Buhl Farm Park

Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

This early 20th-century postcard offers a romantic view of Buhl Farm Park in Sharon, Mercer County, with its iconic Casino reflected on the water of Lake Julia. Love is an appropriate theme for this 300-acre public park, planned and created by wealthy steel industrialist Frank H. Buhl (1848–1918) and his wife Julia (1854–1936) as a gift to the people of Sharon.

Frank Buhl was the president of Buhl Steel Co., an outgrowth of the Sharon Iron Works, which his father Christian Buhl (1810–94) had cofounded. After Buhl Steel was acquired by the National Steel Co. in 1899, Frank started two new enterprises: Sharon Steel Castings and Sharon Steel. The steel industry was the economic backbone of Mercer County, creating jobs for thousands of workers and great wealth for owners. The magnificent 1891 Richardsonian Romanesque–style Buhl Mansion in Sharon (listed in the National Register of Historic Places) is evidence of this Gilded Age affluence.

The Buhl family chose to use part of their fortune for philanthropic pursuits. Christian had established a hospital to serve the city of Sharon, and Frank and Julia were likewise altruistic. As a childless couple, they used their wealth to benefit all the children of their community. First, in 1903, they built the Classical Revival–style Buhl Club in downtown Sharon to provide a public meeting space that offered a library, bowling alley, and game and billiard rooms.

Frank then began purchasing parcels of land north of the city in nearby Hickory Township to create Buhl Farm Park in 1914. Working with architect Charles Hopkinson and landscape architect George Rettig, the Buhls helped to design a fabulous public park with 4 miles of access roads and more than 75,000 planted trees and shrubs. Buhl Farm Park included a manmade lake (named in honor of Julia Buhl), a sand beach, a picnic grove with pavilions, playgrounds, tennis courts, a football field with a 1,000-seat grandstand, and a nine-hole golf course. The gem of the park was the Casino, used not for gambling but as a ballroom, with additional amenities for swimmers, skaters and park visitors. The Buhls left an endowment to provide for the park’s future needs, and it has remained open for public use because of their generous foresight.

The Buhls’ concern for others went beyond the Sharon community; before Frank’s death in 1918, they donated $2 million to the people of France and Belgium devastated by the effects of World War I. Their most enduring mark, however, remains in the city of Sharon, where three historic properties — the Buhl Mansion, the Buhl Club and Buhl Farm Park — stand as symbols of their success and impressive charitable endeavors.

 

Pamela W. Reilly is a historic preservation specialist in PHMC’s State Historic Preservation Office.