Before the amusement park, the roller rink and the swimming pool, Rocky Springs was just a nice place to picnic.
Groups gathered there in the summer months, using the nearby Conestoga River for swimming. Michael Trissler, a Lancaster butcher, purchased the property in 1855, and by 1860 he had built an inn and opened the grounds for picnicking.
In 1882, the 27-acre West Lampeter Township property was sold to Samuel J. Demuth, who operated a confectionery at 7 E. King St. and an "ice cream garden" on South Queen Street at one time.
Demuth erected various buildings and planted shrubbery at the park. Considered one of the finest picnic grounds in the vicinity, it became known as Demuth's Park.
The Lancaster Daily Intelligencer Journal reported July 2, 1887: "The Marion Club will picnic at Tell's Main, and Rockland Club No. 5 at Demuth's Park."
The same year, Demuth purchased an additional 14 acres from John Kreider for $1,100 to enlarge the park grounds.
After Demuth died in 1888, the park was operated by his heirs, along with the Anderson family, who piloted the first Lady Gay, a small side-wheeled steamboat that plied the river taking passengers to the park.
The Lancaster New Era, reporting June 24, 1890, noted: "Demuth's Park, formerly known as Rocky Springs, has been put in first-class condition for the season. The following picnics are booked: St. James Episcopal Sunday School on June 29, The Presbyterian on July 2, Christ Lutheran Choral Society July 9, Zion's German Sunday School July 11, and the Harmony Association July 18."
That year, Demuth's estate leased the park to John B. Peoples for five years. Peoples scattered 100 comfortable benches about and added many picnic tables. A beautiful fountain was to be placed near the entrance, filled with goldfish, and he planned changes to the artificial lake.
The many amusements included a shooting gallery, tennis courts, kiddie swings, the cane game, and throwing baseballs at babies! There was a place to purchase refreshments and a resident photographer making tintypes. Peoples charged not one cent for use of the grounds.
In June of 1894, hundreds of people were reported visiting the park. Peoples built a number of new bathing houses, bringing the total to 44, and put sand on the beach.
In 1896, the park was leased for six years to Herman B. Griffiths and Emma J. Wiener, from Philadelphia. Griffiths and his two brothers, William and James, had been amusement caterers for more than 20 years, operating attractions in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Griffiths also was in charge of Mount Gretna attractions for six years.
Peoples operated another amusement park across the Conestoga River from Demuth's Park. His boat, the second Lady Gay, took 16 minutes to get from the wharf at Witmer's Bridge to the park.
In 1896 Wiener took him to court, suing for lost monies. Wiener charged 10 cents for a round trip down the Conestoga River to Demuth's Park, while Peoples charged a nickel. Wiener accused him of persuading her customers to ride his steamboat and trespassing by dropping them off on the landing on her side of the river. The case was dismissed.
At the end of 1899 — shortly after the park became known as Rocky Springs once again — the Demuth heirs sold a third of the property to Thomas Rees for $5,000. A Pittsburgh resident educated in Lititz, Rees saw the park as an investment, while Griffiths was interested in beautifying the park and adding attractions.
Griffiths added two more steamboats for carrying passengers to the park, the Emma Belle and the Evelyn B. He also added a merry-go-round, dance pavilion, show pavilion and boat-passenger pavilion. He also replaced the park's coal oil torches and lamps with electric lights.
In 1907, he negotiated with E.M. Cooper, of Coney Island, for construction of a roller-skating rink 300 to 400 feet long with a floor of white maple and a single roof covering it.
In the 1910 census, Griffiths is listed as the proprietor of the park. Wiener is listed as a boarder in the Rocky Springs Mansion. It appears they ran the business together for a number of years.
The history of Rocky Springs continued with various owners, but for more than a decade it was Demuth's Park.
The writer is a lifelong city resident who has contributed to the Lancaster County Historical Society Journal.