6 Early Amusement Parks

6 Early Amusement Parks


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1. Steeplechase Park

Opened in 1897 by entrepreneur George C. Tilyou, Steeplechase Park was the first of three major amusement parks that put New York’s Coney Island on the map. The park took its name from its signature attraction, a 1,100-foot steel track where patrons could race one another on mechanical horses, but it also included a Ferris Wheel, a space-inspired ride called “Trip to the Moon” and a miniature railroad. While Tilyou intended Steeplechase to be the family-friendly antidote to Coney Island’s seamier side, some rides still ventured into territory that was risqué by Victorian standards. Attractions like the “Whichaway” and the “Human Pool Table” tossed strangers against one another and gave couples an excuse to canoodle, and the wildly popular Blowhole Theater allowed spectators to watch as air vents blew up unsuspecting female guests’ skirts. As the ladies struggled to cover themselves, a clown would shock their male counterparts with a cattle prod. Fire destroyed much of Tilyou’s park in 1907, but he responded by building a more elaborate Steeplechase that remained in operation until the 1960s. Ever the showman, he even charged ten cents for visitors to view the charred ruins of the original park.

2. Vauxhall Gardens

For much of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the famed Vauxhall Gardens offered Londoners a much-needed respite from the grime and sprawl of the big city. Nestled on the south bank of the River Thames, this verdant pleasure garden consisted of several acres of trees and flowers, footpaths, and pavilions lit by thousands of shimmering gas lamps. For the price of one shilling, visitors could stroll through Vauxhall’s lush groves, admire paintings and sculptures and take in music performed by the site’s house orchestra. The Gardens also offered more unusual diversions including a miniature diorama of a village mill and a resident hermit who told fortunes. By the 1820s, Vauxhall had begun to abandon high culture and refinement in favor of dancing and other more mainstream entertainments and soon patrons could take in fireworks displays, ballooning exhibitions and sideshow acts such as sword swallowers and tightrope walkers. Before shuttering Vauxhall’s gates for good in 1859, the owners even used pyrotechnics and troupes of actors to stage large-scale reenactments of Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, Roman chariot races and a crusader attack on the city of Acre.

3. Dreamland

Coney Island’s Dreamland only operated for seven years between 1904 and 1911, but during that time it established itself as one of the most ambitious amusement parks ever constructed. The brainchild of a former senator named William H. Reynolds, the site included a labyrinth of unusual rides and attractions lit by an astounding one million electric light bulbs. Visitors to Dreamland could charter a gondola through a recreation of the canals of Venice, brave gusts of refrigerated air during a train ride through the mountains of Switzerland or relax at a Japanese teahouse. They could also watch a twice-daily disaster spectacle where scores of actors fought a fire at a mock six-story tenement building, or pay a visit to Lilliputia, a pint-sized European village where some 300 little people lived full time. Dreamland featured everything from freak shows and wild animals to imported Somali warriors and Eskimos, but perhaps its most unusual offering was an exhibit where visitors could observe premature babies being kept alive using incubators, which were then still a new and untested technology. The infants proved a huge hit, but they and many other attractions had to be evacuated in May 1911, when a fire—ironically triggered at a ride called the Hell Gate—leveled the property and shut Dreamland down for good.

4. Saltair

First opened in 1893, Saltair was a desert oasis situated on the south shore of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. The Mormon Church originally commissioned the site in the hope of creating a wholesome “Coney Island of the West” without the perceived sleaziness of the New York original. Their family-friendly park proved an instant hit, as scores of visitors arrived by train from nearby Salt Lake City to enjoy music, dancing and bathing in the lake’s saline-rich waters. Saltair’s most striking attraction was its gargantuan pavilion, a four-story wonder adorned with domes and minarets that sat above the lake on more than 2,000 wood pilings. Along with touring this “Pleasure Palace on Stilts,” visitors could also show off their moves on a sprawling dance floor, ride roller coasters and carousels, and watch fireworks displays and hot air balloon shows. The park boasted nearly half a million visitors a year until 1925, when the iconic centerpiece burned in a fire. A rebuilt Saltair opened soon after, but it failed to capture the magic—or the revenues—of the original. The park closed its doors for good in 1958, and its abandoned pavilion was later destroyed in a second fire in 1970.

5. Tivoli Gardens

Denmark’s Tivoli Gardens first opened in 1843, when showman Georg Carstensen persuaded King Christian VIII to let him build a pleasure garden outside the walls of Copenhagen. Originally constructed on around 20 acres of land, Carstensen’s creation featured a series of oriental-inspired buildings, a lake fashioned from part of the old city moat, flower gardens and bandstands lit by colored gas lamps. The park quickly became a Copenhagen institution, and won fame for its “Tivoli Boys Guard,” a collection of uniformed adolescents who paraded around the premises playing music for visitors. Tivoli later added an iconic pantomime theater in 1878, and by the early 1900s it featured more traditional amusement park fare including a wooden roller coaster called the Bjergbanen, or “Mountain Coaster,” as well as bumper cars and carousels. Tivoli Gardens was nearly burned to the ground by Nazi sympathizers during World War II, but the park reopened after only a few weeks and remains in operation to this day.

6. Luna Park

Founded in 1903 by theme park impresarios Fred Thompson and Skip Dundy, Coney Island’s Luna Park consisted of a gaudy cluster of domed buildings and towers illuminated by an eye-popping 250,000 light bulbs. The park specialized in high concept rides that transported visitors to everywhere from 20,000 leagues under the sea to the North Pole and even the surface of the moon. A trip to Luna could also serve as a stand in for world travel. After a ride on an elephant, patrons could stroll a simulated “Streets of Delhi” populated by dancing girls and costumed performers—many of them actually shipped in from India—or take a tour through mock versions of Italy, Japan and Ireland. If they grew tired of walking, visitors could relax in grandstands and watch the “War of the Worlds,” a miniature, pyrotechnic-heavy sea battle in which the American Navy decimated an invading European armada. The park’s owners also cashed in on the popularity of disaster rides by staging recreations of the destruction of Pompeii and the Galveston flood of 1900. The carnage reenacted in these attractions became all too real in 1944, when Luna fell victim to a three-alarm fire that began in one of its bathrooms. The original site closed for good a few years after the blaze, but the iconic name “Luna Park” is still used by dozens of amusement parks around the globe.


AMUSEMENT PARKS

Antlers Park was in Lakeville, built by Marion Savage to provide customers for his Dan Patch Railroad. See much more by clicking on the link.

1925 photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

lasted from 1906 to 1911. This 65-acre park was situated on the heavily wooded Big Island on Lake Minnetonka. It was purchased in 1905 and operated by the Minneapolis and Suburban Railroad Co., a subsidiary of the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Co. (TCRT). Park-goers would take the new electric streetcar, which ran just south of St. Louis Park on 44th Street, to the Excelsior Dock, where passengers could take one of 9 streetcar boats (named Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnetonka, Como, Minnehaha, White Bear, Hopkins, Harriet and Stillwater) to the park. The official opening was on August 5, 1906 [1907]. The boats operated until 1926.

Patrons were met with such amusements as the “Happy Hooligan Slide,” a “Figure-8 Toboggan,” and a miniature train. The park featured a large music casino, a large roller coaster, the Old Mill, the Scenic Ride to Yellowstone, and a carousel. The buildings has a Spanish mission theme. A 200 ft. tower dominated the park.

The price was only 25 cents, including the streetcar ride, and it became clear that it was not a profitable operation, especially after the TCRT also bought the Tonka Bay Hotel. Both the park and the hotel closed at the end of the 1911 season. After sitting abandoned for a few years, the park was disassembled in 1918, its iron going to scrap iron for the (WWI) war effort. Some remaining buildings, including a mess hall, became part of a Veteran’s Camp starting in the early 20’s. The streetcar boats were discontinued in July of 1926. In 1924, Excelsior Amusement Park was built at the site of the waiting station for the streetcar boats. Streetcar boats were revived in 1996.

Excelsior Amusement Park

This, the site of many a school picnic and provider of Free Rides for Good Grades, opened on May 30, 1925 with a crowd of 20,000. The property was owned by the streetcar company to create traffic for its routes, especially on weekends. The company contracted with Fred W. Pearce, Sr., of Detroit to operate the park. During his career Pearce built 26 complete amusement parks and 30 roller coasters. Pearce soon purchased the park, and hired his cousin Bill Clapp as general manager. He also hired friend Joe Colihan as superintendant.

Image courtesy Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society

The streetcar ran from Minneapolis down 44th Street in Edina just south of St. Louis Park to the park until 1932, when it was replaced by a bus from Hopkins.

In 1933 you could see Capt. Jack Payne leap backward from a 100-foot ladder into a tank of blazing fire – THRILLING – DARING – DEATH DEFYING! You could also see Smith’s diving ponies leap from a tower 55 feet into a shallow tank of water. Other attractions were Fred Reckless on a swaying pole in 1932, and Prince Nelson, who walked the tightrope 80 feet above the ground without a net in 1931.

