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8 Abandoned American Theme Parks “Open” for Exploration

Featured — By Rachel Greenberg on May 26, 2010 at 11:16 am

Amusement parks walk the fine line between fun-ish and semi-creepy. Maybe it’s the combination of sketchy rides, circus folk, questionable attractions, and way too many screaming kids, but there’s something a little unsettling about them. Add an ill-advised theme into the mix, and you’ve got a real summer-time winner.

Although for most of the 20th century amusement parks were a staple of American culture, the shine is definitely off the bumper car. Tons of new parks litter the country, but many of the old classics, unable to compete with the snazzy new parks, have been shut down. Most have been destroyed to make way for housing developments and malls, but a few still remain. Mostly forgotten and in total disrepair, these abandoned amusement parks are sometimes more interesting in their decay then they were while in operation.

But be warned urban explorer! Most of these parks are privately owned and do not appreciate people traipsing through their property, taking ridiculously cool pictures. If you get stopped by some authorities…just don’t tell them NileGuide sent you!

The Prehistoric Forest, Irish Hills, Michigan

Imagine Jurassic Park, but instead of real, blood-thirsty-Jeep-munching dinos you get dilapidated, stationary dinosaur statues situated around a mediocre community pool. It’s a wonder this park didn’t appeal to 21st century kiddies….

Opened in 1963, the park had a smoking volcano, waterfall, water slide, and 100 fiber glass dinosaurs sprinkled across the eight acre property. Since closing in 1999, the property has been on and off the market, all the while in complete disuse. As the years have gone by, the park continues to revert back to forest, and the dinosaur dioramas have begun to blend into the natural world.

If you should feel so inclined, The Prehistoric Forest is currently for sale for a cool $548,000 and, according to its real estate listing, the property has an arcade, gift shop, a 1200sq ft community shower building and could be used as a campground or day care…EEEEEEKK! Now that’s frightening. Better start exploring soon before this gem gets snatched off the market![All Dinosaur Images: RoadsideArchitecture via Debra Jane Seltzer]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FetGWgrUZUs[/youtube]

Six Flags, New Orleans

“Jazzland”, a New Orleans-themed park, was built on acres of swamp-land outside of the city in 2000, was purchased by Six Flags and changed names in 2002. During Hurricane Katrina, Six Flags was completely flooded and an estimated 70-80% of the park was destroyed, leaving it much too expensive to fix. The park has been slowly rotting, decaying, and sinking into the swamp for the past five years since disaster struck.

Images: Annie Wentzell/Annie Wentzell/Flickr

What’s extra eerie is the park features many miniatures of New Orleans itself, including a “Main Street” designed after the French Quarter and restaurants that are modeled after some of the city’s historic eateries. Like many of the buildings they are modeled after, many of the park’s structures were submerged in 7 feet of water for over a month, and now clearly display the ravages of the flood.

Image: Liquorhead/Flickr

Image: Liquorhead/Flickr

Although this painful reminder of Katrina’s devastation is sitting in total disrepair, it seems like it might be that way for a while longer. Six Flags and the City of New Orleans are in a entangled legal battle over the land. If you want to visit, be careful – many urban explorers have been able to enter with no problems at all, while others have been handcuffed, driven off the premises, and had their camera film destroyed.

Images: smwarnke4/smwarnke4/liquorhead/liquorhead/Flickr

The Rocky Point Amusement Park, Warwick, Rhode Island

When it was built in 1847, Rocky Point was pretty much the neatest thing in all of Rhode Island. It had everything an East Coast Victorian family could want: a Ferris-wheel, picturesque water-front views, a classy dining hall, and a long pier perfect for strolling…ahh. And as far as amusement parks, Rocky Point lasted a pretty long time. It enjoyed continued popularity and was able to evolved with the times, that is until the early 1990s took their toll.

Images: AllPoster/Hugh Manatee/Wikipedia Commons

After some horrid (and possibly shady) investments that the park held went bankrupt, it could no longer continue operating under its investors’ heavy debts. The iconic “Rocky Point” gate closed for the last time in 1996. Since then, most of the rides have been removed and sold to other parks. The rest of the property has been left to disrepair, and has suffered two possible arson attacks. Although everything of  “value” has been dispersed to needy amusement parks around the country, remnants of Rocky Point can still be seen.

