A Tale of 3 Minnesota Amusement Parks
As Valleyfair celebrates 40 years of operation, we look back at some of its Minnesota forerunners.
Twin Cities Rapid Transit built street car lines from Lake Harriet to Excelsior. The shores of Lake Minnetonka had many summer residences. There were also year-round homes. It was sort of an early lifestyles of the rich and maybe not so famous.
The TCRT had success with the Wildwood Amusement Park in White Bear Lake originally built by the St. Paul and White Bear Railroad. So TCRT opened Big Island Amusement Park in 1906. The company also took over the management of the Tonka Bay Hotel - the former Lake Park Hotel. However, declining business led to its closure in 1911.
TCRT had to build three 1,000 passenger ferry boats to get people from land to the amusement park. Leroy Buffington designed the park and its structures. A 1,500 seat casino was the entertainment center. Other attractions at Big Island Park included a roller coaster, carousel, a log flume-type ride called The Old Mill and more, plus a great picnic grounds. Despite all these attractions, the short season in Minnesota that the park could operate kept it from making money and it closed in 1911. It was dismantled quickly and the rebar in the buildings was used for the war effort in World War I.
Various veterans organizations used it as a campground until 2003 and then the city of Orono purchased the property and opened a nature park. Only a few parts of foundations of buildings remain.
Next came Excelsior Amusement Park from 1925-73. Street cars came and went until 1932. The park peaked in its popularity in the 1940s and '50s. In the '60s, given the era, there were some problems. The park featured all the favorites: a carousel (which is still in use at Valleyfair), bumper cars, boat rides, fun house, and a roller coaster called the Cyclone. It's a myth that the Cyclone was torn down when the park closed and moved to Valleyfair and called the High Roller. The High Roller was built new for Valleyfair. The park closed in 1973 and was quickly demolished. The site is now the home of condominiums, Maynard's Restaurant and the Bayside Grille.
The owners bought land in 1973 for a new park to be called Valleyfair in Scott County. It opened in 1976 and is still going strong 40 years later. The park features more than 75 rides and attractions. The Enterprise ride, named for the famous Star Trek ship, shut down the weekend of August 21 for good. Something new, exciting and higher is rumored to take its place next year, and is named North Star. A water park and Camp Snoopy-themed area of the park is very popular. A Halloween haunt takes over the park weekends in September and early October.
I was at Valleyfair when it opened in 1976. And I've been there a few times since. Now that I have a grandchild, I will probably go in the near future again. Although I prefer rides of a slower pace now. Thanks to the Minnesota Historical Society and Wikipedia for providing some information.