The Tragic Demise Of Ohio’s Most Beautiful Playground: Chippewa Lake Park

Chippewa Lake Park was once known as Ohio’s Most Beautiful Playground. And now, the Ohio amusement park is nothing more than ruins.

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Chippewa Lake Park Ferris Wheel

Most people today know Chippewa as being an abandoned amusement park best recognizable for the Ferris wheel with trees growing through it.

But Chippewa Lake Park was an industry headliner in its heyday, comparable to parks like Cedar Point, Elitch Gardens, and Kennywood. Unfortunately, the park wasn’t able to survive as long as them–at least, operationally.

So, what happened to Chippewa Lake Park? Company/government conflict, arson, razes, and time.

While I work on a detailed history of the park in its century long run (like I did with Buckroe and Seaside), I want to do a separate post exploring why Chippewa Lake Park closed and what’s become of it.

Since most people only know the park by its current form, I want to touch on what this version of the Chippewa is and what caused a very beloved, renowned amusement park to become nothing more than abandoned memories.

With that said, let’s uncover what happened to Chippewa Lake Park.

Related Reading: The History Of Chippewa Lake Park

Brief Background

Because I am working on a historical record of Chippewa Lake Park (one that’s going to be long, hence segmenting posts), I’m going to keep its background short. But, I wanted to still include some context on what the park was originally.

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Chippewa Lake Park Tumble Bug & Ferris Wheel

What was Chippewa Lake Park?

Chippewa Lake Park was an Ohio amusement park that opened July 4th, 1875 and officially closed permanently at the end of the season in 1978. In 1979, an Oktoberfest Celebration was held in the park during the fall. That was the last documented event of the park being opened to the public.

It sits on Chippewa Lake in Medina County and operated as a successful, primarily family run, amusement park. Major companies, politicians, and musicians frequented the park in addition to summer crowds of 40,000 people per day.

Attractions included the famous Starlight Ballroom, Big Dipper roller coaster, Wild Mouse roller coaster, Flying Cages, Tumble Bug, Carousel, Ferris Wheel, the Hamburger Factory, Funhouse, Kiddieland, and Chippewa Lake Park Hotel (amongst many others).

Why did Chippewa Lake Park close?

Now, to the meat and potatoes of this post:

Multiple factors have been cited as the reason behind Chippewa’s closure, all of which intertwine. These are: financial problems, regional competition, and disputes between the park’s owners & the local government.

The last Chippewa Lake Park had turned a profit was in the early 70s. The company that owned the park, Continental Business Enterprises, was starting to invest in updating the park. Plans were made and drawn up to breathe new life into the park.

They recognized that the dwindling finances were due to competition from other Ohio amusement parks that had revamped themselves.

Chippewa Lake Park was a traditional park. Cedar Point was a traditional park. And, Cedar Point transitioned to the contemporary style amusement park we’re familiar with today. Chippewa Lake Park couldn’t compete with that unless it too made that transition.

Cedar Point is just an example used to convey, in quick layman’s terms, the difference between traditional and contemporary amusement parks. Geauga Lake and Kings Island are other parks Chippewa was up against as well.

So, facing parks that had A/C, newer coasters, and modern rides, Chippewa Lake Park wasn’t drawing crowds as well as it had been up until the 70s. And, CBE knew that to make money, they were going to have to spend money on modernizing the park.

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Concept Art For Proposed Plans For Chippewa Lake Park

Enter the local Chippewa Lake/Medina County government.

When Continental submitted files and permits to approve the rework of Chippewa Lake Park, the community leaders wanted Chippewa’s company to also fund an overhaul of the local infrastructure to support the tourism the upgraded park would bring. The small village otherwise wouldn’t be able to handle the influx.

The bill to fund both renovating the park and reworking the village around it was far more than CBE was willing to pay, as they wouldn’t be able to recuperate the cost of doing so. Financing both projects was not economically feasible for the company.

Consequently, CBE told local Chippewa government that they wouldn’t pay for the village infrastructure and that if the County didn’t approve of the plans to overhaul the park, Chippewa Lake Park would close.

In response, the Chippewa officials told CBE they weren’t approving the plans if the company didn’t pay for the village’s upgrades and called bluff on the park’s closure.

