The Trolley Park may have been America’s first amusement park. These parks started in the 19th century and rose in popularity when Charles J. Van Depoele created an electric trolley pole which could power a trolley car. This new invention replaced horse-drawn streetcars in the United States around the beginning of the 20th century. Trolley Parks naturally followed. They were both picnic and recreation areas, and an attempt by trolley companies to earn extra revenue by providing customers a destination at the end of the trolley lines. These parks enjoyed a lot of success and looked upon the success of Coney Island as the prototype. But trolley parks of the day were more conservative and less risque than the sometimes over-the-top nature of Coney Island. Many of these parks were closed on Sundays in deference to the church-going culture of the era.
Trolley parks were generally composed of picnic groves, parks, dance and concert halls, and areas for recreation and relaxation in the cities of the 1800’s. As their popularity grew, trolley parks also introduced swimming pools, ferris wheels, rides, roller coasters, penny arcades, balloon ascensions, merry-go-rounds and other early amusement attractions.
Sea Breeze Park, 1940’s
The great depression, prohibition, and railway strikes took its toll on the trolley parks. By the 1930’s and 1940’s with the growing growing popularity of the automobile, the trolley parks largely disappeared. Citizens no longer needed to stay in town. An exodus of people to the suburbs left the cities largely to the poor and downtrodden. As crime rates skyrocketed, the trolley parks were vandalized, abandoned, and most went bankrupt.
Sea Breeze Park – 1900’s
Still, some of these trolley parks survived and are of the most venerable and beloved parks in the country. Today, there are eleven remaining in the United States.
Sea Breeze Park , Rochester, NY (est 1879)
Dorney Park , Allentown, PA (est 1884)
Lakemont Park, Altoona, PA (est 1894)
Waldameer Park, Erie, PA (est 1896)
Kennywood, West Mifflin, PA (est est 1898)
Midway Park, Maple Springs, NY (est 1898)
Camden Park, Huntington, WV (est 1902)
Canobie Lake Park, Salem, NH (est 1902)
Bushkill Park, Easton, PA (est 1902)
Oaks Amusement Park, Portland, OR (est 1905)
Quassy Amusement Park, Middlebury, CT (est 1908)
At one time, every major American city had at least one Trolley Park.