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Pittsburgh Amusement Park History

Carousel Horses from Idlewild Park in Ligonier, PA

Pittsburgh is an ever-changing city. Many places of historical interest have been replaced with something more modern and perceivably better. This was the fate for many of the amusement parks that were once scattered around the Greater Pittsburgh area.

Modern day amusement parks got much of their start from trolley parks dating back to the late 1800’s. Trolley parks were created to give streetcar riders a destination at the end of the lines. These parks began with picnic shelters and evolved into amusement rides and other attractions. Families would take the streetcars to them on the weekends to enjoy time together. Many cities had trolley parks, but none had as many as Pittsburgh did. Pittsburgh had nearly two-dozen trolley parks between the late 1800’s and mid 1950’s. Pittsburgh’s topography and industry helped create the unusually large number of amusement parks in the area.

George Ferris and the Ferris Wheel

George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. lived on Arch Street in Pittsburgh and worked for his own company, G.W.G. Ferris and Company, as an inspection engineer for industrial sites. He attended a banquet in 1891 where he answered the challenge for a structure that could rival the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Ferris frantically sketched a gigantic wheel on a napkin and showed it to other engineers. Many wrote Ferris off as a crackpot, but he used his own money to prepare the blueprints and found wealthy investors to aid in the construction of the wheel. Ferris wasn’t the first to build a wheel such as this, but he was the first to do so with steel and on such a large scale. He set the with his now famous Ferris wheel. Ferris died at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh on November 22, 1896.

Learn More About These
Pittsburgh Amusement Parks

Exposition Hall
Exposition Hall
Kennywood
Kennywood
Luna Park
Luna Park
     
West View Park
West View Park
Rainbow Gardens
Rainbow Gardens
Fairview Park
Fairview Park
     
White Swan Park
White Swan Park
  Riverview Park
Riverview Park
     

Pittsburgh’s Amusement Park Timeline

The first trolley park in Pittsburgh was Idlewild, which opened in 1878. It originally operated as a picnic and recreational ground, but began adding amusement rides in the 1890’s. Idlewild is one of very few trolley parks still in operation today. It is the oldest amusement park in Pennsylvania and the third oldest in the nation.

The Pittsburgh Railways Company opened Calhoun Park in the late 1890’s on Mifflin Road in Lincoln Place. It operated there until 1910.

Kennywood opened in 1898 by the Monongahela Street Railway Company, which was controlled by Andrew Mellon. Two of the original structures remain in the park – the carousel pavilion and a restaurant that originally operated as the Casino.

Other parks that opened in the early 1900’s include Maple Grove, Eldora, Alameda, Homestead, Oakwood, Southern, Oakford, Interurban Park, and Luna Park. West View Park, Dreamland, Coney Island in Neville Island, and Dream City in Wilkinsburg all opened in 1906 alone. More parks opened in the 1920’s such as Rainbow Gardens, Burkes Glen, Harmarville, and Mapleview. White Swan opened in 1955. Other notable parks in Pittsburgh History include Exposition Hall, Fairview Park, and Riverview Park.

Not There Anymore

Nearly all of Pittsburgh’s past amusement parks have become lost in the mists of time. Defunct parks have been replaced with shopping centers, roadways, and other modern conveniences. Amusement parks weren’t the only ones to suffer a fate such as this; past sports stadiums like Exposition Park, Recreation Park, Forbes Field, and Three Rivers Stadium have suffered a similar fate. Future generations may walk across what was once Civic Arena and never know the significance of where they’re standing. These pieces of Pittsburgh’s history should not be forgotten.

Rick Sebak and WQED produce videos about "Stuff That's Gone," "Kennywood Memories," and "Things That Aren't There Anymore," as well as many other great Pittsburgh videos. You can find these in The Pittsburgh E-Mall.

Article by Meg O’Malley

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