Conneaut Lake Park
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2011)|
|Slogan||"A traditional amusement resort with something for everyone!" and "Where the past becomes the future"|
|Location||Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania, United States|
|Owner||Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, Inc.|
|Previous names||Exposition Park|
|Operating season||May to September|
|Area||200 acres (0.81 km2)|
Conneaut Lake Park is a summer amusement resort, located in Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania, USA. It has long served as a regional tourist destination, and is loved by roller coaster enthusiasts for its classic Blue Streak coaster, which was recently classified as "historic" by the group American Coaster Enthusiasts. Conneaut Lake is Pennsylvania's largest natural (glacier) lake and is a popular summer resort for recreational boaters due to there being no horsepower limit on the lake.
Conneaut Lake Park was founded in 1892 as Exposition Park by Col. Frank Mantor as a permanent fairground and exposition for livestock, machinery, and industrial products from Western Pennsylvania. Prior to this time, 7 acres of land on which the park is located were purchased in 1877 by Aaron Lynce for use as a boat landing. Col. Mantor's company, the Conneaut Lake Exposition Company, purchased an additional 175 acres of adjacent land, 75 of which were given to Mr. Lynce as payment for his parcel.
During its early years, buildings at Exposition Park included a dance hall, a convention hall (for lectures), and a bathhouse. Several of the structures from Lynce's landing were also retained as well as a farmhouse on the property that was converted to a hotel. The park's first mechanical ride, a carousel, opened in 1899, and was soon joined by other rides and a midway.
Ownership of the park transferred to the Pittsburgh & Shenango Valley Railroad in 1901, during which time several hotels were built on the property. Originally accessible only by boat or train, trolley service was extended to the park in 1907. With its lakefront presence, hotels, and remote location, the park became a popular resort destination. Although many of the park's original buildings were lost in a 1908 fire, new concrete block replacements were constructed, including the Dreamland Ballroom.
Name change and growth
The park was renamed "Conneaut Lake Park" in 1920 to reflect a move toward more amusements and rides. Rides added over these years included a Tumble Bug, bumper car ride, and a Figure Eight roller coaster (later renamed The Jack Rabbit). In 1938, the park's signature roller coaster, The Blue Streak, was added.
In 1943, a large portion of the Hotel Conneaut was destroyed in a fire. The ghost of Elizabeth, a bride who supposedly died in the fire, is said to now haunt the hotel.
Facing competition from corporate-owned theme parks, the park added a jungle cruise ride and other new attractions in the 1960s. As trolley service had been discontinued, the park's management began to focus on directing automobile traffic to the park. "Fairyland Forest," a walk-through attraction, was constructed across the highway from the park's main entrance. Using a combination of fairy tale characters and animals to help attract families and appeal to young children, many similar attractions existed across the country at that time. Although popular, the area eventually fell into neglect and closed in 1985 and was replaced with Camperland in 1986.
Ownership changes and decline
By the 1990s, a series of ownership changes had taken their toll on the park. A 1974 takeover of the park by Dr. John and Mary Gene Winslow Flynn had saddled the park with $750,000 in debt and expansion slowed. Charles Flynn, long-time associate of New York City mayor Ed Koch and son of Dr. John and Mary Gene decided to leave politics and become actively involved in the family business. Initially this change in management was able to invigorate the park. In the early 1980s, rides such as the Paratrooper and Yo-Yo were added. The waterfront was improved. Along the park's midway, a waterslide tower was added and proved popular.
For most of its history, Conneaut Lake Park functioned as a real-life community within an amusement park, as local traffic and waterfront cottages were interspersed with the amusement rides. Park Avenue and Comstock Street, the park's main walking paths, were shared by both patrons and vehicles alike. Although bothersome at times, locals were proud of this arrangement's unique appeal. In an effort to remain competitive, the decision was made to enclose the park for the 1990 season. For the first time in its long history, admission would be charged. In a letter to customers explaining the changes, Flynn stated, "Traditional parks are dropping like flies and it's time we all realize that we have to take steps now and save our park before its too late to do anything about it."
The new gated park format, coupled with a rainy summer, led to a decline in attendance. In an effort to raise capital, several rides were sold off. After another disastrous season, a decision was announced: the park, with the exception of the water park, would be leveled and a new family entertainment complex would be built on the property. The new family entertainment complex would focus on special events, concerts, group picnics, and non-ride activities, such as batting cages, mazes, and sports activities. The Blue Streak rollercoaster, which required an estimated $100,000 in repairs, would be scrapped.
As the park's rides were auctioned off, a group of four local businessmen made a concerted effort to purchase as many of them as possible. This group went on to purchase the park from the Flynn family in an attempt to preserve it as a traditional amusement park. Although nearly $1 million was spent in upgrading and refurbishing the park, attendance continued to dwindle, in part due to a public perception that the park had closed altogether.
