LeSourdsville Lake Amusement Park
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|Location||Middletown, Ohio, United States|
|Previous names||LeSourdsville Lake, Americana Amusement Park|
LeSourdsville Lake Amusement Park was an amusement park located in Middletown, Ohio. Opening in 1922 as a family picnic and campground, LeSourdsville Lake transformed in the 1940s to an amusement park with rides, attractions, and an arcade. In 1977, the name was changed to Americana Amusement Park. Following an electrical fire in 1990 that caused over $5 million in damages, the park fell into decline and was eventually closed in 1999. Under new ownership, the park briefly opened again in 2002 returning to the name LeSourdsville Lake Amusement Park, but after failed attempts to turn a profit, it closed permanently. The park's remaining rides and attractions were either demolished or sold.
Middletown, Ohio, resident Edgar Streifthau opened LeSourdsville Lake Amusement Park on May 8, 1922. Edgar's dream was to transform the former ice manufacturing facility in the tiny village of LeSourdsville into an area for residents to enjoy a decent and clean place to picnic and swim with friends and family. Construction began on the park in 1921. Edgar and his business partner, Bill Rothfuss, built a bathhouse, a restaurant, dance hall and a bridge crossing the abandoned Miami-Erie Canal that passed through the property linking the parking lot and the park. They also constructed a concrete bottom in the man-made lake for swimming.
Admission was 10 cents per person, 25 cents for swimming and 10 cents for a jitney dance per couple. LeSourdsville Lake was open for business and attracting thousands of area residents.
Edgar constructed the first of several "vacation" cabins surrounding the lake and platforms for camping tents. Edgar's brother, Ernest, joined his brother as a partner as Bill Rothfuss advanced his career at nearby ARMCO Steel (now known as AK Steel).
Within two years, Edgar stopped hosting dances at the park due to numerous fights that occurred on a regular basis.
Despite the onset of The Great Depression, Edgar continued to expand the park's offerings. He expanded the bathhouse, installed a new parking lot, built the park's first office building, and imported over 1,000 tons of white sand for the beach. Admission prices, food prices and employee wages were cut. Just before the park was to open for the 1934 season, an accidental fire destroyed the bathhouse. Edgar was desperate to rebuild a new bathhouse before the park opened in May. He went to the Middletown Lumber Company and solicited the assistance of a personable and talented draftsman, Don Dazey. On May 30, the park opened with a new bathhouse.
Dazey convinced Edgar that dances could be successful without the fighting and melee that plagued the park in earlier years. Don constructed the Stardust Gardens next door to the bathhouse. Bands such as Ray McKinley, Glenn Miller, the Dorsey Brothers and Stan Kenton graced the rich, maple wood floor to the delight of thousands of customers.
Don also solicited area companies to hold their picnics at the park and began an important tradition that continued until the park closed. Edgar also added two toboggan water slides, a waterwheel, seven diving boards, and a 20-foot (6.1 m) high platform for diving. In 1939, Edgar purchased a 1927 John Miller wood coaster from Moxahalia Amusement Park in Zanesville, Ohio for $35,000. The coaster was rebuilt and named "The Cyclone."
The 1940s represented an important decade for LeSourdsville Lake. The park became the "Miami Valley's Chosen Playground" and became the hottest entertainment spot during the summer months.
In 1941, the park added The Whip and a Ferris wheel to its "thrill ride" line-up. Bands appearing in the Stardust Gardens Ballroom included Eddie Kadle, Earl Holderman, Gene Roberts, Mary Marshall, Little Joe Hart, Eugene Jelesnick, Billy Snyder, Tommy Flynn, Billy Yates, Jimmy Scriber and Emerson Gill. The following summer, Carl Taylor, Lloyd Labrie and Michael Mehas joined the Stardust Gardens headliners. Edgar also built a new front entrance and added a section of new midway near the entrance to The Cyclone.
After World War II, LeSourdsville Lake continued to grow and prosper. In 1947, two stream-lined trains were added to The Cyclone and a kiddie racing car ride was installed. On July 4, the park celebrated its largest one-day turnout in its history when 30,168 came through the front gate. Big bands popular in 1947 included, Barney Rapp, Jimmy Miller, Ches Walker, Les Shepard, Harold Greenanyer, Del Mason, Whitey Howard, Karl Taylor and Johnny Doom.
Major improvements were visible as LeSourdsville Lake opened its 1949 season. A state-of-the-art masonry building was constructed next the to The Cyclone entrance. New rides and attractions included the Fun Parade, and a penny arcade. Big bands making appearances included Sammy Leeds, Whitey Howard, Tommy Robbins, Al Cassidy, Karl Taylor, Leo Pieper, Skitch Henderson, Jimmy James and Earl Holderman.
