New England offers plenty of memorable amusement park experiences, from Six Flags New England and Canobie Lake Park
to Story Land
and Lake Compounce. Yet seeing these places thrill and entertain today’s families also makes us nostalgic for the now-closed New England amusement parks that paved the way. Here are five parks that are gone but certainly not forgotten.
5 Lost & Gone (But Not Forgotten) New England Amusement Parks
Rocky Point Amusement Park | Warwick, RI
Visitors walking the grounds of Rocky Point State Park today may not realize that they are treading on entertainment history, but the reminders are there if you know where to look. The property’s history as a public attraction dates back to the 1840s, when a steamboat captain named William Winslow purchased the property and started offering scenic dinners there. Subsequent owners added various entertainments, including a baseball field on which Babe Ruth once played. (A fun bit of trivia: The first words ever spoken into a telephone by a U.S. president were uttered at Rocky Point, during an 1877 visit by Rutherford Hayes. In talking to Alexander Graham Bell, 13 miles away in Providence, Hayes opened with the not-so-memorable quote, “Please speak a little more slowly.”)
Thoroughly rebuilt after the hurricanes of 1938 and 1954, what was by then called Rocky Point Amusement Park reached its zenith in the late 1950s and 1960s. In addition to a massive saltwater swimming pool and a Ferris wheel with an ocean view, popular rides included the Corkscrew Loop Roller Coaster, the 13-story Freefall, the Log Flume, and the Castle of Terror. The midway featured games of skill and chance and performances by Hugo Zacchini, aka the Human Projectile. Through the decades, the venue’s Palladium Ballroom hosted a lineup of performers that ranged from Janis Joplin to the Ramones and Pearl Jam.
By the 1980s, attendance had started to decline, along with the facility itself. The amusement park closed in 1994 and sat abandoned for years before its remains were finally demolished out of concern for public safety. Around the same time, the town and the state began buying the property in stages. In October 2014, it was reborn as the 120-acre Rocky Point State Park.
Wonderland Amusement Park | Revere, MA
Long before there was Disneyland, there was Wonderland. Believed by many to have helped inspire the future Magic Kingdom, this amusement park flashed briefly across the New England entertainment scene, opening in 1906 and closing at the end of summer in 1910.
Wonderland itself was inspired by the massive World’s Fair exhibits that had been an international sensation since the mid-19th century. The 25.9-acre amusement park — the nation’s largest at the time — included roller coasters and other rides, games, vaudeville and movie theaters, a funhouse, and a “health center” where premature infants in incubators were put on display. There were daily parades and a scenic railroad, too. At the center of the park was a lagoon that served as the splashdown point for the popular Shoot the Chute gondola ride.
Magnificent as it was, Wonderland may have grown too quickly to support itself. Facing massive cost overruns, the park’s owners started selling off assets following the 1910 season, which would be Wonderland’s last. Nearly a quarter of a century later, the Wonderland Greyhound Park opened on the same property.
Benson’s Wild Animal Farm | Hudson, NH
Touted as “the strangest farm on earth,” this park was developed by John Benson, a British animal trainer who had originally purchased a 200-acre lot about an hour north of Boston to serve as a temporary home for animals he would buy and sell. But it didn’t take him long to see opportunity in the endless parade of locals coming by to catch a peek at his lions, elephants, monkeys, and other exotic animals. Benson opened his property to the public in 1924, and from there he added attractions such as rides, games, and concessions.
New owners took over after Benson’s death in 1943, and although the park still drew crowds, it had up-and-down years for the next few decades. Among the most popular attractions of that era was a 500-pound silverback gorilla called Colossus, who was promoted as being among the largest in captivity and once “ran” for president as a publicity stunt.
In 1987, Benson’s Wild Animal Farm was renamed New England’s Playworld Amusement Park and Zoo, but the rebranding didn’t help: It closed for good that same year. The town of Hudson subsequently acquired the property and turned it into a recreation park.
Crescent Park | East Providence, RI
Founded in 1886 in the Riverside neighborhood of East Providence, Crescent Park thrived for nearly a century. Master carousel artisan Charles I.D. Looff built the park’s first merry-go-round in 1892 and another in 1895. A scenic railway was added in 1900. There were dances, performances, and exhibitions at the Alhambra Ballroom; the dinner hall on a bluff overlooking the bay was famed for its “Rhode Island shore dinners” (steamed clams, clam chowder, lobster, clam cakes, fish, corn on the cob, and watermelon). There was a tunnel of love dubbed the Rivers of Venice, an on-site radio station, and of course all manner of roller coasters and other thrill rides.
Crowds dwindled in the 1970s, and the park finally closed following the 1977 season. Its assets were sold off in 1979, with the land being cleared for a housing development. However, the showpiece 1895 carousel — complete with its original band organ and hand-carved figures including 61 horses, a camel, and four chariots — was designated as a National Historic Landmark and fully restored, and today it continues to delight kids of all ages.
Whalom Park | Lunenburg, MA
Opened by the Fitchburg & Leominster Street Railway on the shores of Lake Whalom in 1893, Whalom Park would be known as one of the 15 oldest amusement parks in the United States by the time it closed for good in 2000. Launched as a trolley park (parks at the terminus of trolley lines were all the rage at the time), the property soon evolved from a series of serene walking paths to a bustling destination filled with midway games and rides like Ferris wheels and carousels. Perhaps the most famous attraction at Whalom Park was its 1940 Flying Comet wooden roller coaster, built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, the same outfit responsible for the wooden coasters at Coney Island.
Time finally caught up with Whalom Park, however, and not long after it closed permanently, the park’s remaining structures were razed to make way for a condominium complex. But if you are feeling nostalgic, all is not lost: Scenes from Whalom Park were preserved for posterity in the 1982 music video for “Touch and Go” by the Cars.
Which now-closed New England amusement parks do you miss the most? Let us know in the comments below!
This post was first published in 2020 and has been updated.