July 6, 1933, Hennepin County Review

Excelsior Park Roller Coaster and Fun House, 1930s

One of the biggest attractions was the wooden rollercoaster, first called the “Mountain Ride,” then the “Cyclone.” (Folks in Excelsior just called it the Roller Coaster.) It was designed by John A. Miller and completed in April 1925. Pearce built the coaster on what had been swamp land. At a height of 65 feet it was called the highest roller coaster in the Northwest. (A higher one was built in Detroit, at 110 ft., but it was dismantled in the 1920s.) The coaster at Excelsior was 3,000 ft. long. While Pearce claimed he built the world’s first large roller coasters, he credits the invention of the device to the Russians. One memoir says that in August 1928 a cyclone hit the park and blew the coaster apart, strewing parts onto the highway. It took ten carpenters, six laborers, and three electricians to put it back together again. When the park closed it was torn down in the winter of 1974.

The other favorite attraction was the merry-go-round, made of handcarved wood by Italian craftsmen. Fortunately, the carousel was saved and sold to Valleyfair, which opened on May 25, 1976. The horses were restored by Ray Bahmer of Hopkins during the winter of 1974-75. The building where the carousel was housed was sold to a farm near Victoria, Minnesota, where they reassembled it for a show ring for real horses.

For many years in the 1940s and 󈧶s the Miss Minnesota (Miss Universe) pageant was held at the park. Hopkins girl BeBe Shopp was crowned Miss Minnesota in the park in 1948, and went on to become Miss America.

Across the street from Excelsior Park was the Danceland Ballroom. It closed in 1968 and burned to the ground on July 8, 1973.

Still in the Pearce family, the park closed the weekend after Labor Day, 1973. “On July 20, 1974, an odd assortment of body parts –equipment, signs, benches and some rides — that were still salvageable were sold in an auction. The carousel went to the new amusement park, Valley Fair, near Shakopee. The merry-go-round building went to Victoria, Canada, where it served as a horse ring before burning down in 1990. The once-mighty old Cyclone was not even this lucky. It was completely dismantled and destroyed.”

There has been much written about this park, including A Picture Book of the Excelsior Amusement Park.. from Rise to Demise by the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society, 1991.

Queen Anne Kiddieland

This cute little park was on Highway 100 in Bloomington, south of Edina and St. Louis Park. Here’s an article about the park from the Edina Historical Society’s newsletter in May 2011:

During the 1950s and 󈨀s, many Edina children celebrated their birthdays with a party at Queen Anne Kiddieland, a wonderland of ponies, amusement rides and the Rock Island Rocket, a miniature 1/6 scale replica of a real train.

The train was then called the Casey Jones Flyer, in honor of the popular kids’TV host Casey Jones, whose show entertained kids at lunchtime in the Twin Cities. Casey, a railroad engineer character played by actor Roger Awsumb, drove the train around the track every Sunday to the delight of his young fans.

Photo courtesy of the Edina Historical Society

“We were packed most every Sunday,” said Boyd Thomas, who as a high school kid helped his father Frank run the pony rides at the busy amusement park, which offered party rooms and ticket specials for birthday celebrations.

Judy and Jeanne Andersen, @ 1960

The park provided summer entertainment before modern amusement parks like Valleyfair opened. Kiddieland’s rides were smaller, but even teens hung out there to flirt and find dates from other towns.

Visitors recall that Queen Anne Kiddieland seemed to be in the middle of nowhere at the southeast corner of what is now the intersection of Interstates 494 and 100. But then, the land was in “the country.” In fact, the ponies came from Thomas’s 80-acre farm located a few miles away, at 78th Street and France Avenue in Bloomington, where he raised dairy cattle and hay.

By the end of the 1960s, however, the 494 strip transformed, thanks to crowds at the new Metropolitan Stadium, freeway construction and the population boom. An office tower now stands at the Queen Anne Kiddieland site, but those who want to recall their past can still ride on the Rock Island Rocket which is now housed at the Jackson Street Roundhouse in St. Paul.

The park was owned by Tom E. Casey and his wife Anne, whom he referred to as “Queen Anne.” After the land was taken for the highway, the park moved way out to Blaine, truly the middle of nowhere at the time. The Caseys were true entrepreneurs they built the Queen Anne Courts manufactured home community that is still in operation in Lakeville. Casey was also an avid ham radio operator, and once got in trouble with the city for erecting a radio tower at his home on Kipling Ave. Anne Casey retired to Arizona and died in 2011.

Here’s a film from 1965 for those of you on Facebook, courtesy of Jeff Kleinbaum.

Whistle image from the Queen Anne Kiddieland Page of the Lunch With Casey website

Wildwood Park

was on the south shore of White Bear Lake in what is now the City of Mahtomedi, Minnesota. It was there from roughly 1898 to 1938 and was quite a popular place. It was much like Excelsior Amusement Park on Lake Minnetonka. The park was owned by the Twin City Rapid Transit Corp.


The Chutes

Library of Congress

Coney Island's Luna Park opened in 1903. The Chutes (pictured here in 1904) was a water ride popular in parks throughout the U.S., and was a precursor to the log flume rides of today.

The park was almost entirely destroyed by fire during World War II, after which apartment complexes were constructed on the property. A new Luna Park was opened in 2010 on the site of the old Astroland, just south of the original Luna Park.


Silver Beach Amusement Park History Page 1 of 6

Below the high bluffs of downtown St. Joseph, hugging both the Lake Michigan shoreline and the St. Joseph River lies an area where carnival music was once heard, merry-go-round carousel horses galloped in place, a rollercoaster roared and Charleston dancers strutted their stuff.

The Silver Beach Amusement Park that graced the shores of St. Joseph, Michigan from 1891-1971 meant something special to every one of its millions of patrons through the years -- regardless of age. To some the Silver Beach Amusement Park meant an afternoon of carnival rides, snacks, and games of chance and skill. To others it meant a family picnic, a swim in the big lake, or just a moonlight stroll along the boardwalk. Still others saw Silver Beach Amusement Park as a way of life. These were the people who so faithfully worked there, summer after summer, most of them for periods of twenty years or more. The workers needed no union, the management required no leases, and terms of business were generally settled with a friendly handshake. "The whole idea was to have fun," said one St. Joseph resident who worked at the Silver Beach Amusement Park. "Mr. Drake insisted on honesty from all of us, that's all, and we loved working there. He didn't want anyone cheated out of having a good time."

Logan Drake, one of five children from a St. Joseph family, was a man of many talents, and deserves the credit for establishing the 20+ acre park. Born April 22, 1863, Drake began his schooling in Kalamazoo and continued it in Muskegon and St. Joseph. At the age of sixteen, Drake traveled to Chicago, where he and his younger brother Fred operated a confectionary store on 31st Street. A year later the elder Drake returned to St. Joseph where he purchased land from the Pere Marquette Railroad and established a boat livery on the St. Joseph River. Drake also bought 22 acres of sand dunes from local Indians along the St. Joseph River and Lake Michigan. 1 Giving them a year to move off the land, he began building.

Louis D. Wallace, one of thirteen children, was born November 25, 1864 in Chicago, and came to southwestern Michigan at the age of two when his father, John, opened the Wallace Lumber Yard in St. Joseph. 2

Wallace went to work for Drake's boat livery in 1885 and the two became friends. Together they formed Drake and Wallace. The men would later become brothers-in-law when they married the Schlenker sisters, Maude and Laura.

Drake and his bride-to-be, Maude Schlenker, spent part of their courtship walking on the beach. It was she who coined the name "Silver Beach", because the moon path on the water "shimmered like silver".

Their boat construction business would build canoes and rowboats. In their first year of business, the firm of Drake and Wallace reported total profits of $6.50. With the boat business running well, the partners turned their attention to the Lake Michigan beach frontage with the intention of giving tourists more to do in St. Joseph.

Soon after Drake established the Silver Beach Amusement and Realty Company in 1891, Wallace was granted co-ownership. The two built ten cottages along the beach, renting them to vacationers. Eventually, 80 cottages in all were available.

Along with the canoes and rowboats, Drake and Wallace also began building sidepaddler steamers and launches. The first launch was called the "Wolverine" after Michigan's state animal The second was the "Buckeye" the third the "Tourist" and the fourth, launched in 1915 and powered by gasoline, was a 65 footer named the "Milton D." after Drake's son. The launches were open on the sides like trolley cars, and seated 60-100 people, with benches on the sides and down the center. Powered first by steam and then by gasoline engines, the four launches cruised the St. Joseph River every hour on the hour from 1 pm to midnight for 50 cents round trip from 1890 to 1924. 3

People would come by horse and buggy, and spend all day on the riverboats, which would provide scenic tours from St. Joseph to Berrien Springs. The tours reached as far as Mott's Landing and King's Landing, often carrying capacity crowds. Box lunches and souvenirs were made locally by Drake's restaurant and souvenir factory and available at the river docks.

