August 3, 2003
I’ve have been wanting to visit Conneaut Lake Park for a long time now but it is four hours from home – just out of range for a comfortable day trip. However, my wife got a hold of some complimentary tickets to the "Vintage Ohio" Wine Festival at Lake Farmpark in, Ohio for Saturday and it only stood to reason that since we were already driving 3 hours we might as well make it a weekend, shoot for the extra hour drive to Conneaut and spend the night in the Hotel Conneaut. Thanks to some errands on Saturday morning, we got a late start and finally reached Lake Farmpark in the late afternoon. We stayed long enough for a late dinner of ostrich burger before setting off across the northwest Ohio countryside. It was pretty much a straight shot from Lake Farmpark to Conneaut Lake across northeastern Ohio except for one detour. We crossed into PA on a causeway in the middle of the vast Pymatuning Reservoir just as the sun was going down. It had been a hot, humid day and the lake was cloaked in a fine mist. After another 20 or so miles and a couple of turns we spied the Blue Streak’s turnaround jutting out of the woods. We turned into the entrance road, stopped at the auto gate and paid the $0.00 parking charge and drove down one of the park’s midways. Well, not really but it was one block over. Conneaut is unique as the rides and attractions are located along town streets with houses and cottages interspersed here and there (the streets are closed to auto traffic).
It was 9:30 and the park was crowded and in full swing. The entrance road took us down to the lakefront where a right hand turn brings you between the Beach Club nightclub and the amusement rides. It wasn’t long before the imposing wooden structure of Hotel Conneaut came into view. Somehow we figured out to drive around to the back of the hotel where we found the parking lot. The Hotel dining room – "Steak on the Lake" looked busy and there was a lot of activity and loud music coming out of the hotel. We entered through the back door and saw that there was a wedding reception taking place in the Hotel’s Ballroom. We walked into the lobby, got our room key and went up to the second floor. Hotel Conneaut has a room sponsorship program where each sponsor redecorates a room. Our room, #158 had a small sign next to the door. It read: "Room 158 was redecorated by Mary Alice Manda with loving memories of the time spent here with her parents Bob and Marie Keefe." Most of the other rooms also had signs and I assume each room must be different. Its an interesting idea for folks to help preserve the and maintain the historic hotel. Inside, we found a small but pleasant room decorated in light blues and lace. The bathroom didn’t have a shower but it did have a claw foot tub! The rooms are primitive by modern standards having no heat, air-conditioning, or television. But who needs a TV in a place like this? The ceiling fan helped to bring in cool lake breezes between the open window and the transom above the door.
We’d have time to check out the rest of the Hotel later. We hurried outside and strolled along the lakefront boardwalk. The Beach Club bar at the end of the boardwalk was busy and cars were still coming in. It was nearing 10pm – the scheduled closing time. We thought we might be able to squeeze in a night ride on the Blue Streak but the ticket windows had already closed. Instead, we wandered the midway and watched as the rides were shut down one by one. Many of the food stands (located in the lower level of the Dreamland Ballroom) remained open a bit longer so we waited in a long line to get an Ice Cream cone. While in line, we watched the worker in the cotton candy stall next door make the most enormous stick of cotton candy I’ve ever seen. The ball must have been at least 2 feet across. We hung out in the park a while longer, eating our ice cream cones. The park was essentially closed but many people still wandered the darkened midway. I noticed that the entertainment in the Dreamland, the group "The Holidays" was still going on as music drifted down through the open windows. We climbed the steps to the second floor to sneak a peak at the ballroom – were even able to walk around the balcony that circles the building. It had been a hot and humid day but the night air was cool and we took a slow walk along the boardwalk before heading back to the Hotel.
It was still fairly noisy in the Hotel. The wedding reception was winding down but the DJ continued to pump out annoying 1970’s disco to the remaining guests. We wandered the lobby and public areas and took special note of the attractive paintings of the park that hung on the walls. Exhausted from the day, we headed up to our room. Unfortunately, our room was just above the wedding reception. Fortunately, the wedding reception soon finished up. Unfortunately, the loud music continued – this time from the live band performing in the Dining Room. We learned, after inquiring at the front desk, that the band was scheduled to finish up by midnight. They were close; the band stopped at 12:20.
We planned to spend the morning swimming and hanging out on the beach but awoke to a dismal gray rain-soaked morning. Soft rumblings of thunder could be heard in the distance and we quickly canceled our beach plans. Instead, we partook of the well-stocked breakfast buffet in the large attractive Dining Room. We ate at a window seat with full view of the lake. Afterwards, we wandered along the porticos ringing the main floor of the Hotel. It’s a very attractive building day or night and would be even more beautiful on a bright sunny day! We wandered through the landscaped grounds and took note of the assorted cottages and houses located within the park boundaries. If you ever wanted to live in an amusement park, Conneaut Lake is the place to be! The rides at Conneaut open at noon so we had time to wander under the huge old maple trees and around the quiet midways empty of people and free of the noisy bustle that one usually finds in an amusement park. It was an interesting experience to walk through the park, watch the employees arrive and watch the rides slowly spring to life. We walked out to the attractive main entrance and noticed the ample parking lots on both sides of the streets. We noticed the numerous picnic shelters, the small but attractive waterpark, and found remnants of the fence that used to circle the park during the years a general admission fee was charged. I couldn’t help but wonder how those folks living in the houses on the inside of the fence got home in those days. Most of the rides at Conneaut Lake run along two streets. Park Avenue is the "main" street with most of the rides and concession stands. Comstock Street intersects it at the very center of the park. These two streets are closed to traffic but I couldn’t help looking both ways before crossing!
