History of Miniature Golf

October 6th, 2010

By Jonathan H

There are places that demand a spot in our childhood milieu. Among these places are county fairs and city swings, Disneyland, tree houses, and that divine spot under the Christmas tree. But, to my 10-year-old self, the miniature golf course was nothing short of a dream world– the manifestation of all the great movies and adventurous ruminations that I’d experienced up to that point. The miniature golf course was magic incarnate, a setting in the landscape that allowed for an infinite amount of imagination.

In a sense, miniature golf is as artistic as the Louvre, Stonehenge, and the numerous statues, buildings, and monuments that tower over the Lilliputian greens. Like art, the design of a course changes in the realm of time, and attracts the people of its age. Like cinema, miniature golf is a variant of art for the masses. It is the greatest unknown art of the American landscape and its artists are the capitalistic craftsmen that satiated the lower and middle class of their appetite for culture. In support of such a claim, the various ages of miniature golf course design below will be corresponded with periods and figures in traditional art.

Romantic Era Emergence (REE) (1867-1916)

What is “essentially the oldest miniature golf course” is the Ladies’ Putting Club in St. Andrews, Scotland (Carlson). It was formed in 1867, and has a limited membership. Its highlight is the Himalayas, an 18-hole putting green. The club was initially for practical purposes since it was then “considered unacceptable for women to take the club back past their shoulder” (Emory 42). Though the purpose of the course was once for women, who comprise the majority of the membership, it is known as one of the most prestigious greens on the British Isles, and has been played by Ben Crenshaw, Peter Jacobsen, Tom Watson, Craig Stadler and George Bush Sr (Emory 44).

The early miniature courses, including the Himalayas, were one of three types: the pitch and putt, the regulation par-3, and the executive course (Gaylor 3). At that time, games of miniature golf involved the use of two clubs: the putter and a short driver. Courses were usually from 50 to 100 yards (“London” 16). They retained the architectural plans and landscaping techniques of the regulation course, with undulating hills, verdant forests, sand traps, and ponds (See Appendix A).

Appendix A: A miniature course layout from a 1927 book on golf course design and construction. The Par-3 course was the typical Romantic Era mini-golf course design. (source: Thomas)

These early courses imitated nature in all aspects. They reflected the Romantic era paintings of John Constable, one of the most famous British Landscape artists of his time (See Appendix B).

Appendix B: John Constable’s Tree Trunks. The Romantics focused on the fleeting and unpredictable aspects of nature, and, like Constable, captured changes in season, weather, and light. Similarly, the Miniature Golf course of 1867-1916 was like the typical golf course: naturally Romantic (source: Pioch).

Notice the curvilinear roads and random setting of the greens in appendix A. This was the typical American miniature golf course of the early 20th century. Most were located at hotels and resorts, and therefore were not yet available to the masses. The only artificial aspect of the REE course was the ubiquitous clubhouse. The clubhouse is the shrine and axis mundi of the mini-golf course, and it has remained as a common element of the course, even in contemporary times.

Post-Romantic Classicism (PRC) (1916-1926)

Following the First World War, Americans viewed industry much differently. Concurrently, the ‘city efficient movement’ was at its apogee. City planning was in full swing, and– it seemed– traditional classicism was returning, even on the miniature golf course.

In 1916, James Barber of Pinehurst, North Carolina, designed Thistle Dhu, the first quintessential miniature golf course. Word has it, that after having seen his finished course, Barber declared to his designer “This’ll do!” and an American icon was born (Margolies 14). The plan of Barber’s Thistle Dhu was as much Classical as the Par-3 was Romantic. The plan resembles the preeminent source of neo-classical landscape design, the Tuileries Garden at the Louvre. Geometric shapes are coupled with symmetric walkways, fountains, and planters (see appendix C).

Appendix C: The “Thistle Dhu” plan for James Barber’s estate, compared with a garden at the Louvre

DaVinci’s anatomical drawings closely resemble the anatomical plan of Thistle Dhu. Though DaVinci is widely considered a Renaissance artist, his work is highly classical in style. DaVinci reasoned that every natural form could be represented in geometric shapes. His sketch of Vitruvian Man is one of the most famous works of the Renaissance, though the overt geometric patterns in the sketch point to a Greco-roman classicism (appendix D).

Appendix D: DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man. This sketch by the artist and innovator, Leonardo DaVinci, illustrates the omniprescence of geometry in life and art. PRC miniature golf courses espoused geometry as a guiding framework.

The elements of the PRC miniature golf course– much like Classical works of art– were constructed from more artificial materials. Concrete stepping stones and artificial fountains were intertwined with endemic species and natural grass (appendix E).

Appendix E: A photo of Barber’s Thistle Dhu course. Notice the symmetry in the stepping-stones and path in the middle, as well as the integration of the natural and fabricated (source: Margolies 15)

No longer were miniature golf courses curvilinear and relatively spacious. By 1920, they became compact, efficient, geometric, and above all, Classical.

