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More memories of York County’s roller-skating rinks

In the past, we’ve dug in a bit to the topic of York County’s former roller-skating rinks.

I have some more info to share today, including a bunch from commenter friend Audrey Lerew, who did a bunch of research and produced a lot of great info and photos that I want to share today, as well as many other readers’ memories!

Audrey noted, “There was a big White Rose Skating Rink on East Market Street. I am in the 500 block. At the railroad tracks was a little 5&10 cent kind of store. The York Theatre was next and then the rink was behind the theatre. It eventually burnt down and then comes Playland which was a skating rink standing next to the Playland Motel which was built around a swimming pool. That would be where the Cloister car wash stands today. I skated 7 to 8 sessions a week. I would go to Playland and then I would go to Weiglestown where there was a small rink built by a bus driver named Faircloth. I think his first name was Bob but not sure anymore. Then Saturday nights we would drive over to Rocking Springs Skating Rink for the midnight session. I would go to Playland for the matinee, then back to Playland for the evening and then over to Rocky for the midnight sessions after a couple of times on the roller coaster. Sundays I would do Weiglestown matinee and then Playland for the skate dancing lessons and stay for the evening session. There was also Haar’s in Dillsburg… and the Fountainblu off 83 North at the Fishing Creek Exit.”

Audrey said that June Lloyd of Universal York shared a biography with her of John Richley, who owned the White Rose Arena Skating Rink and many other properties in York. That’s where the photo you see above, and the one you’ll see later in today’s post, come from!

Of Richley, Audrey noted, “He owned an automobile dealership where the Historical Society stands today. He bought the building White Rose was located. His biography says he closed the rink in July 1947 and the next 3 years it was a warehouse storage rental. … Sunday night December 13, 1953 that the White Rose Arena & Skating Rink burnt to the ground.”

It is really amazing (not in a good way) the way fires in York County are tied to roller-skating rinks. I also have memories of the Playland fire and a fire at Roll-R-Way… it is just such a strange coincidence!

This is another image from the autobiography of John W. Richley, who owned the former White Rose skating rink. Audrey Lerew shared this image, which is an advertisement and shows the stores that ran from the rail tracks east.


Speaking of Playland, I have some memories of that venue to share. Friend Betsy Baird, a former student of York Country Day School, noted, “Y.C.D.S. would have relaxing (for some!) and laughter-filled evenings when the school had skating parties. I tried skating once, and that was the last time for me and my back! I’d be holding on to the side bar all the time, Mother beside me. There was one teacher who was a whiz at skating. And another who was always falling down. We had to laugh, but we also pitied him. It was the wonder he didn’t break any bones. Those were the good days.”

Betsy also remembered there being semi-annual antique shows at Playland selling china, painted dishes, cut glass, furniture and the like.

She recalled the fire there and said, “Nov. 23, 1985 I was leaving the York Mall when I saw a plume on heavy smoke coming up from the Rink. At first I thought it was from Wendy’s. Then realized it was from the end of Playland. I beat it out of there quick, knowing the fire trucks would be coming right behind me! That place was completely burnt down and never rebuilt.”

She mentioned that she lives in that area, and said, “Sparks were blowing across the street toward my place and even toward houses up on the hill. I don’t even like to think of it. … I saw the roller-skaters coming out of Playland, still with their roller-skates on. Thank God NO ONE was hurt.”

Carolyn Sue KeAla WaiOla Brenneman writes about Playland, “Not only did I have the fun of skating there as a kid, my folks, Norman C. and Annamary E. Kelly, laid eyes on each other for the first time. As they say the rest was ‘happily ever after.’ Aside of the Wendy’s there is a flight of concrete stairs that is all that remains of the rink. A goal, I never accomplished, was getting a pictures of my folks, standing on those steps. Blessing, they are walking the streets of gold together.”

