When summertime comes and long lines queue up at parks like Disneyland, Universal Studios Orlando, Coney Island and Schlitterbahn, it's hard to imagine that the fun could ever end.
But for some of America's amusement parks, the fun did end. For some, nature took its toll. Others fell victim to economic forces beyond their control. Still others simply had a run of bad luck and were forced to close the gates. For whatever reason, though, these parks—with their magnificent edifices that were testament to summer vacations—are just sitting there. The midways have gone eerily silent; the roller coasters are rusting; the parking lots are crumbling, and graffiti covers just about everything.
As a throwback to the heyday of these parks, we present eight American amusement parks that were abandoned. Though you can’t legally visit these places, some urban explorers have been known to go, risking their own safety and facing the potential of prosecution for trespassing. Those explorers captured these images, and behind the images, the parks themseves make for interesting stories.
River Country: Orlando
Disney World: the home to princes, princesses and, once upon a time, hillbillies. At least that was the case until 2001. River Country, Walt Disney World’s first waterpark, opened in 1976 and for a time was a legendary Florida summer vacation destination. The hillbilly-themed attraction survived the opening of much larger and newer parks at Disney World, but then 9/11 happened, and Disney's business took a hit. River Country closed for the winter as it always did, but it never reopened. These days, River Country sits as an overgrown ruin, slated for eventual demolition and potential rebuild of the site as a Disney Vacation Club resort. Disney has amped up security in the past few years to keep people out, but urban explorers still find their way inside.
Six Flags: New Orleans
On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, washing out several areas of New Orleans, including the Six Flags theme park. Murky water rose up to 6 feet high throughout the park, according to many accounts. The water remained stagnant in the area for several weeks, destroying 80 percent of the park equipment and rides. Judged too expensive to restore and slated for demolition, the park was left shuttered. Today, it remains, still visible from passersby on the Interstate. The rides are falling apart, plants and trees are growing everywhere and alligators are rumored to swim in what were once waterpark pools.
Lake Shawnee Amusement Park: Princeton, W.V.
The small Lake Shawnee Amusement Park had a history of violence and death before it became a destination for amusement. Built on the site of the Clay family massacre, in which Native Americans kidnapped and killed members of a settling family, the amusement park opened in 1926, long before the age of mega-parks. After the death of two children on the park grounds, it closed in 1966, leaving behind many of its wood and steel rides. Most notable these days are the rusting Ferris wheel and children's swing that stand unkempt. The grounds have changed hands over the years, but the park's land remains abandoned.
Dogpatch USA: Arkansas
Let it be a warning to amusement park developers: There must be something about hillbilly-themed parks that doesn’t equate to success. The aforementioned Disney River Country was one example, but for a second example, look no further than Dogpatch USA. Based on Al Capp's famous comic strip Lil Abner, Dogpatch USA was a small Arkansas theme park that capitalized on cartoonish hill folk. It opened in 1968 and included a fudge shop, horseback riding, paddle boats and other family-friendly activities. Capp's characters such as Daisy Mae and Hairless Joe roamed the grounds performing backwoods comedy routines. The park changed hands a number of times and lost much of its original backwoods themes before it closed in 1993. After it closed, the owners attempted to sell Dogpatch on eBay for $1 million, but there were no bidders, and today it decays.
Holy Land USA: Waterbury, Connecticut
In the end, this religous theme park wasn't blessed with success. In the early 1950s, staunch Roman Catholic John Baptist Greco planned a roadside theme park devoted to God, and soon this miniature Bethlehem was built. By the 1960s, the park was visited by about 50,000 people a year. There was a re-creation of the Garden of Eden, biblical-themed dioramas and various tributes to the life and work of Jesus. In 1984, the park was closed for renovation, but Greco died in 1986 before it could reopen. The park was deeded to a group of nuns but has since been sold. Today, years of trespassing has taken its toll: statues have been beheaded, dioramas destroyed and tunnels blocked.
Hobbiton USA: Phillipsville, California
Even the "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" movie series couldn't save this park. Located near the Avenue of the Giants in northern California, a short nature walk called Hobbiton took visitors through the story of J.R.R. Tolkien's “The Hobbit,” complete with crude cement depictions of key scenes and characters. Built in the mid-1970s, the half-mile nature walk led visitors through the story of Bilbo Baggins. Each little diorama had a voicebox that would narrate the details of the scene with the push of a button. A number of attractions in this section of the Redwoods still attract passing visitors, but Hobbiton simply closed in 2009. Today, all that remains of the attraction are a few faded ruins, as this little slice of Middle Earth fades away.
Williams Grove Amusement Park: Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania
This family-oriented amusement park actually operated with real success for more than a century before closing. It started in 1850, when the Williams family began hosting picnics in Williams Grove, outside of Mechanicsburg. Within a few years, the grove gatherings grew into a park, and soon, the park became the Mechanicsburg Fairgrounds. Morgan Hughes purchased the park in 1972 and brought in many rides from the defunct Palisades Amusement Park—a once-spectacular Coney Island-style park in New Jersey on the Hudson River across from Manhattan. With the new rides breathing life into Williams Grove, the park operated until the end of the 2005 season when the Hughes family decided to focus their energies on the adjacent Williams Grove Speedway. Hughes tried to sell it to someone who would keep it operating, but a buyer was never found.
Lincoln Park: North Dartmouth, Massachusetts
Lincoln Park was established in 1894 and it started out simple enough—just a few picnic areas and grills—but death and injuries eventually led to its downfall. The Comet, the park's wooden roller coaster, claimed two lives (1964 and 1986) and injured several people in two other accidents (1968 and 1987). After the final incident, the park closed Dec. 3, 1987, but the jack-knifed car from the last ride of the Comet remained stuck on the roller coaster track well into the 1990s, until vandals tore it off. For years, the only remaining structures in the park were some badly damaged concession buildings and the Comet. Just about everything that was left has now either fallen apart or has been demolished.