The 11 Oldest Amusement Parks in the U.S.
As the Industrial Revolution gave people more leisure time and new modes of transportation opened up travel, amusement parks sprang up all over the United States. Many came and went, but some 19th-century parks are still in operation. Here’s a look at the country's 11 oldest amusement parks that are still in operation.
1. LAKE COMPOUNCE // BRISTOL, CONNECTICUT
The oldest amusement park in the U.S. that is still operating is Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut. The Norton family had owned the lake for generations when Gad Norton opened a public picnic park on the lakeshore in 1846, which also offered swimming and boating. He added rides and an amphitheater for concerts over time. In 1911 the park added a carousel designed by Charles I. D. Looff, which is still in operation and on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Norton family sold the park to the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company in 1985, which sold it to the Joseph Entertainment Group in 1987. They built a new theater and concentrated on concerts more than family amusements. The park was in the news when Milli Vanilli performed there on July 21, 1989, and were exposed as lip-synchers when their recording began to skip. In 1996, Lake Compounce was acquired by Kennywood Entertainment, and the focus of the park returned to family amusements and thrill rides. The park was purchased by Parques Reunidos in 2007 and even more improvements were made. But the park still goes by its original name, even after 170 years.
2. SIX FLAGS NEW ENGLAND // AGAWAM, MASSACHUSETTS
Gallup’s Grove in Agawam, Massachusetts, opened as a picnic park in 1870. The name was soon changed to Riverside Grove, then to Riverside Park when rides were added. The park fell into financial ruin with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, then closed in 1933. In 1939 it was purchased by Edward Carroll, who made improvements and reopened the park in 1940. In 1996 the park was purchased by Premier Parks, which later purchased the Six Flags chain and, in 2000, rebranded the park as Six Flags New England.
3. CEDAR POINT // SANDUSKY, OHIO
Sandusky, Ohio's Cedar Point opened in 1870 as a beer garden, bathhouse and dance hall on the shores of Lake Erie. Guests arrived by steamboat ferry until a causeway was built in the 1950s. The first roller coaster, the Switchback Railway, was installed in 1892. More roller coasters were added over the next century, leading to the park being designated "The Roller Coaster Capital of the World.”
4. IDLEWILD // LIGONIER, PENNSYLVANIA
Thomas Mellon, founder of the Mellon Bank, bought a railroad and wanted to encourage passengers to use it, so he provided attractions along the route. Idlewild, in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, opened in 1878 as a campground with picnic tables and a fishing lake. That led to fishing cabins, boats, and amusement rides. The park stayed under the Mellon family ownership until 1951 when a partner, C. C. MacDonald, bought out the Mellons. The MacDonald family sold it to Kennywood Entertainment in 1983 and then the Spanish company Parques Reunidos acquired the park in 2008.
5. SEABREEZE // ROCHESTER, NEW YORK
Irondequoit is a suburb of Rochester, New York, at the point where Irondequoit Bay meets Lake Ontario. It was here that Seabreeze opened on August 5, 1879. It was a trolley park that proved to be quite popular. Rides began to be added in 1900. The park’s name was changed to Dreamland in 1940 and then back to Seabreeze in 1970.
6. DORNEY PARK // ALLENTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA
In 1860, Solomon Dorney built a fish hatchery in Allentown, Pennsylvania—then gradually realized that he was making more money from people who came to fish and picnic than from his fish. So he added a petting zoo and made grand plans to expand his enterprise. Dorney added rides and in 1884 opened Dorney's Trout Ponds and Summer Resort. That was soon shortened to Dorney’s Park and then Dorney Park. Dorney sold the park in 1923, and it has since gone through several owners. The current owner is Cedar Fair Entertainment Company.
7. CONEY ISLAND // CINCINNATI, OHIO
James Parker’s apple orchard in Cincinnati, Ohio, was sold to a group of investors in 1886 and turned into a theme park called Ohio Grove, The Coney Island of the West. The unwieldy name was shortened to Coney Island a year later. The park flourished until a new park was built in Cincinnati. Taft Broadcasting bought Coney Island in 1968 and transferred the rides and most of its other assets to its new Kings Island amusement park. Coney Island closed after the 1971 season, but it still had its water park, which reopened in 1972. In the years since, more rides and attractions have been added to Coney Island. While it will probably never be as big as Kings Island, Coney Island still lives on.
8. LAGOON // FARMINGTON, UTAH
Lagoon is an amusement park that opened on the banks of the Great Salt Lake in 1886. The lake then receded, and what was then called Lake Park was moved to Farmington, Utah, just a few miles away, in 1896. The new location had a pond, so the name was changed to Lagoon. A fire devastated the park in 1953, but it was rebuilt much bigger, with a new Kiddieland and a concert arena.
9. ARNOLDS PARK // ARNOLDS PARK, IOWA
As the U.S. expended westward, folks discovered the beautiful lake country of Iowa. Wesley Arnold bought property on the shores of West Lake Okoboji in 1864. He opened a hotel in 1882 to accommodate travelers and vacationers. As the family built more accommodations and attractions, the land came to be called Arnolds Park. In 1885, a post office was established at the hotel, which marked the founding of the town of Arnolds Park. When Arnold built a wooden waterslide on the edge of the lake in 1889, Arnolds Park became an amusement park. The park grew and flourished for the next 100 years, but was damaged from a riot in 1965 and a tornado in 1968. It closed in 1988, but was purchased by investors in 1989 who rebuilt the park into what it is today.
10. CONNEAUT LAKE PARK // CONNEAUT LAKE, PENNSYLVANIA
Exposition Park opened in 1892 on the banks of Conneaut Lake in the town of Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania. Colonel Frank Mantor intended it as not only a lakeside resort, with a hotel, convention hall, and beach, but also as a place to show off the livestock and technology of western Pennsylvania. More buildings were added for parties and exhibits, and the first ride—a steam-powered carousel—was added in 1899. A railroad company bought the park in 1901, and added rail service and more hotels. The name was officially changed to Conneaut Lake Park in 1920. With several ownership changes, the park began to have financial troubles in the 1970s, and admission was charged for the first time in 1990. Visits declined, and the park closed in 1995. A group of investors resurrected it in 1996, and in 2001, the park was taken over by a nonprofit community trust. The park is still dealing with bankruptcy, but is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
11. LAKEMONT PARK // ALTOONA, PENNSYLVANIA
Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pennsylvania, opened in 1894 as a trolley park, a park placed at the end of a trolley line to encourage riders to take advantage of the entire range of routes. The park’s prized possession is Leap-the-Dips, the oldest operating roller coaster in the world. It was built in 1902 and decommissioned in 1985, then restored and put back into operation in 1999. The wooden coaster is a National Historic Landmark.