And Carole (Gosnell) Canonico of the Goldsboro area writes, “(The Playland article) brought back some fond memories of my own. I also checked with a couple of my sisters and one of my brothers (I’m No. 4 of six) to see what they could remember of Playland. My oldest sister is 72 and she remembers she went skating at Playland almost every Saturday with her girlfriends. My mother, who was a wonderful seamstress, made her beautiful skating skirts out of black velvet with colored sequins, lined in white or red satin with matching tights underneath. But she said the skirts were never short enough as others, so she would wear a loose cardigan with a narrow belt underneath and when my Dad dropped her off she would roll the skirt up a bit under that belt to make it shorter! LOL! She remembers she went skating when she was in Middle School, in the early ’50s and it cost 50 cents. As you went in the front entrance, to the left there was a room called the ‘spillway,’ where you could go to practice skating. To the right and looking up, you could see a man sitting at an organ in like a window where he played live organ music and announced different skating activities. She thought there was an oval shaped area about 25 to 30 ft where you could skate outside. She said the hardest thing about skating was asking your Dad to drive you to the rink, drop you off, then hours later come to pick you up. The dads had a lot of things to do on the weekends and sometimes it was hard to get them to drive you. We lived just off Pennsylvania Ave. a block from Kiwanis Lake and the rink was considered pretty far away.”

Carole also recalled, “My brother, who is 69, remembered that you rented skates if you didn’t own them (which we didn’t until later) and rented skates had wooden wheels and sometimes they would ‘bump’ on the floor. He also remembered the room where you could practice skating. My brother also thought there was a swimming pool right beside Playland, but he wasn’t sure because we just skated. I’m 66 and the earliest I remember of Playland is watching the skaters behind the railing until I was old enough to skate in the rink as well. Up until them I was using the metal skates you slipped your shoes into and used a skate key to tighten them and we skated on the sidewalks at home. I remember my Mother saying how I would be sprawled along the wall with my skinny arms and legs trying to make it back to the railing when my parents would come to pick us up. And I remember how proud I felt when I finally learned to cross my right foot over my left going around the corners… Most times we skated around the rink from the right to the left and once in a while they would announce a reverse skate around the floor from left to right… that was harder to learn to cross over at the corners going in the opposite direction!”

And, she concluded, “They also had pair skating, couple skating where they dimmed the lights and used spotlights on the advanced skating couples. And there was, what I used to love, anyone who wanted to participate would skate to the center of the rink and the announcer would play and we’d all do the ‘Hokey Pokey!’ It was a fun thing to do besides going to the Boys Club Swimming Pool in the summer (by Farquhar Park) and the Hiway movie theater on W. Market Street… we would pack a lunch and spend the whole day at the movies; two other good memories of their own! Really enjoyed going down ‘Memory Lane’ about Playland with my
brother and sister (both of whom live in CO now) and it got us talking about a lot of childhood memories as well. Thank you!”

And, funnily, Carole added, that while she doesn’t know if she’s related to my friend Audrey Lerew, she had a step-grandfather on her father’s side named P. Paul Lerew, and a half-uncle Paul Lerew whose son was a Mark Lerew. “Could be a nice coincidence!” she said!

Steve Eaton noted, “My parents, Ernest Eaton and Lois Hershey, met at Playland. Dad competed and judged competitions all over the state. He knows most of the mentioned rinks that were around in the ’40s and ’50s. They were both instructors at Playland, and taught me as well. I have a picture of me at 3 years old with a Perry Como sweater and my skates on, ready for the ‘all skate!’ In later years when my kids had a school skate at the Castle (Lancaster), I would go just to put some skates on again. I didn’t care much for their concrete floor, preferring the nice wood floor and Playland. But at least I got to skate a little and bring back the memories!”

Of Playland, Andy Mansberger wrote, “Thank you for bringing back memories of Playland that I had forgotten about so many years ago. As I was reading, it brought back memories of standing outside waiting for the doors to open, on a rainy day you had to be there early enough to be under the overhang. I can smell the snack bar, see the soda spilled on the floor, always somebody spilling soda on the floor. I can remember the all night skates, the feeling in the morning when, after how many hours of skating, you took off the skates and got your ‘walking legs’ back and counted the blisters on your feet like proud war wounds. The sound of the organ music, the dreaded words ‘couples only’ and the long wait before you heard those two magical words ‘all skate’ and the world was right again. And later years going to Roll R Way west. Playland and (that) Roll R Way are long gone, but I still have the bad knees to prove that I was there!”

And Susan Beaven said, “I have fond memories of many years of skating on that wooden floor at Playland across from the York Mall. I had private lessons on Saturday afternoons. I forget the instructor’s name but the lessons gave me confidence and opened up a new door of fun for me. I remember we would have lunch at the Bury’s next to the rink. They also used to have a ‘pond’ in front of the rink that I think perhaps was used for ice skating. There was also a motel on the other side of the rink but I don’t remember the name.”