The next step for the infant company was easy. The beach needed something to make it more popular, so the pair invited local concessionaires to sell novelties. These early concessions sold everything from swimming caps to lemonade in a barrel. Soon games of chance sprang up and later an early photographic studio emerged where couples could have their portraits taken. 4

Various structures were hurriedly constructed to house the ever-growing offerings of Silver Beach. By 1896, an ice cream parlor, souvenir shop, and a pavilion were erected . everything from wooden stands to tents saw use on the sands. The Silver Beach Amusement Park was up and running!

The first Silver Beach pavilion was an open-ended hall that hosted dancing and big band music, as well as many other activities. Silver Beach was really starting to take shape.

In addition to these attractions on the beach, there were attractions in the water. Toward the end of the 1800's, a couple of water slides were anchored in shallow water for children. Photographs depict children in full bathing costume -- leggings, bloomers, water wings, shirts and hats as their parents watched from under their umbrellas.

Around the turn of the century, activity on the water was not the only excitement at Silver Beach. Augustus Moore Herring, a St. Joseph resident, manned and flew a primitive airplane over the sand in a historic flight that predated the famous 1903 Wright Brothers flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, by nearly five years. Herring, a graduate mechanical engineer with an interest in manned air flight, built a biplane with a compressed air motor in his home workshop. In mid-October 1898, Herring brought his heavier than air flying machine to Silver Beach, started the motor, and held on. Local newspapers stated that Herring and his machine were airborne for about eight to ten seconds. 5

Silver Beach became the scene of another famous airplane flight in 1913 when Logan A. "Jack" Vilas flew his double-wing open-cockpit airboat from the St. Joseph beach to Chicago, Illinois. It marked the first successful crossing of Lake Michigan by air, and Vilas covered the 62-mile distance in one hour and forty minutes. A remarkable event since airplanes were still considered unsafe contraptions in 1913. 6

During the decade and a half between the famous airborne activities on the beach, the park area was engaged in a massive uplift. Three large wooden buildings and a boardwalk, which survived for over seventy years, were erected. The boardwalk, originally made of wood, was elevated above the sand to allow the lake water to rush underneath. As the beach "grew", sand was filled in but the boardwalk, later replaced with cement, remained. It was common in the early days of the park for courting couples to promenade along the boardwalk at night. 7

Do you have any Silver Beach
Amusement Park photos, movies
or artifacts you'd like to share?

1 Citizen's Historical Association bibliography, No. 2-020 E11 F68 HML/BDK. Found in the Maud Preston Palenske Memorial Library, St. Joseph, Michigan. [ Back ]

2 Benton Harbor News Palladium, July 6, 1945. [ Back ]

3 Interview with Roberta Drake Terrill, February 1976. [ Back ]

4 Interview with Horace "Chief" Terrill, December 1975. [ Back ]

5 Niles Daily Star, November 25, 1967. [ Back ]

6 The South Bend Tribune, March 2, 1975. [ Back ]

7 Interview with Horace "Chief" Terrill, December 1975. [ Back ]

We credit Alan Schultz, Jeff Terrill, John Wenzlaff & Michigan History Magazine for the materials necessary to create this chapter in SW Michigan History.


Theme Park History: Cedar Point - Then and Now

Few visitors take the time to appreciate the remarkable collection of historic structures and features that are found throughout the massive grounds of Cedar Point. While many parks erect modern buildings that mimic historic structures in their design, Cedar Point has maintained many of its most distinguished structures and integrated them into the everyday life of this vibrant amusement park. These beautiful buildings, often standing side-by-side with the most modern and high-tech thrill attractions found anywhere on Earth, are a testament to the quality of the workmanship of their builders and the appreciation that Cedar Point has for its long and distinguished history.

The Grand Pavilion, now the heart of the Cedar Point Convention Center, was constructed in 1888. It was the center of social activities at Cedar Point and contained an auditorium, bowling allies and dining facilities, and was surrounded by open porches and balconies to catch the cool, pleasant breezes off Lake Erie.

This building is probably the least recognizable historic structure in the park, due to its being surrounded by later additions which replaced its balconies and porches. However, if they know what to look for, visitors can identify the distinctive roofline of the original structure rising above the later additions, still standing on its original location near the beautiful sandy beach that was the start of the Cedar Point Resort.

In contrast to the hard-to-identify Grand Pavilion, the Coliseum is by far the most distinctive and well-known structure at Cedar Point. It has stood in the center of the park since 1906, its 14 pointed towers and two domes topped with matching cupolas anchoring the Cedar Point Midway.

Over the 100-plus years it has stood here, the Coliseum has housed restaurants, beer gardens, a skating rink and since the 1960's one of the largest collection of pinball and video games to be found in any amusement park in the world.

On the second floor of the Coliseum is a little-known gem of historic architecture, the Cedar Point Grand Ballroom. In the early years of Cedar Point, dances were a major source of enjoyment for the thousands of visitors that came to the park daily. The Ballroom was one of the largest in the Midwest, and in 1939 was redecorated as one of the finest examples of Art Deco design still in existence.

When I first visited Cedar Point in the mid '60s (OK, I'm showing my age), I thought that the Pagoda Gift Shop was part of the show building for the San Francisco Earthquake dark ride. A Chinese pagoda seemed appropriate as part of the San Francisco/Chinatown design of the ride. Little did I know that this beautiful colorful little piece of China in the middle of an American amusement park was actually one of the oldest structures in the park. It was constructed sometime between 1907 and 1914, and stood near the Coliseum but in a different location than its present site on the Midway. Before its present use as a gift shop, the Pagoda housed a variety of services such as the Cedar Point Post Office and a restroom.

Behind the current location of the Pagoda Gift Shop, next to the Coliseum and surrounded by beautiful trees and flower beds, stands the old Administration Building, the headquarters for Cedar Fair until the new administration building was erected next to it a few years ago. When built in the early 1900's, this two-story wooden structure housed not only the offices for Cedar Point but also an apartment for George Boeckling, the man who converted Cedar Point from a quiet day resort with a beautiful beach into a nationally-renowned summer resort where thousands of people from throughout the Midwest came to relax, enjoy the rapidly-growing number of rides and attractions on the Amusement Circle, and drink and dance the summer nights away.

Rather than demolish this historic but unused building, which sits on a prime piece of valuable real estate in the center of the Midway, Cedar Point decided to convert it into the Eerie Estate, a walk-through haunted mansion and one of the most popular features of HalloWeekends. Thousands of dollars worth of antiques were acquired to recreate the mansion of the late George Boeckling, whose ghost and those of his servants still haunt this structure. Here, too, is found Boeckling's Banquet, where guests can enjoy a wonderful gourmet meal in Mr. Boeckling's dining room while being waited on by his zombie servants.

The Breakers Hotel was not the first hotel built at Cedar Point. That honor goes to the Bay Shore Hotel (1899), a tiny facility soon followed by the fifty-five room White House (1901), which was eventually absorbed by the larger Cedars Hotel (1915), a 270-room hotel which still stands near the Marina and is used as employee housing. None of these facilities, charming and cozy as they were, could compare with the size, beautiful location or comfort of the magnificent structure erected by Mr. Boeckling in 1905 on the Cedar Point Beach.

The original design of the Breakers Hotel contained more than 600 rooms, most of which had lake views, spread over eight acres. The center of the hotel was the Rotunda, a five-story hollow tower lined with balconies that still stands as one of the most beautiful spaces in Cedar Point.

One side of the Rotunda led to the beach, while the other led past elegant meeting rooms and reception rooms to the main lobby. This two-story space, still graced with a grand staircase leading to a surrounding balcony, was hung with chandeliers and decorated with stained glass windows from the New York studios of Louis C. Tiffany. Wicker furniture from Austria, brass beds and oak dressers, and running water in every room -- a rarity in summer hotels of the era -- made a stay at the Breakers worth every penny of the two dollars that an average room cost per night.

The Breakers has seen many changes in the years since it first welcomed guests to Cedar Point. Many of its original wings have been torn down and replaced with more modern hotel rooms. The Tiffany stained-glass windows in the lobby are gone, and the Chinese Writing Room is now a shop selling fine clothing. But the magnificent Rotunda still rises five stories high, with finely-polished wood floors and white wicker furnishings the spacious lobby still has its grand staircase and surrounding balcony and is still lined with excellent restaurants most importantly, the Breakers still stands on the beach at Cedar Point as one of the finest and few remaining resort hotels on the Great Lakes, a valuable reminder of this part of American history that led, via many circuitous routes, to the great entertainment, amusement and theme resorts that now can be found throughout this country.

The oldest structure at Cedar Point is probably the least known among the general public, the Cedar Point Lighthouse. There has been a lighthouse on this location, at the tip of Cedar Point, since 1839, but the sometimes savage winter storms that hit the area caused the original wooden structure to require constant repair, and in 1882 the current stone building was erected to help guide ships into the safe harbor of Sandusky Bay.

