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Amusement parks might seem like a modern invention — featuring high-speed, steel roller coasters and world-class entertainment. But their history actually stretches pretty far back. The first amusement park in the country opened in 1846, and by the early 1900s, roller coaster designers were already gaining fame. Here are seven of the oldest amusement parks in the country that are still thrilling in their own special way.
Coney Island, Ohio
You’re probably familiar with Brooklyn’s famous Luna Park amusement park along Brighton Beach in Coney Island, but Coney Island water park in Cincinnati, Ohio has been operating since 1886. The property, which was originally called Parker’s Grove, was a 400-acre apple orchard on the Ohio River. Founder James Parker had owned the property since 1867 and later added a carousel and shelters to welcome steamboat riders for picnics. By 1886, Parker’s Grove was known as “the new Coney Island of the West,” and the name stuck. Two steamboat captains purchased the property that year and ushered it into a new era. Roller coasters arrived at the park in the early 1900s. A flood destroyed the park in 1937, but it was rebuilt in just three months and has flourished since.
Dorney Park, Pennsylvania
When Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania first opened, it was actually a fish hatchery. Founder Solomon Dorney built the Fish Weir and Summer Resort in 1860, complete with eight trout ponds, numerous picnic groves, and space for local fishermen to haul out their catch. Over the next 24 years, Dorney pivoted his business, adding attractions like a zoo, mechanical rides, a hotel, a restaurant, and games. He officially rebranded and reopened the park in 1884 as Dorney’s Trout Ponds and Summer Resort. More attractions have been added nearly every year since — even throughout the Great Depression and World War II. Park management today credits one ride with keeping the park open through those trying times. The Zephyr, a train ride designed to look like the first steamline train, took passengers on a scenic ride around the park and is still in operation today.
Seabreeze Amusement Park, New York
Although Seabreeze officially opened in 1879, the park as we know it today got its start in 1900 with a single carousel. Before then, Seabreeze was a popular picnic spot on the lakefront in Irondequoit, New York with a few mechanical rides. The Long family later installed the carousel and has owned the park ever since. Seabreeze has grown to include more than 60 attractions. The first coaster at the park, the Jack Rabbit, opened in 1920 and is still thrilling visitors today. It’s the oldest continuously operating roller coaster in the United States.
Idlewild, Pennsylvania’s oldest amusement park opened in 1878 as a park leased by Judge Thomas Mellon, who owned the Ligonier Valley Railroad. The land was to be used for picnics and activities like camping, boating, and fishing. The 1930s ushered in an era of new rides, restaurants, and pavilions. A waterpark was added in the 1980s, as well as a replica of Mister Rogers’ Land of Make-Believe.
Cedar Point, Ohio
In 1870, a local cabinet maker named Louis Zistel opened Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio with a beer garden, dance floor, and bathhouse. He used his steamboat, named the “Little Reindeer,” to shuttle passengers over from Sandusky’s mainland. Several expansions to the park included a bowling alley, concert hall, saloon, and the first roller coaster, which debuted in 1892. More coasters steadily joined the ranks through the years, and today Cedar Point is known locally as the “Roller Coaster Capital of the World,” with 18 coasters to choose from.
Six Flags New England, Massachusetts
Six Flags New England is simultaneously New England’s biggest and oldest amusement park located in Agawam, Massachusetts. It opened in 1870 as a picnic park named Gallup’s Grove, but was later renamed Riverside Park. Most people arrived at the park via steamship. In 1900, the nearby train line expanded and included a stop at the park. A carousel and some carnival-style mechanical rides opened in the early 1900s, but the park didn’t truly come into its own until 1911, when local businessman Henry J. Perkins bought the property and added roller coasters.
Lake Compounce, Connecticut
In 1846, Gad Norton, the owner of Compound’s Lake, joined forces with scientist Samuel Botsford to conduct electricity experiments around the edge of the lake for the public. Thousands came, which sparked an idea for Norton — he would open a picnic park on the site, with a path around the lake, swimming access, live music in a gazebo, and picnic shelters. Lake Compounce officially opened that year in Bristol, Connecticut and remains the oldest operating amusement park in the country. A revolving swing ride and games arrived in 1848, a restaurant and ballroom were added in 1895, a carousel came in 1911, and the first roller coaster opened in 1914.