Sterile Minimalist (SM) (1926-1950)

The Great Depression coupled with a high demand for miniature golf resulted in one of the greatest “art for the masses” movements in American history. Miniature golf was less expensive than its counterpart, the picture show, and was also a more engaging activity. Though the artistic value of the depression era movies is often highlighted, miniature golf courses were equally artistic, in a sterile/minimalist sense.

The year 1926 marked the beginning of the most successful time in the history of miniature golf. No longer was miniature golf for the elite estate-owners or Scottish ladies. In 1926, “a pair of high-rolling promoters built a pocket course on the roof of a skyscraper in New York City’s financial district” (Bond, 120). It was not long before the Manhattan skyline was pockmarked with rooftop miniature golf courses. After the invention of the dyed cottonseed hull carpet that same year- a revolutionary step for mini-golf- Manhattan gave birth to around 150 rooftop courses; each one was highly successful (Bond 120)(appendix f).

Appendix F: A Rooftop Course in Manhattan above the Hotel White (source: Margolies 68).

Miniature golf courses were inevitably losing their individual quirks with the initiation of the first miniature golf franchise, Tom Thumb Golf, in 1929. It was estimated that the average prefabricated course could be installed and open for business within six days (Liebs 141). As the stock market took a dive, Garnet Carter’s Tom Thumb Empire boomed. Tom Thumb was becoming the McDonalds and Pepsi of the early ’30s. Of the approximate twenty-five thousand courses in the U.S. at the time, nearly 25%– or six thousand– were patented Tom Thumb designs (Liebs 141). The individual empire became a corporate one during the high point of mini-golf, and artistic assets were thrown out the window for quick output and maximum profit (appendix G).

Appendix G: During the bleak Depression years, Miniature golf was portrayed as a patented savior and emerging “Big Business,” rather than a means of individual expression and creation. The subsequent downfall of mini-golf in 1931 proves that it was perceived as more than it truly was. True art’s monetary value is volatile (source: Margolies, 32).

Appendix H: Sol LeWitt’s 1-2-3-4-5, 1980. Compare with the minimalist mini-golf plan below (source: MCA Chicago).

Miniature Golf historian John Margolies calls this era the “1930 Gold Rush.” It was a time when capitalistic individuals could use their ingenuity and creativity with the hope of striking it rich. With limited funds, course builders were apt to rely on scrap metal, cheap construction materials, and seedy locations. Therefore, it is no surprise that miniature golf courses were often associated with racketeering (Haller). Nonetheless, the makeshift fashion of the non-corporate, non-franchised SM most closely resembled Post-Modern minimalists, such as Sol LeWitt (see appendix H).

Appendix I: A late SM plan for a miniature golf course in a basement, ca. 1950. A good SM plan always allowed for a possibility of eagles (one stroke finishes) for every hole. (source: Popular Mechanics, June 1950).

Much like LeWitt’s sculptures, the superfluous elements of the SM course were taken out, such as landscaping, unnecessary hazards, and even benches. Courses reverted to indoor locations, artificial lighting was introduced, and a sort of Fordist efficiency reigned (appendix I).

Appendix J: The classic miniature golf minimalist feature: the ‘Loop-Di-Loop’ (source: Hulton Archive)

The loop-di-loop is the ultimate example of an SM course hazard. It is made from a metallic steel or aluminum, painted in monochrome, and presents a simple hazard with the least possible distraction (appendix J).

Similar to LeWitt’s sculptures, the “fluff” is omitted in most SM courses. A Smithsonian author aptly described the reason for MiniGolf Minimalism: “As the problems of ordinary life mushroom(ed) out of manageable proportions, (the miniature golf course) was a place where everything (was) brought down to less-than-size” (Bond 120).

Cultural Renaissance (1950~1990)

In 1931 miniature golf took a dive akin to the stock market, two years earlier. Though the most popular courses managed to stay afloat, the height of miniature golf was over. ‘Midget Golf’ was no longer the primary get-rich-quick scheme of the 1930s Gold Rush. It evolved into a competitive business that made meager profits. But what Chester H. Liebs calls mini golf’s “postwar reincarnation” changed the landscape of the putting greens dramatically (Liebs 145). Americans were driving more. Everyone had a car, and freeways became the arteries of America; they also became the salvation of miniature golf.

It was during the second half of the 20th century that mini-golf became widely known as goofy golf, crazy golf, and wacky golf. In order to attract the highway gawkers, massive monuments were the moneymakers for the new courses. The larger, the better, since size attracted the most attention. Equally important to size was shock. A fantastic monument, sphinx, castle, windmill, or gold mine were all common on the new courses (appendix K).

Appendix K: Miniature Golf’s Renaissance is undeniable. A photo collage of Renaissance Era creations is depicted below (source: John Margolies collection).

