudeville” acts appeared at Avon July 21 and performed to a huge and appreciative audience.
July 24, Idora Park announced that they would spend a vast amount of money to make that amusement park like Luna Park in Pittsburgh. The very next day, Manager Joe Wess of Avon Park announced that next year, Avon, too, will double in size. He had a deal in the works whereby he was going to buy the park himself. At that time, he was going to make improvements, continuing the work all winter. A first-class summer hotel and a large artificial lake were to be built.
Aug. 2, 1907, Avon Park was again an object of litigation. The Mahoning Valley Amusement Co., which built and controlled the skating rink, filed suit against the Adams Amusement Co. for $2,935.71. When the rink was built in 1905, Avon Park had the option, within five years, to buy the skating rink from Mahoning Valley, who had built the facility at their expense and paid rent to Avon Park. Mr. Adams, however, wasn’t interested in fulfilling the agreement before the five years were up.
Aug. 23, 1907, over 30,000 people assembled in Avon Park for the Welsh Pioneers picnic. This was the largest attendance in the park’s history. The Telegram read: “From the farm and the forge, from the office and the mill the loyal sons of Wales assembled in the Trumbull County pleasure resort. At 3 p.m. the annual free entertainment was held at the casino. This part of the day’s program is always looked forward to with a great deal of pleasure, and was attended by over 3,000 people who taxed the seating capacity of that spacious place.”
The big news that ended the 1907 summer at Avon Park was that Joseph Wess did indeed buy Avon Park for $31,500. “I will let the public know whether or not I am sincere when I say that Avon Park will be one of the greatest resorts in this part of the country,” said Wess. “I will have a lot of men at the park this fall putting up a large hotel and sanitarium. The work will be rushed and the place opened to the public sometime this winter. I purchased the entire 105 acres of the park for $31,500. The park is now absolutely in my hands and will be transformed into one of the beauty spots of this region.”
The first news about Avon Park in 1908 was more about its manager Joe Wess than about Avon. He announced in early May that he was now going to have a second Avon Park! An amusement resort in Cleveland was supposedly going to be called Avon Park and managed by none other than Joe Wess.
Notable outings in 1908 were held by the Scottish, the Welsh, the Hibernians and the Eagles. For the Old Home Week picnic in June, Mr. Wess engaged the Fraser Highlanders of Toronto, Canada to perform.
The first sign of trouble for Avon Park occurred on June 14 when the park musicians walked out. The union-affiliated group went on strike and refused to play for dancing. They claimed that their week’s salary that was due on Saturday the 13th was not paid, and that following a rule made by the union, they would be fined $25 for playing another note without first being paid. Joe Wess wasn’t fazed as he went out and found non-union musicians.
Then June 20th, the long-ago prediction by many of Mr. Wess’s adversaries happened. Joe handed the ticket box key to Avon Park’s assistant manager, Joe Markovitz, and told him to hold it until he returned. Return he didn’t. Avon-Park was put in a life-threatening situation.
Mr. Adams, the owner of the park, came and collected what was due him. In 1907 Joe Wess made the big announcement that he had bought all 105 acres of Avon Park and that he was the sole owner. Obviously this was untrue because Mr. Adams was still the undisputed owner.
Mr. Wess’s lease of Avon Park was immediately revoked when he did not return to settle his obligations. Rumors were that Joe had fled to Austria-Hungary, his native land, to get money from his friends and relatives to settle his Avon Park debts. His wife declared that he had sunk a fortune in Avon Park but that he had considerable property in the old country which he would dispose of to settle his debts.
Avon tried to go on the best it could. The dance pavilion was leased to David C. Lewis, the president of the Musicians Union. Admission to the park was free. Mr. Ed Stanley, former manager of Idora Park, who was now manager of a vaudeville theatre in McKeesport, Pa. was brought to Avon Park as it’s new manager. The casino opened and the park seemed healthy again.
Advertising in the area newspapers was very limited and the daily news coming out of Avon Park was in very small articles. July 19, 1908, it was announced that the Avon Park Casino theatre would close due to business not being good. It was hoped to reopen the theatre at such time that other casinos would be operated together with the theater under one management.
Big news from Girard July 3rd was about a building boom in the village. Nine houses were under construction on Washington Avenue and there was a need for more housing due to the new steel mill being built in Girard.
August 23, 1908, the Youngstown local of union musicians received word from the Atlanta, Georgia musicians union that Joe Wess, or Weiss as he was now called, would soon open a theatre in Atlanta. On September 1st Charles Brown, a Youngstown motion picture man, received a letter from Mr. Wess. The letter stated, “I AM NOW GETTING A GOOD SALARY AND WILL RETURN TO THE YOUNGSTOWN AREA SOON TO PAY EVERY CENT I OWE!” He said that he wasn’t traveling “incognito” and that his name was Wess, not Weiss. He also said that he did not want to declare bankruptcy and ask that the slanderous stories about him be stopped. These stories would only hurt him in his new field and restricted his ability to repay his Avon Park debtors.
