I’m hoping to do a series on the parks we have in Nether Providence and I’m starting with Houston Park. Houston Park is a 45 acre park that lies between Harvey Rd. and Providence Rd. At the top of the hill are sports field and the rest of the park contains a valley with Beatty Run, a tributary of Ridley Creek.
The park was formed when the township purchased the Houston tract of land in 1996. That year the township purchased the Duer and Houston tracts of land for $2.65 million dollars. The Duer tract would be split into Furness Park and parking for SEPTA while the Houston tract would become Houston Park. In many of the news stories of the time there was concern in the township for the rapid loss of green space. News stories indicate that while there was a vocal minority concerned over the debt taken on by the township, there was overwhelming support for the purchases. Although mostly funded by debt, the township received over $400,000 in grant funds to offset the purchase of the park. On the township’s board of commissioners around that time was commissioner Robert O’Connor and Bob Scott, who I’m assuming is the same person as the current township solicitor.
Before the purchase, the Duer and Houston tracts were owned by Donald Gaster. Donald Gaster purchased the property from the Houston family estate in the 1960s. In 1968 he filed a plan to build 500 luxury apartments on the Duer tract, but it was rejected by the township. In 1971 he returned with a plan to allow for 385 mobile homes on the Houston property. The plans apparently changed over the years, sometimes including restaurants, offices and townhouses as well. He evidentially battled with the township for almost 25 years before his eventual death in 1994. In the press article after his death, recently retired township manager Gary Cummings is mentioned. After Gaster’s death, his estate sold the property to the township he had spent much of his life litigating with in court.
Going further back, in the early 1960s the township had the opportunity to purchase the Sharpless tract, 18 acres that would run along the creek and connect Chester Park and Tyler Arboretum to Houston Park. Although a press report in 1962 thought that was likely, the homes that exist there today suggest it never happened and instead of one continuous park, Houston Park is now isolated.
Update – the park was purchased by Gaster from Bruce Brown. After the township acquired the property, Bruce Brown contributed trees and benches to the new park. Bruce Brown recently passed away.
Howard H Houston, for whom the park is named, was best known as an industrialist and mayor of Chester City. He descended from a Scottish low-lands clan, the Padvinians. Sir Hugh Padvinian established a town on his land in the 17th century which became known as Hugh’s Town, and eventually the family took the name Houston. Sam Houston, of Texas fame, also descended from this family.
Houston’s grandfather immigrated from Ireland in 1834 and the family owned land in Lancaster. Howard Houston’s father (also born in Ireland, but leaving at age 2) owned a variety of business pursuits and Howard got his start as vice-president of the family’s Houston Coke and Coal Company which had coal interests in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. After his father’s death, he took over running the family’s business. As a leading industrialist, Houston had a long list of positions: director of the Chester National Bank, the Cambridge Trust Company, on the board of Chester Hospital, a member of the Union League of Philadelphia, the Chester Club, Rotary Club, Penn Club, Art Club, Springhaven Club and Bowling Green Club. He was also a director of the Chester Street Railway, the Chester & Media Railway and treasurer of the Ironworkers Building & Loan Association. He was a member of the Masons and Knights Templar. In the 1890s he helped bring trolleys to Nether Providence.
Houston was a Republican throughout his life, but initially not involved in politics. In 1897 he was convinced to run for city council in the 11th ward after the borough of South Chester was incorporated into the City of Chester. He won election as the Mayor of Chester City with the largest majority up to that time in 1902 and served one term. Howard H Houston died in August of 1929 in his home, known as Houstonia, the house still neighboring the park today.
Houston Park Today
The park consists of two parts. At the top of the hill are sports fields – soccer and baseball, a house and parking lots. The fields were created by the NPAA and private donors in 2000, a few years after the park was created. Both soccer and baseball are played on the park’s upper fields. This past year, NPAA added lighting for games at night. The fields are named after Bob Urban, a president of NPAA soccer for thirty years until 2001.
The lower part of the park contains walking trails along Beatty Run, a tributary of Ridley Creek. There are several old structures from the estate along the paths as well as a bridge in the middle of the park. The remains of what appears to have once been a swimming pool lies on one side of the bridge. Upstream from the bridge, the creek is a common spot for children to go wading during warmer months. A variety of wildlife can be seen in the park including birds, deer and snakes. A fledgling owl was a popular attraction last spring. The trees are primarily deciduous with mature growth poplars and beeches and a few oaks, maples and ashes and the oldest date back to around the time of construction in the early 1920s. A number of invasive Tree of Heaven plants that are popular with the invasive spotted lanternfly have taken hold in the park, especially toward the Providence Rd. entrance. Although there are trails throughout the park, there’s no connection to trails or sidewalks on either the Providence or Harvey Rd. sides.