Celebrate the Christmas Season at Storybook Lane!
For generations, residents of New Philadelphia and the surrounding communities have been building Christmas memories with a visit to Storybook Lane at Tuscora Park.  Since it began as am East High Ave. neighborhood project in 1956, Storybook Lane has been a “must see” for children, parents, and grandparents alike.  It will remain open thru early January, so swing by between 3:30 and 11 pm to see Jack and Jill, Little Miss Muffett and all the rest!


 Storybook Lane originated in 1955 when Victor E. Marsh, a New Philadelphia businessman, envisioned a Christmas display to thrill and delight children of his neighborhood and of the city.  He was inspired by the  colorful animated displays in the windows of department stores. 

Joined in the effort by his other East High Avenue neighbors, Mr. Marsh organized the design of the nursery rhyme characters, cut from 1/4 inch Masonite material produced in the local plant founded by Mr. Marsh’s family.  The original artist for the project was William “Goose” Kniesner, formerly associated with Walt Disney Studios.  The work was done in the evenings in Herb Bischel’s old barn behind his East High Avenue home.  With Mr. Marsh supervising work on the project, Mrs. Marsh provided late-night snacks to the neighborhood workers.

Just before Christmas 1956, the 21 original colorful characters were illuminated with flood lights in the front yards of the stately homes along four blocks of the East High Avenue neighborhood.  The display was aptly named, “Storybook Lane”.

 During that first Christmas season, cars were bumper to bumper along Storybook Lane as an estimated 200,000 people viewed the lighted displays, many with moving characters and lively animations.  In the following years, four more nursery rhyme characters joined “Old Mother Hubbard”, “Tom Tom the Piper’s Son”, “The Three Little Pigs”, “Little Miss Muffet”.

From 1956 through the early 1970’s, Mr. Marsh and his neighbors displayed Storybook Lane each Christmas season.  Due to the traffic congestion caused by slow moving traffic, Storybook Lane was moved to New Philadelphia’s Tuscora Park.  City employees assumed responsibility to display and store the characters which continued to attract thousands of cars to the lighted display each year.

The Challenge to the Rotary Club

The late Ellie Kirk, the daughter of Vic Marsh, visited the New Philadelphia Rotary Club where her husband, the late Brenton Kirk was a fifty year member.  She asked the Rotarians to consider adopting Storybook Lane for the purpose of restoring the display to its original glory and preserving it for generations to come. 

She didn’t have to ask twice!

Late in 2001, Rotarian Kent Watson agreed to co-chair the project and immediately recruited another Rotarian, the late Dick Stewart to assist him.  Assessment of the nearly 50-year-old characters found many of them to be in poor condition.  Some were broken or had missing pieces, the original paint had faded, the wood was scratched, filled with holes, or poorly repaired over the years.  Overall, 22 of the original 27 nursery rhyme characters still existed and they all needed work ranging from cosmetic touchup to complete restoration.  All new lighting was also required.

In addition to restoring the Storybook Lane displays, Ellie Kirk suggested adding the text of each nursery rhyme to the displays to help children (and their parents) learn the stories that go with the colorful scenes.  Not only was this going to be a major undertaking for the Rotary Club, requiring the hard work of the members, but also require considerable funding to purchase new materials, paint, wiring and fixtures.

It actually became a community project with businesses, organizations, and individuals agreeing to help defray the costs with donations of money.  The Marlite Company donated needed wood materials, Sherwin-Williams donated the paint, and several other local businesses agreed to assist with materials and supplies at cost. 

Are We Having Fun Yet?

The figures were moved to Dick Stewart’s large garage where the work could take place.  Each of the figures was dismantled for cleaning.  Holes were filled with epoxy and sanded.  In “Hey Diddle Diddle”, the cow was missing its tail, one of its ears, and one of its hooves.  A new ocean wave was built to float “Three Men in a Tub” and a new spider and web was made for “Little Miss Muffet”.  Some nursery rhyme characters were missing entirely and were recreated from old photographs.  New motors and moving parts were added to the animated figures. 

Celuch Creative Imaging in New Philadelphia assisted in the project by developing the large storyboards for each display presenting the words to the nursery rhymes. 

Vital to the project was the restoration of the brightly painted characters.  Mark Watson, brother of Kent Watson, was recruited as the project’s artist to paint the repaired and rebuilt sections of the nursery rhyme characters.

The restoration work continued through the summer and fall months of 2002.  Evening and weekend work sessions increased in frequency as the Christmas season approached.  As her mother had in 1955, Ellie Kirk supported the workers with cookies and refreshments.

Finally, after hundreds of hours of labor and thousands of dollars in materials and in-kind donations, Storybook Lane was ready for its debut. 

Storybook Lane is Unveiled

Saturday, December 14th, was moving day.  The Rotary Club members arrived at Dick Stewart’s garage in the morning, along with an armada of trucks and trailers to transport “Hickory Dickery Dock” and the rest to Tuscora Park.  Each character and accessory piece was carefully loaded, along with the storyboards and lighting fixtures. 

Rotarians worked for the rest of that day to place the 23 displays along Lake Street at Tuscora Park.  Dick Stewart had worked out a diagram of where each figure was to be placed along Storybook Lane route in the same order they originally appeared along East High Ave.  The lighting fixtures were ingeniously designed to connect one display to the next and the moving parts were connected to the electric motors.  By late afternoon it was time to flip the switch and see it all in action.

Much to everybody’s delight, “Humpty Dumpty” began his great fall,

“Jack Be Nimble” leaped over the candle stick, and after some last minute adjustments, the mouse ran up the “Hickory, Dickery, Dock” clock.  Even the cow was jumping over the moon as expected in “Hey Diddle Diddle”.

Rebirth of a Christmas Tradition

The paint was hardly dry on “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater” before a new generation of children and families began to enjoy Storybook Lane that evening.  Since then hundreds of cars with thousands of people will make the slow drive through the Park each day, reciting the poems and enjoying the moving characters just as they did back in 1956.

During the month-long Christmas season, Storybook Lane will be visited by thousands of vehicles, some filled with young families, others with older couples remembering how they were thrilled with the original display decades before.  Many people return to Storybook Lane night after night.


Storybook Lane in the Future

The New Philadelphia Rotary Club, with the blessing of the Marsh family, is committed to the long-term preservation and display of Storybook Lane.  Back in 2002 the Club invested approximately $7,000 in materials to rebuild and restore the 63 pieces of the displays, replaced the lighting, and produced the 23 storyboards.  Since then the displays have required the occasional replacement of damaged pieces, lighting fixtures, and electrical motors.  This on-going investment by the Rotary Club has surpassed $50,000.

RTY, Inc. provided funding for a storage building at the Park where Storybook Lane is safely housed when it’s not on display.  The staff of Tuscora Park provides great support for the project by moving the display in and out of storage, setting up the display according to Dick Stewart’s original blueprint.


To raise money to maintain Storybook Lane, the Rotary Club recognizes Sponsors on one of the Verse Boards.  Friends are recognized on one of several Friends Boards.  For more information about becoming a Sponsor or Friend of Storybook Lane, call Tom Police at 330-204-6093.