Monday, June 20, 2016

Massachusetts Amusement Parks: Present … and Past

Hot summer days remind me of my childhood years fondly spent at local amusement parks near where I grew up in Connecticut —Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury and Lake Compounce in Bristol.  I would also beg (usually, unsuccessfully!) to go to Riverside Park in Agawam, now known as Six Flags New England, which is certainly the most famous and popular amusement park still operating in New England today. Opened in 1870 as “Gallup’s Grove” and known as “Riverside Park” until being rebranded as “Six Flags” in 1999, it is the oldest amusement park in the entire Six Flags chain of parks. Of course no amusement park is complete without its signature wooden roller coaster--the Thunderbolt roller coaster at Six Flags New England dates from 1941 and was built with cars and plans purchased from the 1939 New York World’s Fair’s Cyclone roller coaster and is still the oldest original coaster operating in any of the Six Flags parks.
Memories remain too of beloved amusement parks of yesteryear—especially those dubbed “trolley parks” that were established at the end of the trolley lines to encourage ridership on the weekends, exactly as their name suggests. One of the longer lasting and more famous of these was Whalom Park in Lunenburg which opened in 1893. If you were living in Massachusetts (or New Hampshire) during the 1990’s you might remember the catchy “For a Whale of a Time” Whalom Park commercials airing on television. At the time of its closure in September of 2000, it was the 13th oldest continually operating amusement park in the United States (for the record, my hometown’s Lake Compounce is the oldest, dating to 1846!). Another famous “trolley park” was White City on Lake Quinsigamond in Shrewsbury which opened in 1905 and closed in September of 1960 to make way for a shopping plaza. In its heyday it was called the “Land of Fifty Thousand Electric Lights” which was rumored to be the source of its name, however it is more likely that its namesake was the famous White City of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

The Massachusetts seashore has always been a big draw for summer crowds in the past and remains so to this day. Like many other seaside towns in the United States, amusement parks were built alongside Revere Beach (the nation’s first public beach) and Nantasket Beach in Hull in the early 20th century. Wonderland Amusement Park in Revere was only open from 1906 to 1911 and probably its most lasting legacy is the Blue Line T station that still bears its name but what is also noteworthy is the rumor that Wonderland was possibly the inspiration for the most famous amusement park of all: Disneyland. As for Paragon Park at
 Nantasket Beach, opened in 1905 and closed in 1984, all that remains is the 88 year old Paragon Park Carousel which is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and today gives a small glimpse into what the “golden age” of summers spent along the Massachusetts coast was like.

You can read about the fascinating history of these “lost” amusement parks in these books found  in the State Library’s Collections: 

Judy Carlstrom
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