Rather than demolishing this solidly-built and historically-significant structure, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Cedar Point decided to restore this unique building and use it as the centerpiece of Lighthouse Point, a collection of cottages and cabins inspired by lakeside villages of the 1800's.

These structures are surrounded by many other historic structures and decorations brought to Cedar Point over the past 100-plus years of its existence: Log cabins from early in Ohio's history line Frontier Trail elegant metal statuary from the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis grace many of the magnificent floral beds found throughout the park historic rides such as the 1912 Midway Carousel and the 1920 Cedar Downs, one of only two racing carousels in America. The Town Hall Museum in Frontier Town is loaded with memorabilia from Cedar Point's past, including models of now-gone attractions, photos of Cedar Point over the last 100 years, and even a complete antique pharmacy.

Cedar Point. It is not just an amusement park. It is not just a thrill park. It is a valuable link to the very beginning of the theme park world that we all love, a historic treasure to explore and experience.


Contents

The enormously successful 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago attracted 26 million visitors and featured a section that is now commonly considered the first amusement park: a midway (the mile-long Midway Plaisance), the world's first Ferris wheel (constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.), a forerunner of the modern roller coaster (Thomas Rankin's Snow and Ice Railway, later moved to Coney Island), [1] lighting and attractions powered by alternating current (Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti had completed the first power plant with AC power in London just the year before), and the debut of several kinds of foods in the United States, including hamburgers, shredded wheat, Cracker Jack, Juicy Fruit chewing gum, and pancakes made using Aunt Jemima pancake mix. The Zoopraxographical Hall was the first commercial theater. [2] Ragtime composed and performed by Scott Joplin exposed millions of people to a new form of music and instantly became a staple for fairs and carnivals. [3]

While the Midway Plaisance became the Exposition's main drawing card, it was not the primary purpose of the World's Fair in the eyes of its founders, who pictured it to be the beginning of a classical renaissance featuring electrically-lit white stucco buildings (collectively known as White City) occupying the main court. While White City gave the park its visual identity, the throngs who attended the Columbian Exposition tended to collect at the Midway Plaisance (and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which set up shop just outside the park grounds after the fair's founders rejected Buffalo Bill Cody's attempt to become an official Columbian Exhibition exhibitor). [1] The World's Fair was destined to be remembered primarily for two ironic visions, that of the crowds at the Midway Plaisance (which essentially was the first modern amusement park with its entertainment, including exhibitions of boxer John L. Sullivan and exotic dancer Little Egypt, its games and its rides) and the architecture of the (far less popular) White City. Much of the Midway Plaisance reappeared in Coney Island's Steeplechase Park by the end of 1897 (but not the Ferris wheel, which had been committed to the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis: a smaller version was built and installed in Paul Boyton's Steeplechase Park instead. along with a sign that stated "On this site will be erected the world's largest Ferris Wheel"). [1]

While Steeplechase Park eventually became one of the earliest embodiments of an amusement park, Chicago had one to replace Midway Plaisance a year after the close of the Columbian Exposition, Paul Boyton's Water Chutes, featuring a shoot-the-chutes ride that wasn't present in the Columbian Exposition, but would soon become a staple of amusement parks to come. [4] Paul Boyton's Water Chutes was the first amusement to charge admission when it opened in 1894 inspired by the immediate success of his Chicago park (500,000 people visiting it in its first year of operation), he moved (and expanded) Water Chutes in 1896, a year after he started the similar Sea Lion Park in Coney Island. [5]

Foretelling a fate similar to most amusement parks that followed, Paul Boyton's Water Chutes went out of business in 1908, [5] in the face of increasing competition, mainly exhibition parks inspired by the Columbian Exposition in Chicago ("White City") and the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo ("Luna Park") and the emergence of trolley parks owned and operated by railroads and electric companies ("Electric Park"). In 1901, Boyton sold Sea Lion Park to Frederic Thompson and Elmer "Skip" Dundy, who operated "A Trip to the Moon" in both Buffalo and Steeplechase Park. Thompson and Dundy quickly redesigned Sea Lion Park and redubbed it Luna Park, which quickly added to the legend of Coney Island. [5]

In the half decade after the end of the Columbian Exposition, the American concept of the amusement park was starting to take hold, with the increased popularity of shoot-the-chutes rides, roller coasters (with roller coaster designer and entrepreneur Frederick Ingersoll providing many parks - many of long standing - with figure 8 roller coasters and scenic railways long before starting his Luna Park chain in 1905) were being erected in a frenetic pace (over a quarter century period, the Ingersoll Construction Company, erected more than eleven roller coasters per year). [1] Railway companies, noticing the popularity of Midway Plaisance of the Columbian Exposition and the lack of railroad ridership on the weekends, constructed trolley parks as an effort to improve their bottom line. Power companies were starting to partner with railroad companies to create electric trolley companies. and construct Electric Parks. [6]

As the end of the 19th century approached, a few exhibition parks - those inspired by the exhibits and midways of either the Columbian Exposition or the (later) Pan-American Exposition - started to appear. Before the end of the year 1900, White City amusement parks were making their appearance in Philadelphia (1898 - it was also known as Chestnut Hill Park) and Cleveland (1900). Soon, some long-established parks changed their names to White City upon the addition of amusement rides and a midway (Seattle, for example). As the American amusement park was increasing in popularity in the first few years of the 1900s, the success of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition (particularly its "Trip to the Moon" ride, featuring "Luna Park") led to the first Luna Park in Coney Island in 1903. and an explosion of nearly identical amusement parks soon followed. There were roughly 250 amusements operating in the United States in 1899 the number almost tripled (700) by 1905 and more than doubled again (to 1500) by 1919 - and these latter figures do not include the amusement parks that were opened and permanently closed by then. [5]

While the White City in Chicago was not the first one of that name, it was certainly one of the most fondly remembered. Within years of its 1905 founding, dozens of White City parks dotted the United States (with Australia and the United Kingdom having namesakes built by the 1910s). Although most White City parks were out of business by the end of the United States involvement in World War I, a few survived into the middle third of the 20th century. The Chicago White City lasted until 1946 the Worcester park survived until 1960. Of the White City amusement parks, only one survives, the last exhibition park still standing: [5] the Denver White City, built and opened in 1908, continues to this day as Lakeside Amusement Park. Although the name was officially changed decades ago, some members of the local populace still refer to Lakeside as "White City."

The following is a list of amusement parks that have had the name White City in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom.


Vintage Cleveland amusement parks (photos)

Riding the carousel at Euclid Beach Park. Dancing in the pavilion at Cedar Point. Screaming on the Big Dipper at Geauga Lake. Taking a ride through the Tunnel of Love with your sweetheart at Luna Park. Testing your will on the Cyclone at Puritas Springs Park.

This is the stuff of lore for generations of Clevelanders. Besides Cedar Point, these parks are long gone. But they live on in our collective memories - and in places like the Cleveland History Center which will soon host a Euclid Beach Day around the restored carousel.

Until then, take a spin through our city's amusement park history with this vintage photo tour.

Laura DeMarco, The Plain Dealer

Vintage Cleveland amusement parks (photos)

Riding the carousel at Euclid Beach Park. Dancing in the pavilion at Cedar Point. Screaming on the Big Dipper at Geauga Lake. Taking a ride through the Tunnel of Love with your sweetheart at Luna Park. Testing your will on the Cyclone at Puritas Springs Park.

This is the stuff of lore for generations of Clevelanders. Besides Cedar Point, these parks are long gone. But they live on in our collective memories - and in places like the Cleveland History Center which will soon host a Euclid Beach Day around the restored carousel.

Until then, take a spin through our city's amusement park history with this vintage photo tour.

Laura DeMarco, The Plain Dealer

Laura DeMarco, The Plain Dealer

"There is no place Clevelanders are more nostalgic for than Euclid Beach Park," historian John Grabowski told The Plain Dealer of Cleveland's legendary urban amusement park that opened in 1901 and was demolished on Sept. 28, 1969. Visitors a who mostly took the streetcar to East 156th Street and Nottingham Road found rides, beaches, "no beer," a dance pavilion and more at the park patterned after Coney Island. Declining attendance, lake pollution and racial tensions led to its 1969 closure. The iconic carved archway is all that remains on the former site, though the Western Reserve Historical Society is currently campaigning to restore the famous carousel. Euclid Beach Park does not inspire only positive memories. Their policy of only allowing African-American guests in on certain days led to protests, especially in 1946. Pictured: The Carousel at Euclid Beach Park had 58 wooden horses and two chariots. (Plain Dealer File Photo)

Laura DeMarco, The Plain Dealer

Euclid Beach Park 1910

Crowds surround the Euclid Beach Carousel in 1910. You can experience the nostalgia of Euclid Beach Park and the Grand Carousel on Saturday, July 23 at the Cleveland History Center's Euclid Beach Day. Activities include: Midway Games, Face Painting, Make & Take Crafts, Lawn Bowling, Hoola Hoop Lessons, as well as unlimited Carousel Rides and more! Bring a few extra bucks for Rocket Car Rides, Hot Dogs, Euclid Beach Vanilla Frozen Custard, and Humphrey's Popcorn Balls. (Special Collections, Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University, Humphrey Family collection)

Laura DeMarco, The Plain Dealer

Puritas Springs Park was opened on the west side above the Rocky River Valley in 1898 on the site of a mineral spring water company. Its most popular ride was the 80- mph Cyclone, which ran from 1928 - 1958 - when it was sold to a devloper. A fire the next year destroyed the remnants of the park. (Special Collections, Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University, Gerald E. Brookins collection)


10 Oldest Amusement Parks in the United States

Although Disneyland and Disneyworld are the most popular amusement parks in the United States and the world, they are certainly not the oldest in the country. In fact, all of the amusement parks on this list have both Disney theme parks beat by decades, and the oldest American amusement park dates back to over a century before Disneyland made its debut in 1955.

