Buckroe Beach: Hampton Roads’ Forgotten Amusement Park Revisited

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.

Chippewa Lake Park in Ohio and Ocean View Park in Virginia have always been my favorites amongst a few others. But wildly enough, I hadn’t heard about Buckroe Beach Park until December 2018.

*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!

History

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Buckroe’s entrance January 1986
Photo by Cathy Dixson

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.

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Buckroe Beach’s Paratrooper Attraction
Photo from Richmond Times Dispatch

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.

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Buckroe Beach Aerial Photo at Night
Photo from Pinterest

The Park

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.

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The Dips at Buckroe Beach
Photo from Pinterest

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:

  • Paratrooper
  • Flying Cages/Swinging Gym
  • Ferris Wheel
  • Cascades (old mill)
  • Swings
  • Tilt-A-Whirl
  • Funhouse
  • Airplanes
  • Sidewinder
  • Mini Golf
  • Bumper Cars
  • Octopus (flat ride)
  • Scrambler
  • Music Express
  • Round Up
  • Games
  • 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…

Remains

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Buckroe’s Vintage Carousel at Hampton Present Day
Photo from Pinterest

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.

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Age destroyed the original pier opposite from The Dips. But, it has been rebuilt and stands where the first one was.

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Buckroe Beach Pier
Present Day Photos by Alexis Dees

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.

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Buckroe Beach “Coaster Way”

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.”

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Memory Lane

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!

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37 Comments

  1. Not sure if this was a commercial, slogan or something else back then but growing up in Hampton, I have heard so many elders say “Lets gooooooo to buckrooooeee..!” If someone brings up the park, its almost guaranteed someone will say it. That is all I could think of the whole time I read this!

  2. When I was 5years old my daddy pastored a church in smithfield. I remember him taking the youth to Buckroefpr the day and my family went with them.I vaguely remember walking alongside the huge tall rollercoaster. My mother tolme in later years that I rode my first merry go round at Buckroe. years later (2019) to go fishing with my boyfriend I went to Hampton and saw the carousel sign. We found it and read cthe sign. I cried as I rode it and thought of it being the first one I ever rode.It was so special and I am glad they kept and redid the beauty. I was also watching a movie years ago that had a wooden roller coaster burn.AsI watched it I said to myself that looks like Buckroe.I watched at the end and read. “Special thanks to Buckroe beach for the use of the rollercoaster. Who could forget as a 5yr old that monster of a coaster high above my head.thanks for the memories.

  3. When I was allowed to go with my friend’s family as a girl who weren’t as strict as mine, we’d head straight for the bandstand and the rock’n roll! I remember the little white picket fence surrounding the dance floor and I think you paid to get in and dance. Sooo exciting! I have the ticket stubs and pics from 1985 when my husband and I took my 2 year old son to closing night. I know I shed a few tears. Happily, right now I’m shopping for a condo there on that beautiful bay to live in so I can enjoy Buckroe and Phoebus again. My beach loving grandchildren will love it!!

  4. I loved staying with my grandparents at Buckroe every summer! They kept us for a week, and we went to the Amusement Park every night! Rode the roller coaster, played skeeball and had my first kiss on the beach in 1970!

  5. We used to go there all the time when I was a kid. I remember we would buy an armband to ride the rides all day. We would ride the coaster over and over because if there was no one in line, they would just let us stay on. Plus the tilt-a-whirl and the Hot Cat, so fun. I went there today and saw the area for the first time as it is now. Still a lovely area but I definitely had flash backs. Even the Air Power Park on the way there!

    1. greetings to all, covid in some form is hanging on. WOW buckroe amusement park. i’m long gone these days but my report, yes the wooden roller coaster seemed to articulate, especially if on the ride a few heavy riders helped push us thru the turns was maddening, loss of life at my young age was in my frontal lobe during the ride. What a life, my parents were the best, the best food was everywhere but grand mom was the top choice cook. Now back to my review, Nothing beat the wooden roller coaster, yes KD BG had steel pipe better roller coasters that did not give but yes the climbs and abrupt drops were heart pounding, innovation is why buckroe beach did not survive, if they had a long wet slide they might still be in business, Phoebus was my favorite place to live, now i still live in a similar climate but here on lake wallenpaupack, with asian beetles killing ash trees , smoked pork chops and sweet potatoe tonite long for north carolina barbecue . what a life golden retrievers forever, be well all stay safe, and thank you for the trip down memory lane.

