A Trip to Mickey Vernon Field at Bullens Lane Park

Bullens Lane Park is a small park at the corner of Bullens and Westminster in the very southeastern corner of Nether Providence. Most of its area is taken up by a little league baseball field, but there is also a playground, some benches and parking. It lies between Sproul Estates and the Kinder Park development in Ridley.

Who is Mickey Vernon

Photo of Mickey Vernon, 1963. Credit: Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Researching Mickey Vernon was the easiest part. He has a Wikipedia page to begin with. He had a long and successful career as a first baseman and later coach from 1939 through the 1980s. He was born in Marcus Hook, but lived in Nether Providence for the last 50 years of his life. The field at Bullens Lane Park was named for him in October of 2011, a few years after his death. From the DelCo Times article about the renaming:

“I think this is a wonderful field to name after my dad,” she said to the several dozen people assembled on the infield as an American flag attached to the backstop fluttered in the breeze.

Gay Vernon said her father, who grew up in Marcus Hook and attended high school in Eddystone, drove past the field many, many times over the years.

“One of his favorite things was to watch little kids playing baseball. I can’t help but think how thrilled he would have been with this,” said Vernon, who works as the news director for a Boston radio station and who was honored herself on Thursday when she was inducted as a member of the Strath Haven High School Wall of Honor.

The only child of Mickey Vernon, she is a 1970 graduate of Nether Providence High School, which later became Strath Haven.

The Nether Providence Historical Society also has further information about Mickey Vernon.

History of Bullens Lane Park

Sign on Bullens Lane marking the location of the Leiper Railway

The recorded history of Bullens Lane Park probably starts with Thomas Leiper, who purchased most of the land in the area some time before 1800. Thomas Leiper was a businessman that built America’s first working railroad just a few hundred feet from where Bullens Lane Park now sits. Thomas Leiper was a Scottish immigrant from Strathaven, Scotland that fought in the Revolutionary War. In 1808, he built a house near what is now called Lapidea for his son James. The history for the next century is unclear, but it ended up owned by Pennsylvania governor William Cameron Sproul. Sproul was a newspaper publisher and the state’s youngest member of the senate serving from 1897-1919. He served as Governor from 1919-1923 and ran for president in 1920. Notably, William Cameron Sproul died intestate, so his legacy was a bit of a jumble. John Sproul, his son, died in 1949, and by 1954 the Sproul Estate had been sold and was being developed.

Advertisement in the Chester Times, September, 1954. The Nether Providence Historical Society has the full brochure.

The Swarthmore Golf Club was formed some time around 1934 “on the Sproul property at Nether Providence” according to a short blurb in the Chester Times in August 1934. The Swarthmore Golf Club would have been founded adjacent to the existing Springhaven Club, which dates back to 1896 according to news report and its own history page. The newspapers are full of accounts of the Springhaven club’s golf matches over the decades. According to a news report, the Swarthmore Golf Club was the restoration of a previous course at the same location. Unlike the Springhaven Club, the Swarthmore Golf Club was to be a public golf course.

At some point, the Swarthmore Golf Club property was sold to Edward Walsh. Edward Walsh then developed Sproul Estates as part of the post-war boom. He purchased the land some time between 1949 and 1954 and built the houses in stages with the threat of the planned blue route always a danger to the community. By 1958, the Sproul Estates Community Association had formed and was planning on possibly building a little league field on a couple of empty lots that Edward Walsh had left to the new community he developed.

Bullens Lane Park largely falls out of the news after that point, but at some point in the following decades the baseball field and tennis courts are built at the small park. In 2007, a newspaper report in the DelCo Times says that the township’s insurance carrier had advised closing the tennis court because of its uneven surface and cracks. It would be almost a decade before the township was able to remove the tennis courts and improve the park. Since I was last at the park for a tree planting a few years ago, the township has added new benches along the ball field, improved the playground, put in paved parking spaces and put a fence around the playground to keep children from escaping into the road.

Bullens Lane Today

Bullens Lane Park is in for further changes. The township has received a PEMA grant to purchase the nearby property at 1012 Glen Rd., which lies in the flood plain. Walking past the property today, it wasn’t clear to me, even with land grants from adjacent properties along the creek, how this would be easily connected together. The area is hilly and Bullens Ln. has narrow shoulders and poor visibility in that stretch. But its a nice area for another little township park.

Below is the slideshow of the park as it exists today.

Categories: History