In 1995, the owner's filed for bankruptcy and the park did not open. However, by the 1996 season, a group called Summer Resorts, Inc., under the leadership of Gary Harris, completed a purchase of the park. Although Harris arrived at Conneaut Lake with a history of criminal charges, residents were optimistic that the park could be saved under his leadership. The park reopened on July 4, 1996, but new problems arose in 1997 when Harris was convicted of tax evasion. To help extricate himself from his legal difficulties, Harris gave the debt-ridden park to the Conneaut Lake community in 1997, but later filed a lawsuit claiming that he held a 99–year lease on the park grounds and retained ownership of several rides. When that lawsuit was lost in 2001, ownership reverted to a court-appointed trustee.
Early 2000s and rebirth
The park began the new century under the oversight of a not-for-profit corporation, The Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park. During this time, the park experienced a renewed interest, driven in part by roller coaster and amusement park enthusiast groups. Several of the park's rides, including the Devil's Den and Blue Streak Roller Coaster, were repaired by volunteers. In August 2010, the park received $50,000 in funds from a contest sponsored by Pepsi for use in restoring the Blue Streak.
Unfortunately, this era was not without its share of difficulties. Several fires destroyed buildings on the property, including a 2008 fire that destroyed the Dreamland Ballroom  and a fire on August 1, 2013 that destroyed the dockside restaurant and the beach front building.
Partial historical timeline
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (July 2010)|
- 1892 Exposition Park opens
- 1902 Figure Eight roller coaster opens
- 1903 Hotel Conneaut opens
- 1908 A large portion of the midway, many hotels, a bowling alley and the park's ballroom are destroyed in a fire
- 1909 Dreamland Ballroom opens replacing the original ballroom lost in the 1908 fire, Scenic Railway roller coaster opens
- 1920 Park is renamed Conneaut Lake Park
- 1925 Tumble Bug ride is installed.
- 1925 Temple of Music opens
- 1935 Beach Club bar opens
- 1936 Figure Eight roller coaster closes
- 1937 Scenic Railway roller coaster closes
- 1938 Blue Streak roller coaster opens
- 1943 Fire destroys half of Hotel Conneaut
- 1944 Hotel Conneaut remains closed; an investor group led by the local surgeon Dr. Harry Winslow purchases the park out of bankruptcy
- 1945 Hotel Conneaut reopens with 150 of the 300 original rooms
- 1946 Temple of Music is destroyed by fire
- 1949 Installs Tilt-A-Whirl which is still in use at the Park today
- 1961 Fun House opens in former bowling alley. Wild Mouse roller coaster opens.
- 1968 Devil's Den opens
- 1973 Dracula's Cave (Pit of Death) opens
- 1974 Dr. John Flynn and Mrs. Mary Gene Winslow Flynn, son-in-law and daughter of Dr. Winslow, buy out the other partners, saddling the park with $750,000 in debt
- 1975 Fun House closes
- 1981 Charles Winslow Flynn, son of Dr. and Mrs. Flynn, takes over operation of the park.
- 1985 Dracula's Cave (Pit of Death) closes
- 1986 Camperland opens
- 1990 New front gate constructed. Wild Mouse roller coaster closes.
- 1992 Devil's Den renamed Dr. Moriarity's Wild Ride. Conneaut Lake Park celebrates its 100th anniversary . At the end of the season it was announced that many rides would be removed and the Blue Streak roller coaster would be mothballed. Also section of midway buildings near the lake are demolished in an attempt to expand the festival grounds to allow for much larger festivals and concerts. At the end of the season, the Flynn family sells the park.
- 1993 Local businessmen purchase some of the rides at auction to keep Conneaut Lake Park as an amusement park. Management lost $125,000 in operations that season.
- 1994 Lost $800,000.
- 1995 Conneaut Lake Park fails to open due to bankruptcy.
- 1996 Conneaut Lake Park is purchased by Gary Harris. Conneaut Lake Park reopens on July 4, however the Blue Streak did not reopen with the rest of the park
- 1997 Conneaut Lake Park is deeded the people of northwestern Pennsylvania as a not-for-profit, public trust. The Blue Streak roller coaster is renovated and the park purchases 5 rides from the now closed Old Indiana Fun Park. The rides were the Super Round Up, Flying Scooters, Bumper cars, Ranger (Sky Thriller) and a Chance Turbo. The Turbo was never installed due to a dispute over ownership. Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park get money from Gary Harris for signing saying Harris owned rides 99 year lease for land under rides.
