1. Conneaut Lake Park, 1892
Opened in 1892 as Exposition Park, Conneaut Lake Park prides and markets itself as a rare vintage pearl, a real-life passage back in time: "Not contrived in any way (...) Conneaut Lake Park is a salve to nerves stressed to the breaking point – truly a place of relaxation and refreshment." To this day, the park hosts mainly music events but also holiday events like a pumpkin festival and a spooky festival for Halloween.
There are picnic areas that are open for private rentals for birthdays and weddings and a hotel that hosts beach parties. The park's carousel, one of the main rides, was installed in 1910, and it operates continuously until today! Many local senior citizens grew up in this park, and so 2 years ago, locals organized a volunteering event to refurbish the park. This is proof of the park's sentimental value to the local community.
2. Arnolds Park, 1889
As early as 1874, the Milwaukee Railroad expanded north, bringing along tourists to the West Okoboji Lake in Iowa. Local Wesley Arnold, who had property nearby, saw this change and opened his house as an Inn to the tourists. A few years later, in 1882, he began constructing a hotel on his property.
In the years to come, a post office was established, then a souvenir shop, a boathouse, and finally, in 1889, a 60-foot tall waterslide. This was the first attraction at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. In 1901, a big pavilion was built for hosting big events, as well as a permanent dock on the water.
When Arnolds died in 1905, his daughters took over the mission of expanding the amusement park. Over the next few years, they added more and more attractions and rides. After taking major damage from a 1968 tornado, the park slowly started to lose popularity to the point of closing in 1988, only to reopen in 1996.
In 1999, the campaign "save the park" was launched by locals to tackle the owner's plan to destroy the place and build a condo complex instead. Currently, the park is open and running, hosting movie nights, music events, and parties, with many many rides and attractions, including 2 museums and a vintage pinball.
3. Lagoon Park, 1886
Opened in Great Salt Lake on July 15, 1886, this park offered open-air dancing, water sports, bowling, and mule-drawn merry-go-round! It was later moved to Farmington, Utah, in 1899. The hand-carved carousel was installed in 1906. It took 13 years to complete! Another staple ride of the amusement park, the Lagoon's roller coaster, was established in 1921, and it is one of the oldest operating wooden coasters in the world.
In 1953, a fire destroyed half the park, but it bounced back rather quickly. It peaked in popularity in the '60s: "in 1960 alone, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Cash, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington played for the crowds." In July of 1966, there were The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, performing at the park. Here's a fun fact: The Beach Boys mentioned the place in their song "salt lake city."
There is even a political major turning point in the history of the park, as in 1965, the Park's leader, Robert E. Freed, fought town laws banning African-Americans from parts of the park. His efforts were successful.
4. Coney Island, 1886
Not to be confused with the Coney Island in New York, this park started as a 400-acre apple orchard on the banks of the Ohio River, originally named Parker's Grove. The owner, James Parker, rented it out as a picnic grove and gradually added a dining hall, dancing hall, and bowling alley. In 1886, the park's new owners named it Ohio Grove and advertised it as “The Coney Island of the West,” after the well-established Coney Island in Brooklyn.
Today, the park is mainly a water park. Here's a nice historical anecdote: in June 1953, Walt Disney and his brother, Roy, visited Coney Island to gather ideas for the California amusement park they planned. They were very impressed and even received some advice from the owner, Ed Schott.
5. Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom, 1884
Solomon Dorney, the official owner of the land, built a fish hatchery on the property in 1860. He soon realized - thanks to the location, his estate would profit him much more if he converted into a form of public attraction. In the 1870s, Dorney added some attractions, going as far as building a hotel, a restaurant, and even a zoo.
In the following years, he added a few rides, and in 1884, he renamed the park to Dorney’s Trout Ponds and Summer Resort. In 1901, he sold the park to the new owners who kept expanding the park's rides.
6. Seabreeze Amusement Park, 1879
Seabreeze Amusement Park was opened on August 5, 1879, as the last stop on the steam railroad. At the time, picnic groves and the lakefront were the main attractions, but the mechanical rides arrived soon after, in 1900. In 1920, visitors flocked by the thousands to enjoy the Virginia Reel, the world’s largest saltwater swimming pool.
Many parks on the list are dear to the hearts of the local communities, as many generations spent their childhoods there. What makes this specific park so special is that it was never sold to an outside owner! This park is run by no less than 5 generations of the same family.
7. Idlewild and Soak Zone, 1878
In 1878, property owner Thomas Mellon leased his land along his Ligonier Valley Railroad as a picnic ground. He was hoping to increase passenger traffic, and his hopes came true. Many visitors came to enjoy the campgrounds, the artificial lake for boating and fishing, the large hall, and the picnic tables.
In the 1930s, many mechanical rides were added to the park, essentially turning it into a proper amusement park. More than half a century after the park opened, in 1952, the Ligonier Valley Railroad closed down. With some rides still operating from the '30s, this park is considered exceptionally successful today. The park even won the prestigious Golden Ticket Award 8 years in a row!
8. Six Flags New England, 1870
Like so many other parks on the list, Six Flags New England began as a picnic grove in 1870 named Gallup's Grove. The name was briefly changed to Riverside Grove and eventually to Riverside Park in 1912. The park was purchased in 1911 by Henry J. Perkins, who transformed the park from a picnic grove to an amusement park. He was the one to build the park's first roller coaster in 1912, determining the park's future forever.
In 1933, during the Great Depression, the park closed and remained closed until 1939, although it was used for numerous company picnics and also hosted a drive-in movie theater between 1937 and 1939. In 1996, the park was purchased by Premier Parks, who sold it to Six Flags in 1998. It was finally re-branded as Six Flags New England in 2000.
9. Cedar Point, 1870
Opened in 1870, it is considered the second-oldest operating amusement park in the United States, second to only Lake Compounce, the next one on the list. Cedar Point became a popular beach resort in the late 1870s when visitors traveled to the peninsula by steamboat from Sandusky.
The park features a world record of 71 rides, the Grand Pavilion being the oldest building still running. Originally, it was opened as a bathing resort with freshwater shores. The first roller coaster came in 1892, after a dance hall and a bathhouse, and it reached a maximum speed of 10 mph.
10. Lake Compounce, 1846
According to the official website, "Lake Compounce is the oldest, continuously-operating amusement park in North America, having its genesis more than 170 years ago in 1846!" On December 2, 1684, the land was purchased by a group of white settlers from Native Americans. In 1846, scientist Samuel Botsford convinced property owner Gad Norton to let him use the property for a series of electrical experiments.
They invited a big crowd and had great success. This inspired Norton to make the place more accommodating, with picnic tables, public swimming and rowing, and a gazebo for small music concerts. This paved the way to America's oldest running amusement park. Today, besides the rides, it also operates a camping site.