In the late nineteenth century, the City of Cleveland was one of growth and prosperity. Founded in 1796 and established as a city by the very young State of Ohio’s legislature in 1836, in just around 100 years its population went from a few dozen to more than 261,000 as of 1890.
Recreation was limited in those earliest of the pioneer days in what was formerly called the Western Reserve. Truly a frontier town, simply surviving the winter was hard enough back then. Celebrating new arrivals was one of the few causes for any sort of social or recreational pursuits and most likely consisted of a feast. In 1797, with between 60 to 80 families living on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, the arrival of a new surveying team was cause for such a feast, featuring a main dish of boiled dog.
Fortunately, as the population grew over the decades, libraries, newspapers, churches, educational institutions, and the arts thrived and things moved closer to the society and civilization we are more familiar with. With that growth came much more enjoyable ways to socialize and recreate (certainly more so than boiling Fido).
A Rocky Start
Euclid Beach Park opened for its first season in the year 1895 and like many startups, it was a financial failure. This was due, reportedly, due to the mediocrity of what it had to offer and the uncivilized nature of some guests who chose to indulge in the beer garden and whose garb was perhaps unfit for the civil-minded family’s viewing. The park was incorporated in 1894 and modeled, according to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, after the design of New York’s famous Coney Island.
Following its initial failure, a Cleveland businessman named Dudley S. Humphrey II and his family took over the operation in 1901.
Instituting a dress code, banishing the beer garden, and prohibiting any alcohol consumption, they began to add attractions that were at the forefront of the amusement industry at that time.
With its scenic beach on Lake Erie, facilities were built to promote its use and dance halls, roller rinks, and rides began to appear to entice and accommodate greater and greater crowds. Beginning with a simple popcorn stand, the Humphreys created an empire out of their entrepreneurialism, giving birth to one of America’s great historical amusement parks.
Euclid Beach Park’s first main attraction was its long sandy beach on the shores of Lake Erie. Like many classic amusement parks, having a beach and lake or river access was highly valued and people loved playing in the sand and in the water. Historically, many amusement parks had similar roots. Chippewa Lake Park in Chippewa Lake, Ohio, Coney Island in Cincinnati, Ohio, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, Conneaut Lake Park in Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania, Crystal Beach Amusement Park in Crystal Lake, Ontario, and LeSourdsville Lake Amusement Park in Middletown, Ohio and many many more all began with picnic areas and water-based recreation.
As their popularity grew, bathing facilities and bath houses were needed and as those features grew, the turn of the century saw many ball rooms, dance halls, music stands, and roller rinks built alongside them. Food stands and concessions naturally came into that mix and like so many others, Euclid Beach Park continued to expand as we began to see the advent of a new thrill, the age of roller coasters in America in the early 20th century.
Coming Soon: An Era of Prosperity
Euclid Beach Park’s roller rink was built in 1904 as well as its second roller coaster, the Figure Eight, replacing the Switchback Railway. The latter had operated since 1896 and was designed by LaMarcus A. Thompson, a man many call the father of modern roller coasters. You can read more about his fascinating place in roller coaster history here.
The Figure Eight was designed by Henry B. Auchy, whom also designed and built similar coasters for parks in Louisiana, Virginia, Kansas, and another in Columbus, Ohio, for the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. With its height in the ballpark range of 35 feet and top speed of maybe 18 – 25 mph, the Figure Eight probably wouldn’t be too thrilling for today’s riders. However, I’m certain at that time, when the automobile was still in its infancy and the famous Ford Model T wasn’t even created yet, it was plenty exciting for the brave riders.
A Time To Ride
Soon, additional roller coasters were built including the Scenic Railway in 1907 designed by LaMarcus A. Thompson, the Aero Dips in 1909 designed by John A. Miller, and whom also designed and built the Derby Racer at the park in 1913 with Frederick Ingersoll.
The Derby Racer was cutting edge at that time, being one of a few Möbius loop roller coasters ever built in the United States. The Derby Racer gave the impression of having two separate tracks on which riders could race against the other train. However, a Möbius loop roller coaster actually has only one long track and Derby Racer deposited its riders on the opposite side of the double-loading station to which they had boarded.
You can learn about the mathematical theory behind the Möbius loop here and read about a modern example of the design in Twisted Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain here. In this video you can see it in action. Classic examples of this design can still be enjoyed on the Racer at Kennywood Park in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania and on Grand National at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in Blackpool, England.
- Rose, William Ganson, Cleveland: The Making of a City, Kent State University Press, 1990
- The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Case Western Reserve University
- Figure 8 Roller Coaster, Roller Coaster Database
- The Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University
What Are Your Thoughts?
Let me know what you think! Are you interested in classic amusement parks and rides? Is there a park that you loved that is no longer around? Could you imagine yourself being a guest in the heyday of amusement parks?