In childhood, my grandmother always loved to visit what we then called “the Rock Garden” when all the flowers were in bloom in spring. She loved the cascades of the yellow basket-of-gold flowers, purple creeping flox and the white flowers of the yucca plants they somehow managed to grow.
Most of the time, drivers probably give little thought to this rock retaining wall on West Drive between the south end of West Glacier Drive, and the Birch Hill Cabin and Lily Pond areas. That is too bad, because the Wall Garden, as it is formally called was part of one of the major construction projects in the development of Mill Creek Park.
In the early years of the park, created in 1891, most of the roads were little more than dirt roads along Mill Creek or Bear Creek, which flowed into Mill Creek from the west. There was one such road, called the Old Hamilton Road along Bear Creek at the base of the steep hill where the two creeks met. Atop of the hill was a dirt road for many years called One Way Drive (now One Way Trail, one I hiked as a kid). The road ran from McCollum Road above the Lily Pond, atop the hill and came out by the foreman’s house on West Glacier Drive.
After Lake Glacier was created, William Henry Manning, the consulting architect for Mill Creek Park, decided in 1921 to cut through part of the big hill above Bear Creek and create West Drive, connecting up with Birch Hill Cabin, the Lily Pond, and the Bears Den area further west. The project was known as “the Big Cut,” and to prevent soil and rock slides, or a collapse of part of the One Way Drive atop the hill, stone was quarried from Bears Den to serve as a retaining wall for the area below “Lookout Point” which overlooks the Lily Pond and Birch Hill area.
The Wall Garden was begun in 1925 and completed in 1927. Altogether, it is 552 feet long and 54 feet high and was planted with plants that could grow in the soil and crevices between the rocks. What may have been a necessity from an engineering point of view was turned into another facet of the beauty that is Mill Creek Park that has endured for nearly a century.
John C. Melnick, M.D., The Green Cathedral (Youngstown: Youngstown Lithographing, 1976), pp. 117-120.
Carol Potter and Rick Shale, Historic Mill Creek Park (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Press, 2005), p. 81.