80th Anniversary for Glen Providence Park!
In the summer of 1935, George and Eleanor Butler donated the land for Glen Providence Park, the first park established by Delaware County. Its final approval was reported in the October 30, 1935 Chester Times, and the long-time park guard and caretaker James R. Stokes, Jr. started work the next day on October 31, 1935 – so Halloween is Glen Providence Park’s anniversary, and this year will be its 80th!
Glen Providence Park would not have been possible without the generosity of George and Eleanor Butler and the vision of Samuel L. Smedley, the president of the Delaware County Park Board. Mr. Smedley championed regional planning and open space in Delaware County from at least 1927, when he spoke about the county’s rapidly growing population necessitating a recreational and park system and of Delaware County’s “rolling country, intercepted by beautiful streams, making ideal conditions for living and recreation.”
Samuel L. Smedley spearheaded the creation of the Delaware County Park Board in 1932, and apparently had his eye on the Butler property during a June 1935 walk reported in the Chester Times: “There is an arboretum upon the estate of George T. Butler, a natural one, the trees just grew as nature would have them. Samuel L. Smedley, one of Delaware county’s widely known botanists, in roaming through the lovely valley and over the hillside found fifty varieties of trees. Mr. Smedley is also an ornithologist and saw a number of different birds flitting around.”
Just over a month later on July 24, 1935, George and Eleanor Butler signed a deed donating the majority of the land for the park to Delaware County, with small tracts donated by The Media Swimming and Rowing Club and James J. Skelly. From the beginning, the focus was on preserving the natural beauty and habitat of the valley. The deed dated July 24, 1935 states “That the property shall be used only as a Park and Kept in as natural a condition as possible save only for the construction of paths or trails for the use of pedestrians.” Glen Providence Park was established as a Bird Sanctuary and Arboretum, and Eleanor Butler herself named it “because of its glen-like formation and as it is located in the heart of the Providence townships.”
There are hundreds of articles over the ensuing decades in the Chester Times recounting events and activities in Glen Providence Park, and many extoll its beauty, plants, and wildlife, as in the September 1935 announcement of the Butlers’ donation: “The tract is the beautiful glen and woodland which adjoins the Butler residence on West Front street… Owing to the great variety of natural conditions, which includes Broomall’s Run, a rapid flowing stream, many acres of heavy timber and a great variety of natural shrubs and wild flowers, this tract is particularly well suited for a bird sanctuary. Many species of birds already frequent the spot.” A November 1, 1935 write-up invites the reader to “Come with your bird glasses, your flower guides, your tree books. Bring the school children and scout groups, and let Nature teach them her ancient lessons.”
Generations of nature lovers, hikers, families, school children, and scout groups have enjoyed Glen Providence Park, which has also hosted a wonderful array of activities and events in its 80 years. That tradition of community events, and the elegance of the park’s design and structures built by the Works Progress Administration, are why Glen Providence Park was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places!
The dedication at the park’s main entrance states, “A gift of land is a gift eternal.” Thank you to George and Eleanor Butler for this wonderful gift!
Happy 80th Anniversary, Glen Providence Park!
Thank you to William Vanleer for sharing the two entrance signs photos, from a series of 12 photographs taken circa 1939 by his grandfather GJ Ulshafer, and to Clifford Butler Lewis for sharing the portrait and photograph of his grandparents, George and Eleanor Butler!
Sources – Chester Times articles researched on the Newspaper Archives of Delaware County Library:
Next 25 Years to See Million in the County, February 15, 1927
Unique Arboretum on County Estate, June 14, 1935
27 Acres Given for Park Site, September 13, 1935
Fine Water Supply for Broadmeadows, October 30, 1935
Club Leaders See New County Park, November 1, 1935
Glen Providence Nature Oddity, August 8, 1936
Glen Providence Park is One of Scenic Spots in County, October 24, 1949