Amusement parks in America have been around since about the end of the 19th century. Following the world’s fair in Chicago, Illinois, the first permanent enclosed entertainment area was founded in Coney Island in 1895. Coney Island was one of the first to charge admission to get into the park and to sell tickets for rides.
Prior to its opening, America’s first carousel was built in the 1870s followed by the first roller coaster in 1894.
By the early 1900s, hundreds of amusement parks operated throughout the United States. In 1925, San Antonio’s original Kiddie Park opened and it’s still in operation today. After World War II, kiddie parks became a popular addition to the established amusement parks.
Before World War II and following the Great Depression, the amusement park industry started to decline for a number of reasons, and the land, once filled with happy families, was converted to suburban housing and commercial development. One of America’s most influential amusement parks, Steeplechase Park, in the Coney Island area of Brooklyn, closed in 1964 after sixty-seven years of operation. There are other older parks that continue to thrive today including, Kennywood Amusement Park (opened in 1898) near Pittsburgh, Cedar Point opened in 1870), near Cleveland and Hershey Park (opened in 1906) in central Pennsylvania.
Since I’m from central Pennsylvania, I wanted to mention a few of my family’s favorite parks. Those would be Knoebel’s Grove, Hansons, Rolling Green and Dorney Park. Rolling Green closed abruptly in 1972 after Hurricane Agnes extensively damaged its facilities. Perhaps the most prominent feature of Rolling Green was its dance pavilion, especially the crystal ball that hung above that pavilion. Big bands, including Tommy Dorsey, Buddy Rogers and Fletcher Henderson, appeared in that pavilion. We baby boomers used to go there during the summer for teenage dances.
I found an interesting organization, the National Amusement Park Historical Association (NAPHA) that is dedicated to the preservation the heritage and traditions of America’s amusement parks. In the state of Pennsylvania alone, there once were 128 amusement parks. Sadly, only eight appear to be still open today.
A subsequent post will speak about some of the arcade games we played at those parks.
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