  6. I went to Buckroe Beach the first 15 years of my life, every summer with my family. We stayed at the Waterview Motel, in the penthouse. My cousin and I would walk down to the amusement park, past all of the “honky tonks”. I was so scared, as my family made that section out to be so bad. We never had a problem. Great times! If anyone has pictures of the Waterview Motel, I would love to see them.

  7. I remember when I was a kid my mom and my aunt would take me. My brothers sisters and cousins to a relative that lived close there with a big yard that we played in and we could walk to the beach and went to. The amusement park I am going to be 70 so I’m pretty sure that was in the lake fifties. So yes this was I’m glad. I ran across this article wasn’t really looking for it but when it popped up. I thought let me read it and some of those pictures brought back Memories of when I was a kid

    1. Aw I’m glad the post and photos rekindled fond memories for you, Ellie! It must have been a blast at Buckroe during its heyday in the 50s. Really wish the park was still kicking in its prime!

  8. I think it was in the mid- to late 1960’s, and I was probably only about 5 or 6 and my sister a year older.
    I’m pretty sure this was the first time we went to the beach. From what I can remember is my dad taking the family, at the time , I don’t think our little brother was born yet, to Colonial Beach and getting there to find dead fish all over the beach and the smell was…well, you know, so dad and mom mulled it over and decided to try Buckroe Beach. By the time we got there it was late and dark, and they were exhausted from driving all day, and of course, dad had a reservation at Colonial Beach and not at Buckroe Beach, so when we got there, the only room available was right at/under the wooden roller coaster. Mom and dad were horrified. There was no air conditioning in the place we stayed, and I remember how stifling hot it was in that little room, but it was so exciting as little kids to be able to stand on the bed and watch the roller coaster roar by from the window, and feel the room quake which made it feel like we were on the ride too and their screaming felt like it was us screaming. I loved that vacation and I’m pretty sure my sister would say the same thing!!!! It was fabulous and makes me smile every time I think about it.

    1. Oh my gosh, that’s the coolest thing ever! It must’ve been so chaotic for your parents after that long, hectic day but it’d definitely be super exciting seeing the roller coaster fly by just outside the window as kids. Stories like this best share the quintessential Buckroe experience–not without its quirks but surely filled with charm! It’s a shame the park is not around anymore! It would’ve been really neat to stay in that room. Thank you so much for sharing your memories, Sandra!

  9. Alexis ,what a great article. Thank you. My airforce dad bought a Fordham development home in 1952. I spent many summers on those green and yellow rental floats. Loved the bumper cars and penny arcade. My sister and I have countless memories there. You have touched my heart.

    1. Aw, I’m so glad you enjoyed the article, Edward! Buckroe was a special park, and I can only imagine how much fun those summers must have been. Thank you for sharing your connection with the park! It’s so endearing to read.

  10. I remember going to buckaroe beach amusement park all the time when I would go with my mom and grandparents to visit my great aunt Theda and uncle Jack who lived a short distance away on moger drive I was also there the night they closed for good in 1985 I was 14 and I remember it and cherish memories of this place all my life it’s nice to see that they pay homage to this wonderful small amusement park ❤️

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your memories, Bruce! It is great Hampton pays some tributes to Buckroe! Far too often cities will level old parks and there’ll be no indication of the history that was there. (kind of like how Virginia Beach has done with Seaside) The little Ferris wheel during Christmas time is a lot of fun to see! I’ll have to add the pictures to this post soon.

  11. Roslyn and I met at a band parade when she was in 7th grade and I was in 9th grade. Later, as teens, we met at Buckroe Beach because she was not permitted to date. I would take the CRT bus from Newport News to meet there. We have been married over 51 years. I guess Buckroe Beach was magical.

    1. That’s so awesome, Raymond! It’s so lovely to see the role the park played amongst so many relationships and families. It was definitely a magical place! Congrats on 50+ years marriage! That’s an incredible feat.

  12. My grandmother, father and I rode the carousel at the amusement park. My son rode it at its current location in downtown Hampton. We took my grandmother and son to ride together in 1996. It was my grandmothers last ride and my sons first.
    My husband and I were married there 02.14,2020. After the ceremony we invited our guests to ride with us. I have very fond memories of the amusement park and carousel.

    1. Oh my gosh, Toni, that’s too sweet! That’s so awesome that your son got to ride with your grandmother! I hope the carousel keeps spinning for decades to come and that family tradition could continue down the line. And, belated congratulations on your marriage–hope you all are doing well!