Holly recalled the fire at THIS skating location! She writes, “I was at Roller Way East the day of the fire in ’85. I was there for a friend’s birthday party, and I swear to you, the song playing when the fire was discovered was Motley Crue’s ‘Smokin’ in the Boys Room!’ We were on the floor and were ushered right out into the parking lot, skates on and all! Never did get my jacket or sneakers from inside.”

i also heard from Pete Brady, who noted that for those of us on Facebook, there is a great group called Roll R Way Crew full of memories and so on that you’re encouraged to take part in!

More memories on wheels

Fred Messerly of Red Lion recalled several local establishments. “I was a competitive roller skater at Playland from the early ’50s till 1959,” he said. “When I started skating Playland had a wooden floor and was owned by Dave Sternberg. The teaching pros were Jimmy and Nancy Wells. I skated dance and pairs with Nancy”s little sister Pat Gotwalt. The rink had a very active skating club of about 75 skaters. We put on shows and ran competitions at Playland. The club was called The Golden Rollers. Jimmy and Nancy were wonderful pros and many of us placed in State and Regional meets. I did skate at Nationals several times, but never placed. Pat and I skated Fours with Jean and Dale Hines.”

He continued, “After I stopped skating competition I did teach classes at the Faircloth’s rink in Weigelstown. They were very nice people. Jimmy and Nancy Wells left York about 1960 and moved to Kansas and operated two rinks in that area. Jimmy is still alive and we speak on the phone several times a year. Pat Gotwalt lives in Florida and we talk about old times and skaters frequently. Pat retired from skating as have Dale and Jean. I still skate a couple of time each month. York still has Roll R Way operating in the old ice rink in York. They get lots of kids and play modern music. I prefer Organ Music and a rink in Maryland south of Hanover called Sportsmans Hall had live organ music on Sunday nights.”

And, he concluded, “As far as I know I am the last member of the Golden Rollers that still skates. Not very well, but, I can still do a few dances. Many of the old Golden Rollers still get together for lunch a couple of times a year. If anyone wants to know when, give them my phone 717-870-8666.” And, he finally concluded, “I did skate one time at the White Rose Arena, but the in town boys did not like us skating with their ladies!”

Speaking of that Weigelstown rink, Don Wagner writes, “I grew up in Weiglestown. I worked at the Weigelstown Skating Rink which was established in the former ‘Weigelstown Youth Center.’ I cannot establish the exact first year of the skating rink, my guess about 1957. It was still going when I graduated in 1961; but I think it closed soon thereafter. It first had a poured floor of a very fine black asphalt type surface which then was painted blue. It had to be scrubbed weekly and repainted often. It was like falling on a rock. After some time Donald ‘Sonny’ Faircloth, the owner, had a wooden floor installed.”

he continued, “I used to help out in the Saturday afternoon session, then the evening session, and then we would pile in a car and head for Rocky Ridge Roller Rink in Lancaster County for the midnight till 2 a.m. session. The floor restrictions were less restrictive at the midnight session. We could skate much faster, lock arms across shoulders and fly around in a line, and even ‘flea hop.’ I wonder if anybody remembers and could tell me what flea hopping on roller skates is?”

I remember flea-hopping, actually, though I was a terrible skater personally! But here’s a cool video from the late 1990s of a bunch of people in Ohio doing it!

