Columbus Bicentennial: Amusement Parks of the Past

A group of swimmers posed in front of the roller coaster at Olentangy Park, ca. 1920.

Once school lets out and summer officially begins, one of the most popular activities for kids and adults alike is visiting amusement parks. Ohio has a number of world-famous locations, including Cedar Point in Sandusky, and Kings Island just north of Cincinnati.  But did you know that Columbus used to have a number of amusement parks right here in our own backyard? Two of the major ones–Olentangy Park and Indianola Park–are represented in Ohio Memory, and we’d like to use this post to share a bit about their part in Columbus’s past as part of our ongoing bicentennial series.

Postcard showing an Indianola Park water ride, ca. 1910

Indianola Park was a 30-acre park operated in Columbus’s University District at N. 4th Street and E. 19th Avenue, a location that’s now home to a small shopping center and a towing company. It opened to the public on June 8, 1905, and early visitors could enjoy a large swimming pool, a dance pavilion, a roller coaster, a restaurant and picnic grounds, and more. A vaudeville-style theater was added in 1908, soon to be followed by more roller coasters, a funhouse, and the “Shoot the Shutes” water ride seen above. The park was also home to the Columbus Panhandles pro football team, serving as their home field between 1909 and 1915.

Pony rides at Olentangy Park, ca. 1920

During the 1910s and early 20s, Indianola hosted as many as 10,000 visitors in a single weekend, and could see up to 5,000 people enjoying its pool on hot summer days! But in the wake of the Great Depression and other cultural shifts, the park eventually shut down in 1937.

Olentangy Park, a contemporary of Indianola, was located just north of the Ohio State campus on North High Street. Today this property spanning from High to the banks of the Olentangy River is home to the Olentangy Village Apartments. Originally operated as a swimming and picnic area called “The Villa,” Olentangy Park opened as an amusement park in 1899 after it was bought by the Dussenbury brothers of New Lexington, Ohio. It was situated at the northern end of a High Street trolley line, allowing easy access to citizens around Columbus. Its early years saw amusements such as roller coasters, a “tunnel of love” ride, a theater (the country’s largest at the time), a zoo, and a canoe club, where visitors could rent a canoe to paddle down the Olentangy River.

 

The park’s popular swimming pool was added in the 1920s, featuring “filtered water” and a diving board, as seen below. At the time, the pool was the world’s largest. At several hundred feet a side, it could accommodate hundreds of swimmers in the water at a time! The scope of the pool can be seen in photographs like this one, which also shows a roller coaster in the background as well as tiered seating where visitors could watch people swim. The park even hauled in sand to create a “beach-like” experience for bathers, reminiscent of places like Coney Island.

Divers at Olentangy Park, 1925.

Olentangy Park continued to thrive while changing ownership several times through the 1920s and early 1930s, but like Indianola, it faced the challenges of the times and eventually closed its doors in 1938. However, its ornate 1914 carousel is still in use at the Columbus Zoo, where it celebrated its millionth rider in 2004!

As you’re looking for ways to beat the heat this weekend, we invite you to learn more about these interesting amusement parks of yesteryear on Ohio Memory!


Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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