Shining up Crestview (Part 1)
Crestview Park cleanup crew. Click to enlarge. (Fats Norton)
by Liz Lundberg
Between Newell and New Cumberland a section of state Route 2 rims the mountainside above the Ohio River. Too steep for New Cumberland Lock & Dam to place its lock on the West Virginia side, the drop looks to be almost straight down to the water.
From the highway, only a ragged overgrowth of scrub and saplings can be seen, topped by the stacks of the Sammis power plant across the river, but just beyond the guardrail where those trees stand is a fifty-yard wide strip of level land that rolls for a quarter of a mile. Sitting directly opposite the police Barracks and the Rockefeller Vocational Center, this forest of primary succession was recently a beautiful and well-used park.
West Virginia Governor William Wallace Barron dedicated “Crestview” in October 1963, the year in which he declared that one hundred “parklets” should be created in towns and cities all over the state. New Cumberland became the lucky recipient of Crestview, built on land donated by Crescent Brick.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, wealthy local industries proudly donated their resources to help maintain the landscapes of cities and towns. Homer Laughlin, Weirton Steel, and others spent money and provided manpower for projects that helped beautify cities and towns throughout the Ohio Valley.
Crestview Park had two picnic shelters, a restroom, a water well served by a hand pump, and a 30-foot platform, providing a spectacular view of the river. With regular pruning of the surrounding trees, visitors could see all the way down to Toronto and upriver to Mountaineer Park.
People used Crestview every day for twenty years. There were church picnics, wedding receptions, birthday parties and cookouts. Kids trekked on trails along the steep hillside. There were also many late night gatherings of young adults, complete with beer and bonfire.
But the manufacturing base began to erode, as it has all over the country, and local industries fell victim to loss of profits or corporate buyouts. The pride in maintaining Crestview became a liability in time and money that its pleasures could not overcome.
When Crescent Brick folded, the county commission purchased the land. The Department of Highways kept up with some of the major landscaping chores, but by the late 1980s, even the last volunteers, the Newell Lions club, had given up.
Eventually, the picnics and nature walks, the wedding receptions, family outings and illicit, beer-soaked kisses-in-the-back-seat were lost to all but the memories of those who had experienced them. The buildings were moved or fell to ruin; the earth grew over with weeds and forest trees. A latecomer to these parts such as myself would assume that nothing had ever been there but the trees and brush that line the highway.
But this week I drove past the same location and witnessed a flurry of human activity. There were trucks and cars and trailers with landscaping equipment. People bustled all over the several horizontal acres, cutting trees and carrying loads of brush. I turned onto a path in the weeds and got out of the car, interested in finding out who was clearing the land and if it was for sale. My curiosity was rewarded with this story.
A woman my own small size, bent under a load of prickers pointed out a figure she said was “sort of in charge.” I introduced myself to a man of middle age and inquired about the activity. I learned the details of the little park: how it filled the lives of his generation with memories and then began to disappear as the economic landscape and the lifestyles of New Cumberland’s inhabitants changed. His name is George Hines.
“So what’s the deal now?” I asked? “Who are these people? Are they going to restore the park? Who placed George Hines in charge and, of course, who is behind the funding?”
Bottom photo: George Hines/Nick Maurca (by Liz Lundberg)