Would Henry Long have been a fan of the musical stylings of acts like Duke Ellington or the Districts?
It’s impossible to say, but the park that bears his name has held court to hundreds of bands, singers and events in its long history.
Long was a Lancaster attorney, a judge and a member of the state legislature. Sitting on a large estate made up of his legal earnings and a sizeable inheritance, Long included in his will a provision to put his money toward a public park.
After the death of Long’s daughter Catherine in 1900, it was revealed in her will that both the money and a plot of 80 acres located along the Old Harrisburg Pike would be the ideal location for what would become Long’s Park.
As it originally was written in Catherine’s will, Long’s Park was intended to be “a delightful place of resort for the people of this city, who so much need an opportunity to enjoy with beautiful surroundings the invigorating influence of country air.”
Park attendance didn’t pick up until a pavilion was built in 1913 for the sum of $3,890 – or $98,856 in 2018 dollars. As with most things in the park, the pavilion is still in use to this day.
In the decades that followed, tennis courts, a golf course and extended picnic areas helped the park finally begin to live up to the Long’s vision. With the formation of Lancaster’s chapter of the Sertoma Club, the park found itself a longtime partner in activities and service.
Just a year after forming, the Sertoma Club organized their first chicken barbecue at the park and raised $137 toward Long’s Park beautification efforts. What started as a small-scale chicken roast eventually blossomed into a Guinness Book world record winning dynasty, with the most recent gathering raising $118,000 and feeding 23,000 people.
Efforts like this directly helped to facilitate one of Long’s Park’s most cherished tradition, the Long’s Park Summer Music Series, which brings an eclectic mix of musical acts to the outdoor venue for free weekly concerts all summer long.
Little did city residents know when the Long’s Park Amphitheater was dedicated in 1962 what a legacy of music it would leave for decades to come. The first day of performances included nearly 30 entertainers, including big band star Vaughn Monroe.
In the decades that followed, performers both popular and unknown would grace the hallowed stage. More recently, bands such as Dawes, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals and Lake Street Dive would play in front of hundreds at Long’s Park before hitting the big time and performing in stadiums to thousands.
Another tradition is the Long’s Park Art Festival, which takes place annually on Labor Day weekend and is also a huge moneymaker for the Summer Music Series. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the festival kicked off in a similarly low-key fashion in 1978 before blossoming into a nationally recognized show drawing thousands of art lovers each year.
From its humble beginnings at the dawn of the 20th century, Long’s Park has welcomed millions of picnickers, music and art fans and people of all ages to sit on the grass and appreciate the “invigorating influence of country air.” Henry Long would be pleased.
Source: Long’s Park Amphitheater Foundation, LancasterOnline.com