Nobody could have predicted the disaster that awaited Willow Mill Park in Silver Spring Township.

It was June 5, 1971, and the Musselman Division of Pet Inc. was having its 25th annual picnic at the getaway along the Conodoguinet Creek.

About 1,100 employees and their family members gathered for an afternoon of fun that included a softball game, an archery contest, barbecue chicken, miniature golf and free amusement park rides.

Just over a year later, in late June 1972, the crowd swell was replaced by floodwater from Hurricane Agnes that destroyed about 80 percent of the attractions including a merry-go-around.

Park owners purchased the carousel during the Depression along with a plane ride and kiddie versions of cars, fire engines and airplanes. Other rides that dotted the park were a roller coaster, bumper cars and a giant slide.

The park was rebuilt and reopened for the 1973 season, but it closed in the late 1980s due to declining attendance and the rising cost of liability insurance. The township purchased the land in early 1995 and has converted it into a public park.

Over the decades, The Sentinel has published stories on the history of Willow Mill Park, which started out as a popular venue for picnics prior to the turn of the 20th century. By the 1920s, the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant was being held there, and it was a spot for swimming in the creek and for roller skating.

At one point, Willow Mill was even advertised as a retreat where one could follow the teachings of Dr. Clymer, a physician and psychoanalyst. That philosophy called for the building of stately souls, mighty minds and beautiful bodies. Pregnant women were encouraged to come and have their babies in the park in a calm and beautiful setting.

Tour Through Time runs every Saturday in The Sentinel print edition. Reporter Joseph Cress will work with the Cumberland County Historical Society each week to look at the county through the years. Send any questions, future ideas or tips to jcress@cumberlink.com.

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