Nancy’s Island was a small resort and amusement park once located along the Shenango River about two miles north of the village of Pulaski in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. It is said to have opened in 1896 and included a dance pavilion, toboggan slide, carousel, row boats, bicycle track, campsite, and concession stands. It was a popular place for Sunday picnics, family gathering, and fishing trips. The 14-acre islet was reportedly named for a local woman who was once trapped on the island by rising water after going there to tap some maple trees.
Folks came from as far away as Pittsburgh and Youngstown to visit the island resort, which benefited from excellent modes of transportation. The Erie & Pittsburgh (E&P) Railroad and the Erie (ERIE) Railroad both had passenger stations at Pulaski and several steamers, the smaller Little Lucy and the much larger Island Queen, transported passengers and tourists between New Castle and Pulaski. An old houseboat known as the Blanche Edmundson, a veteran of the Ohio River, also assisted. In those days the Shenango River was navigable as it was much wider and deeper. A small ferry boat, operated by local hotel owner John Nickum, also transported passengers from one side of the Shenango River to the other.
The 116-foot Island Queen, which went into service on the Shenango River in late October 1898, was a paddle-style steamer capable of carrying 1,500 people. It was owned and operated by the Paden family of Pulaski. Passengers enjoyed music and an article about the old resort in the New Castle News of Wednesday, January 7, 1931, elaborated with, “Remember John Mitcheltree and his fiddle, Charley Keasley with his fiddle and Dr. Lutton accompanying on the piano? It was a real pleasure to ride on the Island Queen when those men were aboard. Then there was at various times the Phillips brothers from Mercer at the fiddle and harp. Dr. Lutton and Bill Hodge (Bill was the town barber at that time) helped to furnish music on the mouth organ and Jim bones.”
The same article went on to report, “Reminiscences about old Nancy’s Island wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the chicken fights. We won’t mention any names and so there won’t be any chance of some of the gang to land in jail. At night, when it was all quiet, and the minors were all sound asleep in bed, and when the moon was behind a cloud, then the cocks were released in the Nancy’s Island pavilion and the fun and slaughter began. Every once in a while a little birdie would tell the constable there about it and he would be there… The pavilion was built, so they say, one half in Mercer county and one half in Lawrence county! That complicated arresting parties and if John Law from Mercer county showed up the chickens were removed to the side of the pavilion that was in Lawrence county! So it is said.”
The park had a relatively short life and closed about the time the Pulaski Fair was being organized. In early 1903 a group of investors formed the Pulaski Fair Association, with the intention of establishing a county fair in Pulaski. A 40-acre site just north of the village was soon purchased and built up. The first “Pulaski Fair” was held from September 29-October1, 1903, and continued as an annual event until it was closed down in early 1924. Nancy’s Island was abandoned but the railroads – and possibly the steamers for a brief time – continued to transport passengers to the fair grounds.
So just what became of the steamers that operated along the Shenango River? There were numerous vessels named the Island Queen so determining her fate is difficult. She was reportedly sold and put into service transporting passengers in the Great Lakes region. I do not believe she is the vessel that was lost to a raging fire at the docks in Cincinnati, Ohio, in November 1922.
The New Castle News of Tuesday, July 29, 1930, gives an account of the fate of Little Lucy by providing, “Very little is left of Little Lucy – just part of the hull sticking up out of the sands – as if it is waving a last farewell. Little Lucy met her Waterloo on a trip from Nancy’s Island to New Castle. The river was high. A group of men boarded the steamer en route to an opera in New Castle. All was well until the boat arrived at Nashau Bridge. It arrived there but never passed. The smoke stack and cabin collided onto the bridge because of the high water and the steamer slowly toppled over. The passengers were dumped into the Shenango and swam to shore. The captain stuck to the ship true to tradition until every passenger was off then he too made for shore. Soon after the mishap the wrecked steamer was towed into the little inlet stream out of the way of the water traffic. And there it has stayed, all the time sinking, sinking, sinking. Today scarcely a watery grave has Little Lucy as the little tributary is nearly dry.”
Nancy’s Island, a remote wooded area, sits unoccupied these days and is not easily accessible. The Shenango River, which was shrunk in size over the years, is no longer navigable by larger vessels like it once was.
Nancy’s Island, a small summer resort and amusement park, was in operation near Pulaski from 1896 until about 1904. I believe the steamer on the left is the Little Lucy, which transported passengers along the Shenango River for a number of years. (c1900) Full Size
There are several locations (Areas #1, 2, and 3) that could be home to Nancy’s Island, but I believe it is the spot marked as Area #1. The area was separated by a thin waterway (marked with red dots), which is mostly dried up these days. (1939) Full Size