The 1950s ushered in some changes for LeSourdsville Lake as the park's image began to decline from its peak the previous decade. Big bands that once graced the Stardust Gardens Ballroom throughout the week were now featured on weekends only. Edgar renovated the bathhouse to accommodate the large number of swimmers the park serviced each year. The brick addition to the bathhouse also "provided a fire resistive baring at an amusement park.
New rides for 1951 included a Rock-O-Plane and Tilt A Whirl. By 1954, Edgar was manufacturing his own line of turnpike cars in a partnership with Oxford, Ohio resident Frank Dodd. Kiddieland, located where the picnic shelters stand today, saw five new rides added, including a new steel coaster called the Jack Rabbit. In 1956, the Turnpike ride was built next to the Screechin' Eagle roller coaster.
Edgar and Don realized that more had to be done to modernize LeSourdsville Lake. Disneyland opened in 1955 to such rave reviews from the public that they expected other parks to become just as modern and clean. At Cedar Point, a multimillion-dollar renovation was under way by 1957 in an attempt to become the "Disneyland of the Midwest." Edgar and Don decided to take out a loan and initiate a multi-year improvement plan.
In 1957, a stone tower and fountain were constructed at the main entrance. Edgar and Don were ready to enter 1959 with a new vision. However, Don Dazey died in June 1959. Edgar was lost without Don's ability to work with the staff and customers alike. Edgar's role had been mainly behind the scenes developing new revenue sources for the park and developing a plan for the park's future.
A local bank required Edgar to immediately pay off the outstanding loan. Edgar decided he did not want to chance taking on a partner he couldn't get along with so the expansion plans were dropped and the park was put up for sale.
The 1960s ushered in a prosperity for the 40-year-old park. Former Cedar Point concessionaires Howard Berni and Frank Murru were successful in their purchase of the park for $550,000. They took over in 1961 and quickly continued the renovation effort that stopped prematurely when Don Dazey died. The WING radio Lesourdsville Lake WING FLING featured on air personalities, Lou Swanson, Rod Williams, Jim Smith and a famous sign off by Gene By Golly Barry. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJfwjVX6lro
A Heinrich Wild Mouse roller coaster was the newest ride to greet visitors for the 1961 season. In addition, an 18-hole miniature golf course and a new Arcade building were built at the end of the midway next to the Screechin' Eagle roller coaster. The park also featured a native Hawaiian ornamental garden with hand carved Tiki and live palm trees. Unfortunately, the year was plagued by abnormal amount of rain which affected attendance. At the end of the season, the area's first "pay one price plan" was established. For $1.65 for adults and 75 cents for children customers could ride all day.
In 1964, Middletown resident William "Bill" Barr became a partner in the park and contributed his creative ideas and endless energy to help make LeSourdsville Lake the favorite park for hundreds of thousands of patrons. Between 1962 and 1969, a number of attractions were added to the LeSourdsville Lake line-up, including a NAD train (called the Iron Horse), a remodeled Haunted House, and a new theme area called Tombstone Territory. The big band names of Jack Huntlemen, Sammy Kaye, Buddy Rogers and Bobby Grayson were slowly replaced by regular appearances by WLW's Bob Braun, The Cool Ghoul from WXIX, WKRC's Glenn "Skipper" Ryle and a host of television stars, movie celebrities and music acts.
By the mid-1970s, LeSourdsville Lake was drawing about 600,000 patrons annually. The opening of Kings Island amusement park just a few miles away in nearby Mason, Ohio in 1972 didn't dampen the spirits of Howard Berni. "We wish them luck," said Howard in an interview in the Cincinnati Enquirer. "The first year we may feel a pinch because the local people will be curious, but we don't anticipate it will be to the point where it will bother our business. On the other hand, if Kings Island brings in the tourist, we will benefit from the overflow. We aren't going to fade away. They have the worries, not us."
In 1975, Bill Barr retired to Italy and park veteran William "Bill" Robinson took over some of duties left by Barr. Bill's knack for producing interesting promotions enabled the park to enjoy large crowds. Some of the more novel promotions developed by Bill included the 1976 designation as the country's only "Official" Bicentennial Amusement Park, the Coca-Cola/WSAI Radio Rock, Roll n' Remember concerts, and the Jell-O Jump, where contestants jumped into a huge barrel of gelatin to find the winning key to a new car.
During the late 1970s, the park presented brief (15 minute) musical shows every day on the midway stage that advertised various park attractions. The shows featured the "Crazy Critters" (people in whimsical animal costumes) and consisted of a pre-recorded narration that a “master of ceremonies” critter pretended to speak into a microphone. At particular points in the presentation, the tape machine was programmed to pause after the M.C. critter suggested that the band play a song. The band (also in costumes), whose characters were called Do, Rey, Me, and Fa would play a song. During the summers of 1977 and 1978, the band was a local Rock band called Septer.