- 1999 Board of Trustees dwindled to one member, Gene Rumsey and Bill Jorden becomes the court appointed custodian of Conneaut Lake Park. Mangees operate Conneaut Lake Park. Conneaut Lake's annual Fall Pumpkin Fest which began in 1990 is moved to the park. The event is an Oktoberfest type celebration featuring craft and food booths.Park purchases Roll-O-Plane ride and opens it.
- 2000 On June 28 the Mangees were ousted and the park was closed for 4 days before the trustees assumed control.
- 2001 Bill Jorden is replaced by Herbert Brill as the court appointed custodian of Conneaut Lake Park. Gene Rumsey and Mary Ellen Rebrassier manage Conneaut Lake Park. Dr. Moriarity's Wild Ride renamed to Devil's Den
- 2002 Blue Streak rollercoaster is operated with original 1937 trains, putting the NAD Century Flyer trains from the 1960s into retirement. Park purchases and opens the Toboggan rollercoaster
- 2003 Park was approved to open the day before labor day when Lake View Ford loaned Conneaut Lake Park the money it needed to open. The park is still operated by Herbert Brill, Gene Rumsey, and Mary Ellen Rebrassier. New Board of Trustees is formed on July 15. Park hosts first annual "Holiday in the Park" event in December. 100 year celebration for Hotel Conneaut. Volunteers are invited to redecorate rooms under the "Adopt a Room" program at the Hotel, uniquely personalizing each room. A book, "The Ghosts of Hotel Conneaut and Conneaut Lake Park," is written, sparking ghost hunts, television coverage, and events such as the annual Spiritual Expo. Gene Rumsey resigns as park manager at the end of the season.
- 2004 Griffin Motors loans Conneaut Lake Park the money it needs to open. Mary Ellen Rebrassier, CEO, is replaced with Don Kaltenbaugh on June 16. Herbert Brill, court appointed custodian, is replaced by Leroy Stearns who takes over mid summer. Tim Kaider resigns as Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Abe Finton assumes the position.
- 2005 The park attempts to introduce a tiger animal attraction, but after a lengthy public protest from a Pittsburgh-based animal rights group, Voices For Animals, and including several thousand petition signatures from the Park's patrons, it is withdrawn later in the season. Board of Trustees is ordered by Judge Vardaro to open for the season without borrowing any money. Don. Kaltenbaugh resigns and more Board Members are added, including George Deshner, Dick Williams, David Gordan, and Terry Deitz as chairman. Tom Cholak and Harold Thornton are hired as managers of Conneaut Lake Park. The Park leases the Beach Club, Camperland, and games in order to get money to open Park for the season. A new book, "Images of America: Conneaut Lake Park", is published by Michael E. Costello and Arcadia Publishing. In August, the park, still under custody of the Crawford County court, has its 12 member operating board dissolved for failure to file the required financial report two months earlier. The park management is awarded to a former school principal George Deshner and local humane society operator LeRoy Stearns.
- 2006 The Flynn House, where the Flynn Family lived when they owned the park, was demolished in a controlled burn. Conneaut Lake Institute begins its "Brick-by-Brick" fundraising campaign to raise funds to repair the park's miniature train ride. In order to open Conneaut Lake Park in 2006, the Park borrows $250,000 against the sale of the Flynn House and 3.3 acres (13,000 m2) of valuable lakefront property. The Yoyo is finally dismantled after sitting idle for 3 years and is sold. Witch's Stew (Tempest) is reintroduced. The Bessemer Railway System reopened to the public at noon on July 2. The park's historic Tumble Bug ride reopens to the public on July 8. Conneaut Lake Park continues to operate without a board of trustees. Deshner and Stearns announce that the park lost approximately $400,000 dollars that season. In an attempt to pay off a large portion of the park's debt, Stearns tries to sell 3.6 acres (15,000 m2) of lakefront property. Also, the Ferris Wheel closes.
- 2007 On May 22, 2007, it was announced that the resort would not open for the 2007 season due to lack of funds. The Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, Inc. had earlier attempted to raise sufficient funds through the sale of tokens but were unsuccessful. The Trustees then sought a six-figure gift to open the park, but finding no donors, announced the park would not open. Heavily in debt ($2 million), the park was unable to borrow the funds needed to open. On August 3, 2007, the Beach Club and the Down Under Bar & Restaurant opened to 5 days a week operations, with the possibility of the Hotel Conneaut being open at a later time. The amusement rides remained closed for the 2007 season.
- 2008 On February 1 the Dreamland Ballroom was destroyed in a massive fire. On April 6 the old bowling alley collapsed. On April 8, 2008, filmmakers of the 2008 production of The Road filmed several scenes of the park for the movie. Included in the movie was the rubble left from the Dreamland Ballroom and bowling alley, the Hotel Conneaut, and Boardwalk.
