Miniature Golf Comes to Downingtown
Miniature golf was one of a number of American fads to pop up in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In August 1930 it was estimated that there were 25,000 mini golf courses in America, 15,000 of which had been constructed since January of that year! Downingtown certainly saw its share. There were at least five miniature golf courses that we know of in the Downingtown area that opened in 1930 alone. But as quickly as the craze started it ended. As a result of the Great Depression and from an oversaturation of courses, none of the Downingtown courses likely lasted more than a year or two. Following are descriptions of the four Downingtown courses. All are showing advertisements placed in the Downingtown Archive in 1930, and four have a current picture of the site.
1. The “Little Bill” miniature golf course was located on a vacant lot on Church Street in the Johnsontown section of Downingtown. Frank McGraw, who lived in a large house nearby, was the proprietor. McGraw also owned a coal yard near the train station. Seen below is 237 Church Street where the course was located. In the image on the left you can barely see two homes on the south side of Church Street which still stand today. It is unclear where the name “Little Bill” came from.
2. Two of the five Downingtown courses were built in heated auto repair garages including the W. N. Howe garage at 114 Washington Avenue in the center of Downingtown. It is unknown if the garage was vacant at the time when it was converted to a course, or if the owner thought mini-golf was more profitable than fixing cars. Either way, the garage had the advantage of offering play year round. It was converted back to an auto repair facility after the golf course craze ended and is still in that use today.
3. The other indoor course in Downingtown was located in a long, narrow garage next to the Minquas Fire Company on East Lancaster Avenue. The garage was used by the Downingtown Motor Company which had sold Buick, Lozier, and Nash automobiles. Like the Howe garage, it is unclear if the building was still being used to store or repair cars at the time. The Downingtown Motor Company continued to sell cars at the location into the 1930s. Usher Motors, an Oldsmobile dealership, later occupied the building.
4. One of the Downingtown courses was a patented design under the “Tom Thumb Golf” trade name (the first Tom Thumb course was built by Garnet Carter in Lookout Mountain, TN in 1927). It was located on Brandywine Avenue behind the old Swan Hotel, and just a (literal) stone’s throw from the course located in the Howe garage on Washington Avenue. In the photograph on the right, the Downingtown National Bank building is partly visible in the upper right.
5. The Bo-Green miniature golf course was
located on the Lincoln Highway just east of the Ashbridge House by what is now the current main entrance to the Ashbridge Square shopping center. It was about a mile west of the center of Downingtown. Of the courses built during this time, it lasted the longest, as it catered to travelers on the Lincoln Highway rather than just local Downingtown residents.