Odds are if you’ve seen any abandoned amusement park pictures, you’ve probably come across one that has a Ferris wheel in the middle of a forest with trees growing up through the center of it. That iconic picture is one of none other than my favorite old school park, Chippewa Lake Park.
It’s a park that stood proud in Chippewa Lake, Medina County, Ohio for over a century before closing in 1978 (although it hosted an event in 1979). It has remained abandoned in various states of decay ever since.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of material available that covers its history, being that it was one of the most popular traditional parks in its day.
In modern times, parks like Cedar Point, Disney Parks, Universal Studios, and Seaworld Parks reign in the industry. Once upon a time it was Cedar Point (tis old), Coney Island, Chippewa Lake, and Elitch Gardens.
I’ll try to get to all of the old meccas at some point. But for now, here’s part one for this gem of another era. A crown who shined in the simpler times. “Ohio’s Most Beautiful Playground.” The beloved, Chippewa Lake Park.
Related Reading: The Tragic Demise of Chippewa Lake Park
You’ll find that the origins of the olde parks are all a similar tale, so here’s that obligatory mention.
Between 1870 and 1875, E.E. Andrews of Seville, Ohio purchased the land at Chippewa Lake with the idea of creating a small summer resort. He set about building a restaurant, hotel, and dance hall to compliment the picnic grove and camping area.
July 4th in 1875 was the official opening day for the site with some 1,050 carriages parked in the field, their owners enjoying the new destination. A pier was added to accommodate folks who wanted to fish or take row boats out on the lake.
This early incarnation of Chippewa, originally known as Andrew’s Pleasure Grounds, featured two parts; the Upper Grounds and Lower Grounds.
The Upper Grounds was called Chippewa-On-The-Lake. Here was the first merry go round, the Flying Dutchman, that was operated by actual horses who’d pull it around and had an organ that had to be hand cranked to play.
Nearby was the Grounds’ first roller coaster that started at the top of the hill and ended at the bottom. Workers were tasked with pushing the car back up the hill from the bottom for the next ride.
Also on the Upper Grounds was the first dance hall, smaller than the later Starlight ballroom, that featured two floors. The top floor was for dancing and the bottom floor was for roller skating. In 1914 it was replaced with what is now the Oaks Lodge, a restaurant that still operates today.
The Lower Grounds was where the Lake Hotel resided along with refreshment stands, picnic areas, and boarding for a side wheel steamer. In 1890, the aforementioned steamer sank in a storm, was salvaged and replaced in 1893.
In the final years of the 1890s, a bicycle track, gaming field, and original bathhouse were added. This first bathhouse was called the Star Bathing House and oddly enough, shared space with a photo gallery. The Lower Grounds is where the amusement park in its truest form resided.
The turn of the century saw the Beach family take over the property. And anyone who knows Chippewa Lake Park, knows the impact and legacy of the Beach family on this park. Mac, managed the property for a few decades alongside his wife Bertha.
From the ’10s to the ’20s, he added a new, grandeur ballroom (Starlight), established two communities of onsite cottages for people to rent, built a penny arcade on the midway, and saw the park’s staple attractions (Big Dipper, Tumble Bug, Ferris Wheel) to fruition. A bowling alley on the edge of the lake was moved to the front of the park and turned into a roller skating rink.
Continuing in the 1920s, a new bathhouse was built next to the expanded hotel, springs were dug across the cottage and hotel grounds, and a myriad of flat rides were constructed as well. 1924 was when the Big Dipper, the park’s main roller coaster known later on as The Coaster, was designed by Fred Pierce.
By 1927, the site had well been underway as an amusement park instead of a pleasure ground. Dodgem bumper cars, a carousel, miniature train, tumble bug, Ferris wheel, and other amusements had found home in Chippewa by then.
Attendance saw a regular 20,000 people every weekend and some 1,500 people in the hotel’s dining room vying for Bertha’s catfish steak. These attendance numbers soared to 20-40 thousand people per day by the summers. Group picnics and transit lines directly to the park saw groves of people bound for Chippewa regularly.
In the meanwhile, Mac and Bertha had two sons, Parker and Fred.
Parker ended up taking main reigns of Chippewa having literally grown up at the park. His parents began taking him to Chippewa when he was just one month old and he later met his wife there, honeymooned there, and lived there on a farm behind the Oaks Lodge.