Though the religious following of miniature golf was not quite as rabid as it was during the Depression Era, it had developed into a full-blown art. No longer did it imitate the art of the past or present, but it defied the norms and created its own genre. Lint Hatcher, founder of Wonder Magazine, says about Mini Golf’s renaissance:

Somehow, during the Fifties, the classic form of miniature golf took hold. Mini-golf designers could unconsciously assume certain basics, a general atmosphere and approach. And that meant they could spend their conscious energy figuring out how to “do their own thing” with the particulars. They knew how to bake the cake, but what kind of icing were they going to use and how were they going to decorate it (Hatcher)?

Appendix L: An aerial view of a Texas miniature golf course. This photograph effectively shows the conglomeration of uses and aesthetic interests. A multinomic order is apparent in the sedimentation of various icons and designs throughout miniature golf’s history (source: “Houston, TX - Mini-golf course”).

With the inadvertent funding coming from suburban families and dating teenagers the covert artists of miniature golf sculptures had free reign over their creations. Less constrictive ordinances allowed highway-side adventure courses to be a conglomeration of business and artistic expression (Liebs 146-7). The more radical and out-of-this world– the more expressionistic their works were– the better. Their investors- 10-year-olds, teenagers, dad and mom- were more than eager to relish in the works along the tapestry of 18 greens. They were experiencing art rather than simply looking at it. They were dating, interacting, competing, and viewing cultural icons all at once. The miniature golf course was the essence of 20th century ‘multinomic’ order (appendix L).

It was art, but not only that; it was so much more-a reflection of economy, history, and society all at once. The two growing meccas of miniature golf, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Southern California, were indications of such multinomic order. Myrtle Beach is a tourist hub; Southern California is the hearth of American suburbia. It was in the suburban sprawl and tourist trap that miniature golf found its ultimate home, where it became defined as one of the greatest roadside arts of the twentieth century.

In the Cultural Renaissance era of miniature golf’s history, the transition from its status as ‘kitsch’ art into a unique genre occurred. Miniature golf no longer became pretentious imitation when artists after 1980 incorporated full-scale courses in art museums across the nation. Rather than imitation, it became art’s newest inspiration. It was a part of the “collective consciousness of America,” or part of our own unique habitus (Bond) (appendix M).

Appendix M: Miniature golf’s Cultural Renaissance has inspired a number of contemporary artists as adventure golf became part of America’s collective identity (source: Margolies).

As a facet of collective consciousness, it also became a tool for social change and education. In 1995, artist Ken Buhler toured “Putt-Modernism” throughout U.S. art museums. “Putt-Modernism” is described in a 1994 issue of Sports Illustrated:

Players are challenged to putt around or through, among other weird objects, a White House made of empty bottles of AZT and Zovirax (both are drugs used to combat AIDS) on the par-2 Blood on Your Hands 7th hole, the sole of a blue-faced homeless man’s shoe on the par-3 Hole-In-My-Soul Blues 17th hole, and the 20 waving arms of an inflatable Jesse Helms look-alike clown, into a bed of inflated breasts on the par-3 15th hole, Censorama. An afternoon of culture as well as a rousing round of miniature golf can be had for a mere $5 (Putnam 6).

Hatcher expounds on the artistic relevance of mini-golf, and summarizes the ultimate reason why miniature golf is not simply kitsch: “It’s seeing the Empire State Building the way the sun sees it, the way a hurricane sees it, the way God sees it: as an incredibly intricate man-made wonder that is to be treasured and appreciated not only for its grandeur but for its smallness, even its mortality.” From 1950 to 1990 miniature golf did just that. It messed with the American perspective of ‘Big’ and ‘Small,’ ‘Life’ and ‘Death.’ In the inanimate sculptures of mini-golf courses children and adults found a certain dreamy vitality. But, like the wings of a butterfly, the most aesthetically overlooked things are often ephemeral; Renaissance courses were going to the wrecking balls, and perishing in the final stage and end of its innocence. Twenty-first century corporatism was taking over.

Corporate Mini-Golf (~1990–>)

Appendix N: The corporate miniature golf ventures must take a variety of factors into consideration. Aesthetically pleasing locations are sacrificed for Interstate-side ‘locational advantage.’ Below is the proposed site of a miniature golf course in Maryland. Notice the freeway arteries that would support the course (source: Plecker).

The franchises of the SM period were peanuts compared to the current international conglomerates of mini-golf corporations. Golf-N-Stuff, Putt-Putt, Scandia, Goofy Golf, and Adventure Golf-all of these patented name brand mini-golf courses have become profit ventures. Entrepreneurs prosaically refer to most as Urban Entertainment Centers (UEC’s) or, more often, Family Entertainment Centers (FEC’s) (Hunter and Bleinberger 4).

FEC’s usually contain a hodge-podge of amusement attractions (bumper boats, Indy cars), video arcades, batting cages, and, of course, the mini golf course. The location of the FEC is no longer determined by the designer’s preference, but by demographical studies, case studies, and ‘locational advantage theory’ (appendix n).

The competitive environment of the FEC niche requires that initial investment be prohibitively high, sometimes as high as $500,000 (“Getting” par.9). Gone are the days of the mom-and-pop makeshift setups; no longer could a kid from Brooklyn turn up 1000% profit each week with an initial investment of $0.90 and pilfered or donated materials (appendix O).

