The history of Buhl Farm Park as well as Frank and Julia Buhl is an interesting tale that journeys through multiple centuries.
Travel back with us to a time when “the farm” (as they liked to call it) was just an idea in Frank and Julia’s minds, and learn how this gorgeous park came to be.
Biographies of Frank and Julia Buhl*
Frank H. Buhl came to Sharon, PA in 1867 after graduating from Yale University, and went to work for the Sharon Iron Works. His father, who had settled in Detroit, was a founding partner of that company. The younger Buhl worked at Sharon Iron Works five years before becoming plant manager and then superintendent.
Buhl returned to Detroit in 1878 to take charge of the Detroit Cooper and Brass Rolling Mill. He stayed there until 1887 when he returned to Sharon to once again oversee operations at Sharon Iron Works. His father, Christian H. Buhl, had assumed full ownership of the Sharon factory, which by 1888 had become the largest plant in Mercer County, employing some 700 workers.
Shortly after returning to Sharon, Buhl married Julia Forker, the daughter of a prominent Sharon couple. Forker had come to Sharon from Mercer when she was six years old and as a young woman became very active in the city’s civic and cultural activities.
Buhl Steel Co. was formed in 1896 with Frank H. Buhl as its president. Three years later, Buhl Steel was absorbed by the National Steel Co. After the merger Buhl, often referred to as “The Father of the Industrial Shenango Valley”, co-founded Sharon Steel Castings and Sharon Steel. After U.S. Steel absorbed both National Steel and Sharon Steel, Buhl retired from the industry…
The Buhls, who were childless, dedicated much of their energy and fortune to the betterment of their community. Continuing the philanthropic efforts of his father, who had established the Christian H. Buhl Hospital, a forerunner to Sharon Regional Hospital, Buhl established the F. H. Buhl Club. The club, an enormous brick building between Buhl’s State Street home and the downtown business district, contained social and music rooms, a library, bowling alleys, and billiards and game rooms. It opened to Sharon citizens in 1903 and remains in operation.
A short time later (1914), Buhl developed the F. H. Buhl Farm. The 300-acre site included an 11-acre artificial lake complete with a sand beach. Picnic groves, pavilions, benches, playgrounds, 10 tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, a football field and 1,000-seat grandstand were among the amenities. All of these were free and open to the public.
Buhl also established a fund that paved the way for a free public library, supported the C. H. Buhl Hospital and provided for the welfare of the Sunshine Society by constructing a building to house its operations.
A Trust established to support Buhls’ many gifts to the community was assigned to the care of the F. H. Buhl trustees. After his death in 1918, much of Buhl’s estate went to charitable causes. Among the beneficiaries were the people of France and Belgium devastated by World War I, to whom Buhl left $2 million to relieve their suffering.
Julia Buhl continued her husband’s legacy and established a girl’s club that opened around 1936 in a large building in downtown Sharon, recalls Julia S. Forker, wife of Julia Buhl’s nephew, Henry P. Forker III. Memberships were given as an award to female students who maintained good grades. [Mrs. Buhl passed away in June 1936 shortly after the girl’s club opened. The club remained a vibrant center of recreation and cultural pastimes for women until 1987 when it closed and consolidated with the F. H. Buhl Club where activities are held for both male and female members.]
*Article written by Maraline Kubik; reprinted with permission of the Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
Early History of the Land
From 1907 through 1911, Frank H. Buhl acquired many tracts of land in Hickory Township to form Buhl Farm. These tracts originally dated back to 1794 when it was agreed “Thomas Stokely and John Hoge would survey 120,000 acres in Mercer County in return for attaching their names to 72 tracts of their choosing”. The Peter Hoge Tract was the 1st parcel to be acquired by Frank Buhl in 1907. Most of this portion now contains the Avalon Golf & Country Club at Buhl and Buhl Farm golf courses, but at the time of purchase were commonly known as Dewey Park and the McClintock Farm and bought from the Cook family, the Hoffman family, the Stambaugh family, and the Freed family.
Frank Buhl’s stated purpose for acquiring these lands was to create a park for the benefit and enjoyment of the public. After obtaining the titles for the region, he commenced land improvements including the establishment of over four miles of roadways to provide access to all areas of the park and the creation of an artificial lake constructed by William McIntyre. Seven wells were drilled to provide the best quality drinking water and George Rettig, a landscape architect from Cleveland, was hired to work closely with Frank Buhl to provide the overall park design of Buhl Farm, including the planting of 75,000 trees and shrubs.
