A Saturday morning in the summer of 1924 dawns warm and muggy in Fulton County, promising an uncomfortably humid day ahead. Thousands of locals employed in the glove industry are getting ready for a morning of work - yes, even on a Saturday. It's a short shift, only half a day, and those residents are looking forward to the blow of the whistle that signals the end of a work week. Everyone was anticipating the leisure time that was only a few hours away.
Many people owned family cars, thanks to the affordability of Ford's Model T, and everyone climbed on in to take a trip to area attractions. One of the most popular destinations for weekend fun was Healey's Park in Perth.
Thomas Healey, an Amsterdam barber, and his wife, Edith, opened the park in the summer of 1924. They purchased farm land in Perth along the Amsterdam-Broadalbin Road (now Route 30) - part of which had been a silver fox farm where the animals were raised for their pelts - earlier that year and went to work. In the mid-19th century, it had been the site of a sawmill, dam and pond. According to the book "Perth: Memories and Reflections," written by Perth Historian Sylvia Zierak, a pond was dug out by Edward Richards and his son Henry, along with the help of a faithful team of horses that pulled the scoops of dirt. The Richardses then built a new dam. A swimming hole needs a beach, so sand was brought in to create one. Healey's didn't have a midway or carnival rides like the Sacandaga Park, but it had boat rentals, two large water slides, swings, a high dive, picnic areas and the pavilion - the park's "crown jewel" that went through various uses, most notably a dance hall that served as a venue for popular musicians of the 1920s and '30s. After the repeal of Prohibition, a bar was added to the dance hall. In the evenings, dancers moved around the floor underneath beautiful colored lights and parasols, the strains of live music drifting down to the pond below into the early hours of the morning.
The former Healey’s Park Bath House is shown in a postcard above.
Image courtesy of Jerry Snyder
Unlike other local destinations such as Sacandaga Park, Healey's catered to automobile traffic. Even with the growing popularity of the family car, not everyone owned one. So, Thomas Healey also purchased an excursion bus that ran from Amsterdam to Gloversville and Johnstown and back. For 20 cents, you could get a lift to Healey's Park, enjoy a day of fun and an evening of dancing, and have a ride home at the end of it all. The park did not offer overnight accommodations and its limited parking was a problem - visitors often used neighbors' lawns and tore up the ground with their tires - so the bus was another alternative.
Healey's Park, apart from being a popular day trip for individuals and families, was also the destination of many organizations. Company picnics and other group outings were often held at the park. Almost immediately after opening, groups were planning trips there. The Presbyterian Church Society of Broadalbin scheduled its annual picnic for July 18 at Healey's. The citizens of Johnstown organized an annual outing for the city's kiddies, and in 1924, they stopped at Healey's on their way to Jollyland Park in Amsterdam (now called Shuttleworth Park, home of the Amsterdam Mohawks baseball team). The caravan of 101 cars, headed by Mayor William W. Chamberlain and toting a whopping 1,200 children, also included a truck carrying the Citizen's band. The long line stopped briefly at Vail's Mills and Healey's Park to hear the band play a tune before heading on to the final destination.
Another crowd-drawing event at Healey's was auto polo. The "game" was similar to regular polo, but used cars instead of horses. Invented in 1911 by Ralph Hankinson, a Ford dealer in Topeka, Kansas, to help sell cars, the event was popular at fairs and exhibitions through the late 1920s. A blurb in the Aug. 15, 1924, issue of the Morning-Herald advertised an upcoming game at Healey's Park, proclaiming it to be the "Thrill of the Age" and the "Most Exciting Game of Modern Times." A local in the automobile business, Roy Pettingill, managed several auto-polo teams at Healey's Park and brought the event to the Fulton-Hamilton county fair in 1924. The high cost of replacing damaged vehicles, plus the risk of injury or death to players and spectators, caused the game to lose popularity by the late '20s.
Healey's Park managed to remain open for so long through reinventing itself. The dance hall was converted to a roller-skating rink to try to get in on the skating craze prior to World War II. However, the park closed in the late 1940s. The park made it through two world wars, Prohibition and the Depression. "But postwar prosperity was what the park couldn't endure," claims Lost Landmarks of Upstate New York, a great website devoted to telling the stories of historic sites lost to time. The park closed after World War II, "an ironic casualty of the growing popularity of long-distance automobile travel and the weeklong vacation."
The last of the remaining buildings, the caretaker's cottage and bath house, located right along Route 30, finally fell in 2007.
A historic marker was placed at the site in 2010 by the Perth Historical Society. Next time you're driving down Route 30 and pass the marker, try to imagine that busy summertime oasis and the sounds of happy shouting, laughing and jazz music.
Special thanks for this article goes to Jerry Snyder, local historian and president of the Board of Trustees of the Historic Amsterdam League, for sharing his historic images of Healey's Park and allowing them to be included with this article, and Peter Sefton, for his helpful information.
Samantha Hall-Saladino is the Fulton County historian.