In 1907, the Joseph Horne Company’s wholesale division, the Pittsburgh Dry Goods Company, purchased fifty-two acres of land along Lowries Run with the intention of creating a summer camp for the Company’s 200 junior employees – the cash and errand boys, and the wrapping and stock girls. These junior employees were 12 to 14 years of age. The President of the Dry Goods Company, Albert Horne Burchfield, envisioned the camp as a “little Switzerland” for these junior employees. The Camp was operated by the Joseph Horne Company Employees Outing Association.
During the day the children enjoyed the typical camp activities – games, organized theatricals, swimming and boating. Camp Lake was created by damming up Lowries Run to form a lake 1,000 feet long, 100 feet wide and four feet deep. It was used for swimming, boating, and canoeing.
After World War I, the Camp changed. Pennsylvania child labor laws had restricted the use of younger junior employees. In 1919, the Outing Association began to vigorously promote the Camp to employee families. The remaining junior employees could still stay for free, but the emphasis was on family vacations. The 1919 Camp brochure asked employees “where can you go for one or two weeks that will give you half the privileges and enjoyment at even twice the expense of the same time spent at Camp?”
The 1920s were the heydays of the Camp. An inventory of facilities included a screened in dining hall named Grimstead Hall, the Birches, the swimming pool and concession stand, a recreation hall that was used for dances, the kitchen, and fields and courts for tennis, baseball, basketball, volleyball, and quoits. There were dances and other special events each night for campers and guests who came for the evening. Each department in the store took responsibly for organizing these evening events. Bands, including Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, were hired for the dances.
The Great Depression and the cost of needed improvements made the operation of the Camp difficult. The Joseph Horne Company took over the Camp from the Outing Association. After the World War II, the Camp was used only on weekends and holidays. The tents were gone. The automobile gave employees greater mobility and the demand for the Camp fell off. In 1960, it closed.
Avonworth Community Park
In the 1960s, an informal group of residents of Ben Avon, Kilbuck and Emsworth were formed to look at the development of recreational facilities in the area. Camp Horne became a possibility. The Joseph Horne Company was no longer interested in owning the Camp. It was no longer used by Horne’s employees while the Company still had to pay taxes and cover maintenance expenses. In 1966, Ben Avon Heights and Ohio Township joined the others three municipalities to create an inter-municipal Authority to acquire the land. The Authority raised the funds needed to buy the land from the Joseph Horned Company and to make initial repairs with a combination of grants and a bond issue.
The Camp, when it was acquired by the community, had been neglected. The land was the primary asset. A 1968 inventory of buildings that were in need of repair included the Birches, the Pavilion, the old office, and the restrooms. The Park also needed a new pool.
The Authority was able to build a new pool with the funds it had raised. The community came to the aid of the Park as well. In 1968, the Kiwanis build and donated picnic tables to the Park. The Avonworth Athletic Association (AAA) volunteers built a second baseball field. Groups began to rent facilities. In addition to the AAA, the renters included the Joseph Horne Company softball league, the Youth Action Group (YAG), Little League, Boy Scouts, the YMCA, Brownies and numerous one-time users. The Youth Action Group sponsored weekly dances for teenagers in the Birches. These dances were called the Midnight Hour at the Park. The Scouts and the YMCA held day camps.
The park got a big boost in the 1990s with significant state aid and regular funding from the Allegheny Regional Asset District. These funds made it possible to build the Mayernik Center, to add more ball fields, and to repair the Pavilion and other buildings.
The community continues to help. From the very beginning, the Park and the community groups using the Park have been able to mix fundraising with fun. The fundraising and fun events have included concerts, movies, the Monte Carlo, art auctions, flea markets, golf outings, carnivals, the haunted house, the Rhubarb Friday country music festival, Oktoberfest, and a car cruise. Most of these events were held for a few years until volunteers stepped forward to try something new. Others, including the Oktoberfest and the Monte Carlo, have become part of tradition.