Just off of South Eberhart Road in Butler Township is an eighty-eight acre English garden, unchanged since 1959: Preston Park. The park was originally created, cultivated, and finally given to Butler by Frank and Jane Preston, a couple who left behind a beautiful public park and a legacy of technological innovation and environmental conservation.
Frank Preston, born in England in 1896, came to the United States in 1920 to work in the glass industry as a scientist and researcher. During his career, he pioneered technologies that tested glass durability and quality. These techniques are still in use today. His wife Jane, an American, was a large part of his work as a conservationist.
In 1936, Frank Preston made the decision to start his own company, Preston Laboratories. He purchased the original sixty-six acres of land in Meridian in 1936. Prior to purchase the area consisted of only small farms and woods. His goal was always to make the area as scenic as possible. The original buildings on the property were used as a research lab, a chemistry lab, a physics lab, a machine shop, and an admin building, among others. Above the main laboratory building was a small apartment occupied by a caretaker. The first caretaker, Hayes Perkins, designed the layout for the original landscape of Preston, including planting trees in geometric shapes. After Perkins passed away, the Prestons moved into the apartment and resided there until their death. Preston Laboratories was a small operation, employing fifty to seventy-five employees, but successful. In 1959, Frank Preston sold his business to American Glass Research, a company founded by two former employees of Preston Labs. The company still claims the creation of Preston Laboratories as their founding date, and has offices in Butler and Ohio. Preston Laboratories officially shut down in 1959. Frank Preston continued consulting in the glass industry, and changed the sign on his gate to “Meridian Research Center.” After his retirement Frank wanted to build a large estate, but Jane wouldn’t have it. The only evidence of this abandoned project is the wrought iron gate that stands just off of South Eberhart Road, before the entrance to the park.
Frank and Jane Preston had always been nature-oriented people. Jane was a proponent of vegetarianism, gardening, and alternative medicine. In his retirement, Frank became an avid researcher of ornithology, ecology and geology, and he had several papers published in academic journals. Preston’s largest effort in conservation was most certainly the creation of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. The WPC was founded with other prominent conservationists in the area. Their work led to the creation of Lake Arthur and Moraine State Park, McConnell’s Mill State park, and Jennings Environmental Education center. Today, Jennings and Preston Park are the locations of the only prairie grass in Pennsylvania.
Preston Park is mostly unchanged from how it was as Preston Laboratories. The south side of the park is home to the Arboretum, the location of forty different species of North American Spruce. All around the property are different types of trees and even some orchards that have been cultivated in lines, stars, and other geometric patterns.
Today Preston Park has also become a major part of Butler’s community. Much of the grounds are maintained or have been renovated by volunteers, who in 2013 put in more than three thousand work hours. Other organizations worked to install trail signs, establish a butterfly habitat, and clear out invading Japanese Barberry. Jane Preston’s will dictated to the Board of Advisors that structures can be replaced or new ones installed. However, no plans have been revealed to change any of the landmarks significantly. In 2013, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Preston Park started as part of Butler’s history in industry and research, crafting innovations used around the world. Today, the Park is a living monument to the Prestons’ endeavor to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of Butler County.