Appendix O: Sidney Schoenbrun, a thirteen-year-old boy from Brooklyn, appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country as the “Brooklyn Boy” who made “good.” The photo below is of twelve-year-old Julius Hamilton’s course in Ozone Park, New York. Hamilton ingeniously chose the empty lot because it was below an illuminated billboard, and thus could be played at night. There were a number of such “pipsqueak” entrepreneurs who took advantage of the 1930s Gold Rush. Corporatism discourages such makeshift/individual operations and ensures their failure (Margolies, 55).

Money, Mini-Golf, Art, and Ahead

American consumerism has become miniature golf’s public enemy #1, indeed, Art’s worse nightmare. No longer is ‘trash’ turned into art, like it was during the Depression miniature golf craze; rather, our important and most overlooked art is now disposable, but not precious, given a value, but not valuable. Prosperity has been the death of miniature golf’s Renaissance. Ironically, mini-golf’s most successful years are during economic strife (Monroe 73). Perhaps this indicates that people place a different kind of value on miniature golf-something that cannot be expressed in terms of paper, green ink or gold.

Perhaps, mini-golf encompasses much of our identity as Americans, and when we drive by a dilapidated or demolished course, we think only of nostalgia for something that became part of us that summer day when we were 12, or that sultry night when we putted to the music of young love. Whatever the case, mini-golf has become something more than plaster and chicken wire; it is the repository of dead artists’ dreams and the hot seat of our heritage. However banal, violent, victorious, or artistic that heritage can be, miniature golf has captured it all.


  • Romantic Era Emergence (1867-1916): associated with romanticism, meticulously landscaped courses with lakes and trees. Built to resemble nature and to imitate the natural golf course-esque attributes, only smaller.
  • Post-Romantic Classicism (1916-1926): Geometric shapes, time-saving, yet still artistic.  Made from natural materials (real grass, endemic species, stepping stones).
  • Sterile Minimalist (1926-1950): Often constructed from material on hand, little or no landscaping, low overhead cost, constructed on rooftops and parking lots; can be prefabricated.  Once mini-golf became adopted by the masses, it became more of a packaged product than art.  Indoor courses. Scientific management. Mass Production/Fordist approach.
  • Cultural Rennaisance (1950~1990): Creative cultural icons, courses reflected iconographic symbols of imagination, became more difficult and complicated.  Multi-leveled, complex, unique, synthetic, family-oriented, mom-and-pop/individual ventures. The apogee of mini-golf as an art.
  • Corporate MiniGolf (~1990—->): Losing artistic aspects, but is dictated rather by surveys and demographics for maximum profit.  Like the movies, the funding goes to the money making venture, and not the most socially beneficial. Conglomerated with other mass-marketed entertainment ventures. Associated with amusement parks. Not an experience, but a game. With the downfall of the economy, miniature golf becomes more popular, but also less artistic. See articles on FEC’s and UEC’s.


Bond, Constance. “We couldn’t stop playing to save our soles.” Smithsonian,
June 1987 v18 p120.

Carlson, Todd A. “Our Trip to England and Scotland.” Personal Online Journal.
22 May 1999. 21 Mar. 2003.

Emory, Pamela. “The Ladies’ Putting Club.” Golf Journal. United States Golf Association. Sep 1996. vol 49-50.

“Getting Started: Miniature Golf.” CNN Money online. 9 Jul, 1999. 21 Mar 2003.

Gaylor, Earl E. “Par-3 Golf: A Survey and Manual for Parks and Recreation
Departments.” American Institute of Park Executives, 1965. Bulletin No.

Haller, Mark H. “Urban Crime and Criminal Justice: The Chicago Case.” The
Journal of American History, Vol. 57, No. 3. (Dec. 1970). pp. 619-635

Hatcher, Lint. “The Complete Illustrated History of Miniature Golf.” Rpt. From
Wonder Magazine. Winter 1994.

Hunter, Donald E. and Ernest E. Bleinberger. “Urban Entertainment Centers.”
Public Management. March 1996. p 4-9

Liebs, Chester H. “Main Street to Miracle Mile: American Roadside Architecture.”
Batimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1995. p 136-151.

Margolies, John. “Miniature Golf.” New York: Abbeville Press, 1987

MCA Chicago. 2003. 21 Mar. 2003.

“Miniature Golf: A Popular Game in Little.” London Times. 29 Aug, 1930. p 16.

“Miniature and Putting Courses: Insights and Opportunities.” Second Ed. Jupiter,
FL: National Golf Foundation, 1999.

Monroe, Sylvester. “Welcome to Putters Paradise.” Time. 11 Sep. 1989.
v134 n11 p 73.

Pioch, Nicholas “Constable, John” Webmuseum, Paris. 18 Sep. 2002. 21 Mar.
2003. <http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/constable/tree-trunks.jpg>

Plecker, Coleman. Coleman Plecker’s World of Golf. 1999. 21 Mar. 2003.

