The 76 acres now known as Cascade Park was purchased by Colonel Levi Brinton in 1892 for development as a picnic grove, Big Run Falls. After several failed attempts at construction, the Colonel sold the land to the New Castle Traction Company (Penn Power) in 1897. The New Castle Traction Company designed the tract of land as a Luna Park, with landscaping and rides. A contest was held to name the park. Ten-year-old Edwina Norris won $10.00 for the name, ‘Cascade Park.’ Cascade Park was opened on May 29, 1897. The following year, the Traction Co. added a theater, baseball park, a carousel, and the largest dance pavilion in Pennsylvania. This was also when the first roller coaster, a small thrill ride called The Toboggan was installed.
Additions to the park continued into 1899. The Traction Co. dammed Big Run, creating a lake and picnic grove. They also added a zoo. In 1922, the carousel was replaced with one from Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. Vendor Billy Glenn replaced the zoo with a swimming pool in the 1920s. He also added a bath house and fun house, and replaced The Toboggan with a longer wooden roller coaster, this one taking advantage of the natural steepness of the gorge, and aptly named The Gorge. By 1925, the park boasted a midway with 17 rides and a tourist camp that could accommodate 2,000 people. Penn Power expanded the park to 183 acres.
The trolley lines brought thousands of people to Cascade Park. Big Band musicians, such as Guy Lombardo, Paul Whiteman, Henry Mancini, Vaughn Moore and Danny Thomas all performed at the dance pavilion.
In 1934, Penn Power donated the park to the City of New Castle in perpetuity for $1, to be forever used as a public recreation area, only stipulating that no alcoholic beverages may be sold at the park (forever!). Throughout the Depression and after attendance gradually declined. The dam on Big Run cracked, draining the lake; it was never repaired.
In the 1950s, Paul Vesco contracted with the city to operate the park. He replaced The Gorge coaster with another that took advantage of the steep topography, The Comet. Mr. Vesco had designed The Comet himself; its construction was executed by International Amusement Devices (IAD). The coaster reached a peak height of 65 feet and the track was 2400 feet long, running up the gorge and back down into the gullies. The coaster was barely perceptible behind the tree cover.
Although attendance continued to decline, the park was kept alive, hanging by a thread during the 1970s and early 80s by company picnics sponsored by local manufacturing companies. After the collapse of America’s manufacturing industries in the mid-1980s, the park withered. A tree fell across the tracks of The Comet in 1982; it was torn down two years later. The park reached its low point with the installation of a huge Go-Kart track, obliterating portions of the old park.
Restoration began in the 1990s. The city pledged that all future development would reflect the Victorian style of the early park. The Go-Kart track was removed; the deteriorating amusement rides on the Midway were removed, the ‘Floral Steps’ were repaired, buildings improved, and a playground installed.
The park now provides fishing in Big Run, a number of walking trails down the gorge, the city’s public swimming pool, picnic pavilions shaded by trees along Big Run, and organized dances at the restored dance pavilion. The city’s largest annual event, Back to the ‘50s, is hosted in the park.