While all of the amusement parks on this list are incredibly old and some have had closures, all of them are up and running today. Many of these old American amusement parks also still have some of their original rides. All of these amusement parks are seasonal and typically operate during the summer months through early fall.

10. Conneaut Lake Park

Year Opened: 1892
Location: Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania, USA
Operating Season: May – October
Area: 200 acres (0.81 km²)
Total No. of Attractions: 27
Total No. of Roller Coasters: 3

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Jhardz1

Conneaut Lake Park was opened in 1892 as Exposition Park in Pennsylvania. Although Conneuat Lake Park has been in operation for over 126 years, not much has changed and the park retains much of its 19 th century charm. The first ride at Conneaut Lake Park was opened in 1899 and was a carousel manufactured by the T.M. Harton Company.

A few years later, Conneaut Lake Park added its first roller coaster, “3 Way Figure 8 Toboggan Slide”, which was later renamed “Figure 8.” Like some of the other amusement parks on this list, Conneauat Lake Park went through some low points and was not opened for a few seasons. However, in recent years many of Conneaut Lake Park’s attractions have been updated and the park is still open today.

Did You Know?

Conneaut Lake Park is home to an historic hotel, the Hotel Conneaut, which contains a wing from the original 1893 hotel.

9. Arnolds Park

Year Opened: 1889
Location: Arnolds Park, Iowa, USA
Operating Season: May – September
Area: Unspecified
Total No. of Attractions: 30+
Total No. of Roller Coasters: 1

photo source: Flickr via Martin Lewison

Arnolds Park in a town with the same name in Iowa was established as an amusement park in 1889 when owner Wesley Arnold built a wooden, 60-foot toboggan-style waterslide on the south shore of West Lake Okoboji. The Arnold’s property had been open to large private parties to camp, hunt, and fish since the 1870s. A decade later, Arnold built a hotel and his daughter, Hattie and her friend Ida Lewis, decided to dub the property Arnolds Park and the name stuck.

Following the toboggan waterslide, Arnold added more attractions and continued to build up the park until his death in 1905. Arnold left the park to his daughters who added even more attractions and amusements. Following a brief closure in 1988, Arnolds Park was purchased by a group of investors the following year, who revitalized the park. In 1999, Arnolds Park came very close to once again being shut down, but the park was saved after $7.25 million was raised.

Did You Know?

In addition to traditional amusement park attractions, Arnolds Park has a popular Maritime Museum, which contains rare artifacts and information about the Iowa Great Lakes.

8. Lagoon

Year Opened: July 15, 1886
Location: Farmington, Utah, USA
Operating Season: late March – October
Area: 95 acres (0.38 km²)
Total No. of Attractions: 53
Total No. of Roller Coasters: 10

photo source: Flickr via Ben P L

Lagoon is the oldest amusement park in the western part of the United States and was opened in Farmington, Utah in 1886. The park was originally called Lake Park and was located on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. In 1899, the park was moved to Farmington and renamed Lagoon. That same year, the park’s first thrill ride, Shoot-the-Chutes, was opened.

In 1921 Lagoon opened its first roller coaster, which is still in use today and one of the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters. Lagoon added more attractions over the following decades until a large portion of the park was burned down in 1953. However, Lagoon was quickly rebuilt and expanded with new attractions.

Did You Know?

Lagoon has become known for its unique roller coasters, including its most recent addition, Cannibal, which features a 208 foot (63.4 meters) tower, a 116 degree inverted dive, and reaches speeds up to 70 mph (112.7 km/h).

7. Coney Island

Year Opened: June 21, 1886
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Operating Season: May – October
Area: Unspecified
Total No. of Attractions: 24
Total No. of Roller Coasters: 1

photo source: Flickr via Jeremy Thompson

Not to be confused with the more famous Coney Island in New York, the Coney Island amusement park is the second oldest amusement park in the state of Ohio. Coney Island was opened on June 21, 1886 by the Ohio Grove Corporation and initially had a long name: Ohio Grove, the Coney Island of the West. A year later, the park’s name was (smartly) shortened to just Coney Island.

In 1893, Lake Como was built at Coney Island and new attractions were also added to the park. Roller coasters were first opened at Coney Island in 1911 and a few more were built in the following years. Coney Island was in continuous operation until 1971 and remained closed, except for the Sunlite Pool, until the mid-1970s. Since then, Coney Island has remained opened and has had numerous upgrades over the years.

Did You Know?

Although Coney Island had more roller coasters in the past, today the park only has one, the Python.

6. Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom

Year Opened: 1884
Location: Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA
Operating Season: May – October
Area: 200 acres (0.81 km²)
Total No. of Attractions: 47
Total No. of Roller Coasters: 7

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom was officially opened as an amusement park in 1884, but traces its history much further. Original owner, Solomon Dorney, built a fish hatchery on the property in 1860, but soon realized that his estate would be better off as a public attraction. In the 1870s, Dorney added games, small playground rides, refreshment stands, and even built a hotel and restaurant. Dorney also added a small zoo.

In the following years, Dorney brought in numerous mechanical rides and attractions in 1884, he renamed the park to Dorney’s Trout Ponds and Summer Resort. In 1901, Dorney sold the park and the new owners continued to add more rides and attractions. Today, Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom remains as a popular attraction in the area.

Did You Know?

Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom is home to one of the world’s oldest roller coasters still in operation, Thunderhawk, which was completely refurbished in 2016.

5. Seabreeze Amusement Park

Year Opened: August 5, 1879
Location: Irondequoit, New York, USA
Operating Season: May – September
Area: Unspecified
Total No. of Attractions: 35
Total No. of Roller Coasters: 4

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Like most of the amusement parks on this list, Seabreeze Amusement Park was initially a recreational park where people came to have picnics and enjoy activities on the lake. Not long after, mechanical rides were added to Seabreeze and the park’s first carousel was added to the park in 1900.

In the 1920s, Seabreeze was expanded even more and four roller coasters were opened, including the park’s iconic Jack Rabbit coaster, which is still in operation today. From 1940 until the 1970s, the park’s name was changed to Dreamland, but name was changed back to Seabreeze following a number of slow years. In recent years, Seabreeze has been updated and now has the Whirlwind spinning coaster and Hydro Racer waterslide complex.

Did You Know?

Seabreeze is still run by descendants of the Long family, who took over the park in the early 1900s.

4. Idlewild and Soak Zone

Year Opened: May 1, 1878
Location: Irondequoit, Ligonier, Pennsylvania, USA
Operating Season: May – October
Area: Unspecified
Total No. of Attractions: 40
Total No. of Roller Coasters: 2

photo source: Flickr via Jeremy Thompson

Idlewild and Soak Zone, commonly called just Idlewild, was opened for the first time to the public on May 1, 1878. The land’s owner, William Darlington, granted Judge Thomas Mellon, owner of the Ligonier Valley Railroad, “the right and privilege to occupy his land for picnic purposes or pleasure grounds.” Under the agreement, campgrounds, an artificial lake for boating and fishing, a large hall, and picnic tables were added to Darlington’s property.

Although Idlewild was fairly popular, improvements and more amusements were not added to the park until the 1930s. Many of the attractions added during this time are still at Idlewild today. Idlewild continued to grow over the next few decades and its official name was changed to Idlewild and Soak Zone in the 1990s.

Did You Know?

Idlewild and Soak Zone has received the Golden Ticket Award – the highest honor in the amusement park industry – for Best Children’s Park every year since 2010.

3. Six Flags New England

Year Opened: 1870
Location: Agawam, Massachusetts, USA
Operating Season: April – late December
Area: 235 acres (0.95 km²)
Total No. of Attractions: 63
Total No. of Roller Coasters: 12

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via milst1

Six Flags New England was originally opened as a public park called Gallup’s Grove in 1870 in Agawam, Massachusetts. Since the original park dates back to the 19 th century, Six Flags New England is officially the oldest amusement park under the Six Flags umbrella. The park did not become a Six Flags until 1999 after its owner, Premier Parks, acquired Six Flags from Time Warner a year before.