Joe Wess, former irrepressible manager of Avon Park, opened the Lyceum theater in Atlanta, Ga. Sept. 22, 1908. The theater had been completely remodeled, from the front entrance, to the brilliantly illuminated, newly painted interior. Joe Wess, aka Weiss, was now a big man in Atlanta, Ga. This celebrity status only lasted one week because Sept. 29, he skipped town, owing more than $1,100 to the performers at the theater. He had supposedly gone to New Orleans to negotiate a loan with which to pay his debts and resume business. However, this never happened, as he returned to this area, taking up residence in Wheatland, Pa.
Meanwhile, Avon Park Amusement Resort was still trying to make ends meet. The Welsh Pioneers held their 13th annual gathering Aug. 19. It was very well attended.
The German Day Celebration under the auspices of the German Alliance was held Aug. 30, 1908. A fair sized ad ran in the Youngstown Telegram Aug. 27 telling the highlights of the gathering. Nearly 3,000 people attended the picnic. The affair was to be the last ever held at Avon Park. The advertisement on the 27th was also the last ad published about Avon Park. No definitive article announced the closing of the park, but on Oct. 8, a big headline read, “SAW MILL CLEARS AVON PARK GROVE.” The park was soon to be depopulated of its beautiful trees, which were one of the chief attractions of the beautiful natural scenery in which the resort and the Squaw Creek valley abounded. The timber was sold off in order to liquidate the debts of the park management. Ira Mackey was in charge of the big lumber camp which was located across the creek from the old dance pavilion. This
dance pavilion was now used as a dining hall to feed the lumbermen. The article read, “Where once there was heard the shouts and laughter of throngs of revelers, the woodman’s ax is getting in its deadly work of devastation and the air resounds with the crash of the falling oaks.”
Although Avon Park amusement park closed for business after the 1908 summer season, Girard High football games began being played at the ball field Sept. 26, 1908. The local team played Niles there Oct. 3, 1908.
Girard houses were greatly in demand in October of 1908. The great scarcity of desirable dwellings in Girard had local real estate agents besieged with would-be-renters. It was estimated that within three months, at least 150 families would be coming here from Pittsburgh, Pa. to work at the new A. M. Byers steel company now being built in Girard. A score of newcomers were already staying in neighboring communities due to the housing shortage.
Mr. Adams, the original owner and still owner of all the Avon Park land, then had the south end of the amusement park plotted into four streets (Pittsburg Ave., Steel St., Avon Ave. and Girard Ave.) and 90 lots. A full page ad was in the Telegram to promote the sale of these lots. The B. E. Taylor allotment was hailed as the gem of greater Girard. Girard was now the new steel center and to know Girard, study steel! Prospective buyers were advised to get off the electric car at Avon Park (all cars, including Limiteds, stopped at Avon Park) and look for the big RED tents. Salesmen were on the grounds from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. Lots could be bought by lantern light for those who couldn’t make it during daylight hours. The lots cost $50 and were offered at $5 down and 50 cents per week. If you put $10 down, you got credit for $20 and if you paid $25 down you were credited for $30. Investors were encouraged to buy lots as a safe investment. A vacant lot cannot be stolen, the ad read.
Avon Park, the beautiful and once most popular garden spot in northeastern Ohio, was now gone forever. The question most often asked from Avon Park enthusiasts is, what happened to the buildings, rides and everything else that once made up this famous amusement park. All that remains is the large dance pavilion/dining hall and the concrete dam that once backed up Squaw Creek to form a lake for boating and bathing. The dance pavilion, built in 1904, is now the Avon Oaks Ballroom. The 70+ foot dam, at the bottom of Pittsburg Ave., long ago was rendered useless because the sometimes raging waters of Squaw Creek washed out the west bank at the dam, thus redirecting the creek flow around the dam. It was built in 1905 with concrete and reinforced with railroad track.
From the hundreds of articles that I read and the actual building contracts I have, it would appear that most of the concessions were by lease. The roller coaster was built at owners’ expense with a percentage of the proceeds paid to the park management as rent. The boating and bathing concession had a similar agreement and the merry-go-round, skating rink, Ferris wheel and the zoo showed evidence that they too paid a percent of their income to Avon Park. I’m sure that when the park closed for good, the concession owners promptly dismantled their structures and vacated the grounds. The dance pavilion and casino remained, as they were owned by the park. The Avonia skating rink also remained standing for unknown reasons.
For questions or comments contact Frank (Bud) Macek at firstname.lastname@example.org
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