by Peggy Mazyck
Thousands of Mercer County, PA area residents and visitors flock to Buhl Farm Park each Labor Day to enjoy Buhl Day festivities. The day includes a 5k run, parade, food booth, live performances, art and photography shows, a mermaid exhibition, car show, children games and activities, and much more. This year will also feature the Buhl Half Marathon. Runners will cover the first 2.5 miles within the Park’s 300-acre border. From the park, they will make their way through residential neighborhoods, cross the Shenango River via the Shenango Dam, then back into Buhl Farm Park.
Buhl Farm Park is the legacy of Frank and Julia Buhl. Frank grew up in high society circles of Michigan during the Industrial Revolution. His father and uncle both served as mayors of Detroit. So what makes a man like this leave the comforts of home? Love – and an opportunity to build an industrial empire and a lasting legacy in a community he learned to call home.
Frank’s father was an inventor in a burgeoning steel mill in Sharon, Pennsylvania. After Frank graduated from Yale University, his father sent him to Sharon on a “temporary” work assignment to learn this new industry. While working in Sharon, he met and fell in love with Julia Forker, a native of Mercer County. Although Frank had every desire to return to his family’s fame and fortune in Detroit, Julia refused to leave her beloved “hills of Sharon.” Frank conceded, so they stayed, and he built an empire (and a castle) for his lovely bride.
Frank’s Sharon Steel Company became Mercer County’s number one employer for 100 years. Frank eventually sold to JP Morgan’s “Trust” and used the money to pursue land development, creating the towns of Buhl, Idaho; Buhl, Minnesota; and Buhl, Alabama. Although a shrewd businessman, he was a world-class philanthropist, donating acreage and buildings back to communities that bear his name. Frank was the first American to invest in the Philippines after the Spanish American war. At his death, he willed $2 million to France and Belgium to rebuild after the First World War.
However, nowhere was the philanthropy of the Buhls more appreciated than in Mercer County, PA. Locally, their generosity included F.H. Buhl Club (then an athletic club for men and boys, now co-ed), Julia Buhl’s Club for Girls, Buhl Library, Buhl Armory (host to USO events during World Wars), Christian H. Buhl Hospital (predecessor to Sharon Regional Hospital), St. John’s Episcopal Church, Oakwood Cemetery, and most notably, Buhl Farm Park.
Today, Buhl Farm Park in Mercer County, PA showcases the Buhl Timblin Casino which underwent a multi-million dollar renovation in 2010. The park features the Julia F. Buhl Memorial garden, a performing Arts Center (host to free summertime outdoor concerts), fishing, picnic shelters, playgrounds, a swimming pool, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, fitness trail, gazebo, kite field, disc golf and most notably, thanks to the endowment of the Buhls, still the only free nine-hole golf course in the world.