Fred spearheaded a new facet of the park, Kiddieland, as well as office operations on the hotel’s top floor. He also lived in the park in a house between the hotel and ballroom.
The brothers took over the park when troublesome times hit between the Great Depression and a typhoid fever epidemic. As such, Mac was dubious his sons weren’t making a mistake trying to keep a hold of the park. Parker later said, “People said I was crazy, and my dad, who had run the park for 30 years, felt the same way.” But sure enough, they proved their dad wrong.
As mentioned above, in the wee earlier years, Chippewa Lake Park was but a rogue collection of simple amusements amongst a leisure picnic park on the lake.
During this time, the park was primarily a natural area with picnic groves and the lake as the main attractions. Visitors could rent rowboats and paddle around the lake, or enjoy a leisurely picnic under the trees. There were no permanent buildings or rides at this time.
However, the park quickly expanded over the next few years. In 1880, a small dance pavilion was built, and in 1881, a roller-skating rink was added. By the mid-1880s, the park had a carousel, a small roller coaster, and a few other rides.
The first permanent buildings in the park were built in 1889, including a dance hall, a dining hall, and a small hotel called the Hotel Chippewa.
In the early 1900s, Chippewa Lake Park continued to grow and add new attractions. The park’s most famous ride, the Big Dipper roller coaster, was built in 1924 and became a beloved fixture of the park.
By the 1930s and 1940s, the park had a number of other popular rides, including a Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, a funhouse, and more. The park also had a number of buildings, including several roller-skating rinks, a bowling alley, a shooting gallery, and a variety of food stands and souvenir shops. These attractions saw Chippewa through its heyday in the 50s and 60s as well.
However, despite its success and popularity, the park began to decline in the 1970s and eventually closed in 1978. Today, many of the buildings and rides are in a state of disrepair, but the site of the former park is still a popular destination for urban explorers and history enthusiasts.
By the end of its run, Chippewa Lake Park’s attraction list included:
- Big Dipper
- Starlight Ballroom
- Hotel Chippewa
- Hamburger Factory
- Picnic Pavilion
- Tumble Bug
- Flying Cages
- Ferris Wheel
- Mini-Golf Course
- Little Dipper
- Silver Rockets
- Penny Arcade
- Bumper Cars
- Wild Mouse
- Outdoor Theater
- Miss Chippewa
- Scenic Shore Railroad
In the park’s later years, there would occasionally be temporary attractions rotated out each season, like the Sky Ride and Music Express.
There was no announcement, media, comment, or anything about its closure. It was really just as if you walked out of your house to run an errand and then never went back to it. The park was left in a state ready to reopen the next season. For all anyone knew or hoped, it might’ve.
Those folk got lucky for a year, as in 1979 the park reopened to put on an Oktoberfest event in the fall. Attendance numbers topped 300,000. Concession stands around the park served 35,000 pounds of potato salad, 5,000 barrels of beer, and 100,000 strudels. It proved the park still held the potential to continue thriving if given the chance.
It was not.
And the why is equally frustrating for the locals, all around ridiculous, and yet not at all uncommon–it fell to dispute between the local government and the company that owned the park.
For a full rundown on why the park closed, timeline of arson incidents, and state of the abandoned amusement park today, pop on over to my dedicated post to it: The Tragic Demise Of Chippewa Lake Park.
In my next post about Chippewa Lake Park, I’ll be recounting an exploration of the abandoned park–from renting one of the old park cottages to visiting the old Starlight Ballroom. For a bit preview of it, check out the CLP portion of A Trip To Medina, Ohio: Things To Do & Attractions Nearby.
This segues to the lovely 1920 era cottage that still stands on park grounds today and is available on Airbnb. As in you can still rent a cabin at Chippewa Lake Park because who’s to say it actually did close? Can’t you still hear the Ballroom music?
Chippewa Lake Park: Diary of an Amusement Park by Sharon L D Kraynek
Akron Beacon Journal Local History
Abandoned Cleveland Chippewa Lake Park
Welcome Back Riders Documentary
Gone But Not Forgotten Chippewa Lake Park
Images of America: Chippewa Lake Park
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 Chippewa Lake Park on the Carousel, you can also check out:
Thanks for reading!