Thomas, George C. “Golf Architecture in America: Its Strategy and Construction.”
Los Angeles: Times-Mirror Press, 1927.

Wilkes-Barre Train Station: Symbol of Corruption and Decline

August 20th, 2010

By Jonathan H

Market Street Square Station

Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad Station (1868): An Italianate railroad station that served Wilkes-Barre for a century before it closed in 1972. The Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad (later known as the Central Railroad of New Jersey) was founded by magnates who conquered the mountains and tapped the Wyoming coal fields.

I’ve been struggling with this location. The reason is this: I often hesitate to reveal locations to the public because their revelation often leads to their destruction. At the same time, there are certain stories that simply have to be told. This is one of them.

In the heart of Pennsylvania coal country at the fringes of a small city is a brewery. The brewery has become a federal building, and its hulking brewhouse still proudly displays the pomp of the Gilded Age. Within the shadows of its countenance is a small, shuttered train station. Like most abandonments of our modern era, this diminutive edifice tells the story of corruption, mismanagement, and the ineptitude of bureaucratic sinecures.

Hand-carved Fireplace Mantel

The interior work was top-notch for an era that prided itself on craftshmanship.

The modest Italianate structure facing the railroad tracks along Wilkes-Barre Boulevard was known as the Lehigh & Susquehanna Station (and later the Central Railroad of New Jersey Station). From the outside, it looks like most small-town stations in most rail-towns of mid-19th century America, but looks are deceiving.  Within its walls are awe-inspiring works of original craftsmanship: hand-carved mahogany, hand-laid terrazo, and – perhaps most compelling – a resplendent, curved staircase banister, a spiral exemplar of roccoco. Just look inside this station and you’ll immediately know why it earned its place in, “Great American Railroad Stations.”

The story of this station, however, isn’t told through its beauty. There is a sordid side, too. This station – as it exists in its dilapidated state – is a manifestation of boss politics that still seems to thrive despite the death of the “Tweed” gang and Tammany Hall. Granted, Wilkes-Barre is one among hundreds of cities with rampant corruption. All too often, we pay too much attention to national politics when the true turpitude rests in our local leaders (dare I call them leaders).

[nggallery id=4]

Market Street Square, the property in which the railroad station rests, was owned by convicted (and admitted) felon Thom Greco. Greco has been called a real estate mogul by some, but at least one anonymous online comment finds the title humorous. “‘Mogul?’ Really? I’ve sold to that guy 4 times over the last 20 years, and it took threats of all kinds to get my money. I always got, ‘Mr. Greco is unavailable’ from some young woman on the phone.”

[singlepic id=52 w=320 h=240 float=left]

But Greco is just a strand of much larger, much more Machiavellian web. Fact is: He was not part of the County Redevelopment Authority, who decided to purchase the station from him in 2005 for $5.8 million. Unlike the commissioners who accepted bribes and extorted flat screen televisions in exchange for Greco’s largess, he wasn’t the guy who had control over taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. Truth is, to properly tell this story, we have to start in 1868 – when the station was built. Yes, this station has more layers than its recent ignominious decline.

A Product of Pennsylvania’s Coal Boom

When the station was born, the Steam Age was at its apex. Locomotives bombasted their way westward to join the continent by iron rail. The same year that the Wilkes-Barre station was built, the Golden Spike was driven into its Laurel Tie at Promontory Summit, Utah. Suffice to say, the country was hungry for coal – both to power its steam engines, and to cast the increasingly voracious appetite for steel. Wilkes-Barre was conveniently situated between two canals. Getting coal from one canal to another meant that the two waterways had to be connected by rail. These were the Wilkes-Barre station’s inchoate moments.

The rabid enthusiasm of the era was immediately apparent within its original walls and accouterments, but only once I was inside. I was a week into my journey, so it wasn’t easy to elicit any sort of enthusiasm out of me, especially after exploring dozens of awe-inspiring sites-in-decline. The station feigns curiosity with its exterior. Honestly, it isn’t much to look at from the outside. Its embellishments aren’t like a vainglorious wedding cake, but rather like a hollow birthday cake (with opportunity for surprise of course).

Banana Joe's

Like many cakes, this station also had layers; additions and extensions attenuated its hidden corners and serendipitous potential. In the early 20th century the Central Railroad of New Jersey was the sole leasor of the tracks. Many a luxurious Jersey passenger passed through its hallways. No doubt, the ornate frosting within its walls was spackled on after the fact; fireplaces were later added and aristocratic comforts became prominent. Whereas the early station served the needs of industry, the improved station became the playground of quixotic entrepreneurs, tycoons, and political bosses.