The farm initially contained a picnic grove with a shelter building, tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, an athletic field with a grandstand having the capacity of seating for 1000, and a children’s playground. Next to the lake, a Casino designed by Charles Hopkinson of Cleveland, was constructed for dances and general use by swimmers, skaters, and other guests of the park. A Farm House was built as a private social club and later leased to the Sharon Country Club. In 2007 the Farm House was completely remodeled and incorporated into the the new Avalon Golf & Country Club at Buhl.
In November 1915, Mr. and Mrs. Buhl provided an endowment consisting of stocks and bonds valued at approximately $550,000 to care for “the farm”. The award was to be administered by the Trustees of the F. H. Buhl Club, consisting of Norman Hall, John Carley, Thomas J. Forker, Samuel McClure, James P. Whitla, Frederick W. Koehler, Herbert M. Wilson, Harry B. McDowell, and Glen Carley. Though Frank Buhl died in 1918, his wife and family member Henry Forker spent over two million dollars to continue to improve and expand the farm’s facilities.
Buhl Farm Grows
In 1936, Edwin Hanna of Sharon made some additions to the casino and then built the Gatehouse as a small home for George Megown, who was the caretaker of the farm from 1920 to 1961. Today, the Gatehouse located at the Forker Boulevard entrance is used as the office of the Shenango River Watchers, a non-profit group.
The Julia F. Buhl Memorial Garden was also a beautiful addition to the park and was presented in memory of Mrs. Buhl by her family and friends in 1936.
The Activities Building was added in 1941 to offer a place for children’s care and entertainment, a popular tradition that continues today through the Summer Youth Program. In 1988 the building was greatly improved with the addition of air-conditioning, a new roof and new windows and doors. With these updates the Activities Building has become one of the most widely used facilities in the park for meetings, luncheons, and parties.
A sad point in history took place in 1956, when a tornado swept through Buhl Farm Park causing much damage and trapping eighty people under a shelter roof. Also, as winter weather became less reliable for ice skating on Lake Julia, the activity had to be discontinued. An attempt to revive this popular recreation occurred in 1968 with the construction of an Olympic size skating rink; however, due to declining interest and rising expenses the rink was closed in 1981.
The baseball field was developed in the early 1960′s and remains home to a division of Sharon Little League Baseball. New dugouts, a new drainage system and new fencing were added through a Keystone State Grant in 2005. Sharon Little League provided funding for the new backstop fence. The Performing Arts Center was added in 1981 and replaced the old band shell. Bocce Courts and a brand new shelter were also added in 1986. The other shelters and playgrounds have continually been updated and improved.
In the early seventies a log cabin was discovered during construction of an office building in Hermitage. The cabin was dismantled, reconstructed on Buhl Trust property and operated by the Historical Society for almost twenty years. Later the cabin was moved to a new Sharpsville location where it remains today.
The last parcel of land to be purchased, owned by the Thornton family since 1865, was acquired by the Buhl Trustees in 1963. It presently houses the driving range, The First Tee Building, maintenance structures, and several golf course holes, all of which were added between 1994 and 2000.
Continued Improvements in Buhl Farm
In 1983 Sharon Regional Health System donated a Parcourse Fitness Trail which has been heavily used and enjoyed. Seeing a need to update the course, Sharon Regional with additional donations from First National Bank and a state grant installed a brand new state-of-the-art trail over the same location in 2008. It has 18 stations that provide stretching, muscle development and cardiovascular conditioning and that are spaced over a 9/10 mile trail. The new Fitness Course is dedicated in honor of G. Leo Winger who has served over forty years on both the Sharon Regional Board of Directors and F.H. Buhl Trustees.
Another special addition came in 1999 when a gazebo was built atop the kite field. This area was further enhanced in 2001 by the initiation of an arboretum program to add beauty and serenity to the setting. Throughout the park over six hundred trees have been planted in the past six years. At the same time through a Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship program, one hundred ninety-three trees will be harvested to promote new growth, provide better habitat for wildlife and decrease the threat of a forest fire in some of the heavily wooded areas.
A new pool house was dedicated in 2006 for use during swim season. Through the efforts of the 2005 Capital Campaign, this building was constructed to replace the obsolete and deteriorating locker rooms attached to the Casino. The new facility offers easy entrance to the pool area with two outstanding changing areas and new modern public restrooms. In 2010 new outdoor furniture was purchased for seating around the pool and a costly new filter system was installed to ensure perfect swimming.
Buhl Farm Park Today