In 1978, the name of the park was changed to Americana Amusement Park; the Great American Amusement Park. Along with a name change came a $3.5 million, three-year renovation plan to help keep the park a viable alternative to Kings Island. New attractions included a 1200-seat tent featuring performances of the Hanneford Family Circus, a Trabant, a seven character animated band called the Bear Country Jubilee, and the Coca-Cola Great American Thrill Show theater.
The recession in the early 1980s began affecting attendance at the park. As a result, gate admission was reduced from $6.95 to $5.50 in 1982. New attractions that year included a transformation of the Hanneford Circus tent into a platform for Bumper Buggys, a soft-core version of bumper cars.
At the end of the 1982 Bill Robinson left the park and was replaced by industry veteran Lenny Gottstein. In May 1983, Food Services Director Frank Silvani died after a lengthy battle with cancer.
The highlight of the decade was the addition of the Raging Thunder Log Flume in 1984. The attraction represented the largest investment in the park's 77-year history and helped boost the annual attendance over 500,000. The flume, designed by Ron Berni and built by Barr Engineering of Minnesota, was located in a former bird sanctuary in the old Tombstone Territory section of the park. The area was renamed Logger's Run after the flume was added.
In 1985, the park auctioned off the horses from its 1924 PTC #71 carousel. Although some fans were disappointed about the sale, the carousel burned to the ground in an accidental fire in 1988. Over $500,000 in damages were reported, including the loss of the park's 1925 Dodgem ride.
In 1987, the Galleon swinging ship was installed in Logger's Run. At the end of the season, park vice president Guy Sutton left to take a position with an industry consulting firm.
After the carousel fire, the park purchased a used Galaxi roller coaster from Nobles Funland Amusement Park in Paducah, Kentucky. Attendance at the park was maintained at 500,000.
On January 8, 1990, an electrical fire broke out in the Bathhouse and Stardust Gardens Ballroom. The result was over $5 million in losses, including a first aid office, arcade, games building, locker rooms and food concessions. Ride parts and cars from the Rock-O-Plane, Flying Scooter, Bumper Buggy and two kiddie rides were destroyed. The park quickly enlisted the assistance of local labor unions to rebuild the area in time for the April opening with payment to come later in the summer. By May, a new 300-seat indoor/outdoor food court, an arcade, a Dodgem' ride and a refurbished Flying Scooter ride reopened on the site of the fire. Meanwhile, the park began experiencing problems with its insurance company regarding its multimillion-dollar claim. To make matters worse, Ron Berni, a longtime fixture at the park and son of Howard Berni, had been offered a position at Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville, Kentucky. He reluctantly accepted the offer with the backing of his father.
The hiring of local students and senior citizens was always a challenge because of the keen competition of other attractions in the area. To help alleviate that problem, the park entered into an agreement with a Mexican college to hire Mexican students for the summer. The plan quickly fell apart and the park experienced a lot of negative media coverage regarding claims by the students of poor living conditions in their dorms and illegal working conditions. The local unions, who normally booked their picnics at the park, suddenly canceled their lucrative picnic outings due to the allegations and the park began a deep decline in attendance and revenue. By the end of season, attendance reached an all-time low of just under 200,000. The park then learned that its insurance company would only pay $3 million in claims, leaving the park to pick up the remaining $2 million in expenses. In December, the park was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
By Spring 1991, the park was purchased and reopened by Leisure International, a group of former park management. Joe Faggionato, Guy Sutton, Lenny Gottstein and Don Robison took over the park and began the long, hard effort of erasing the previous year's nightmare from customers, including the local unions. In July, Guy Sutton left the park to become the Operations Director at Clemonton Lake in New Jersey.
The trio built a petting zoo and opened a new restaurant for the 1992. Their efforts enabled the park to build the attendance back up to just over 330,000. In 1993, the animated Country Bear Jubilee show was sold to the Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield, Ohio. No new attractions were added during the year, however, attendance increased to 412,500. During the 1994 and 1995 seasons, Leisure International spent an additional $6 million to upgrade landscaping and infrastructure throughout the park. By 1995, Faggionato, Gottstein and Robison realized that a bigger company with more capital would be needed to continue upgrading the park so Americana was put up for sale.
In 1996, Park River Corporation, owners of Coney Island of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio, purchased Americana for an estimated $3 million. Between 1996 and 1998, over $1 million was spent on upgrading the Screechin' Eagle roller coaster, developing a new paint scheme of magenta and teal, introducing a new merchandising line in the gift shop consisting of unique Americana emblazoned clothing, and adding a variety of rides, including a carousel, Ferris wheel, and the Tempest. In 1997, Park River owner Ronald Walker died unexpectedly and family members expressed concern about the future of the park. The park was quietly listed for sale in 1998.