  13. I grew up in the 50s and 60s going to Buckroe Beach every 4the of July week. Very fond memories of the park and dancing the Twist on the dance floor. Thank you for this site.

  14. Thanks for the memories. I spent a lot of summers at Buckroe. Rides and games. “Pull a string”. Dancing in the evenings. Church picnics. My mom and dad met on a train going to a church picnic. My grandparents had two duplexes on First street. Plus a few other family members who either lived or had cottages there. Loved the lime aids at the place right inside the gate.

    1. I’m glad to take you down memory lane! Those sound like such lovely times. I love hearing about the connections people’s families have with Buckroe, the deeper sentiments. And it’s the little details like the lime aids that keep the spirit of the park alive! They complete the full picture of what it once was.

  15. My dad was stationed in the area in about 1952 for the first time. My parents took my sister and I to Buckroe to swim and to wander in the amusement park, which we so loved. My dad got stationed at Langley AFB again in 1965. When I met my hubby that year, that was our date go to!! We spent many hours playing mini golf, dancing in the pavilion or on the rides. Many nights we just went there to walk around the park. It was a huge part of our lives, and I so miss it today. There are so many of us who post memories on the Buckroe Beach Facebook page. It was a huge loss when the park closed. My son and daughter worked there the last year it was open.

    1. Aw, that’s so wonderful, Judie! It’s fascinating how much the park has influenced and intertwined in people’s lives, even over generations. With each memory and story I hear about Buckroe, it goes to show how much it was a part of local culture. I’ll have to check the Facebook page out! I love reading people’s experiences there. Thank you for sharing yours!

  16. What a great article. Thanks for bringing Buckroe and Bay Shore back from the ashes and reminding us of all the fun we had as children and teenagers growing up in Buckroe. I have collected Buckroe memorabilia since I worked there renting floats and umbrellas when I was 15 in 1974. It was a magical place to roam and explore. It’s much cleaner now, but I still miss hearing the strain of the roller coaster climbing the first hill and the scream of the passengers on the way down…….my favorite place to be. It brings to mind a serious case of FOMO when I was a child and could hear that from my bedroom while I was falling asleep…….Thank you!!

    1. I’m so glad I could rekindle those memories, Martha! I can’t imagine how cool it must’ve been to be able to hear it from your room. Memories like those are pure gold! Buckroe has always struck me as being such a charming park and it’s really a shame that it’s not still around as it was. But it most definitely lives on it spirit! Hopefully this tribute captured a piece of it.

    2. I think it was in the mid- to late 1960’s, and I was probably only about 5 or 6 and my sister a year older.
      I’m pretty sure this was the first time we went to the beach. From what I can remember is my dad taking the family, at the time , I don’t think our little brother was born yet, to Colonial Beach and getting there to find dead fish all over the beach and the smell was…well, you know, so dad and mom mulled it over and decided to try Buckroe Beach. By the time we got there it was late and dark, and they were exhausted from driving all day, and of course, dad had a reservation at Colonial Beach and not at Buckroe Beach, so when we got there, the only room available was right at/under the wooden roller coaster. Mom and dad were horrified. There was no air conditioning in the place we stayed, and I remember how stifling hot it was in that little room, but it was so exciting as little kids to be able to stand on the bed and watch the roller coaster roar by from the window, and feel the room quake which made it feel like we were on the ride too and their screaming felt like it was us screaming. I loved that vacation and I’m pretty sure my sister would say the same thing!!!! It was fabulous and makes me smile every time I think about it.

  17. Thank you so much for putting this information together. My Uncle Talmadge and Aunt Marion lived just up the road from there. As a kid in the 70’s and 80’s I always marveled at the wooden coaster just inside the fence. My Uncle would give me a quarter to get a Slurpee at 7-11 on the corner and I’d sip on that walking around the amusement park. Great, great memories!

    I also loved going to Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens as a kid and can surely see how the excitement of new rides took away from the charm of Buckroe. As an adult, I appreciate all of the memories of Buckroe, especially of my dear Aunt and Uncle that I miss much.

    1. Aw, Tracy, that’s so wonderful to hear! Thank you so much for sharing your story! I find personal stories like yours to be infinitely more fascinating and precious than anything any ole book or article can offer. I’m glad I could compile this for the park.

      I really wish it was still around and thriving today! There’s a certain charm with traditional parks like Buckroe that the modern ones can’t touch, and a great piece of that is the difference in personal connection and history behind them. I find them kind of inherently less superficial to that end. Both kinds of parks are great, just different. And the memories they provide are priceless, cherish them!