Why is the World’s Largest Amusement Park Abandoned in Ohio?
Though there was never a Grand Opening, or even an official opening date, lake-side family activities at Geauga Lake can be traced back to 1887. Back then it wasn’t much more than a 60-acre picnic meadow on the north shore of an over-sized pond in small-town Ohio, but over time it became an iconic 19th century family get-away as the railroads reached Ohio’s rural communities. Over a century later, after becoming one of the world’s largest attractions, Geauga Lake met its doom, leaving behind gloomy reminders of its former glory in the overgrown ruins lining the lake’s shore.
In the late 19th century, having picnics and formal balls were the utmost in family fun. Geauga Lake was a prime location for those looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the larger neighboring cities, like Cleveland and Akron. As the railroad was being built closer and closer to the quiet little town of Aurora, the over-sized pond – Geauga Lake – became a hot-spot for lavish weekend parties with its beautiful gardens, waterside ballrooms and full-sized steamboats. In 1889 a steam-powered carousel would be the first of many rides to sprout in the lake-side park. There were a number of cabins located on the property that many Ohioans owned as vacation homes. As the 20th century dawned and the Great Depression dug in its heels, many of these well-to-do families found themselves moving into their tiny vacation cabins and calling Geauga Lake home. That didn’t stop Geauga Lake from getting its first real roller coaster. ‘The Big Dipper’ (shown above-left) arrived in 1925 and was the tallest and fastest rollercoaster of its time. This also happened to be the very same year that a man named Walt Disney arrived in Los Angeles with some big plans for the future of amusement parks.
The next three decades didn’t prove to be very exciting for the residents of Aurora, but by 1969, when Geauga Lake was purchased by FunTime Inc., their little park started to develop into what would soon be the largest amusement park in the world. By 1976 Geauga Lake had vendors, roller rinks, dance halls, a carousel and ‘The Big Dipper’. Over the next 20 years the park would continue to grow and expand the addition of log flumes, a 200-ft sightseeing tower and a few of its own steel rollercoasters, like ‘Arrow’s Double Loop’.
In 1970 SeaWorld Ohio opened up right across the shores of Geauga Lake, bringing the famous Shamu, the Penguin Encounter and the Shark Encounter to the little town of Aurora by 1990. Of course, Geauga Lake had to step up its game with such an impressive new neighbor, and added more steel coasters, wooden coasters and a whole new water park. This once quaint little lake-side picnic park was surely developing into one of America’s largest and most diverse attractions, bringing tourists from all over the world.
The park changed owners once again in 1995, when it was purchased by Premier Parks. They added even more attractions, like ‘Mind Eraser’ and ‘Grizzly River Run’, and expanded the already impressive water park. Premier Parks then bought out all of the, then failing, Six Flags parks and decided to add Geauga Lake to the line-up, changing its name to Six Flags Ohio. The company invested over $40 million in upgrades in 2000, expanding the park with unprecedented speed; with 20 new rides like, ‘The Villain’, a new Gotham City including the Batman ride ‘Knight Flight’, ‘Superman: Ultimate Escape’ and ‘X-Flight’.
Some of these rides were ground-breaking at the time and Premier Parks hoped to turn this unsuspecting Ohio suburb into the largest attraction town in the US. However, SeaWorld Ohio proved to be a large part of the tourist draw and was beginning to suffer. As other SeaWorld parks were adding more thrill rides and roller coasters, SeaWorld Ohio was unable to keep up. There is no clear answer as to why the park couldn’t keep up with these additions, whether it was some sort of non-compete agreement with Premier Parks or the county noise ordinances, SeaWorld Ohio was falling behind.
In 2001, Six Flags Ohio purchased SeaWorld Ohio for $110 million, combining the two parks into one 700-acre Mega Park. The name was changed to Six Flags Worlds of Adventure and featured a full marine-life zoo, a full coaster park and Six Flag’s Hurricane Harbor waterpark. This was the peak of Geauga Lake’s amusement park career. After 3 short, but successful years, the park was sold once again. This time it was Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, owners of the ever famous Cedar Point in Sandusky, who purchased the park for $143 million. The park was renamed Geauga Lake and all Six Flags branding was swiftly removed. All reference to Looney Tunes and DC comics were stripped from the park and some interesting re-branding decisions were made. ‘Batman: Knight Flight’ became ‘The Dominator’, ‘Superman: Ultimate Escape’ became ‘Steel Venom’, ‘Hurricane’ was renamed ‘Hurricane Hannah’s’ and all other remnants of Looney Tunes and DC received similarly crude renovations. Cedar Fair promptly boarded up what was formerly SeaWorld, as they “do not do animals”, and half of the park stayed empty for 2 years; until, in 2006, unused portions were leveled and a new water park was built in its place. This was the true beginning of the end for Geauga Lake’s glory.
The 700-acre amusement park had been converted, almost fully, into a giant water-park in the northern region of Ohio. Given the climate in this area, the park was only open to the public for a few months out of the year. During 2006 the park was stripped bare and almost all of the rides and coasters were sold or relocated. After the summer of 2007, when the park closed for the season, no one suspected that it would be the park’s last. But, alas, park executives announced that Geauga Lake was closing for good.
In 7 short years, after over 100 years of success, the park went from Six Flags Worlds of Adventure with a dozen innovative and record breaking roller coasters, a full marine park with killer whales, dolphins, penguins, sharks, tigers and Looney Tunes to a teensy stand-alone water park called Wildwater Kingdom, open for 3 months of the year. Some speculate as to whether the park’s decline was due to over-expansion in a community that wasn’t designed to handle an influx of tourists. Perhaps the world will never know what really brought Geauga Lake to its end, but I certainly hope that someone, someday, will restore the lake to its former glory.
Click here to see a fly over video of the park taken last fall by Cleveland Aerial Media.
Treadway produced many of the themed elements for Looney Tunes’ Boom Town, when the park was named Six Flags Worlds of Adventure, in the early 2000s. Check out some of our production photos below.
Chelsea is Treadway Industries’ resident Web Master, employing her experience in digital media and theme park know-how to create blogs – both entertaining and informative.