Teapot, banana split share story

CHESTER – No matter where Joseph A. Comm lives, he can’t seem to get away from the “World’s Largest Teapot” of his hometown.

The Chester native and author of a history of Rock Springs Park said he recently stumbled upon the origins of the novel red-and-white landmark that sits where the amusement park used to be.

Comm, 49, who now lives in Latrobe, Pa., said he was doing research for a new book when he came across a photo of the “World’s Largest Teapot” in an unlikely place – a file full of historical information on David Strickler, widely recognized as the inventor of the banana split.

Comm said it took him awhile to figure out why a photo of the Chester teapot was in a historical society folder in Latrobe, Pa., but he thinks he has solved the mystery.

The teapot, which sits at the junction of Carolina Avenue and U.S. Route 30, started out as an advertising barrel for Hires Root Beer in the early 1900s, according to the city of Chester’s website.

Strickler, a pharmacist in Latrobe, bought the barrel and developed it into a miniature clubhouse for a miniature golf course. “He was kind of a renaissance man,” Comm said. “He used this barrel to sell root beer and hot dogs out of. He must have purchased it from Hires, who used it for roadside advertising.”

Strickler cut windows and doors out of the barrel and used it as a concession stand through the 1920s, including, for a time, on his own property, Comm said. With the onset of the Depression and a downturn in business, Strickler sold the barrel to Chester businessman William “Babe” Devon.

Devon is credited with adding teapot accoutrements to the structure and setting it up on Carolina Avenue for the sale of locally-made pottery, hot dogs and souvenirs, and as a Lincoln Highway roadside attraction, Comm said. The teapot was used for that purpose through the 1970s but fell into disrepair when the store went out of business.

Chester residents rallied to save the structure and relocate it, making necessary renovations and repairs in 1990, 2007 and 2011, and moving it to a piece of land where Rock Springs Park used to be.

Comm, a 1982 graduate of Oak Glen High School, said he learned about the teapot while he was doing the research for his book “Rock Springs Park” (Arcadia Publishing, 2010). “It was mentioned in the book because it sits on park property,” he said. “I knew it came from Pennsylvania, but I never knew who it came from or that it had a connection with the banana split.”

Comm is writing a new book for Arcadia Publishing on notable locals from Latrobe, including Strickler. The pharmacist, credited for inventing the banana split in 1904, will be honored this coming weekend with his own historical marker and a dedication ceremony during the Great American Banana Split Celebration in Latrobe.

A ukulele player, Comm said his “Banana Split Song” is in contention to become the official banana split jingle for the festival after being named one of the top 10 finalists. Comm, who performs the song tonight, said he was surprised by the teapot’s long, twisted history.

“That kind of floored me. I had done the Rock Springs Park book, and here I am working on a totally different subject, and, all of a sudden, here’s the teapot again in a local file,” he said.