Images: tmjeffers/tmjeffers/Flickr

Image: tmjeffers/Flickr

Desperate to know more? Bellow is the trailer for Rocky Point documentary made a few years ago.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMVX7Ud8Rck[/youtube]

Lincoln Park, Dartmouth, Massachusetts

This park was originally opened by the Union Street Railway Company to increase tourism on their rail line in 1894. The park expanded over time, but its most popular attraction from 1946 on was “The Comet”, a wooden roller coaster. When it was built in the 40s, the coaster was the absolute bees knees. Passengers were even willing to carry sandbags to help the cars move along the track since the ride wasn’t “loose” enough to let gravity do the work. Although the coaster was the ultimate in cool, it also turned out to be deadly as well.

Image: artinruins

In the mid 60s, a man stood up in a car and was killed going down a lift. Then in 1968 the last car detached from the rest of the coaster and rolled backwards until it derailed, tossing its passengers out, injuring them. Then again, in 1986, another man was killed trying to climb from one car to another while the coaster was moving.

No surprise, these “incidents” were hard hard for many people to forget (even though the two deaths are clearly caused by “user error”), and the decline of Lincoln Park began. Hoping more money would fix the problem, Lincoln Park’s owners invested $75,000 in the park, but just as construction completed, the Comet’s brake’s failed, the coaster’s cars jackknifed and the last car detached, finally screeching to a halt hanging precariously off the tracks. Not shockingly, that was The Comet’s final ride. Facing mounting debts and an accident-prone amusement park, Lincoln Park was shut down for good.

Image: gmeadows1/Flickr

Image: alohadave/Flickr

Image: artinruins

Image: LP Comet

Although most of the rides were sold off, the Comet still remains. A morbid reminder of the park’s previous glory which can be explored off rout 6 in North Dartmouth.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOOq6mvfuNk&feature=related[/youtube]

Lake Dolores, Newberry Springs, CA

From 1962 to the late 80s Lake Dolores contained the trifecta of summer fun: it was combination water park, amusement park, and campground but in an unexpected locale. Situated on the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the park was supplied with water by underground desert springs that fed the area. After multiple owners and unsuccessful new concepts (changing its name to Rock-a-Hoola being one of them) the park fell out of style, and most of the rides were sold off.

Image: Clay Larsen/Flickr

Image: TravelingMango/Flickr

All that remained were the old water slides, which must have seemed pretty bizarre hanging out on an abandoned stretch of highway in the middle of the desert – that is, until Lake Dolores was happened upon by the reality TV show Rob and Big (focusing on the life of Rob, a professional skateboarders and his friends). While filming a drive from LA to Vegas, the reality show crew stopped at Lake Dolores to attempt skateboarding on the abandoned slides. EEEK!! You can watch it here.

Although no one got hurt, leaving the slides intact became and huge liability for the owners of Lake Dolores. Soon after the episode aired, most of the water slides were taking out of the park.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyop2Ip-oO0[/youtube]

Glen Echo Amusement Park, Glen Echo, Maryland

Glen Echo was created in 1891 as a Chautauqua site (a government funded adult arts center) and slowly morphed into an amusement park in the beginning of the 20th century. The park’s gorgeous art-deco buildings and craftsman carousel drew crowds from D.C., but slowly old-fashioned Glen Echo lost popularity, and it closed its doors in 1968.

Image: katmere/Flickr

Image: katmere/Flickr

Image: katmere/IntangibleArts/Flickr

Glen Echo was then turned over the the National Parks Service, who has donated the park to different arts organizations over the years. Although many other of the original buildings and rides and fallen into disuse, the Spanish Ballroom and Bumper-Car Pavilion host dances on Friday and Sunday Nights and art classes are held in the former Arcade building. In addition, the classic carousel (which has 2 chariots, 4 rabbits, 4 ostriches, 38 horses, a lion, tiger, giraffe, and a fancy prancing deer) went through an almost 20-year renovation, and is now open to the public for rides.

