A WPA Pond

Jun 27, 2016 by

One of the most beloved features of the Glen Providence Park is the man-made pond at its center – created 80 years ago for fishing and skating! Like the other original park structures and trails, it was constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a Depression-era jobs program – which is part of what made the park eligible for the National Register of Historic Places!

Creating a pond

Samuel L. Smedley envisioned the pond when he founded Glen Providence in 1935, and effusive Chester Times articles about the new park tracked the pond’s construction. Work had begun on the “lake” by April 1936: “Entering from the Third street end… From here the nature lover, following paths recently completed by the WPA will see springs, and a small lake in the course of completion.” The pond was “nearly completed” by August.

A 1937 article about Glen Providence described the new pond in detail: “The most outstanding object of interest is “Mirror Lake,” 400 feet long, 100 feet wide, irregular in outline, constructed near the middle of the property, and to the west of Broomall’s Run. The  water supply is by a by-pass, from Broomall’s Run… A second supply is from the larger spring [the historical drinking spring near Broomall’s Dam]… the water being carried through about 500 feet of pipe and liberated over an artificial cascade into the lake, making a very attractive feature.” That cascade would later be improved in 1948 by the Providence Garden Club as the Eleanor Reed Butler Waterfall – with her husband, Eleanor had donated the majority of the land for the park as a Bird Sanctuary and Arboretum.

Fishing, skating, ducks… and the Swamp Man!

True to its intended purpose, the pond was the site of years of fishing derbies for children in summer, and was regularly stocked with perch, bass, and sunfish. Enchantingly, there were lights around the pond for nighttime skating in winter! The pond also hosted a cast of feathered characters, with ducks and geese that were named by the park guards – and some of their antics made the newspapers!*

Any manmade body of water requires maintenance over time, and by the early 1980’s, the pond had virtually dried up. Under Recreation Supervisor Terry Smith, Delaware County Parks & Recreation held a “Sherlock Holmes Mystery Walk” in 1981 at the dried-up pond, which “won rejuvenation thanks to public awareness.” The pond was dredged, and in 1983 and 1984, “Great Bullfrog Releases” were held inviting volunteers “to help release bullfrogs into the park’s revitalized pond.”

The pond went on to play a role in the park’s “Halloween Hauntings” in the 1980’s –  we’ve heard from many people about the scary “Swamp Man” who hid in the pond (in scuba gear!), jumping out at passers-by!  

The pond today

While still full of wildlife including several species of turtles, fish, and frogs, the pond is again filling with sediment. Sometime since 1975, the pipes feeding the Eleanor Reed Butler Waterfall caved in, eliminating a source of water and aeration for the pond. A fountain was installed in the pond in the early 2000’s to help with aeration, but was ultimately vandalized. The pond’s shallowness, combined with insufficient aeration and inadequate vegetation around the pond, contribute to it being overgrown with algae in summers. 

There are potential upcoming changes to the pond as a result of the Broomall’s Dam replacement (now anticipated for 2018), including the possible creation of wetlands at one end of the pond. In any case, the pond will need dredging, stabilization of the intake and outlet, and planting of trees, shrubs, and appropriate native vegetation around, and in, the water to restore and preserve its ecosystem.

We hope that revitalization is successful, and that future generations are able to enjoy this WPA pond!   


*I’ll write more about the fishing derbies, illustrious ducks, and winter skating in future articles!

Click below to see the charming 1939 photos by local resident GJ Ulshafer showing what the new pond looked like, an undated postcard, and photos from 1944, 1959, and 2016. 

Early Spring pond panorama in 2016

Early Spring pond panorama in 2016 – click for a closer view


Chester Times articles researched on the Newspaper Archives of Delaware County Library:

Chester Times:
Club Leaders See New County Park, November 1, 1935
New Park Rich in Trees, Birds, April 2, 1936
Parks Pilgrimage, June 6, 1936
Glen Providence Nature Oddity, August 8, 1936
Delaware County Park Board Makes Progress, February 8, 1937
Glen Providence, On Edge of Media, Is Bird Haven, July 22, 1944
Swing Into Spring, April 10, 1959

The Philadelphia Inquirer:
Whodunit? At Bottom, It’s a Plot to Help Delco Parks, September 18, 1981
A Great Bullfrog Release Nears – Volunteers Restocking Media Park Pond, June 19, 1984


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