In the early 1900s, the first rides were added to the park and in 1912 the first roller coaster, The Giant Dip, was opened. After this, the park changed its name to the Riverside Amusement Park, which remained until it was converted into a Six Flags. While Six Flags New England is one of the oldest American amusement park, it hasn’t always been in operation and was closed for a few years in the 1930s following the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Did You Know?

The Illions Carousel, which was installed in 1909, is still in operation and located right at the entrace of Six Flags New England.

2. Cedar Point

Year Opened: 1870
Location: Sandusky, Ohio, USA
Operating Season: May – October
Area: 364 acres (1.47 km²)
Total No. of Attractions: 71
Total No. of Roller Coasters: 18

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Gregory Varnum

Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio calls itself the second oldest amusement park in America as well as “The Roller Coaster Capital of the World!®” Currently, Cedar Point has 18 different roller coasters, which is quite impressive. In addition to its numerous roller coasters, Cedar Point also has a variety of family friendly rides and also a water park.

Cedar Point was first opened to the public in 1870 as a bathing beach. A decade later, a dance hall and bathhouses were added. In 1892, Cedar Point’s first roller coaster, the Switchback Railway, was opened and it was 25 feet (7.62 meters) tall and reached a top speed of 10 mph (16.1 km/h). Over the years, Cedar Point has achieved various feats with its roller coasters, such as opening Steel Vengeance – the tallest, fastest, longest, steepest hybrid roller coaster on Earth – in 2018.

Did You Know?

61 meters) and was the first amusement park in the world to make this achievement.

1. Lake Compounce

Year Opened: 1846
Location: Bristol, Connecticut, USA
Operating Season: May – December
Area: 332 acres (1.34 km²)
Total No. of Attractions: 55
Total No. of Roller Coasters: 13

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Wildcat1

Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut, is the oldest amusement park in the United States. Lake Compounce traces its origins back to 1846, when Samuel Botsford, an influential Bristol scientist, persuaded property owner Gad Norton to allow him to hold a public demonstration of electricity experiments on his land. The event brought in thousands of spectators and Norton was inspired to install picnic tables, set up a path around the lake, and allowed people to swim or row boats in the water.

Over the next few years, small attractions and rides were added to Lake Compounce and the spot became a popular local hangout. In 1895, the first permanent building, called the Casino, was opened at Lake Compounce and had a ballroom and restaurant. Around this time, the first amusement park ride, a carousel, was added to Lake Compounce. Over the next few decades, Lake Compounce continued to expand and the amusement park has been in continuous operation since it first opened to the public in 1846.

Did You Know?

Lake Compounce is home to the Boulder Dash, which was voted the world’s No. 1 Wooden Coaster.


6 Early Amusement Parks - HISTORY

A model of Pittsburgh's Luna Park is one of the attractions at the train exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center, North Side. Opened in 1905, Luna Park in Oakland was known for its performances, odd attractions and, most notably, its use of electricity. Tribune-Review Archives

For more than 100 years, American amusement parks have entertained and thrilled those looking for summertime excitement. But as cultures shifted and competition increased, the thrills, fun and family gatherings at many parks stopped, leaving only memories behind.

From the late 19th century through the mid 1950s, there were almost two dozen such parks in the Pittsburgh area. Few have survived.

Families who went to Kennywood Park packed picnic lunches, which sat undisturbed on tables as folks enjoyed the rides. Rare was the family who bought food at the park. These Ford City picnickers clean up after lunch during the fifth annual Ford City Community Picnic at Kennywood Park. About 6,000 residents of the Ford City area enjoyed a day of fun at the amusement park in June of 1956. Tribune-Review Archives

Opened in 1905, Luna Park in Oakland was known for its performances, odd attractions and, most notably, its use of electricity.

More than 67,000 lights illuminated the park’s attractions situated near Craig Street and what now is Baum Boulevard.

“At the time, most people had one, maybe two lights in their house if they were lucky,” said Jim Futrell, amusement park historian.

Owned by Frederick Ingersoll, an inventor who owned 38 similar parks across the country, Luna Park offered concerts, foreign landmark replicas and rides.

In 1995, Kennywood Park paid homage to Luna by re-creating the Shoot-the-Chutes ride and water fountain features in its Lost Kennywood addition.

Attractions such as Infant Incubator dazzled visitors.

A 1906 brochure for the park advertised, “Little mites of humanity, whose lives were despaired of, were taken to the incubator, where, under the care of learned physicians, and the gentle ministrations of trained nurses, the park patrons saw them grow strong and sturdy again.”

Ingersoll filed for bankruptcy in March 1908. The park closed in August 1909, nearly two years after a lion escaped, killing a visitor.

Inside Storybook Forest at Idlewild Park, Eleanor Clark, of Ligonier Township, portrays the part of the Old Woman who Lives in the Shoe. Getting a hug on their visit are Paige Ohler and her little sister Aerica of Mt. Pleasant. Idlewild Park, which opened in 1878, has to be the oldest continuing amusement park in the Pittsburgh area, if not the country. Tribune-Review Archives

White Swan Park

White Swan Park had everything from roller coasters to skee ball — but not white swans.

“Dad always wanted to put white swans on the lakes in the park,” said Bill Kleeman, son of White Swan Park owners Edward and Margaret Kleeman. The park also was owned by Margaret Kleeman’s brother, Roy Todd.

Like the rest of the park, the lakes are gone. Rides and attractions were torn down nearly 20 years ago as the park was forced to close in 1990 after state Department of Transportation officials relocated the Parkway West to the new Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay.

The summer of 1989 would be the last for the park, which entertained locals for 34 years.

“Every time I drive past it, I look up and realize I’m driving over White Swan Park,” said Steve Mcateer, who worked most of the rides before becoming a maintenance man for the park in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

“It was a grand old thing. It was like one big family.”

Known for its Galaxy, Mad Mouse and large slide, White Swan Park entertained celebrities heading to and from the airport and children from around the West Hills.

“There was a constant flow of picnics, too,” said Mcateer of North Fayette. “There was always something going on at the park.”

West View Park, opened in 1906, was noted for its community picnics and Danceland, where the Rolling Stones appeared in 1964. Roller coasters were made out of wood and Kiddieland was a big draw for the little ones in the family. Tribune-Review Archives

West View Park

The factors that made West View Park prosper contributed to its demise.

During the beginning of its 71-year run, the park, located on Perrysville Avenue in West View, was a hot spot for community picnics. More than 100 picnics were held there the first season the park opened, according to Heinz History Center archives.

Founded by Theodore M. Harton, West View Park boasted many popular rides — most of which were built by the T.M. Harton Co. — including the Dips, the first coaster built in Pennsylvania with drops of more than 50 feet.

The park was passed down through the Harton family, and though the 1920s started off slow, by the end of the decade, the park had undergone a renovation to add a new roller coaster, the Racing Whippet, to the landscape, as well as several other new rides and renovations to existing ones.

Dancing became a popular pastime in the 1920s, and West View Park’s ballroom provided much of the financial stability during the Great Depression. During the evenings, a capacity-sized crowd often crammed into the dancing pavilion for music from local and national bands, including the Rolling Stones, who played at the center in 1964.

Perhaps the park’s most successful period arrived when George M. Harton III took control in 1945. The next year, three new rides — a miniature railroad, flying skooter and Ferris Wheel — were added. In 1947, the ballroom was renovated to include new lighting and air conditioning and reopened as Danceland in 1948.

Though dancing started losing its popularity in the 1950s, many of the couples who used to dance there were starting to bring their children to the park’s Kiddieland.

But the good times wouldn’t last forever.

In September 1965, the Pittsburgh Railways Company discontinued trolley service to the park. Then, in 1966, George Harton III died, the park was passed on to his 80-year-old mother, and it fell by the wayside.

“The family grew increasingly detached from the park,” said Jim Futrell, amusement park historian.

Without improvements to the park, people began turning to Kennywood Park to host picnics.

West View Park was dealt a major blow on Oct. 3, 1973, when a fire destroyed Danceland. The park closed before the 1978 season.