And thusly, it was a standoff.

Locals and former park employees have said that both parties, CBE and the local government, truly believed that the other would cave in.

The government thinking that Continental would feel the financial loss of owning a closed park, which still cost in liability and taxes even though they weren’t making a dime to recuperate that. And, Continental thinking that the government would see the impact of the park’s closure on the local village’s economy.

Despite both being true, neither budged.

At the end of 1978, Continental Business Enterprises announced Chippewa Lake Park would not be reopening. The county officials remained indifferent.

In 1979, Chippewa Lake Park did host a brief fall Oktoberfest event. That event would mark the last time the park was open for the public.

With both the local government and CBE in a stalemate, the park remained closed and the village took a hard economic hit going into the 1980s.

And, the stubbornness between both parties went on just long enough that it was quickly too late for either to backtrack and concede. Because in 1982, the first of many incidents of arson struck the park.

What happened to Chippewa Lake Park?

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Starlight Ballroom Chippewa Lake Park Ruins

Entering the 1980s, many people believed that Chippewa Lake Park would still open. Fans and locals, yes, but park employees had too. To the degree, actually, that everything was left as is in the park.

Park documents, personal belongings, privately owned arcade machines, inventory… everything. Beds were still made in the hotel, tables set up in the ballroom, tools in the maintenance sheds–all was left as typical for an off season. Set up for an empty winter and ready for when operations would resume in the spring.

They didn’t go into 1978 planning on the park permanently closing that year and being torn out the next. In fact, some of the plans to update the park were slated for the 1979 season. So, in the first years after closing, it was a waiting game to see if it’d reopen or if it’d be sold off.

Also, important to mention, traditional parks back then weren’t owned entirely under one umbrella.

For example, a contemporary park like Magic Kingdom is entirely owned by Disney. All the rides, concessions, restaurants, games, shows, and so forth are all owned and operated by Disney.

Traditional parks had an owner, but most of their attractions were owned and operated by private individuals–carnies. People or families owned and operated certain concessions, rides, games, etc at the park.

Think in the same vein of how malls work, except these folks lived at the park too. And often times, come the off season in winter, they would relocate their attractions and themselves to a Florida park until the spring.

So I note this to say, when arsonists took to the closed amusement park, it wasn’t just Continental Business Enterprises that suffered the most. The fires were wiping out people’s livelihoods and private property they’d previously believed to be safe within the gated park. Chippewa hadn’t previously dealt with great fires in its century long history, unlike other parks where fire wasn’t uncommon.

Arson

1982 marked the first major fire in Chippewa Lake Park. The victim? The midway’s Penny Arcade.

While in 1980, a small maintenance shed near the Rocket Ride had burned, the Penny Arcade’s fire was the first major blow to the park. The Arcade was connected to a row of beloved attractions on the midway including the Bumper Cars and Funhouse.

The Huth family that owned the Penny Arcade lost all of their machines, many of which were vintage.

This fire marked the point which everyone realized Chippewa Lake Park wouldn’t be able to reopen anymore. Up until then, it had been in mint condition.

In 1988, the large Picnic Pavilion that sat on the shore of Chippewa Lake burned down overnight. The Pavilion held both a large dining area, food stands, games, and employee housing upstairs.

A local that I spoke to on one of my visits recalled how the fire department sirens woke him that night and so he took a small boat out on the lake to see. He stated it was the biggest fire he’d ever seen, taller than the 40-foot trees surrounding the park. Chunks of wood and ash had been carried in the wind over the village and landed on the roofs of many cottages.

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Chippewa Lake Park Hotel Fire Sept 29th, 1991

An evening in 1991 was when the Hotel was spitefully lit ablaze.

A group of vandals had been caught tearing things up inside the old park’s hotel earlier that day and were kicked out by law enforcement. They returned after sunset to light the Hotel on fire purposefully in retaliation. Because we can’t have nice things.

Although for what it’s worth, not all of the arsons were intentional. A prime example is the iconic Starlight Ballroom.

The Chippewa Lake Park Ballroom burned down in 2002 after a child unintentionally started a fire while playing inside. The child escaped the incident unharmed. The Starlight Ballroom did not.

