4E. LUDLOW LAGOON PARK (1895 - 1918)
THE LUDLOW LAGOON AMUSEMENT PARK
Decades before Disneyland and King's Island opened, one of the largest amusement parks in the country at the turn of the 20th Century was the Ludlow Lagoon Park in Ludlow, KY. It had an average daily attendance of 11,000 and as many as 75,000 in one day. Its location was near a train stop in Ludlow with Trolley access to and from the park from this station, and Trolley service was also available for the next door communities of Covington and Cincinnati. This provided people from not only Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati to have convenient access to the park, but those from other states. The entrance to the park is shown by the these photos.
Just a year after the Chicago World's Fair was held in 1893, development on the Ludlow Lagoon Park began and it was opened in 1895. It was situated on a site of about 100 acres containing a lake of about 85 acres in its center. The lagoon, or lake, was formed by a 400 foot wide damn on Pleasant Run Creek next to the Ohio River. The lake had depths of 18 to 45 feet deep and five islands. There were numerous and exciting exhibits and rides around the lake including a Circle Swing, Boat House, Theatre, Ice Cream Stand, Dancing Pavilion / Bar, Aerial Roadway, Japanese Pavilion, Electric Carousel, Midway / Novelty Arcade, Shooting Gallery, Motion Pictures Building, the Shooting Chute, a MotorDrome, Balloon Rides, a Ferris Wheel, Scenic Railway (Roller Coaster) with a two-level corkscrew, the Edison Exhibit, an Aerial Roadway, a Club House, a Bathing Beach, a Ferris Wheel and an Amphitheater. The lake also provided fishing as it was stocked with different types of bass. To continue to attract visitors, the park often added attractions and removed those that were not as popular. A photo of the park c. 1900 is below, accompanied by a 3D image created by the Ludlow Historical Society (at a different angel), which identifies most of the features in the park. As shown in the 3D image, only two edifices remain; the former Club House and the Caretakers Cottage.
Ownership & Management
Railroads that serviced Ludlow influenced the creation of the Ludlow Ludlow and it became owned by the Ludlow Lagoon Co. Wm. Riedlin, the President of the Bavarian Brewing Co., became a major shareholder of this entity. John J. Noonan became the manager of the Park from 1894 until he was succeeded by J.J. Weaver in 1902. In 1895, Riedlin and Noonan were joined on the Board of Directors by an officer of the brewery who resided in Ludlow, H. J. Kruse, (State), as well as Senator William Goebel and William A. Ficks. The name of Noonan can be viewed on the park passes below. Undoubtedly, Standard Bavarian Beer and Riedlin's Select Beer were available at the Ludlow Lagoon, and the Bavarian Brewing Co. may have supplied at least some of the ice to the food vendors in the park. After Noonan had a dispute with Riedlin in 1902, J.J. Weaver, Ludlow's City Engineer, became manager of the park and was very in adding or changing rides and exhibits. Before the park closed in 1918, it appears Weaver ultimately obtained ownership of it.
Shown are passes to the Lagoon after it was transferred to interests including Wm. Riedlin. The 1896 pass shows a main attraction to the park known as Shooting the Chutes, which was a ride that splashed into the lake. To provide easy access to the park from Cincinnati and Covington there were Trolleys and some made direct trips to the Lagoon, and could be as frequent as every 10 minutes from Cincinnati. An example of such a Trolley ticket is below. There was also a train stop in Ludlow and a Trolley that provided frequent access between this stop and the entrance to the Lagoon.
During its existence over two decades, the Ludlow Lagoon Park had several major attractions, some of which would be added and/or removed. These are shown in the following photos along with accompanying descriptions.
Scenic Railway (Roller Coaster)
This ride was opened in 1895 and operated until the park closed at the end of the 1917 season. It was the invention of L.A. Thompson who owned the ride as a concession in the park. Shown below in the first photo is a view of this Scenic Railway, which preceded the roller coaster. It lied between the train trestle and the lake. The entrance to the ride had various scenic grottoes that varied from time to time, as did the building at its far side that had a two level turnaround that is shown in the second photo. The cars would enter in the top of this building and then twist down exiting at the bottom, which also gave this feature its name as the "corkscrew."
Shooting the Chutes
Beginning in 1896, this was a major attraction at the Ludlow Lagoon Park, as indicated on the pass above. A larger illustration used on this pass, and a photo of this ride, is below. It is followed by a photo of this attraction, which is on the right and next to the Dancing Pavilion. Cars would descend from the top of the chute at speeds of about 40 mph and splash into the Lagoon. Unfortunately, the entrance into the water provided a significant jolt at times, and as a result of occasional injuries, the ride was removed before the 1903 season. It was rebuilt on the exposition grounds of the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 by J.J. Weaver.
The Lagoon Club House
Not far from the entrance was the Club House for fine dining, which had large open air decks, as shown below. It also had a billiard room on the second floor. President William Howard Taft and other dignitaries visited this establishment. The front of the building with access to and from the park was through a flight of stairs.
The Dance Hall
The Dance hall is shown in the Center of the first photo below, between the Theatre on the left and the Scenic Railway on the right. It was also next to the Shooting the Chute as shown in the second photo, and could accommodate around 2,000 people.
The Boat House & Theatre
To access the rides, there was a walkway or promenade past the Boat House and Theatre, which were located on the lake, as shown in the accompanying images.
Automobile Aerial Road
Automobiles were transforming the country beginning in the early 1900s. Their cost was out of the reach of most people and a novelty. However, that started to change in 1908 with the introduction of the Ford Model T and the Buick Model 10. There were also various models a few years before then. A unique ride at the Lagoon Park that enabled many women and people who would not ordinarily drive an vehicle at that time, was the Automobile Aerial Road beginning in 1909 that had a center divider to keep the car on elevated tracks. Because the ride went near trees, it was billed as autoing above and/or through the tree tops. It is believed that a Buick Touring Car, possibly a Model F, was used for this attraction. Interestingly, an antique car that resided with the Bavarian Brewing Co. for promotional purposes into the 1950s was a 1908 Buick, likely a Model 10. An advertising sign showing this miniature 1908 Buick was distributed for Bavarian's Old Style Beer around 1950. (See Non-Lit Signs.)
Just as the public was fascinated with cars at the beginning of the 20th Century, they were intrigued with motorcycle racing. The motorcycles could achieve speeds up to 90 mph, which was considered astounding at that time. In 1913, a banked track from 0 to 60 degrees was constructed at the Ludlow Lagoon for such races that could seat some 8,000 people. The track was also lighted to allow for evening races. The photos below show this track, also called the saucer, from both the outside and inside. Unfortunately, later that year there was a horrific accident, as discussed below.