I have been working on this post for months, writing and re-writing, tweaking, scrapping everything and starting from scratch. As a rule I don’t get emotionally involved in my blog posts, but this time…this time I am trying to convey a depth of emotion which is difficult through this sort of written media. Also, as a friendly warning; the following contains some pretty hard-core nostalgia. Some of it is deserved but most of it really is not.
I am sad, desperately sad. Over the past few months is has come to my attention that the remains of Chippewa Lake Park have been completely demolished to make room for new development. The site was sold* to developers last year and has since been clear-cut and demolished. Even writing that sentence makes the bottom drop out of my world. I can’t help it; I loved that place.
According to This Website:
“Chippewa Partners, LLC, a group of developers from Arizona and California, have bought the 95-acre defunct Chippewa Lake Amusement Park and won zoning approval for a resort. They hope to build a wellness center, a 190-room Hilton hotel, a 1,000-person concert hall, a spa, a culinary institute, retail shops and more.”
I am not happy about this at all. I understand that such a resort will be a big boon for the surrounding communities and that a 95-acre empty lot covered with condemned buildings and fire hazards isn’t exactly the most practical use of this lakeside location, but how could they? How very, very could they?
So, as a farewell to this beloved landmark I am holding a wake in its honour. Sort of…I am doing the best I can. (It would help me out a LOT if you could all go ahead and listen to We Came to Dance by The Gaslight Anthem while reading this. Because it’s the perfect song. Just go ahead and put it on repeat.)
Chippewa Lake Park – The History
For those of you not from where I’m from, Chippewa Lake Park was an amusement park located on the shores of Chippewa Lake in Medina County, Ohio. Used historically for picnics and beach gatherings, Edwin Andrews opened a park on the location on July 4th 1875, but it was not officially considered an amusement resort until 1878. The fabulous Hotel Chippewa was opened in the 1880s. The park suffered a difficult first few decades as its status declined gradually due to the sale of alcohol on the site.
In 1900 the site was purchased by “Mac” Beach who banned the sale of alcohol at the park and dedicated himself to improving the resort. Which he did. Immensely.
The park continued to grow in popularity, so much so that the old dancing pavilion was demolished in 1922 to make room for an expansive ballroom which featured a huge dance floor, ample seating and a refreshments bar. A new addition to the park in 1922 was also the Carousel on the midway. In 1923 a new Penny Arcade arrived on the midway as an addition to the smaller one located close to the shoreline.
1924 welcomed the arrival of Chippewa’s only major roller coaster; The Big Dipper (known fondly as “The Coaster”) was designed by John A Miller and saw its first passengers in August of 1924. The coaster cost $53,000 to build.
Throughout the Great Depression the park suffered greatly as the interurban rail service was discontinued and attendance fell drastically. Due to financial crisis the park was sold on to a few different owners in the 1930s however came back into the ownership of the Beach family when Mac’s son Parker purchased the park in 1937.
Over the next 32 years the park thrived. The Big Band Era brought much-needed traffic to site as the ballroom and outdoor stage were booked with musicians and filled with dancers nearly every night. During these years the magnificent Starlight Ballroom was, by far, the centrepiece of the park’s operation although the midway and amusement rides flourished as well.
Popular rides included the Big Dipper, Flying Cages, The Bug, the carousel and a Ferris Wheel. There was a kid’s area called Kiddie Land with a funhouse, dodgem cars, a mini-coaster called the Little Dipper and also the Wild Mouse. There were arcades, waterfront picnic pavilions, pedal boats to take on the lake, and a mini-golf course. You could tour the lake as a passenger on Miss Chippewa, a boat which served 50 seasons at Chippewa Lake.
In 1969 Parker Beach sold the resort to a Cleveland-based company, whose grand plans for the site were rejected by local residents, thereby sealing the park’s fate. Although park attendance continued to grow throughout the 1970’s, increasing operation costs drove the park into the ground and, sadly, at the end of the 1978 season the decision was made to close the park forever.
As can be seen in this photograph from Defunct Parks, Chippewa Lake celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1978. Unfortunately it never made it to 101.
The park has stood, decaying, on the shores of Chippewa Lake ever since. The historic Hotel Chippewa caught on fire (was lit on fire?) quite a few years after the park closed and in June of 2002 a little girl decided to play with fire while in the ballroom and burned the entire structure to the ground.
Chippewa Lake Park – My Story
As I was not born until a few years after the park closed I was never a guest there during its operation. However my growing love for the park and its history began in the late 90s and I eventually visited the ruins for the first time in 2001.
Four of us went down on an early summer afternoon; it wasn’t a long drive, and it seemed shorter for the company. We parked in the shade of some trees off the side of the road in what we assumed was an inconspicuous manner. Looking back, we were probably never in even the remotest danger of getting caught, but at the time I remember being nervous. I think, for myself at least, that I wanted to feel frightened – imagining being caught by the police and actually getting in Trouble was half of the fun.
The underbrush was heavy throughout the site and, in some places, had obscured the chain-link perimeter fence completely, but after a while we found our way into the park. Just on the park side where we crawled through was a rusting oil tank which had obviously been dumped there and was, probably, the reason for the hole in the fence.