And to boot, the Chippewa Ballroom fire posed a great threat to the nearby park cottages that people had turned into permanent residences. The Ballroom sat merely feet away from the closest homes and even melted the sides off of some. Residents evacuated with their valuables in anticipation of it spreading. But fortunately, the fire department subdued the fire within a few hours.

And amongst these series of fires, multiple other park structures went down with them. More maintenance buildings, concession stands, and the Funhouse succumbed to these incidents.

The ride vehicles for the Little Dipper roller coaster, Kiddieland attraction rafts, and mini-golf course decor burned with the Ballroom they’d been stored in. It’s dubious as to whether the carousel horses were also in the Starlight or if some had been auctioned off beforehand.

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Chippewa Lake Park Ballroom Fire June 13th, 2002

Demolition

Fortunately for Chippewa Lake Park fans, the Big Dipper roller coaster, Wild Mouse roller coaster, Hamburger Factory/Stand A, and Bathhouse escaped the arsons unscathed. Unfortunately, they didn’t escape the series of planned and cancelled projects for the site.

Like clockwork, multiple proposals were put forth on what to do with the site of Chippewa Lake Park. Condominiums, hotels, apartments, spas, shops, entertainment venues, and so forth had gone forward and then fell through with tangible development.

In 2008, a Chippewa based LLC revealed plans for a complex featuring a hotel, shops, restaurants, and entertainment to open on the site in 2010. We clearly know this didn’t happen, because the park is still there as of 2023.

But, in 2009 they set forth with clearing the site of its trees and debris. Farewell tours for the park were held throughout 2009 and ceased in 2010. And starting in 2010, the Big Dipper coaster, Bathhouse, Hamburger Factory, and Wild Mouse coaster were razed to make space for the new community complex.

Just after, further development of the project dropped off the map. Demolition stopped and nothing more was ever mentioned about the planned complex.

Like every other proposal before, the project never came to fruition. This time, however, it wasn’t until after they had levelled several of the remaining park attractions. Naturally.

What’s left of the abandoned Chippewa Lake Park today?

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Chippewa Lake Park Starlight Ballroom Then & Now

Resiliently, the Tumble Bug, Flying Cages, Ferris Wheel, Little Dipper roller coaster, ticket booths, remains of the Starlight Ballroom, and parts of the train tracks are amongst the Chippewa Lake Park ruins today.

The carriages of the Ferris Wheel and Flying Cages are gone, with the Ferris Wheel’s said to have been stolen over the years.

The cars of the Tumble Bug were removed from the track and sit next to it. One was restored and sits out front of the park in the yard of a small museum. A car and track from the Wild Mouse as well as the lift gear mechanism of the Big Dipper accompany the Tumble Bug car.

And wildly enough, some of the floor from the Starlight Ballroom managed to survive the fire too.

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Chippewa Lake Park Ballroom Dance Floor Remains

The old ticket booth structure is still easily recognizable although it’s collapsing in on itself. It was a newer addition in the 70s, so it’s fared better than the older structures in the park.

A lot of the park paths, a bathroom block, picnic area, foundations from different structures and attractions, and the fireplace from the Hotel are still around too. Additionally, piles of structures like the train station and miscellaneous concessions are strewn throughout the site.

Oh and lest I forget, the park pier is still standing over Chippewa Lake… a little worn and rugged, but still commonly enjoyed by locals.

I suppose the old park cottages previously mentioned in the Ballroom fire segment can also be added here. They’re still a part of the park’s property but used as full-time residences now instead of summer getaways at the good ole Chippewa Lake Park.

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Chippewa Lake Park Pier

What’s going to happen to Chippewa Lake Park?

It goes without saying, time gets the final say so on the matter.

There are plans yet again for the site. So, whether or not they actually come to be, we shall see. But, they do seem to be a little more promising than the past ones.

Medina County itself, at long last, bought the property in 2020 for $2.1 million. Their Park District intends on turning into a nature park while still incorporating elements of the abandoned park too.

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Chippewa Lake Park Tumble Bug Cars

The site is slated to have trails, an observation tower, food and watercraft rentals, picnic grounds, an amphitheater, a pavilion, a lakehouse (that’ll have a museum), and a sled hill.