In December 1999, informational letters regarding the 2000 Family Funpacks (similar to season passes) were distributed across the area. In a shocking announcement on January 6, 2000, Park River announced the closing of the park for the 2000 season.
On May 24, 2000 Hamilton businessman Jerry Couch purchased the park from Park River Corporation. He said he would change the park's name to "Couch's Americana Amusement Park at LeSourdsville Lake" out of respect for the park's 77-year-old history. "The job market is tight and I've missed the window of opportunity to hire kids who are getting out of school," he said in a Cincinnati Enquirer interview. "But, we'll be ready, possibly in July."
In April 2002, former carnival owners, the Pugh Family, established the LeSourdsville Group and was hired to manage the park for the 2002 season. The name of the park was changed to "The Great American Amusement Park at LeSourdsville Lake."
Over $3 million in improvements were made including the addition of 10 new rides. They included a fun house, a swinging pirate ship, a kids bumper car ride, the Zipper, the Music Express and the Tip-Top Tea Cup Ride. The adult bumper car ride was removed due to mechanical problems. In addition, a $150,000 ride safety inspection system was installed to improve preventive maintenance.
When the park opened to the public on June 5, the name of the park was changed once again to "LeSourdsville Lake." A park spokesperson stated that the name change was done because "that's how people remember it." The name was changed because of a threat of legal action against the park by the Great American Financial Company, owners of Cincinnati's Coney Island.
The park operated Thursdays through Sundays. "Saturdays and Sundays have been packed to the point that our parking lot was just about full, which we would estimate to be 8,000 to 10,000 people," said park Marketing Director Mike Mefford.
After experiencing a successful summer, the park unexpectedly closed a week prior than planned and announced that it was looking for a new management company to operate the park for 2003. Plans for the upcoming "LeScaresville Lake - a Halloween fright event" was cancelled. The Pugh management team filed for bankruptcy and failed to pay some of the park employees wages due to them.
Rides brought in earlier in the year were repossessed after the season ended due to non-payment by the Pugh management group. Rides included the Music Express, the Zipper, the Western Express Train, the Tip Top, the Mini Indy and a fun house. All of the rides were portable and not installed as permanent rides.
On January 24, 2003, Couch's LeSourdsville Lake RV Super Center held its grand opening at the park. The park's old dormitory used during the 1990 season, was remodeled and made a part of the new store and showroom. "With the opening of the ....Super Center, we are one step closer to fulfilling our ultimate goal of establishing an RV and amusement park combination." said Couch in a Middletown Journal interview.
In April, local media began questioning the status of the park for 2003. After several days passed, the Middletown Journal reported that the park may open for the 2003 season. "There's definitely a possibility that we could open this year. I'm not saying that will happen," said a publicist with Expo Management & Ad Agency in Cincinnati, which was hired to handle marketing for Couch's camper company.
A press release stated that several options are being considered for the park, including 1) updating the rides and creating a "more competitive" atmosphere, 2) running the park as is with a new management team and 3) selling the park.
Couch filed a lawsuit against the Pugh management group for non-payment of bills and rental fees totaling more than $100,000. The courts dismissed the lawsuit because the management group had filed for bankruptcy.
In February 2004, former Peony Park owner, Carl Jennings announced that he was seeking to purchase the park. A deal could not be reached with Couch.
On May 17, 2006 it was announced that most of the rides would be sold and that the park would not open as a traditional amusement park in the future.
In 2009, the park's steel roller coaster, The Serpent, received a second life, as it opened in May 2009 under the same name at Kokomo's Family Fun Center in Saginaw, Michigan.
The park was featured on the History Channel's Life After People: The Series. The show explored how weathering was eating away at the park and how it will be unrecognizable in 20 years without human maintenance. One of these SBNO rides and attractions, the Screechin' Eagle, was featured in Life After People: The Series and collapsed after 20 years after disappearance of humans.
In late August 2011, The Screechin' Eagle roller coaster, which stood for over 60 years, was demolished without any public announcement. Couch was afraid that something "terrible" would happen with the trespassers that regularly visit the park. Parts of the track and trains were sent to a roller coaster museum in Texas.
In early 2015 Jerry Couch closed his Middletown RV Showroom after not being able to find a buyer. Leaving everything located in the compound (LeSourdsville, Fantasy Farm, the Hotel and the Dealership) now defunct.
- Pender, Linda (Jul 1983). "Amusing Cincinnati". Cincinnati Magazine Jul 1983. p. 70. Retrieved 2013-05-08.