Image: chrisbb@prodigy.net/Flickr

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QI_VtA79shM[/youtube]

If breaking and entering isn’t your thing, Glen Echo is the perfect out-of-use amusement park to check out since it’s legally open to the public!

BONUS Chippewa Lake Park, Medina County, Ohio

Image: logencz/Flickr

Disclaimer: Chippewa Lake was torn down in 2009, so you can no longer visit it, but it’s still worth reading about. Built in 1875 by Edward Andrews, Chippewa Lake Park was originally named “Andrew’s Pleasure Ground”. Luckily, that innuendo-inducing name was changed in 1898 when the park switched owners and even more rides were installed. Chippewa Lake Park was super popular in the 20s and then slowly declined until it was closed in 1978. After being abandoned, it was left pretty much alone for the next 30+ years. All of the wooden rides remained and as the forest took back the land that was cleared for the park, the rides became part of the environment.

Image: Familyguyfan221/Flickr

Image: Mike Adams Photos/Flickr

Since the park lay abandoned for so many years, it became almost as beloved in “death” as it had been in “life”. There were even group tours offered on the grounds of the park in the months before its final demise.

Image: Mike Adams Photos/Flickr

Since these pictures were taken, all the buildings and rides of Lake Chippewa have been destroyed to make way for a spa and hotel, which has yet to be built.

Image: history_buff_23/Flickr

Came across any sweet abandoned amusement parks we left off the list? Let us know! And keep checking back for installment two of the series about long forgotten theme parks in other countries!

Tags: America, amusement park, California, Maryland, massachusetts, Michigan, New Orleans, Ohio, Rhode Island, theme park

    177 Comments

  • Tyler says:

    You forgot Joyland – Wichita, KS . It’s been closed since 2005 it’s scary. Iget the chills every time I drive by that park. That park has been there since 1930 something.

  • Victor Mclendon says:

    This is very compelling. I don’t believe we will be able to rely on coal, natural gas and the like for much longer. Check out my blog about Alternative energies, I write about things like this in depth.

  • Kate says:

    You guys should check out Pleasure Beach, the old park is great!

  • Demetri says:

    Given all of the videos out there, I am surprised that you didn’t include the incredibly creepy Splendid China in Orlando. It has become the kind of place that skaters love, but because all of the attractions are minature versions of Chinese artifacts and landmarks, it sort of looks like you are visiting the country after a nuclear war.

  • Cameron says:

    This is awesome – I love exploring things like this. There is another you’ve missed which is in the San Bernadino Mountains in southern California. It was a christmas themed park, I remember I happened upon it years ago and didn’t have a chance to really explore it — I saw it from a distance. I would really like to go check that out but I can never remember where it was or what it was called.

  • Christy says:

    funny, I am 42 and attended both of these parks. Lincoln Park as a kid, and a date with my now husband to Rocky Point when I was 18 – I believe we saw Foghat there!

  • Pat Patterson says:

    Cameron mentioned a Christmas themed park in the San Bernardn Mts. It was called Santa’s Village and generally was open year round except during fire season and when heavy snowfall of storms made it difficult for people with no chains to get there. According to a nostalgia site the last of these parks closed in 2006 while the one in SoCal has pretty much been leveled by fire and then the subsequent buldozing of the rubble to prevent them from being set alight.

    http://www.alamedainfo.com/Santas_Village_Skyforest_CA_PC_7.jpg

  • Kelly says:

    There is an abandoned park of the “Land of OZ” next to the top of a ski mountain in NC. I have a yellow brick from there. Wish I could remember how we found it but it was such a long time ago!

  • Kelly says:

    oh, maybe it’s no longer abandoned. I found it here: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/3764?offset=15

  • Ellie says:

    Puritas Springs Park, Cleveland, OH
    The park closed in 1958. Much of it was destroyed the next year by a fire. Very few people know about it any more. It once claimed to be home of the infamous Cyclone which boasted speeds of 80 mph and a nasty reputation. The roller coaster took advantage of the location of the park, situated next to a steep valley. Ruins of the roller coaster still remain in the valley and are on public property.
    Be aware that some hiking and luck will be required to find the tracks.

