Fun in the Sun: Ohio’s Coney Island

Coney Island Entrance Postcard. Courtesy of Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library. Via Ohio Memory

When thinking about the best amusement parks in the country, Cedar Point, in Sandusky, and Kings Island in Mason, usually rank somewhere in the top 20, but did you know Ohio had over 30 different amusement parks at one time? In the late 19th century and early 20th century, travel for fun and leisure was not as quick or easy as it is today, so parks didn’t have to worrytoo much about competition until the rise of the automobile. In southern Ohio there is one park that highlights the decline, resurgence, and the perseverance of smaller amusement parks.

Coney Island ferris wheel. Courtesy of Ohio History Connection. Via Ohio Memory

Coney Island, located on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Ohio, is one of Ohio’s oldest amusement parks that has transformed itself several times over the last 100 plus years. Coney Island’s founding dates back to 1867, when apple-farmer James Parker purchased approximately 20 acres of land along the shores of the Ohio River. Parker soon realized the popularity of the farm’s location, and that renting it out was more profitable than his apple orchard. He named it Parker’s Grove and eventually added a dining hall, dancing hall, and bowling alley.

Parker later sold the land in 1886 to Ohio Grove Corporation and the name was officially changed to “Ohio Grove, The Coney Island of the West” in an effort to link the park with the famous New York destination. In 1887, “Ohio Grove” was completely dropped from the name as the park became known simply as Coney Island. Because of the park’s proximity to the river, it was prone to flooding. In 1968, park management began meeting with Taft Broadcasting to develop a new park on higher ground. Taft ended up buying Coney Island in 1969, and construction began the following year on a new site in Deerfield Township of Warren County 25 miles north of Cincinnati along Interstate 71. Coney Island closed its amusements on September 6, 1971, as most of its rides were moved to the newly completed Kings Island theme park, but reopened in 1973 with much fewer, but still popular attractions, like the Sunlite Pool.

Coney Island Sunlite Pool photographs. Courtesy of Ohio History Connection. Via Ohio Memory.

In 1991, Coney Island was purchased by Cincinnati businessman Ronald Walker, who restored Coney Island as a traditional amusement park with familiar rides such as the Tilt-A-Whirl, bumper cars, carnival games and musical shows. Today it is part amusement, part water park, and part arcade.

Many parks still have some attractions that visitors can still enjoy today, but others were not so lucky and had to shut their gates. As you travel the highways this summer, or plan an adventurous weekend of roller coasters and thrill rides at Cedar Point or Kings Island, know that a hundred years ago you may have passed several parks that were just as fun and exciting along the way.

Thank you to Ashely Rodriguez, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.