Our first view of the park’s mysterious interior was of the ballroom, its white clapboard edge, once pristine, now sighing down on rotting supports. Being both overly romantic and imaginative I could practically hear the music playing as it would have done in the 60s and 70s, could imagine the young couples laughing, dancing close and falling in love.
When we entered the ballroom I was overcome by a strange feeling of abandonment which persisted throughout our entire visit. In the center of the floor stood an old electric floor polisher, its decaying electric cord still plugged into the wall. In the cafeteria-style eatery there were plastic trays still sitting on the metal runners as if patiently waiting their turn to order. At the ticket desk in the entry way there were still papers and flyers in the drawers. It was genuinely bizarre. It didn’t feel like the place had been abandoned for 23 years; it felt like everyone had just stepped out for a minute but would be back to start the show shortly.
This Armageddon film feeling continued over the entire visit. In the area where the hotel had stood lay a rusting old cash register. Near the outdoor stage we almost tripped over a grand piano which had been left to rot into the ground. An old yellow pickup truck was parked on the midway, driver’s door open, toolbox on the passenger seat and a half-empty oil can balanced on the edge of the truck bed. It felt to me like one day, all of a sudden, in the middle of working, everyone in the park just disappeared, leaving everything behind them and jobs unfinished in their hurry to escape. I know this was obviously not the case, but that’s how it felt; one day, thriving amusement park, the next day, abandoned.
After visiting the ballroom we continued to the Hamburger Factory, one of the larger refreshment stands on the site. The outdoor picnic canopy was adorned with white trellising which was a signature look for the park in its heyday.
The Coaster stood, quite imposing, among stands of trees at the edge of the park near the entrance turnstiles. It was, truly, one of the most memorable images I had ever seen. There were trees branching out between the wooden tracks, trees which did not exist when the park was in operation had grown unchecked for 23 years. It was breathtaking.
The kiddie coaster, The Little Dipper, was another coaster being consumed by the trees, the metal tracks being absorbed into the growing trunks of the trees.
The Ferris Wheel stood in the centre of the midway and, like The Coaster, had become extremely overgrown. Nature was attempting to regain its territory, and with the Ferris Wheel it was winning. A very tall tree grew straight up through the center of the wheel, whose passenger cars had been removed years before. It was an absolutely stunning image; skeletal remains of the wheel shot through with branches and foliage; it was beautiful.
We spent hours breaking our way through the underbrush and crawling like spiders over the rotting wooden structures. We did our best not to disturb anything. I did my best not to get too frightened; after all, abandoned amusement parks are the stuff of nightmares!!
I could quite easily imagine the park on a hot summer night in the early 70s; the evening breeze blowing in from the water bringing with it the delicious smells of popcorn and candy, a concert at the outdoor stage with the sharp trill of a guitar doing its best to drown out the happy screams of riders descending The Coaster’s first hill.
We left the park through the front turnstiles and I swear to you I could almost hear the tinny voice of Parker Beach over the P.A. thanking us for visiting and hoping to see us again soon. It was an amazing afternoon and one I am likely to never forget.
The year after that I went back to the park once or twice, but never returned after the ballroom burned down. I couldn’t bear to. I have never been able to face the fact that there was no future for the park, that its closure in 1978 really was the end of such a wonderful, traditional amusement park and the destruction of the ballroom was too final for me.
I have collected hundreds of photographs over the years from other visitors to the sight and I was hoping to return there this August with S, to show him this park that I’ve talked about so often since we met. Unfortunately that will never happen. The park is gone now. I’m not sure if every item has yet been removed; I have read rumours of restoration for The Bug and the Ferris Wheel, although I doubt them.
Chippewa Lake Park is a place I just assumed would always be there, almost like the house you grew up in. It would change and it would get older and more decrepit, but it would always be there. I never thought the day would come when someone would buy the site for development.
If you grew up with Chippewa Lake Park I would love to hear your stories. As you can tell I am in love with the place and I am devastated that it has been demolished, so please, share.
I did my best to draw up a “map” of how the site was when I went visiting in 2001. The base images are taken from Google Maps’ aerial view and the locations of rides and attractions are from memory. I apologize if I’ve gotten it all badly wrong!
(You can click on the image for a larger size!)
I would like to thank Ron Skinner for the generous use of his photographs – Ron belongs to the Cleveland Photographic Society who attended the site after most of the trees had been removed but before the park had been totally demolished. I chose to use these images because they are the most remarkable and unobstructed pictures of the park remains that I have ever seen. Ron’s album contains 64 fantastic images of Chippewa Lake Park and all of them are for sale. Go there and look at them all, take your time and savour them. Then buy a few. (For me!) Thanks again, Ron!
*According to This Website, the defunct park sold for $3,500,000. In my estimation it was worth much, much more.
Some extremely useful links:
If you can find the books on Chippewa Lake written by Sharon L.D. Krayneck they are absolutely wonderful.
For a fantastic read and photographic journey through the parks’ history you should pick up “Chippewa Lake Park” by David W. Francis and Diane DeMali Francis. Much of the historical information in this post is taken from their book. You can purchase the book on Amazon or through the publisher’s own website.
Illicit Ohio (Standing but Not Operating)
Brad’s Defunct Parks (excellent drawing of The Coaster)
Historic Pictures at Internet Archive
Chippewa Lake: A Baby Boomer’s Paradise
And finally, for you heartless commercial types: Chippewa Landing