Ever wonder what Michigan’s old amusement parks were like?
Lansing State Journal rounded up parks you may remember and some you probably never knew existed.
Here are a few of the lost and abandoned amusement parks in Michigan:
St. Joseph Silver Beach Amusement Park
For 80 years, the St. Joseph waterfront was home to the Silver Beach Amusement Park.
Louis Wallace and Logan Drake were partners in the boat building business. With the business doing well, the two men decided they wanted to give tourists more to do.
The men built cottages along the beach then added concessions, games, then a photo studio, other shops and a pavilion.
Drake’s fiance coined the name “Silver Beach” because the moon path on the water “shimmered like silver.”
The park they built operated from 1891 to 1971.
Near the end of the 1800s, water slides were anchored in shallow water for children, and soon other buildings and eventually a boardwalk were erected. One of those buildings was a bathhouse and swimming pool, which gave park bathers a choice of swimming in the lake or a large indoor pool, a rarity at the time. The pool used lake water that was heated by a steam furnace.
The “Chase through the Clouds”, or the “Figure 8” rollercoaster was built in 1904 and 1905. It was torn down in 1923, to make way for the “Velvet” rollercoaster.
An open-ended roller skating rink north of the Natorium was built in 1905, followed by a dance pavilion and casino.
The “House of Mysteries,” which would be like a modern spookhouse or mirror maze, came along in 1907. And a moving stairway was installed to carry people from the foot of the bluff.
A merry-go-round carousel and organ were imported from Germany, with hand carved horses wearing jeweled saddles and real horsehair tails. It began operating by 1916. (A History of the Silver Beach Carousel)
Merry-go-round carousel builder Fred Dolle of North Bergen, New Jersey, constructed the ride and operated it at Silver Beach until 1930 when Drake bought the ride outright.
Kalamazoo Oakwood Park
The roller coaster was one of the attractions at Oakwood Park, an amusement park in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Lawrence and his family lived there until 1925.
Oakwood Park opened to the public in June of 1907. It had a nickelodeon theater, dance hall and band stand. But the premier attraction was the “Dizzy Figure-8” roller coaster.
During the park’s peak, between 1911 and 1915, 15,000 patrons or more visited the resort each day.
The Dizzy Figure-8” Roller Coaster, at Oakwood Park in Kalamazoo, Michigan, circa June 1907. The rollercoaster was built by a traveling group of construction workers during the spring of 1907, and was ready for operation in time for the park’s opening day on Saturday, 29 June 1907. (Photo: Courtesy photo/Kalamazoo Public Library)
Lawrence’s father, George Lawrence Sr., came to the Kalamazoo area in 1917 from New York, to operate the roller coaster, according to Keith Howard at the Kalamazoo Public Library,
George G. Lawrence and his family made their home inside a roller coaster.
For six years.
His wife and infant son, George Jr., joined him soon after and the family set up housekeeping in a shack underneath the ride. Mrs. Lawrence collected fares while her husband operated it.
Due to declining patronage, and a disastrous balloon exhibition in 1924 that resulted in the death of the featured performer, the park closed to the public in May of 1925.
The roller coaster and other buildings in the park area were to be taken down and the materials sold for scrap, burned, dumped in the lake or otherwise discarded.
Detroit’s amusement parks
The Detroit area was once home to several amusement parks, among them Edgewater Amusement Park, Riverview Park, Eastwood Amusement Park and Electric Park.
When Electric Park opened in 1906, the Detroit Free Press proclaimed it “the greatest electrical display ever seen outside of the Pan-American Exposition.” It was located at the entrance to Belle Isle in what is now Gabriel Richard Park.
In addition to attractions such as “the Great Chick,” a comedian and “tramp cyclist,” there were high wire and circus acts, a windmill, a giant Ferris wheel and a scale model of the 1889 flood of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Electric Park had several roller coasters with names like the Big Dipper. And there was the well-known Palais de Danse, a dance hall built over the Detroit River.
The Palais de Danse burned down in 1911 and the park went through many legal battles which threatened the ownership and existence of the park during the 1920s.
The city of Detroit condemned several of the park’s rides and buildings and closed the park completely in 1927. It was demolished in 1928.
Lansing’s amusement parks
Leadley Park, the first of Lansing’s two amusement parks, opened July 4, 1892 to huge crowds.
Located on the east side of Waverly Road on the Grand River, the park was named after Gottlieb Leadley, its owner. It had a resort hotel, called Leadley’s Park Hotel.
Leadley would die in 1897 in a freak accident, and the park was sold in 1903 to the Lansing City Electric Railroad Company.
Its name was changed to Waverly Park the following year, and the Lansing and Suburban Traction Company began adding attractions.
A roller coaster was erected, and there was a merry-go-round, penny arcade, steamer rides on the Grand River, donkey cart rides for kids, hot air balloon ascensions and more.
The park closed in 1917, a victim of the growing popularity of the Pine Lake Park at what is now Lake Lansing.
Pine Lake became a popular gathering place in 1883 when Spencer Shaw purchased the land and set aside a portion of it for spiritualist camp meetings.
Visitors to the camp could lease a tent that would shelter 50 people for $2.50 for the season.
After an auditorium, horseback riding and dancing were added, Shaw erected a 7-foot picket fence around the property and charged a dime for admission.
Some days, as many as 800 people would be at the campgrounds.
But around the turn of the century, as interest in Spiritualism waned, folks turned to Waverly Park, partly because it was difficult to get to Lake Lansing for lack of a trolley line.
The trolley line was then extended to Lake Lansing with a loop at the campgrounds. Eventually, a casino was built, which served as a dance hall and became popular for students at Michigan Agricultural College.
Around 1929, the Spiritualist camp was sold to the Haslett Park Association, and eventually it became an amusement park.
Lake Lansing Amusement Park was considered the premier amusement park in mid-Michigan in its heyday.
The first ride was a 65-foot figure-eight roller coaster known as the Cyclone. The quarter-mile long roller coaster made the distance in about 1½ minutes, with an estimated speed down the first dip at 75 miles per hour.
The Ferris Wheel at Lake Lansing Amusement Park.
Bumper cars at Lake Lansing Amusement Park.
The “Bug” was a colorful metal caterpillar replica that traveled along a moderately steep rail of “ups and downs.” The park also featured tilt-a-whirls, flying scooters, a “Fun in the Dark” ride and a miniature train.
The Carousel at Lake Lansng Park.
The park’s historic Denzel carousel was added in 1942, and remained until 1971, when it was dismantled and sold to Cedar Point for use in its Frontier Land.
Lake Lansing Amusement Park, 1948.
The amusement park closed in 1973, and the Cyclone was demolished in 1974.
Vicki Dozier, “Lost and abandoned: Michigan’s old amusement parks“, Lansing State Journal, August 16, 2018, including 48 photos.