It’ll be taking the site back to its roots a bit in constructing a new Arcade, restoring the park pier, preserving the Ferris Wheel, Little Dipper, & Tumble Bug, and creating an interpretive plaza for the Rocket Ride and Parker Beach (the man whose family ran the park until CBE in ’69).

It so seems that the Starlight Ballroom remains, Flying Cages, ticket booths, and train tracks will be removed. And, that goes for all other park remains like the Hotel chimney, old paths, and bathroom block.

This development of the site is planned to open in 2025.

Summary

Chippewa Lake Park was a bustling traditional amusement park that really thrived in its heyday. But, age and newer contemporary parks started the decline of what was once Ohio’s Most Beautiful Playground.

Chippewa’s company, CBE, intended to modernize the park. But, their plans were stalled by the local government who wanted CBE to fund the village’s infrastructure–something the park company couldn’t afford.

The park closed. Arsonists reduced the Hotel, Ballroom, Pavilion, and Arcade to ash (amongst others). Demolition for proposed and cancelled plans for the site wiped out the Big Dipper, Hamburger Factory, Wild Mouse, and Bathhouse. But the Ferris Wheel, Little Dipper, Tumble Bug, and Flying Cages survived to the present day.

The property is now planned to become a nature park while preserving some remaining elements of Chippewa Lake Park.

And, that’s the tale of what happened to Chippewa Lake Park.

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Chippewa Lake Park Little Dipper Roller Coaster

If you’re intrigued to see more of what Chippewa Lake Park looked like in its heyday, I highly recommend Images of America: Chippewa Lake Park by David W & Diane DeMali Francis which has tons of pictures dated from 1875-1978. It is also one of the few books I’ve sourced the information in this post from.

It’s the perfect stroll down memory lane for fellow Chippewa Lake Park enthusiasts and the curious commoner who’s stumbled upon this fascinating attraction. So, be sure to check the book out! It’s a gem.

Have you ever visited Chippewa Lake Park?

For more on Chippewa Lake Park and Medina, Ohio attractions, you can also check out:

A Trip to Medina, OH: Things to Do & Attractions Nearby

13 Of The Most Haunted Amusement Park Attractions

The History Of Chippewa Lake Park

Thanks for reading!

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9 Comments

  1. It’s so sad that the arsonist didn’t just have their fun, but they stole lots of memories for past and future generations to come. Such a senseless act to affect so many people past and present. I hope only now they ( the arsonist) can look back and see the damage that they’ve done to the history of this park. So very heart breaking.

  2. I remember chippewa lake and all the fun as a kid..jungle Larry was big there too I remember..to bad its gone.

    1. Yes! It’s neat hearing stories about Jungle Larry and Safari Jane’s time at the park–monkeys loose under the ballroom and all. Chippewa’s always been so full of charm!

  3. What wonderful history accounting of Chippewa Lake Amusement Park..I could hardly tear myself away. I live in one of the many laakefront cottages year round as do my sone and his family and my grandson and his family. We purchased several plots of vaant land and some of the roads which we maintain. I really wish I could print your articles for them. but i cannot seem to do so. I do have the book you recommend and some original painting. thanks!

    1. Thank you so much, Rochelle! Chippewa Lake is such a lovely area, definitely one of my top 3 favorite places, and the park was one of a kind! I’m so glad that many of the cottages have been saved. They keep the charm of Chippewa’s past alive and living by the lake too has to be really nice. I’m working on another post that chronicles the park’s history throughout its years of operation that I hope to have out within the next month. But in the meanwhile, I can make a PDF version of this post and send it to you to print for your family. Email me at [email protected] and I can send you the copy.

    2. I don’t remember Chippewa Lake as a kid as much as Cedar Point, Geauga Lake. I do vividly remember the radio jingle on WHLO 640 Akron. CHIPPEWA LAKE PARK–WOO-WOO-WOO-WOO..
      My great uncle Allen T. Simmons owned Summit beach park in the 30’s through around 1956 when it closed. I was born the next year… He also owned WADC radio which today is WSLR radio Akron.