Noon came and went. Only a few people were in the park when we wandered to the ticket booth to get our ride passes. You can pay for individual rides with tickets but with most rides costing $1-$2 and the Blue Streak at $2.50, it doesn’t take long to get your money’s worth out of the $14.95 POP bracelet. The woman selling tickets warned that the park might close early due to the weather. We decided to take our chances and try to get a lot of rides in quickly. Our first stop was the Devil’s Den dark ride. This is a gravity powered haunted house from Pretzel, almost identical to the one at Camden Park, though with different theming elements. It’s a coaster like ride with a layout similar to a wild mouse. We got a good look at the track layout as all the lights were on inside! Just across street is the Carousel. This is a very well maintained machine with a plaque identifying it as a T.M. Harton model with figures carved by Muller. At least most of the figures were carved by Muller. In the early 1990’s, the park sold some the antique figures to raise cash. Instead of replacing them with fiberglass copies, they contacted Carousel Works of Mansfield, Ohio to carve new figures. It’s a classy solution for maintaining the integrity of fine old carousel. A loud band organ accompanies the ride and we discovered that Conneaut runs their rides forever. Most smaller parks give generous ride cycles on their flats compared to the mega-parks but I’ve never experienced anything like Conneaut. I like carousels but I was getting a little antsy because I was worried that the park would close early and I would still be stuck on the carousel! The ride ended and we decided there would be no more fooling around and headed to the Blue Streak. This coaster is one of two surviving Ed Vettle coasters (the other being the Lakeside Cyclone in Denver) and literature claims it is the only surviving example of a Vettle shallow track coaster design (what does that mean?). The trains on this ride are real antiques. Conneaut owns a wonderfully restored NAD train but they use it only as a backup. They now run the original 1938 stationary lab bar train. We climbed aboard, fastened the single leather seat belt and entered a long dark curving tunnel before engaging the lift hill. It’s a weird coaster as the track looks unusually thin and there are handrails and catwalks on one side only (The Lakeside Cyclone is the same way). It’s an out and back ride nestled in the woods and full of steep hills and a funky turnaround. The trains are comfortable and roomy; the ride is fast and smooth in the center seats with airtime in the front or back. Definitely some of the most fun I’ve had on a coaster.
There is a second coaster of sorts here. A Chance Tobbagan. I've ridden the one at Lakemont and actually had an enjoyable ride. The padding on the one at Conneaut seems to be much thicker or else I've gained a lot of wait since my last visit to Lakemont as I could barely fit in the car. The padding on the ceiling is welcome when the little car traverses the couple of severe bunny hops at the end of the ride. I wish Lakemont's ride had that!
Conneaut has a nice ride selection and we were sure to get several rides on the flying scooters (portable model), Eli Ferris Wheel (which seemed to turn faster then most), the music express, the Duce bumper cars (which run surprisingly fast) and the Eyerly Roll O Plane. I failed to ride the Paratrooper or the Trabant as I get sick enough on these rides with normal length ride cycles! There are a few other notable rides we were careful not to miss. The miniature train ride looks a little like the common Chance CP Huntington but it is actually an Allan Herschel model (and much different from the train pictured in the painting in the Hotel lobby). It follows a figure eight path first looping around the miniature golf course and then traveling under the Blue Streak where it runs alongside the coaster through the woods. The scrambler is inside an ancient midway building that once housed a fun house. Dubbed the "Ultimate Trip" it runs in a darkened room with glowing fluorescent paint with loud music blaring from a radio (I know it was a radio because a commercial came on!) Several rides were not operating. The Tempest (named The Witches Stew) was disassembled to the point of being unrecognizable. The Yo-Yo was in a similar state. Sadly, the TumbleBug, brand new in the 1920’s also sat in pieces. I found all the major parts scattered in several locations. I hope they are able to get it back together. W visited the arcade and games buildings, played some Skee-Ball (I somehow began collecting Skee-Ball tickets from various parks so I make sure to always hit a skee-ball machine), and wandered through the cluttered gift shop. I was hoping to find the video put out by the Conneaut Lake Preservation Society but no such luck. We had ridden all the rides we wanted so we went back and re-rode some favorites. The flying scooters, the Devil’s Den (this time with the lights off), wandered through the attractive Kiddieland and of course took some more cycles on the Blue Streak. The skies stayed overcast and occasionally it rained a little but the park remained open and a fair sized crowd eventually developed. I noticed the parking lots were about half full.
We took one last walk through the park, picked up a funnel cake for the ride home and left. We didn’t want to leave and I could have easily continued riding the Blue Streak for a while longer but we faced a 4-hour ride home with the unpleasant thought of going to work the next day. Conneaut Lake is a park that I will return to. It’s the most unique park I’ve visited with its odd layout along the streets and it holds a certain nostalgic appeal. It’s a well-preserved turn of the (last) century lake resort. Many resorts like it once dotted the shores of lakes around the country offering city dwellers a chance to escape the summer heat and relax along the scenic shores and cool breezes. I grew up visiting Bertrand Island Park on the shores of Lake Hopatcong in NJ. It was (before closing in 1983) the last vestige of that lake’s resort heyday. Numerous hotels once dotted its shoreline but they are long gone now. Destroyed by fire or bulldozers as condos and year-round homes replace the summer cottages and country views. It is a rare chance to step into a living history museum and experience a different historical era. I hope Conneaut is able to overcome it’s financial problems and I hope that whatever they do, they take care to preserve the authentic atmosphere. Something like Conneaut can’t be recreated and it is amazing that a place like it as survived into the 21st century. Do repairs, fix what’s broken, and restore what is run-down, but don’t change it. Too much modernization will only ruin it.
Ripple Rock Amusement Park
Flying Scooter coming soon!
*** This post was edited by millrace 8/10/2003 7:38:19 AM ***
*** This post was edited by GoliathKills 8/10/2003 6:31:04 PM ***
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