Alameda Park in Butler County was once an amusement park that opened in 1901. The building at far right in this drawing housed the carousel and is the only original building remaining. Tribune-Review Archives

At one time, train service to amusement parks in the area was common as entire communities or schools spent the day at the park after arriving there by rail. A special train carried more than 1,700 Ford City picnickers to Kennywood Park for an annual community picnic day in 1958. People waited at the railroad station at the corner of Third Avenue and Ford Street at the present site of the town's clock tower to board the train. Tribune-Review Archives

The Steel Phantom coaster at Kennywood Park in West Mifflin makes its way through a corkscrew on Monday, Sept. 4, 2000, the last day of its existence. As time passes, visitors expect more and more -- and bigger, faster and more thrill filled coasters. Parks throughout the country compete to offer riders the latest in coaster technology. AP Photo | Gene J. Puskar

Many amusement parks opened in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the Pittsburgh region:

1878 — Idlewild Park, Somerset

1897 — Calhoun Park, Lincoln Place

1898 — Kennywood Park, West Mifflin

1901 — Maple Grove Park, Pittsburgh

1901 — Alameda Park, Butler

1901– Homestead Park, Homestead

1902 — Oakwood Amusement Park, Crafton

1903 — Southern Park, Carrick

1903 — Oakford Park, Jeannette

1904 — Interurban Park, Pittsburgh

1906 — West View Park, West View

1906 — Dreamland, Pittsburgh

1906 — Coney Island, Neville Island

1906 — Dream City, Wilkinsburg

1924 — Rainbow Gardens, White Oak

1927 — Burkes Glen Park, Monroeville

1927 — Harmarville Park, Blawnox

1928 — Mapleview Park, Canonsburg

1955 — White Swan Park, Findlay

Source: Tribune-Review News Service research

The turn of the last century “was the time when trolley companies were expanding and opening parks at the ending of the line to generate traffic on evenings and weekends,” said Jim Futrell, author of “Amusement Parks of Pennsylvania” and historian for the National Amusement Park Historical Association in Lombard, Ill.

“They were a much different animal than what parks are today,” he said. “They offered picnics, dances and maybe a roller coaster. It was a much different type of environment than what you see today.”

The number of parks in the region — about two dozen opened between 1878 and 1955 — was uncommon for its size, Futrell said.

“It was a testament to the topography and the industrialized nature of the region that so many parks existed,” Futrell said.

In 1906 alone, four parks opened: West View Park, now a plaza that houses Giant Eagle Dreamland in Pittsburgh Coney Island in Neville Island and Dream City in Wilkinsburg.

White Swan Park — opened in 1955. Situated on the Moon-Findlay border, it was designed as a roadside stop along the Parkway West to the then-Greater Pittsburgh International Airport.

“At the time, people would travel from miles and miles away to drive on the parkway,” said Bill Kleeman of Sewickley, whose parents, Edward and Margaret Kleeman, and uncle, Roy Todd, owned White Swan.

When trolley companies merged into larger entities, many owned multiple amusement parks, such as the Pittsburgh Railways Company that at one time owned Calhoun Park in Lincoln Place, Oakwood in Crafton, Southern Park in Carrick and Kennywood Park in West Mifflin.

The trolley company sold the parks to the Henninger family, who eventually sold or closed three of the four parks. Kennywood opened in 1898 and is among one of the few old-fashioned amusement parks to remain open.

Few records exist from many of the parks in the region, including Coney Island, a short-lived park that opened on Neville Island on June 27, 1907. The park featured a 50-foot boardwalk, shoot-the-chutes ride and a 1,000-foot beach.

The Great Depression threatened the local amusement park industry, leaving a handful of parks, including Kennywood, Idlewild Park and West View, Futrell said.

As time passed, visitors expected more and more, he said.

“The industry was maturing, and people wanted more thrill rides,” Futrell said. “Smaller parks didn’t have space or funds for thrill rides.”

Today, the family-owned amusement park is an anachronism. The region’s last — Kennywood and its sister parks Idlewild Park and Sandcastle Waterpark — were sold in 2007 by longtime owners the Henninger and McSwigan families to Spain-based Parques Reunidos.


American Experience

Walt Disney created a revolutionary vacation destination when he opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California in 1955. The park featured four themed sections: Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland, and Fantasyland, all accessed from a plaza at the foot of Main Street, U.S.A. Today, Disneyland still features these lands, but it also houses 83 attractions -– more than five times the number it opened with -– and sees an average of 44,000 visitors per day.

Walt Disney nurtured the idea of Disneyland for years. Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s he visited other amusement parks and carnivals with an eye towards creating his own. He began to envision a cleaner theme-based park where families could become a part of the magical world that his films depicted on the big screen. In 1952, he assembled a small group of artists and designers from his Walt Disney Studio staff and created a new company called WED (his own initials) to help make his amusement park dream a reality.

Walt Disney walks on the bridge in front of the partially finished Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland. Credit: AP Images

Walt and his brother and business partner Roy Disney obtained funding to construct the new venture from ABC, one of the three major networks then in existence, in exchange for creating and hosting an hour-long weekly television show. The resulting program, Disneyland TV, promoted his new park (and his persona of the beloved "Uncle Walt") to the largest generation America had ever seen: the Baby Boomers. The Boomers may not have been old enough to drive the family car, but they could drive family spending. Disney was gambling that in the flourishing, post-WWII economy, American families would have extra disposable income to spend on travel and entertainment, and Disneyland would become a tantalizing destination.

On July 17, 1955, Disneyland had its invitation-only opening day gala, which was broadcast live on ABC. Nearly half the American population watched the festivities from the comfort of their own living rooms. Eleven thousand people were invited to the park several thousand more arrived and tried to get in with counterfeit tickets. The day was filled with record-level heat and mishaps – Fantasyland was closed by a nearby gas leak, and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride succumbed to an overload of the park's power grid – but Walt Disney was ecstatic. When the park opened to the public the next day, visitors were lined up as early as 2:00 AM. The New York Times ran the headline, "Disneyland Gates Open -- Play Park on Coast Jammed -- 15,000 on Line Before 10 AM." Within its first ten weeks, Disney's new amusement park attracted one million visitors. By 1960, that number would rise to five million visitors per year.

Ronald Reagan hosts the "Dateline: Disneyland" broadcast on ABC on July 17, 1955. Credit: Getty Images.

When it first opened, visitors could explore the parks’ four unique lands and stroll down the all-American Main Street, U.S.A. for an admission fee of $1. Ride tickets were extra – between 10 and 30 cents each. Within four months, however, Disneyland began selling ticket books for $2.50 that covered both the price of admission and eight ride attractions, among them Snow White’s Scary Adventures, the Mad Tea Party, and the Jungle Cruise. Walt Disney’s love of trains was evident throughout the park, which had more than a mile of railroad track circling the perimeter. Within the first five years of its opening many of the attractions and exhibits saw significant changes from Disney’s original concepts – the Adventureland alligators were mechanical, not real guest rides on horse-drawn stagecoaches in Frontierland were eliminated, though pack mule rides through Nature’s Wonderland continued a few years longer a smaller version of the popular Autopia ride was built in Fantasyland, then closed, and donated to Disney’s beloved boyhood hometown of Marceline, Missouri.

Most visitors were thrilled with Disneyland, as increasing ticket sales showed, but the park also had its share of critics. In a scathing 1958 article in The Nation, Julian Halevy denounced Disneyland as "a collection of midway rides, concessions, hot-dog stands and soft drink counters, peep-shows and advertising stunts…a sickening blend of cheap formulas packaged to sell."

Walt Disney and Prime Minister Nehru of India tour Disneyland in 1961. Credit: Corbis

Despite criticism, Disneyland became a destination for not just a national audience, including nine former and future U.S. presidents, but an international one. In 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev famously protested his exclusion from Disneyland when the Los Angeles police chief claimed that the leader's safety could not be guaranteed within the park. Prime Minister Nehru of India touched down in the park, as did the King and Queen of Nepal, the Shah of Iran, and political leaders from Europe, Africa and South America. For foreign dignitaries and heads of state, Disneyland provided a window into American culture and history. "What introduces all of it, that you have to go through when you come into the park," historian Steven Watts explains, 'is this idealized rendering of small-town America, the values, the feel, the ethics, all of that. What Disney’s trying to do at some level of awareness is to create an image of America that people would like to think exists."

Walt Disney loved the place, spending much of his time at Disneyland until he embarked on his next big venture. In the 1960s, he began secretly buying up huge plots of land in Florida for a project he called the "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow." EPCOT would be "the heart" of Walt Disney World. "Disney wanted a community where people really lived," explains former Disney executive Marty Sklar, "where industry worked with him to showcase and demonstrate new ideas, new materials, and new systems."

In December 1966, before Walt Disney could realize his dream, he died of lung cancer. Roy O. Disney became chairman, CEO, and president of the company, overseeing the construction and completion of Walt Disney World but without his brother, EPCOT, as Walt envisioned it, never materialized. Roy passed away only three months after the new park opened in Florida in 1971.


6 Early Amusement Parks - HISTORY

A model of Pittsburgh's Luna Park is one of the attractions at the train exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center, North Side. Opened in 1905, Luna Park in Oakland was known for its performances, odd attractions and, most notably, its use of electricity. Tribune-Review Archives

For more than 100 years, American amusement parks have entertained and thrilled those looking for summertime excitement. But as cultures shifted and competition increased, the thrills, fun and family gatherings at many parks stopped, leaving only memories behind.

From the late 19th century through the mid 1950s, there were almost two dozen such parks in the Pittsburgh area. Few have survived.

