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The Suburbanite
  • Storybook Lane: A Christmas tradition

  • Storybook Lane, an annual Christmas tradition in New Philadelphia, once again is in operation in Tuscora Park.
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  • Storybook Lane, an annual Christmas tradition in New Philadelphia, once again is in operation in Tuscora Park.
    Storybook Lane features 24 Mother Goose characters displayed along the east side of Tuscora Park pond that are lighted nightly from about 4 to 11 p.m.
    The Mother Goose characters include brightly painted figures and scenes depicting classic nursery rhymes such as "Mary Had A Little Lamb," "Humpty Dumpty," and many others.
    The display was adopted by the New Philadelphia Rotary Club in 2002, when club members completely renovated the 24 characters that were nearly 50 years old at the time.
    Since it began as a neighborhood project in 1956, Storybook Lane has been a "must see" for children, parents and grandparents alike.
    The following are six things you might not know about Storybook Lane:
    1. It began as a neighborhood display
    The idea for Storybook Lane originated in 1955 when Victor E. Marsh, a New Philadelphia businessman, envisioned a Christmas display for his neighborhood. He was inspired by the colorful animated displays in the windows of department stores.
    Joined in the effort by his other E. High Avenue neighbors, Marsh organized the design of the nursery rhyme-themed display. The original artist for the project was William "Goose" Kniesner, formerly associated with Walt Disney Studios. The work was done in the evenings, with Mrs. Marsh providing late-night snacks to the neighborhood workers.
    Just before Christmas 1956, the original 21 colorful characters were illuminated with flood lights in the front yards of the homes along four blocks of the E. High Avenue neighborhood. The display was named "Storybook Lane."
    2. It was an immediate hit
    During that first Christmas season, cars lined up bumper-to-bumper on E. High Avenue to view the lighted displays, many with moving characters and lively animations, of Storybook Lane. In the following years, four more nursery rhyme characters were added.
    From 1956 through the early 1970s, Storybook Lane was on display each Christmas season. Eventually the traffic congestion became a problem and Storybook Lane faded from view for a time, with the pieces going into storage in the basement of the former La Fountain's store in downtown New Philadelphia.
    However, Storybook Lane may have been down but it wasn't out. In 1980, it made a comeback in New Philadelphia's Tuscora Park, where it has been located ever since.
    3. Setting up Storybook Lane takes a group effort
    According to Rod Miller, director of parks and recreation for the city of New Philadelphia, this year it took eight people approximately 10 hours to set up the display. This involved setting up each of the vignettes (there are about 25 pieces in the display, according to Miller), hooking up electric to all of the vignettes and making sure all of the lights and motors are in working order.
    Page 2 of 3 - This year, Storybook Lane will be available for viewing through Jan. 5. It is located along Lake St. in Tuscora Park. Miller said the display will be taken down the week of Jan. 6.
    For the remainder of the year, all of the pieces are stored at Tuscora Park.
    4. Storybook Lane remains a popular attraction
    The display, based on nursery rhymes, is lighted daily from about 4 to 11 p.m. To date, no actual count has been made to determine just how many cars filled with people visit the display, but Miller has estimated that "hundreds" visit Storybook Lane each night.
    "Christmas Eve probably the biggest night of the holiday season," said Miller.
    5. Return to glory
    In 2001, Eleanor Kirk, the daughter of Victor Marsh, visited the New Philadelphia Rotary Club to ask members to consider adopting Storybook Lane for the purpose of restoring the display and preserving it for generations to come.
    Late in 2001, Kent Watson agreed to co-chair the project. He immediately recruited another Rotarian, the late Dick Stewart to assist him.
    Many of the nearly 50-year-old characters were in poor condition. Some were broken or had missing pieces, the original paint had faded, the wood was scratched, some were filled with holes or had been poorly repaired over the years.
    Overall, 22 of the original 27 nursery rhyme characters still existed and they all needed work ranging from cosmetic touchup to complete restoration. All new lighting was also required.
    The work became a community project with businesses, organizations, and individuals agreeing to help defray the costs with donations of money and/or products.
    The figures were moved to Dick Stewart's large garage where the work could take place. Each of the figures was dismantled for cleaning. Holes were filled with epoxy and sanded. In "Hey Diddle Diddle," the cow had apparently jumped over the moon one too many times and was missing its tail, one of its ears, and one of its hooves.
    A new ocean wave was built to float "Three Men in a Tub" and a new spider and web was made for "Little Miss Muffet."
    Some characters were missing entirely and were recreated from old photographs. New motors and moving parts were added to the animated figures.
    Restoration work continued through the summer and fall months of 2002.
    On Dec. 14, 2002, the restored Storybook Lane was set up along Lake Street in Tuscora Park, in the same order they had originally appeared on E. High Ave., thanks to a diagram created by Stewart.
    6. It continues, thanks to generosity of sponsors
    This year, Rotary Club President Rick Pipes issued a plea for additional sponsors to "ensure Storybook Lane remains a Christmas season tradition for the hundreds of children and adults who drive by each evening read and recite these timeless nursery rhymes."
    Page 3 of 3 - Letters were mailed in October to previous donors to offer them the first chance to renew their sponsorship. A board with a single exclusive sponsor is $300 while a co-sponsored board is $150. The sponsorship is for a period of three years.
    Carey Gardner, club treasurer, said this week that all of the boards have been fully sponsored, with some boards having two sponsors, and about 30 sponsors total. He noted that the club has spent $7,000 to $8,000 over the past two years to maintain and upgrade the display.
    Gardner said this year's upgrades includes 500 feet of new lighting, and there are four boards containing the names of some 80 to 90 friends of Storybook Lane.
    He said the club is fortunate to have very generous sponsors to keep the display going after so many years.