Wildwood Lake

Anecdotes from pre-World War II by Floyd J. Demmy,
a life-long resident of Harrisburg

During the late 1930's, way back when the Saturday Matinee was 15 or 20 cents to go to the movies, we would head for Wildwood to find and collect discarded bottles for the deposit refund value of each bottle. CanalWe would generally collect enough bottles to turn into any neighborhood food store like Ike Ronen's or Meyer Marcus' corner stores, and in turn, we received sufficient refund of the deposit on each bottle to enable us to pay for a ticket to the National Theatre at 1816 N. Sixth Street, for the Saturday Matinee.

We also spent many days going to the Wildwood Zoo that occupied the area of present day Harrisburg Area Community College at Wildwood Campus. People would go there with a picnic lunch and spend the day having fun. The zoo had picnic tables, swings, and sliding boards for children. Besides the monkey house, the zoo offered many other animals to see such as buffalo, elk, and deer. The zoo extended over a large area containing lots of wildlife free to roam around the fenced-in compound.

Somewhere behind the present day Pennsylvania State Employes Credit Union headquarters building, stood a rocky crag that we called 'Stoney Point'. We'd spend many hours at Stoney Point in Wildwood. Other times we'd stop by the city dump. The city dump was located where the Farm Show Complexes' Cameron Street parking lot is located today! In those days, horse-drawn wagons were used to pick-up trash. The old incinerator sat where the present day arena is. When not in use, the wagons were parked by the incinerator.

At the dump, we would look for cereal box tops to send away to the cereal companies such as Wheaties or Corn Flakes, to order the free gifts the manufactures offered for purchasing their dry cereal. Among the gifts that could be ordered were baseballs, gadgets to send secret messages to each other, and special rings. We'd do these things on the way to Wildwood.

Later the dump was relocated to the present day HACC area. In the 1950's whenever the dump caught fire, the black billowing smoke and bad odor could be seen and smelled as far away as Colonial Park in Lower Paxton Township.

On occasion we would tramp through the Glen-Gery Brick Yard on the southeast corner of Elmerton Avenue and Cameron Street to get to Wildwood. On other occasions, we marched across the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks near Division Street using the high pedestrian bridge, then cross the Canal Road to the zoo or go up past the zoo to where Wildwood Lake began. The Canal Road was named for the former Pennsylvania Canal that ran from northern Dauphin County through Harrisburg to Steelton, generally, the canal was in sight of Cameron Street.

There was a cement whirlpool type outlet from the lake that we called the 'Basin'. I believe this water flowed onward into Paxton Creek. There was a macadam road that ran at a right angle. We would swim in another creek called the “Red Bridge'. This road crossed this bridge and ended up at Linglestown Road.

We often pulled a plant we called sweet myrrh and chewed upon the root, which tasted like licorice. Sweet myrrh grew all over Wildwood. Many times too, we dug up sassafras roots to take home to make tea.

We fished in the creek, but mostly we fished at Wildwood Lake; however, we seldom caught anything worthwhile. We fished by throw lines. It was just as well that we were poor and didn't have fishing rods. A throw line fit nicely in one of our pockets. If we had rods, we would have had to carry them from uptown to Wildwood all day long and back home again.

How many summer days we spent at Wildwood, exploring and swimming, and then World War II was on the horizon and our trips to Wildwood became less and less. And the items we collected now went to the War effort.

Respectfully submitted,
Floyd J. Demmy

« Back