Meanwhile, Jim Fahringer recalled, “I remember the White Rose Arena very well. I was born in 1947 and during my first 7 to 8 years lived in the 300 block of East Poplar Street close to Edgar Street. We often walked to the theater that was located in the front of the Arena facing Market Street to see a movie as kids. The theater was then called the York Theater and later became the Holiday Theater. There may have been several names before the name of The York Theater. … I definitely remember the Arena Newsstand. … I also remember often stopping by the L & H 5 and 10 and buying worthless trinkets and toys… one of my favorite parts of the L & H 5 and 10 Store was the Candy Counter. The Candy Counter had these large slanted glass candy compartments where penny candy was sold. You could buy those big chunks of Kleins Chocolate pieces. … I remember the huge arena which seemed to stretch from East Market to almost East Philadelphia Street. The arena was not only used for roller skating but also convention-like shows. I remember attending an Izaak Walton League Outdoor Show there in the early 1950s. I distinctly remember seeing a snake or two in glass cages. I also remember becoming separated from my mom, grandparents and uncle and getting lost. I began to cry and ran through the arena looking for my family. The officials caught me and asked me my name and I told them but I told them my last name was my mother’s maiden name. They announced that they had a little lost boy over the intercom. I was finally reunited with my family. We moved out of the city of York in the summer of 1956. Sometime – probably not more than four years before 1956 the arena caught fire. I remember that night just like it was yesterday. My mom, my dad, my cousin, and my grandmother walked me over to the corner of East King Street and Edgar Street and we looked up into the northeastern night sky and we could see that the whole sky was lit up by the flames from the arena fire. I wanted to get closer to the fire but parents and grandmother told me we couldn’t get in the way of the firemen. I estimate that night as being somewhere around 1951 – 1955. An interesting side note is that many people considered this fire to be the largest fire ever in the history of York but Jim McClure does not list this fire as one of York’s largest in the discussion on the Exchange of several years ago. Most people who lived during that time will tell you that it was York’s Greatest Fire. Perhaps the history of this building has been lost from official records. I do know that the theater and the stores on Market Street were damaged and that the flames also caused some damage to the A & P Food Market on East Philadelphia Street close to the railroad tracks at Broad Street. Many years later a train derailed along the 5 & 10 building on East Market Street causing much of the western side of the 5 &10 building to collapse. I believe this was in the late 1960’s or perhaps very early 1970’s. I also believe that this train derailment and the damage that it cause spelled the end and the demolition of these buildings along East Market Street which were eventually replaced by the Danskin Sewing Company.”

Back to Playland, Jim noted, “I remember attending roller skating parties at Playland in the very early 1960s. I would attend on special nights that were set apart for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and sometimes school groups. I remember when they would conduct a partner skate towards the end of the evening and the girls could ask the boys to skate with them as their partner. Being very shy, I felt so awkward and clumsy as I skated around holding the hands of a girl on the wooden floor. One time I was standing back in the refreshment room when my roller skates rolled out from under me with my legs still in them. I did a total flip and landed on my back while my cup of Coke rocketed onto the ceiling causing a cascade of coke spewing over everyone around me including the cashier at the snack bar. If looks could kill, that night I would have died from the expression on the face of the cashier as she hurried to clean up the mess. In the late 1950s I lived close to the Chronister Farm in Springettsbury Township. In the southern end of their farm property was airplane hanger which housed the private plane of Mr. Sternbergh who was the owner of Playland. We often saw him take off in his plane. Somehow a Dr. Herman Gehly (spelling?) was also affiliated with Mr. Sternbergh. As we progressed through the 1960s the condition of the once beautiful roller rink began to deteriorate. I remember seeing holes punched into some of the walls by what appeared to be the results of a person’s fist.”

And Jim concluded, “The Playland complex also included a pool and a motel. The motel rooms were built around the pool with the pool being in the center. There was a place off to the side of the motel office where you could look through heavy plate glass and observe the underwater view of the pool. Many swimmers would dive down under the water, hold their breath and swim to the window and wave to the onlookers on the opposite side of the glass who might be registering for a room. It was a unique motel and swimming pool combined.”

Finally today, I have a question from Jim Smith that I hope we can field. He writes, “My family origins were in York Co. and I had a barber shop in York in the ’60s. My great grand father moved to Columbia and for a while lived in what was called ‘Rink Row’ in 1892. Urban legend has it that the roller skating rink was torn down and made into housing for the ole wagon Works. As a kid I skated at the ‘Hut’ in Columbia. In your research have you ever heard of a rink in Columbia in the 1890s?|” I would love to hear any info for Jim!

1 comment on “More memories of York County’s roller-skating rinks

  1. I lived at Playland with my parents, Jack and Terry Williams. This was around end of 1944 to possibly 1948 or 1950? There was an apartment that was part of the rink, walled off with frosted windows. We lived there for a couple years. As a young baby, a hockey puck slammed through one of the windows and sailed over my head as my mother held me. That is a story my mother told me at least. Dad was involved in roller hockey. Mom taught skating lessons and sewed skating outfits. They both competed some in pairs skating. I think we lived there until I was six. I was on skates at the age of two! Mom has pictures in albums of Playland. I have very vague memories. I think the owner had two boys that were older than me. I remember them vaguely as they were not nice to me. I picked a hollyhock growing wild for my mother and fell on a nail. I remember that pretty well as it was traumatic at that young age. My mother has passed in 2013 and dad passed away in 2020 at age 96! I was the oldest of seven children they had.

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