A Grand Train Station in Decline

Those halcyon days quickly came to a halt by the Great Depression. Passenger service precipitously declined while anthracite coal prices plummeted. The CNJ went into receivership for an entire decade, beginning in 1939. By the time it was finally able to emerge from its financial straits, the railroad found itself in the midst of a burgeoning American love affair with the highway. It didn’t take long for the Wilkes-Barre station to receive its final passenger on July 1, 1963. Train NO. 301 feebly rolled into the Wilkes-Barre stop with a single passenger coach in tow; its two passengers exited the car; and, according to railroad historian Ed Gardner, “thus ended a period of passenger service inaugurated 120 years earlier.”

The five decades that followed were largely modest years for the station. Vacant cars – skeletons of an earlier era – stood in a pall-like atmosphere to be eaten away by time. The station itself was painstakingly restored in the mid-70s, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 12, 1975. Reading MU cars and Fruit Grower Express cars began to occupy the adjoining lot. Around 1980 it opened as “The Station,” a high-end bar and restaurant. Some of the nearby Reading MU cars were converted into charming Bed & Breakfast-style overnight accommodations.

Rococo Room

According to Michael G. Rushton of NEPA Railfan, the place was quite “ritzy” by 1984, and it hosted political functions with expensive, gourmet cuisine. The station was then owned by Marvin Roth, but he passed away and the park was auctioned. A single, lonely plaque bears the Marvin’s (and the station’s?) epigraph: “Marvin Roth, a local entrepreneur, rehabilitated this edifice so posterity may forever enjoy its presence.”

The Choo Choo Inn (the train car sleepers) were phased out, and “entertainment magnate” Thom Greco acquired the property. “The crowd started changing,” Said Michael Rushton. “It was not the college crowd, but thugs from out of town… There were shootings, stabbings, robberies, fights, breaking into cars.”

Its final incarnation was as Banana Joe’s, a restaurant chain with cocktails and American fare. Rushton said nobody really went to it, and for “whatever reasons, it failed.” The nearby rail cars met a similar fate. By this time they had become occupied by the homeless and were the victims of fire at least twice a week. Such was the state of the Station when the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority considered buying the property in 2005.

Rebirth as Market Street Square and Chess Piece in Corruption

By early 2006 the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority decided to purchase the building for $5.8 million. By then, it was dilapidated and in need of millions in restoration work. It soon became apparent that the Authority had purchased a white elephant, and it stands to this day an embarrassment to all taxpaying Luzerne County citizens. Even more egregious are the stories of the men embroiled in this controversy.

Upstairs Train Station Office

Thom Greco worked with numerous Authority commissioners in the negotiation for the building’s sale.  Soon after it was sold, Greg Skrepenak asked Greco for $10,000 worth of flat screen televisions, presumably for his father’s sports bar.  Greco complied, but when he asked for payment, Skrepenak alluded to the fact that the televisions were recompense for the county’s purchase of the Market Street Square Station. Unfortunately, Skrepenak is difficult to reach these days… He’s in jail for accepting $5,000 in bribes for another completely separate deal with a developer.

Skrepenak wasn’t the only Redevelopment Authority official to be tied up in legal trouble. Back in 2005, Allen Bellas was drumming up the purchase of the Railway Station in the local newspaper. “It’s going to tie into all the downtown projects. It’s obviously going to help out the passenger rail service.” Of course, five years later, the station is still not helping out passenger rail service and is far from helping downtown Wilkes-Barre. As for Allen Bellas, who was then the Executive Director of the Redevelopment Authority, he’s in jail for a $2,000 bribery scandal that’s unrelated to the Station. Even the owners of the property leased to Big Ugly’s Sports Bar (the Bar that received the tainted $10,000 worth of flat screen TV’s), were ensnared in October of 2009 for paying a $1,400 bribe to Gerald Bonner and William McGuire, both one-time bureaucrats in the Luzerne County Housing Authority.

All of these events transpired so quickly that the Redevelopment Authority had to respond with its own Public Relations campaign. Their first order of business was to verify the accuracy of the price they paid for the station. This is generally done by using two neutral real estate appraisers. Before they purchased the property, they chose Stanley Komosinsky and Alan Rosen, neither of whom appear on the roster of the Appraisal Institute (the nationally recognized professional organization for appraisers). Perhaps not coincidentally, both appraisers valued the property at exactly the same price: $5.74 million. And it gets even deeper: Alan Rosen works for the real estate company owned by the Mayor of Wilkes-Barre, Thomas M. Leighton.

A Dilapidated Symbol of Corruption

These days, the Central New Jersey Rail Station (now euphemistically known as “Market Street Square”) sits in neglect. But the station serves as a very salient symbol of bureaucracy run amok and the loss of accountability in local government. It’s highly likely that the men involved with embezzling the public coffers in various ways will receive nothing more than a few months in jail and a slap on the wrist. They’ll return to their lives agrandized by the lucre from the backs of their constituents.

Executive Wood Paneled Office

The fact still remains: It is a beautiful building, filled with wonders, curves, craftsmanship, and symbology. If one spends moments inside of this grand structure, one is easily transported beyond the depressing story of how it came to be what it is. I left the disheveled box cars that line the building and walked back to my car. When I photographed it, I was oblivious to its history; and in those innocent moments I had truly discovered a different world inside of a tiny little train station among the once-prosperous anthracite valley of Pennsylvania.