Families who went to Kennywood Park packed picnic lunches, which sat undisturbed on tables as folks enjoyed the rides. Rare was the family who bought food at the park. These Ford City picnickers clean up after lunch during the fifth annual Ford City Community Picnic at Kennywood Park. About 6,000 residents of the Ford City area enjoyed a day of fun at the amusement park in June of 1956. Tribune-Review Archives

Opened in 1905, Luna Park in Oakland was known for its performances, odd attractions and, most notably, its use of electricity.

More than 67,000 lights illuminated the park’s attractions situated near Craig Street and what now is Baum Boulevard.

“At the time, most people had one, maybe two lights in their house if they were lucky,” said Jim Futrell, amusement park historian.

Owned by Frederick Ingersoll, an inventor who owned 38 similar parks across the country, Luna Park offered concerts, foreign landmark replicas and rides.

In 1995, Kennywood Park paid homage to Luna by re-creating the Shoot-the-Chutes ride and water fountain features in its Lost Kennywood addition.

Attractions such as Infant Incubator dazzled visitors.

A 1906 brochure for the park advertised, “Little mites of humanity, whose lives were despaired of, were taken to the incubator, where, under the care of learned physicians, and the gentle ministrations of trained nurses, the park patrons saw them grow strong and sturdy again.”

Ingersoll filed for bankruptcy in March 1908. The park closed in August 1909, nearly two years after a lion escaped, killing a visitor.

Inside Storybook Forest at Idlewild Park, Eleanor Clark, of Ligonier Township, portrays the part of the Old Woman who Lives in the Shoe. Getting a hug on their visit are Paige Ohler and her little sister Aerica of Mt. Pleasant. Idlewild Park, which opened in 1878, has to be the oldest continuing amusement park in the Pittsburgh area, if not the country. Tribune-Review Archives

White Swan Park

White Swan Park had everything from roller coasters to skee ball — but not white swans.

“Dad always wanted to put white swans on the lakes in the park,” said Bill Kleeman, son of White Swan Park owners Edward and Margaret Kleeman. The park also was owned by Margaret Kleeman’s brother, Roy Todd.

Like the rest of the park, the lakes are gone. Rides and attractions were torn down nearly 20 years ago as the park was forced to close in 1990 after state Department of Transportation officials relocated the Parkway West to the new Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay.

The summer of 1989 would be the last for the park, which entertained locals for 34 years.

“Every time I drive past it, I look up and realize I’m driving over White Swan Park,” said Steve Mcateer, who worked most of the rides before becoming a maintenance man for the park in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

“It was a grand old thing. It was like one big family.”

Known for its Galaxy, Mad Mouse and large slide, White Swan Park entertained celebrities heading to and from the airport and children from around the West Hills.

“There was a constant flow of picnics, too,” said Mcateer of North Fayette. “There was always something going on at the park.”

West View Park, opened in 1906, was noted for its community picnics and Danceland, where the Rolling Stones appeared in 1964. Roller coasters were made out of wood and Kiddieland was a big draw for the little ones in the family. Tribune-Review Archives

West View Park

The factors that made West View Park prosper contributed to its demise.

During the beginning of its 71-year run, the park, located on Perrysville Avenue in West View, was a hot spot for community picnics. More than 100 picnics were held there the first season the park opened, according to Heinz History Center archives.

Founded by Theodore M. Harton, West View Park boasted many popular rides — most of which were built by the T.M. Harton Co. — including the Dips, the first coaster built in Pennsylvania with drops of more than 50 feet.

The park was passed down through the Harton family, and though the 1920s started off slow, by the end of the decade, the park had undergone a renovation to add a new roller coaster, the Racing Whippet, to the landscape, as well as several other new rides and renovations to existing ones.

Dancing became a popular pastime in the 1920s, and West View Park’s ballroom provided much of the financial stability during the Great Depression. During the evenings, a capacity-sized crowd often crammed into the dancing pavilion for music from local and national bands, including the Rolling Stones, who played at the center in 1964.

Perhaps the park’s most successful period arrived when George M. Harton III took control in 1945. The next year, three new rides — a miniature railroad, flying skooter and Ferris Wheel — were added. In 1947, the ballroom was renovated to include new lighting and air conditioning and reopened as Danceland in 1948.

Though dancing started losing its popularity in the 1950s, many of the couples who used to dance there were starting to bring their children to the park’s Kiddieland.

But the good times wouldn’t last forever.

In September 1965, the Pittsburgh Railways Company discontinued trolley service to the park. Then, in 1966, George Harton III died, the park was passed on to his 80-year-old mother, and it fell by the wayside.

“The family grew increasingly detached from the park,” said Jim Futrell, amusement park historian.

Without improvements to the park, people began turning to Kennywood Park to host picnics.

West View Park was dealt a major blow on Oct. 3, 1973, when a fire destroyed Danceland. The park closed before the 1978 season.

Alameda Park in Butler County was once an amusement park that opened in 1901. The building at far right in this drawing housed the carousel and is the only original building remaining. Tribune-Review Archives

At one time, train service to amusement parks in the area was common as entire communities or schools spent the day at the park after arriving there by rail. A special train carried more than 1,700 Ford City picnickers to Kennywood Park for an annual community picnic day in 1958. People waited at the railroad station at the corner of Third Avenue and Ford Street at the present site of the town's clock tower to board the train. Tribune-Review Archives

The Steel Phantom coaster at Kennywood Park in West Mifflin makes its way through a corkscrew on Monday, Sept. 4, 2000, the last day of its existence. As time passes, visitors expect more and more -- and bigger, faster and more thrill filled coasters. Parks throughout the country compete to offer riders the latest in coaster technology. AP Photo | Gene J. Puskar

Many amusement parks opened in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the Pittsburgh region:

1878 — Idlewild Park, Somerset

1897 — Calhoun Park, Lincoln Place

1898 — Kennywood Park, West Mifflin

1901 — Maple Grove Park, Pittsburgh

1901 — Alameda Park, Butler

1901– Homestead Park, Homestead

1902 — Oakwood Amusement Park, Crafton

1903 — Southern Park, Carrick

1903 — Oakford Park, Jeannette

1904 — Interurban Park, Pittsburgh

1906 — West View Park, West View

1906 — Dreamland, Pittsburgh

1906 — Coney Island, Neville Island

1906 — Dream City, Wilkinsburg

1924 — Rainbow Gardens, White Oak

1927 — Burkes Glen Park, Monroeville

1927 — Harmarville Park, Blawnox

1928 — Mapleview Park, Canonsburg

1955 — White Swan Park, Findlay

Source: Tribune-Review News Service research

The turn of the last century “was the time when trolley companies were expanding and opening parks at the ending of the line to generate traffic on evenings and weekends,” said Jim Futrell, author of “Amusement Parks of Pennsylvania” and historian for the National Amusement Park Historical Association in Lombard, Ill.

“They were a much different animal than what parks are today,” he said. “They offered picnics, dances and maybe a roller coaster. It was a much different type of environment than what you see today.”

The number of parks in the region — about two dozen opened between 1878 and 1955 — was uncommon for its size, Futrell said.

“It was a testament to the topography and the industrialized nature of the region that so many parks existed,” Futrell said.

In 1906 alone, four parks opened: West View Park, now a plaza that houses Giant Eagle Dreamland in Pittsburgh Coney Island in Neville Island and Dream City in Wilkinsburg.

White Swan Park — opened in 1955. Situated on the Moon-Findlay border, it was designed as a roadside stop along the Parkway West to the then-Greater Pittsburgh International Airport.

“At the time, people would travel from miles and miles away to drive on the parkway,” said Bill Kleeman of Sewickley, whose parents, Edward and Margaret Kleeman, and uncle, Roy Todd, owned White Swan.

When trolley companies merged into larger entities, many owned multiple amusement parks, such as the Pittsburgh Railways Company that at one time owned Calhoun Park in Lincoln Place, Oakwood in Crafton, Southern Park in Carrick and Kennywood Park in West Mifflin.

The trolley company sold the parks to the Henninger family, who eventually sold or closed three of the four parks. Kennywood opened in 1898 and is among one of the few old-fashioned amusement parks to remain open.

Few records exist from many of the parks in the region, including Coney Island, a short-lived park that opened on Neville Island on June 27, 1907. The park featured a 50-foot boardwalk, shoot-the-chutes ride and a 1,000-foot beach.

The Great Depression threatened the local amusement park industry, leaving a handful of parks, including Kennywood, Idlewild Park and West View, Futrell said.

As time passed, visitors expected more and more, he said.

“The industry was maturing, and people wanted more thrill rides,” Futrell said. “Smaller parks didn’t have space or funds for thrill rides.”

Today, the family-owned amusement park is an anachronism. The region’s last — Kennywood and its sister parks Idlewild Park and Sandcastle Waterpark — were sold in 2007 by longtime owners the Henninger and McSwigan families to Spain-based Parques Reunidos.