From 1946 to 1965, there was an outside music park at the Licking and Muskingum County border about eleven miles east of Newark called Hillbilly Park. It was nothing more than a wooden stage set up in the woods with wooden benches on tree stumps for seating. There was a concession stand and an open field area where tractor and horse pulls were held. Country and western singers and musicians came from all around the country to perform there on weekends, including Red Foley, Grandpa Jones, Bill Monroe, Faron Young, Tex Ritter, Flatt and Scruggs, Charlie Parker, Hank Williams, Jr., Homer and Jethro, Brenda Lee, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash with June Carter.
One of Newark’s favorite sons, Carson Wayne Newton, lived in Newark with his family for a total of about 18 months on two occasions. In between, the family moved to Arizona due to young Wayne’s problem with asthma. While here, though, he and his brother, Jerry, sang at Hillbilly Park under the name, the Newton Rascals. Wayne was only about nine or ten years old at the time, but their performances are still etched into the memories of many local folks.
Hillbilly Park began with a dog act. Mildred (Millie) and Edgar (Eddie) Ruton had a traveling dog act that performed across the country and was even on the Ed Sullivan show. They decided to expand upon that by opening their music park. When Eddie died in 1957, Millie kept it going until the end of the summer season in 1965. The new State Route 16 was built right through the property, making it difficult to continue.
Today, there is nothing left of the park, and it remains a wooded area on private property. A tunnel under the railroad on a grassy lane in a field off County Road 585 can still be seen, which was formerly the entrance into the park.