Binghamton’s Buried Stream of the First Ward

Geotag Icon Show on map June 25th, 2010

By J.T. Colfax


The history of Binghamton’s First Ward leads many to stand in front of a given area and say things such as, “Here was once a great scale-making factory,” or “Here was a factory that sold Matthew Brady his supplies and went on to make the film used on the first moon landing.” These are gone now. But something was there then, which everyone knew, saw, worked with or around, that now hardly anyone knows is still there. Imprisoned in the 1920s, it still lives, and from time to time escapes into the streets. Unlike the Jones Scale Works, or the spot on Charles Street where Ansco employed tens of thousands of people, this forgotten entity spans the entire First Ward.

There is no spot in the First Ward from which one can say he is far away from Trout Brook, or Trout Creek. It was once a peaceful little brook, but it became a mosquito-ridden dumping ground as the ward grew. It was once loved, and then it was shunned. Much money was spent hiding it as a shameful nuisance. It is a natural spring, here before any settler, and it is here still.

“Trout Brook” is only known now to the very old timers, or to people in the water department. From a ravine in Glenwood Cemetery, it can be seen running freely. There is a mention of it on a plaque in St. Michael’s Cemetery next to Glendwood Cemetery. The only other visible mention is on a large sign at the creek’s far end (near McDonald Ave.), which gives warning with a phone number to call in case of flooding. Thus, the only two public notices of its existence bookend its whole length.


Today, Trout Brook runs like this: … visible from the Glenwood Cemetery ravine it runs free, and then it runs in a large square tunnel under Route 17. It discharges from there on a series of cement steps next to the teacher’s parking area for Woodrow Wilson School. Hidden amongst the overgrowth there is a stone boulder plaque from the builders of the earthen dam on Mt. Prospect, which is now the major source of control for Trout Brook. On the grounds of Wilson School one can see the fenced-in area of Trout Brook running through its “screen chamber.” These iron bars are meant to catch debris before it flows into the tunnel.

I live a few blocks from there, and began researching this water system three years ago during the noted floods of 2006. I have a manhole cover in my yard, which is clearly noted: “TROUT BROOK, 1927.” I came home from work at 10 p.m. to find all my neighbors’ yards a lake, and my manhole cover ajar.

After the screen chamber near Wilson School playground, the water is not visible again unless one actually enters the tunnel. The tunnel goes under private residences on Baxter St., and makes an abrupt left turn on to Julian St. A manhole cover can be seen in the sidewalk on the north side of Julian St. about three housed in from Glenwood Ave. Just before this area one can see an odd-shaped piece of wood about the size of a door or table that apparently was a stop-gap repair job, or was once used for entry. It forms the ceiling of the tunnel for about 6 feet, and is not in keeping with the rest of the tunnel workmanship.

The tunnel, which in most areas is about 5 feet high, proceeds down Julian St., and has a manhole cover in the middle of the intersection where Julian meets Johnson St. Because that cover is a little loose, when cars hit it, the reverberation can be heard blocks away even above ground. The sound is deafening if one is anywhere near it inside the tunnel.

Another manhole is visible where the tunnel crosses Holland St. at Julian, clearly marked “Trout Brook.” As the tunnel crosses Holland and goes under a vacant lot, the workmanship changes. All this way the tunnel is made of reinforced concrete; these sections were made whole and installed in 1927. But there appears to have been some trauma here; some segments are made of indented plastic, and others of clay shingles.


The tunnel heads briefly towards Clinton St. for about the space of five private yards on the West Side of Holland St., and then crosses Colfax Ave. near May St. Four manholes can be seen covering it in the area many old timers refer to as the “May Street Dump,” the raving below Berlin St. I found a rather large salamander clinging to the walls in this area, and later brought a professor from BU who specializes in such creatures, to rescue it. We could not find it again. (His name is Dylan Horvath, and when he saw Mt Prospected nearby he felt that it was no longer unusual that such creatures would make their way there from such terrain.

The storm drain then crosses Charles St. near the steep curve, and crosses under the land where the Ansco plant used to be for so many decades. The path of its course is surrounded by chain link fence on the Ansco side, and the wrought iron fence of Spring Forest Cemetery. It passes under Spring Forest Cemetery, and at Mygatt St., there is a dramatic change in workmanship. From Mygatt to Wilson School the work is generally plain even cement piping. But from Mygatt to the Chenango River outfall, near the old Cutler Ice House, the tunnel is made of beautiful stone work with a large keystone where the stone portion begins.

The tunnel makes its way down Lydia to Gaines, and then under Winding Way, which owes its winding shape to the course of the brook.

The stone portion was built about 1924-25 by a contractor named Fitzgerald. While work-in on the drain, one of his vehicles backfired in such a way as to start a Lydia St. house on fire. A change in patent laws regarding concrete during this time made it cheaper than stone work when another contractor named Clarence Rose got the contract to build the segment from Mygatt to Prospect St.

