I’ve always found old fashioned, traditional amusement parks to be really quaint and charming. I’d time travel back to visit one in their heyday if I could. But the next best thing is to relive them through what survives of them through the Internet and real world remnants.
*gets disowned by locals, rightfully so*
Despite its close proximity, it had never crossed my radar previously. And nowadays, it’s trickier to find information about it than it is with some other old school parks.
Thusly, I want to compile a record of my findings on Buckroe Beach (and earn redemption, sorry Hampton!). After all, it is the first former amusement park grounds I’ve visited.
Without further ado, let’s revisit a hallmark of Hampton Roads history, Buckroe Beach Park!
Buckroe Beach Park opened back in 1895 and its origins follows the traditional story of most old school parks.
It began as a local vacation spot with a bath house, pavilion, and hotel. Perfectly set up for quaint picnics, summertime beach activities, and hitting up the dance hall and hotel at night. Then, a regional entrepreneur had the notion to expand the site through a trolley line and formerly convert it to an amusement park.
Buckroe Beach broke ground and opened its ticket booths as the first park in Hampton, but it wasn’t the only park along that beach.
One day I’ll do a post for the other park, Bay Shore. But for now, I’ll note that Bay Shore stood adjacent to Buckroe from roughly 1906-1947 as a black Americans only park while Buckroe was for white Americans until the park desegregated. Buckroe Beach’s desegregation is what led to Bay Shore’s closure.
In Buckroe’s prime (’50s-’60s), it was a major attraction for the Hampton Roads area bringing in many visitors from other states. The 9-acre park regularly saw its property filled to capacity with guests due to its being widely beloved in the region. However, unfortunately Buckroe didn’t see those similar attendance numbers until its last weekend open in ’85.
With Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion opening in the 1970s, attendance for Buckroe dropped to an average of 100k annually. For comparison, both BG and KD can see 100k people easily just within the week of Spring Break alone.
Most traditional parks fell to the same plight. If they didn’t adapt alongside their new, freshly funded competition and the overall modernization of amusement parks, they were soon shuttered. Cedar Point is a pinnacle example of the transformation a traditional park needed to make to survive the new generation of theme parks.
All the new contemporary parks got to learn from the trial and error of the old parks. They acquired more land for future park development, had larger financial investments to splurge on bigger rides and better theming, and they also enjoyed modern advancements such as A/C and improved technologies.
And, it is these advantages that translated into the disadvantages that Buckroe faced. The last time the park turned a solid profit was in 1968.
The owners of the park themselves confirmed that the reason Buckroe Beach Park closed was because of competition from the new nearby theme parks, with one of the owners being quoted as saying, “Where have they been for the last 20 years? Now they’re coming down all sad, but they didn’t support the place. They went to Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion.”
In 1985, the inevitable happened and Buckroe closed. Subsequently, it was left abandoned until 1991 when most of it was scrapped for lumber and parts. But alas, a wee few things survive.
The carousel still operates today in Hampton’s waterfront district as the sole remaining ride from the park. The lighthouse from the park’s hotel also remains today fully functional.
Buckroe Beach featured many classics found in the old parks: a classic white wooden roller coaster, vintage carousel & band organ, myriad of flat rides, charming hotel, and dance pavilion to boot. In total, the park had 22 rides and 10 games by closing.
The larger coaster that stood proud over the park from 1920 to its closing was called The Dips for one spell and The Roller Dips for another spell. Before The Dips was leveled with the park, it was the United States’ oldest roller coaster and the second oldest coaster in the world.
Back in the ’20s, there was a second, smaller coaster that didn’t have the same longevity of The Dips. This one was The Jack Rabbit. The site where The Jack Rabbit stood, to the right of The Dips, was later replaced by the swings and the bumper cars.
The park’s carousel was also built in 1920. It’s an antique wooden carousel featuring hand carved horses and a Bruder band organ. Being a cherished park icon, it was restored and remains one of only 170 vintage carousels left in the country.
Other attractions in the park included:
- Flying Cages/Swinging Gym
- Ferris Wheel
- Cascades (old mill)
- Mini Golf
- Bumper Cars
- Octopus (flat ride)
- Music Express
- Round Up
- Children Rides
The park’s hotel, the Buckroe Hotel, opened in 1898 and operated until sometime in the 1940s when it was partially destroyed by a storm. The surviving portion of the hotel was subsequently demolished. It stood to the left of where the lighthouse resides today. Speaking of…
Much of the park and its attractions were scrapped and sold in 1991. On the site of where the park was, today there’s just a few remnants left recognizable only to those who knew the park.
There are historical landmark plaques on the grounds at the park’s entrance and at the site of the hotel. The first one details the history of the site before the park while the second one details the history of the hotel and Bay Shore side.
Age destroyed the original pier opposite from The Dips. But, it has been rebuilt and stands where the first one was.
The lighthouse from the park’s hotel also remains on site. In the park’s later years, it was utilized in the mini-golf course. Today, it’s the sole survivor of both park features.
The street sign named “Coaster Way” on the coaster’s former site is my personal favorite Easter egg.
The rest of the property is a community park now with playgrounds, beach paths, picnic areas, and a pier. Housing developments have been built along the park property’s edges too.
In large, those who never knew Buckroe probably wouldn’t realize that there used to be an amusement park here. But for those that did know Buckroe, there’s still a few remnants that’ll catch the eye and tug the heartstrings.
Fortunately since the grounds are public, you don’t have to reminiscence from afar. While the hotel is gone, the same sand remains out front and is open for any to bask in park nostalgia or the summer sun.
And during Christmastime, don’t be surprised to find a miniature Ferris wheel light display next to the lighthouse, bearing the name “Buckroe Beach Amusement Park.”
While I’ll try to include every facet of information possible in this record, so it’s all compiled in one place, I’m merely human. Inevitably, there are things that I’ve missed or not stumbled upon yet.
So, if there’s further material that you know of that’s not listed, let me know! I regularly update attraction records over the years with new information I find.
For bonus Buckroe content, there is a great blast from the past book, Lost Attractions Of Hampton Roads by Nancy E Sheppard, that details Buckroe Beach Park and the adjoining Bay Shore Beach Park. It includes more vintage photos of the parks in their prime as well as exploring other Hampton Roads attractions like Seaside Park, Seaview Beach Park, and Ocean View Park.
If you enjoyed this post revisiting Buckroe Beach Park, you’ll definitely want to grab a copy of that book! It’s a great read that recaptures the park for anyone nostalgic of bygone times or anyone curious of what they missed out on (like me).
If you have any memories of the Buckroe Beach Park, please share them below!
Those are what truly keeps the spirit of the park alive better than any archive record can.
And to complete our stroll down memory lane, here’s a collection of places to further your fix of Hampton’s lost gem, Buckroe Beach Park:
1958 Old Film of Buckroe Beach Park
1921 Buckroe Historical Society Aerial Photo
Washington Post Buckroe Closing Day
Black Past Buckroe/Bay Shore History
Richmond Times Dispatch Buckroe Archives
Daily Press Buckroe Beach Photo Gallery
Buckroe Beach Wikipedia
Thanks for reading!