Adirondack Theme Parks—Where Are They Now?
by Niki Kourofsky
When I was a kid there wasn’t a Saturday morning that went by that I didn’t hear the catchy jingle for Lake George’s Gay ’90s–themed playground: “Gaslight Village, yesterday’s fun today.” But my brother and I only talked my parents into going once—and I think that was because my dad wanted to catch an eyeful of cancan girl. The other promised land of my youth, Frontier Town, remained an unrealized dream. Its TV spots featured stagecoaches, shootouts and a lawless varmint who was strapped to a log and dunked in the drink. I’ve missed my chance to get there—the place closed down more than a decade ago—but my husband, whose parents weren’t so scroogy with summertime getaways, assures me it was a children’s paradise.
Coming up in the 1970s, I hit the tail-end of the Adirondack theme-park boom, led by fantasy pioneers Arto Monaco and Charles R. Wood, among other irrepressible kids at heart. A recent trip down the highway, past the skeleton of the Frontier Town billboard in North Hudson, left me wondering what happened to all the oversize playgrounds that popped up across the park after World War II.
Some of them remain open, of course. In Wilmington, tots still whisper their secret wishes in St. Nick’s ear at Santa’s Workshop (est. 1949), one of the first theme parks in America. To keep up with the times, Old Forge’s storybook-based Enchanted Forest (est. 1956) added Water Safari in the 1980s—the slide-and-ride complex is now the largest water park in New York. Charley Wood’s fabled Storytown has morphed into Lake George’s sprawling Six Flags Great Escape. And tucked away nearby, a 38-foot-tall Uncle Sam still greets guests while Lightening, the Diving Horse, performs daily at the eclectic Magic Forest (est. 1965).
But a pile of other places weren’t so lucky. North Hudson’s Frontier Town (est. 1952) only held on through 1998. (Read about its longtime rodeo cowboy in “The Happy Horseman,” August 2006.) These days the area offers mountain bike trails instead of masked bad guys—you can find an information kiosk for the North Hudson Trail System near the park’s old entrance.
Upper Jay’s Land of Makebelieve (est. 1954), Arto Monaco’s fairy-tale kingdom, closed down in 1979 thanks to almost yearly flooding. Perched on the Ausable River’s floodplain, the last of Monaco’s miniature funland—including his iconic castle—washed away in last year’s Tropical Storm Irene, sinking a proposed restoration project.
Gaslight Village (est. 1959), a joint Charley Wood/Arto Monaco affair with vaudeville acts and a beer garden, was Lake George’s answer to adult fantasy. It succumbed to a midlife crisis in 2000; Charley’s Saloon, the last building standing, was demolished in 2010 to make way for an environmental park.
Up 9N in Bolton Landing, Time Town (est. 1970) offered space journeys and light shows until it fell to Earth a decade later. Now a housing division hovers on that hillside overlooking Lake George.
For a more thorough retelling of Adirondack theme parks’ storied past, check out “Once Upon a Time in the Adirondacks” (June 1998).
Tags: Adirondack amusement parks, Adirondack theme parks, Arto Monaco, Charles R. Wood, Charley Wood, Clarence Canary, Enchanted Forest, Frontier Town, Gaslight Village, Great Escape, Land of Makebelieve, Magic Forest, North Hudson Trail System, Santa's Workshop, Time Town, Water Safari