  • Even says:

    Geauga Lake in Aurora, Ohio was very recently closed down as well, about a year or two ago after alot of financial trouble and name changing.

  • Fizz says:

    The Santa’s Village in East Dundee, IL has been abandoned for quite some time now, as well as its companion waterpark Racing Rapids. The waterpark’s water was notorious for being gross in its later years ( I still remember it when it was good). I’m not sure if they still use the Polar Dome ice rink there (although I don’t see why not, as it was a good rink and is right at the front of the park). Probably not too overgrown or creepy yet, but still amusing to relive those memories of putting out little fake fires with water guns on one of the rides…

  • Laura says:

    Celebration City in Branson, MO. It has been abandoned for several years. Owned by the Hershen family known for owning Silver Dollar City, also in Branson. Celebration City was a county fair type amusement park only open at night time and never really took off. the land has not been touched since it was closed down. Always want to explore the closed down park.

  • Katie says:

    Splendid China in Orlando got torn down. Total bummer.

  • christine yepsen says:

    The first amusement park built in MD was the Enchanted Forest. It was abandoned until recently when a local farm started purchasing pieces and renovating them! I was able to snap some pics back in 2002.

    http://theenchantedforest.ellicottcity.net/
    http://www.clarklandfarm.com/Enchanted%20Forest%20Page.htm

  • someone says:

    Does anyone know if Old Indiana Fun Park is still standing? I know it closed in the mid 90′s (I was there during the fateful crash that killed a grandmother and paralized her granddaughter). It was creeppy as heck when it was open, so if it’s not been torn down I bet it would be great for exploring!

  • JT says:

    Glen Echo is not abandoned anymore. Montgomery County, MD picked it up sometime in the early 2000′s and now it is an artist/ community park! The carosel has been fully restored and most of the buildings have been restored to their art deco beauty!! The place is beautiful!! A must see if you are in the DC metro area!!

  • Jenn says:

    I grew up near Medina County Ohio. My dad used to tell me stories about Chippewa Lake and how creepy it was after nature had taken it back over. Thanks for posting pictures of it–I’ve never been able to see it before. :)

  • Jane says:

    Glen Echo doesn’t really belong on this list — everything else is properly abandoned, defunct. Glen Echo is open, and is a pretty neat place. I was really surprised to see it on this list, seeing as I’m in the park right now.

  • db says:

    The Santa’s Village parking lot in the San Bernardino Mountains is currently used to store cut down trees before they are sent down the hill. You can drive by the site on Highway 18 in Skyforest and still see remnants of the old buildings. As far as I’m aware, it’s never been touched by fire (although the Old Fire in 2003 was close by). I moved off the mountain about 3 years ago, but I know there are several people who have props and artifacts from the site, and the local historical society was trying to find a location to display them. I have a memory of my parents taking me once. I was probably about 3-4, so it was the late sixties. I don’t remember being terribly impressed, but that was probably because I’d already been to Disneyland a couple of times by then.

  • momma says:

    Chippewa Lake has been completely demolished :-(

  • Julie says:

    Well my family has a cottage on Chippewa Lake and unfortunately they are tearing the park down for good…the old roller coaster is gone and im sure everything else is coming down soon too :(

  • Jersey says:

    There is a gold-mine of abandoned theme parks in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens: Space City, Storybook Land, etc. Some have been properly demolished due to illegal activity and/or stupid teenagers, but quite a few are still rusting away somewhere in Piney.

  • gnome says:

    Yesterdays abandoned theme parks are Today’s post-apocalyptic film sets

  • wizzard says:

    The old Benson’s Animal Farm in Hudson, NH was recently turned into a green space/nature area…closed quite a few years ago because of financial problems. The state bought it and turned around and sold it to the town. Some of the old stuff is still up- the gorilla house, the old lady in the shoe, ticket booths, etc. Kinda cool.

  • You also forgot Splendid China in Kissimmee Florida.

  • neko says:

    six flags over new orleans is being taken for scrap metal in january of 2011, and there are rumors that nickelodeon bought the park, because new orleans put a restraining order on six flags,leaving the park to sit. if the buying deal goes through, nick will beinging remodeling for their own park

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