Last week, this columnist took you on an exploration of the beginnings of amusement parks, inspired by the annual trip to Wonderland with my grandchildren. This week, I’d like to continue that exploration, as we look at the Golden Age of amusement parks.
The following information was researched by using primarily Wikipedia, and other sites under “Amusement Parks, History of.”
The modern age of the amusement park is often pegged to the Chicago World Columbian Exposition in 1893. Also in the 1890’s, electric trolley cars were servicing most major American cities. This led to the development of trolley parks, sites outside of the city, located at the end of the trolley line.
These had been, in many cases, already existent picnic groves, but as the trolley lines purchased them, they improved the facilities by adding dance halls, entertainments, and boats and mechanical rides. This writer remembers the old dance hall at Kennywood Park, a Pittsburgh amusement park, which had its beginnings as a trolley park. Particularly, I remember my older cousins going to dances there, as late as the early 1960’s.
Other popular sites for trolley parks were existent resorts, such as Atlantic City, already a popular bathing resort. The Ocean Pier opened in 1891, and featured the Roundabout, a wooden predecessor to the Ferris Wheel. The world renowned Steel Pier opened at Atlantic City in 1898.
Perhaps the most well-known amusement park in the world, Coney Island, is actually several parks together. I once had the privilege of being stationed in Brooklyn, and, as anyone should do, went to Coney Island at least once.
The area had been a beach area since 1829, evolving into a seaside resort in the 1870’s and 1880’s and witnessing the opening of Sea Lion Park in 1895 — considered a watershed in amusement park culture.
The Golden Age of amusement parks is considered to be from the last decade of the 1800’s until the late 1920’s, when the deteriorating economy funneling into the Great Depression had a negative impact on the amusement parks.
Certainly they have made a comeback, starting with the opening of Disneyworld and the emergence of the modern theme park, but that is another, though related, subject.
What is your favorite? I like the old time charm of Uncle Cliff’s, in Albuquerque; I like the excitement of Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, near Cleveland, and of course, Disneyland and Disneyworld. Being a water person, I would spend my money first on a water park, a subgenre that emerged very early in amusement park development.