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Wildwood Amusement Park

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Bathing at Wildwood, c.1910.

Bathing at Wildwood, c.1910.

On the shores of White Bear Lake, Wildwood Amusement Park offered a dance pavilion, swimming, fishing, boating, picnic areas, amusement park rides, and carnival games. For only the cost of the streetcar fare, Twin Cities' residents could spend summer days at this park owned and operated by the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Corporation.

First built by the St. Paul and White Bear Railroad in 1889, Wildwood Amusement Park was designed to attract visitors to take the newly built line to White Bear Lake. At that point, Wildwood was a popular picnic spot, but the amusement park did not have many rides or other attractions. This initial venture was not a success, and the economic depression of the mid-1890s forced the closure of the St. Paul and White Bear Railroad. After the failure of the original management, Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company acquired the line in 1898, and the new owners decided to improve the amusement park. They hoped to make money both through concessions at the park and by charging fares to and from St. Paul. Admission to the park itself was free.

For more than three decades, men, women, and children could catch a streetcar in St. Paul, pay ten to fifteen cents, and ride to White Bear Lake from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Traveling at speeds greater than sixty miles per hour, they arrived at Wildwood about forty-five minutes after they left the city. After exiting the streetcar, guests took steps down from the depot, went through a tunnel, and emerged at the entrance to Wildwood Amusement Park.

Once there, visitors found a roller coaster, fun house, Katzenjammer Castle (a children's play house), penny arcade, shooting gallery, and other carnival games. In 1927, the park welcomed the first ever Tilt-a-Whirl, designed and built by Herbert Sellner of Faribault. Also on the amusement park grounds was a beach with large bathhouses where park goers could rent bathing suits. From there, they could swim in the lake or, if they were more adventurous, take a toboggan slide that deposited swimmers out into the lake. Also available for small fees were fishing boats, fishing gear, motor boat rides around the lake, and, occasionally, hot air balloon rides. Nearby were picnic grounds and concession stands where visitors could purchase refreshments. Companies from the Twin Cities often held employee picnics out at Wildwood.

In the evenings, the park hosted large dances in its dance hall pavilion. Nationally famous bands and orchestras would play in the pavilion. Fats Waller, Red Nichols, Glen Gray, and Guy Lombardo put on shows at Wildwood. Dancers could stay until 11:00 pm, when the park closed. They had to take the last streetcar back to St. Paul, or they would be stuck at the park for the night. Every July 4 the management put on a fireworks display in the evening.

At the height of its popularity, Wildwood Amusement Park welcomed thousands of visitors a week. However, after a few decades and the widespread adoption of the automobile, the streetcar company could no longer afford to keep the park running. In 1932, the amusement park closed, though the dance pavilion remained open until 1937. The next year, the transit company tore down the park and sold the land to developers.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Becker, Mark. "Wildwood Amusement Park: The Valleyfair of Yesteryear." Historical Whisperings 9, no. 2 (July 1982): 1–3; v. 9, no. 3 (October 1982): 3; v. 9, no. 4 (January 1983): 3; v. 10, no. 1 (April 1983): 3.

Smith, Alice R., Sharon F. Wright, and Judy Kaiser. Mahtomedi Memories. Self-published, 1976.

"Where the Children Find Fresh Air," St. Paul Globe, June 26, 1904.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059523/1904-06-26/ed-1/seq-22/

Related Images

Bathing at Wildwood, c.1910.
Bathing at Wildwood, c.1910.
Family at Wildwood Park, c.1899.
Family at Wildwood Park, c.1899.
Wildwood Dance Pavilion, c.1912.
Wildwood Dance Pavilion, c.1912.
Wildwood Amusement Park, c.1915.
Wildwood Amusement Park, c.1915.
Streetcar station, Wildwood Amusement Park, c.1915.
Streetcar station, Wildwood Amusement Park, c.1915.
The Bathhouse at Wildwood, c.1915.
The Bathhouse at Wildwood, c.1915.
An advertisement for a concert at Wildwood, c.1920.
An advertisement for a concert at Wildwood, c.1920.
The Pippin roller coaster at Wildwood, 1927.
The Pippin roller coaster at Wildwood, 1927.

Turning Point

In 1898, Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company acquires the streetcar line to Wildwood Amusement Park. Investing in what was a small park and enlarging it, the company turns it into a popular recreation spot for residents of the Twin Cities.

Chronology

1889
The St. Paul and White Bear Railroad runs to White Bear Lake. The company opens a small amusement park called Wildwood.
1892
Wildwood adds a roller coaster to its park, as well as a roller rink. The St. Paul and White Bear Railroad electrifies the streetcar line to Wildwood.
1898
Twin Cities Rail Transit Company acquires the line to Wildwood and the park itself. The transit company improves the park, the line, and the grounds.
1908
A fire destroys many of the buildings and amusements at Wildwood, including the funhouse and roller coaster, but the company rebuilds.
1927
The first Tilt-a-Whirl debuts at Wildwood. It was invented by Herbert Sellner of Faribault.
1930
Wildwood Amusement Park begins to lose money.
1932
Wildwood Amusement Park closes; the dance pavilion stays open.
1936
During the winter, the bathhouse burns to the ground.
1937
The dance pavilion closes, and the park is dismantled the next year.