Adirondack landscape littered with shuttered attractions
By Melissa Manno, Times Union
The first time Bob Carroll visited Gaslight Village, a theme park in the heart of Lake George that captivated visitors with its vaudeville-inspired entertainment, a magician invited him onstage and made him float in midair. Enthralled by the trick, the boy knew it wouldn’t be his last time on the park’s main stage.
“It was the first thing you saw when you came to Lake George…the Ferris wheel, the rides, the whole thing,” Carroll said. “As a kid, I was enamored with the chaos.”
As a teenager, Carroll became a ventriloquist and magician at the park’s Opera House, which staged everything from silent movies and melodramas to comedy performances and sing-alongs. It was famous for its unique vaudeville performances that Carroll said included performers from “The Ed Sullivan Show” and other top variety programs.
“It was the type of entertainment you could only find in Las Vegas,” said Carroll. But when operation costs overburdened owners, management cut down on the park’s largest expense: entertainment. It rebranded as Ride & Fun Park and Action Park and stayed open a few more years, losing popularity to nearby parks and edging toward its demise.
Inundated with high costs and competition from nearby attractions, Gaslight Village wasn’t the first theme park in the Lake George region to meet its end by a wrecking ball – and it certainly wasn’t the last. (This week, a demolition crew was leveling Water Slide World to make way for a housing development on the southern edge of Lake George.)
Gaslight Village was built in 1959 by Charles R. Wood, who developed several theme parks in upstate New York. Alluring ice performances and outdoor shows with lions and tigers filled the entertainment schedule, which ran from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily from June to September.
Carroll returned to the main stage every summer for 20 years until the park stopped hiring its performers and lost its charm as a midway for extravagant entertainment.
“It was like a family because Mr. Wood liked loyalty with his employees and he kept hiring back the same people,” Carroll, who met his wife at the park, said. “It was a town in itself and it was a fun time, the best time for so many people.”
The “Gay Nineties” theme park was demolished in 2010 and has since been turned into Charles R. Wood Park, which was dedicated in 2019.
Time Town, 1970-1981
Once in the hamlet of Bolton Landing, the nostalgic sound of the “Star Wars” main title echoed in the hilltops, welcoming visitors who followed the small sign that led up Coolidge Hill Road to the 1970’s era time-themed amusement park.
“It was a park where history, past, present and future came alive,” Margaret Mannix, Lake George historian, said of the park known as Time Town built by Ted Yund.
The futuristic display that included a telescope observatory, magic shows, astronaut statues and scenic train rides was built in 1970 and closed about a decade later.
“It was way off the beaten track and it wasn’t a particularly nice, fun amusement park by any means, so it started out and a few people went and then it gradually faded, people stopped going and lost interest,” said Edgar Caldwell, Bolton Landing historian.
Caldwell recalled being able to see the animatronic displays through the foliage on a clear night. “The features weren’t well done, they were old, kind of cheap and from other parks,” he added.
Housing has since replaced the niche destination. All that is left of the park is the web of nostalgia posted online by past visitors who grew fond of the attraction. Even the telescope that inspired the park’s conception, Caldwell noted, was stolen after its closure.
Water Slide World, 1979-2018
With its 35 slides and attractions, Water Slide World had an almost 40-year-stint as a Lake George staple for family fun and summer recreation. The site attracted thousands of visitors each summer, but the seasonal opening and weather dependency posed financial challenges.
“It was very popular, but it only operated in the summer and if it was a rainy day no one was going to Water Slide World,” Mannix said.
When park owner Gary Koncikowki died in 2018, his wife decided not to reopen the park, and it was sold to make way for affordable housing.
“I think time marches on and it’s sad to see them go but in other respects, we still have Six Flags and the Great Escape,” Mannix added.
Beyond Lake George…
And then there are the other places that span beyond the pristine waters of Lake George. In North Hudson, Western-themed Frontier Town had an incontestable presence in the Adirondacks through much of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. (See what’s happening there now.)
Despite their eccentric charm, smaller family-run theme parks have little chance against major international amusement park chains. Parks that have survived have likely only managed to do so by rebranding and being bought out.
Storytown USA, the Mother Goose fairy tale theme park opened by Wood in 1954, was sold to the Six Flags company in the 1990s and is known today as The Six Flags Great Escape and Hurricane Harbor.
Less than 4 miles away, Magic Forest, which once boasted the world’s tallest Uncle Sam, magic shows and a diving horse, is now Lake George Expedition that includes elements of the previous park as well as Dino Roar Valley.
Competition, costs, management and location all play a paramount role in a theme park’s success. But Mannix also attributed the loss of family-run parks in the region to a lack of interest (or, perhaps, preference for larger parks with more features).
“Different generations have different desires for their entertainment,” she said.