Mr. Rose stood on the hill in Glenwood Cemetery for his mother’s funeral with the Trout Brook running freely nearby while the work was going on down below. Mr. Rose was an avid hunter, and once slightly wounded himself with a gun. He was swindled out of several thousand dollars by a con man from Los Angeles in the 1930s. Involved in politics in the Chenango Forks, he left an estate of $750,000 when he passed away in 1958. His retirement party a few years before that was held at the IBM Country Club with over 800 guests attending. Someone left flowers on his grave in Katellville Cemetery during the Christmas season of 2008.


A careless typographer at the Binghamton Press on Sep 19, 2927 marred much of the meaning in an article headlined: “Trout Brook Sewer Is Two Thirds Finished,” but this detail can be made out: “Clarence W. Rose has completed the Trout Brook sewer to a point west of Colfax Avenue near Holland Street.” Other articles of this period show Rose to be working on the screen chamber at Wilson School and on the pump houses, which are still visible in a state of decay on the Ansco property on Charles St. Interestingly, on the same day a New York Times article tells of the death of a former Binghamton mayor’s wife.

Mayor George E. Green, during the 1890s had to deal with a large group of angry First Warders who blamed the City for flooding their basements during water main installation work. They claimed that the city had destroyed ancient wooden storm drains put in place by Daniel S. Dickinson as he drained the “swamp” and developed the land for parcel selling. Mayor Green took the position that the people were after “Free improvements” to their lands .The First Warders petitioned Governor Levi P. Morton, who had to spend months investigating the complaint. (The whole saga is captured in word for word letters on Google Books viewable by searching for “Wolcott Street Swamp Nuisance.”)

Gov. Morton, though forgotten today, was previously a Vice President of the United States under President Arthur. Before that he was Minister to France, where he accepted the Statue of Liberty for the United States. Much loved in France, he was given the honor of driving the first rivet into the statue (in a big toe).

The wooden storm drain in question drained spots of swampy water into Trout Brook. The incident became known as the Wolcott Street Nuisance, but we know Wolcott St. today as St. Cyril Ave., a one-block street just below Spring Forest Cemetery running to Starr Ave. where the Jones Scale Works once Operated.

When he died in 1910 Mayor Green was buried in Spring Forest Cemetery. Just as Contractor Rose was busy burying Trout Brook under Spring Forest Cemetery in September 1927, working on 20-foot-deep pumping houses just next door at the Ansco site, the former Mayor’s wife came home from Albany, where she lived, and as she tended to the family plot she dropped dead on her husband’s grave.

“As she was turning away from the plot, employes (sic) in the cemetery saw her collapse. Physicians said that the death was caused by heart disease.” (New York Times, Sep. 19, 1927). The widow Green was probably not happy with the way the main lawn of the cemetery looked at that time. She was buried beside her husband.


From 1904 to 1927 there was a peaceful little pond using Trout Brook water in the main lawn, reported to be part of the improvement work going on in 1904 when Architect Issac G. Perry (of State Hospital “Castle” fame) designed the cemetery gates as his last job, and then promptly died becoming the first body brought through the gates. That local history story is fairly well known, but those articles also mention the intent to use Trout Brook to create a lake.

No one knew Trout Brook more fondly than Senator Daniel Dickinson. He built his home so as to look upon it, and picked his child’s, and thence, his own burial spot so as to be near it.

He was robbed of the above ground appearance of this brook next to his grave fifty years after his death, but it still runs at about the same level under Spring Forest Cemetery as he is in his grave. Mr. Dickinson built his home, “the Orchard,” on the West Bank of the Chenango River near the Erie Railroad Bridge. When his body was brought home from NYC, thousands followed the hearse from the depot to his home where present day McDonald Ave. is located (and where one can see a Trout Brook flood control sign). Maps show his home to have been between Trout Brook and the rail bridge. One map of the 1800s actually signifies the brook as “Dickinson Creek,” but it apparently didn’t take.

In a “Testimonial of Respect of the Bar of New York” (viewable on Google Books), it is stated that the Statesman’s “body was laid in the Northwest parlor and the vast concourse that thronged to take a last look, entered from the south, passed around the coffin, and was permitted to leave from the East entrance.”

Upwards of 6,000 people escorted the casket to Spring Forest Cemetery from The Orchard. All of them had to have stepped on little bridges over the creek, not only on the Dickinson property where it would have been visible from that parlor window, but all along the route to Spring Forest.

Dickinson often visited his child’s grave and sat there writing poetry. He chose the family grave plot next to Trout Brook. In its coverage of the funeral, The New York Times referred to the stream as “insolent.” Let’s end with the coverage from the Testimonial of Respect.

“How sweet the grave wherein he (Dickinson) lies entombed. A little mound, shaded by an adjoining hill was the spot selected for the final resting place of this great and goodly man. A little fretful brook, whose wandering course leads along the base of the mound, sings gentle dirges on its rippling surface, as if to soothe the calm sleeper who rests so near its borders.”