- 2009 - The resort reopened on Memorial Day weekends with the Hotel Conneaut, Beach Club, Camperland, and amusement park. The amusement park opened with its entire roster of Kiddieland rides and adult rides including Paratrooper, Flying Scooters, Tilt-A-Whirl, Tumble Bug, Carousel, Skydiver (a ride the Lisko brothers brought in), Devils Den, Bumper Cars, Witches Stew, Trabant, Bessemer Railway System, and Music Express. Splash City opened later in the summer. The Hotel reopened under private ownership and a multi-year renovation project began, including the ballroom, office, apartments, storage area, and family units. Heat, air-conditioning, and TVs were added to some guest rooms. Ghost Tours and Paranormal Investigations went from occasional private casual affairs to more standardized public events. A&E's Paranormal State also did an episode on Hotel Conneaut's ghost stories.
- 2010 - The park reopens again with all but 4 rides: The Blue Streak (which opened the Thursday before Labor Day Weekend 2010 [riders paid an additional $3 for the privilege to supplement the costs of repairs along with a Pepsi Refresh Grant]), the Salt and Pepper Shakers,The Toboggan and the Super Round-Up. The hotel and the beach club opened as well. The coaster convention from ACE (American Coaster Enthusiasts) was held there on June 23. Arson Fire destroys Kiddieland restrooms. Believed to have been started by lighting toilet paper on fire and placing in the corners of the woman's side. Thursday, September 2, the Blue Streak reopened through Monday, September 6 (Labor Day Weekend.) The cost of each ride was $3.00 (not included in the wristband) or unlimited rides if you donated $100 to the park.Also the Skydiver ride closes and is taken out of the park completely.
- 2011 - The Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, Inc. and Swank's Steel City Shows enter an agreement to assume operations for the 2011 season. Under this agreement, four new portable attractions are installed which include, The Jitterbug, Giant Slide, Go-Gator, and Jumpin Star. After Labor Day Swank's Steel City Shows ended the agreement with the Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, Inc. and removed their attractions and equipment. Also, Roll-O-Plane ride is taken out of the park and being renovated and may return according to sign in front of it, but might be put in an amusement ride museum. (As of 2014 the ride has not returned.)
- 2013 - Fire destroys the dockside restaurant and the beach front building on August 1, 2013. On August 3, 2013 the new attraction Hostile Hostel, a walk through dark ride, opened.
- 2014 - The park opens for the 2014 season on May 23. This will be the 122nd year for the park. The park is currently undergoing the possibility of a tax sale in September, as the park owes more than $750,000 in overdue property taxes.
Current roller coasters and attractions
|Roller Coaster||Year Installed||Description|
|Blue Streak||1938||An Edward Vettel wooden coaster that still utilizes its original rolling stock and braking system. It is the only Vettel shallow track design still standing, and is the sixth oldest wooden coaster in the country. The park replaced the coaster's original trains with new Century Flyer built by National Amusements Devices in 1966. The original lighter trains were rebuilt and placed back in the ride in 2002 to reduce maintenance costs. The park is currently running the NAD trains due to insurance demands and costs to retrofit the original trains with modern restraints.|
|Little Dipper||1950s||An Allan Herschell kiddie coaster that still has its original cars.|
|Toboggan (SBNO)||2002||A Chance portable roller coaster type ride (Currently SBNO)|
Other attractions at the park include:
|Paratrooper||Frank Hrubetz & Co., Inc.||1960s|
|Flying Scooters||Bish-Rocco flying ride||1997|
|Dodgems||Reverchon Bumper Cars||1937|
|Tumble Bug||Harry Traver and Co.||1925|
|Bessemer Railway System||Allan Herschell, Miniature Train ride||1923|
|Musik Express||Majestic Manufacturing||2002|
|Devil's Den||Pretzel Manufacturing||1968|
|Hostile Hostel||Walk Through Dark Ride||2013|
|Waterslide (SBNO)||Water Ride||1986|
|Mini Water Slide (SBNO)||Water Ride||1991|
|Lazy River (SBNO)||Water Ride||1991|
There are 13 rides in Kiddieland.
The following rides are in kiddieland:
|Tubs of Fun|
|Kiddieland Pony Rides|
- WFMJ news
- Pymatuning Lake Association
- Futrell, Jim (2002). Amusement Parks of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books. pp. 79–92. ISBN 0-8117-2671-1.
- "Felon Buys Conneaut Lake Park". Observer Reporter. 3 July 1996.
- Simonich, Milan (16 February 2003). "Conneaut Lake Park may have to close over ownership lawsuit". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Ove, Torsten (21 July 2004). "Former Conneaut Lake Park owner returning to prison". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- "Conneaut Lake Park restaurant, beach club destroyed in fire". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
- "Fire Destroys Building at Conneaut Lake Park". Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
- Meadville Tribune
- Pittsburgh Live.com