The Big Dipper at Geauga Lake

A peek into the history of the Geauga Lake Amusement Park

As one drives south on state Route 43 through Geauga Lake, one sees the overgrown parking lot and the deteriorating green privacy fence that hides from view the remnants of the amusement park. What’s not hidden are the childhood and families memories of the times spent riding the Big Dipper and the carousel, eating cotton candy, and losing money on the midway games.

My fondest memory of the park goes back to July 26, 1967 when I and several of my friends ventured out to the park to see Paul Revere and the Raiders as part of radio station WIXY 1260’s “Appreciation Day” concert. The loud screams from the Big Dipper and the melodies from carousel are now silent. However, the memories of the park will live in its history.

The first settler in the area of Geauga Lake was Samuel McConoughey who migrated from Blandford, Massachusetts, in 1806. The settlement around the lake, which at that time was known as “Giles Pond,” was divided by county boundaries between Geauga County to the north and Portage County to the south. 

By 1856 the growth of the region spurred the construction of a line of the Erie Railroad just north of the lake as it ran from Cleveland through Solon, Aurora, and eventually on to Youngstown.  The “Pond” became a popular picnic site.

In 1872, Sullivan Giles constructed a dance hall on the northern side of the lake near the Erie “Pond Station.” In 1887, on the southern shores of the “Pond,” Alexander Kent began to construct a summer resort and in 1888 he opened the Kent House Hotel. From that point on “Geauga Lake” became a popular resort area mainly for families wanting to escape the urban environments of Cleveland. The resort soon included all of the attractions of the typical 1890s resort: picnicking, fishing, boating, a dance hall, roller-skating rink, campgrounds and baseball diamonds. 

It wasn’t until the 1920s that the resort began to take on the appearance of an amusement park. Between 1924 and 1925, William Kuhlman invested heavily, enlarging the park’s amenities to include tennis courts, horseshoe pits, shooting gallery, midway games and rides. The Big Dipper, originally called the Shooting Sky, became a major attraction. It cost $50,000 to build this 2,800-foot long wooden roller coaster, which was the largest at the time. Other rides included a carousel, Whip, Dodgem, Aerial Swing and miniature railroad.

The only item left incomplete was the mammoth Olympic-sized pool.  The pool, Ohio’s largest at the time, was completed in July 1925 to the enjoyment of visitors.

Olympic sized pool filled where Johnny Weissmuller set world record. 

The following July, Johnny Weissmuller broke the world record in the 220-yard freestyle at the pool. While he is best known for his role as Tarzan, Weissmuller was an Olympian in 1924 and 1928, winning five gold medals in the Summer Olympics. 

The Marcus Illions Carousel with 64 hand-carved horses was added in 1926. In 1931, Willie “Young” Stribling set up his training camp at the Park for his fight with heavyweight championship against Max Schmeling. The fight was held in Cleveland and was the first to be broadcast nationally on radio.

Geauga Lake Amusement Park was one of only 500 amusement parks out of 1,500 nationwide that survived the economic hardships of the Great Depression.

As a result of post-World War II prosperity, the park continued to expand. Ownership of the park transferred to Harvey and Charles Schryer, nephews of William Kuhlman and attorney Carl Adrian. The 1960s brought another decade of economic struggle for the park with soaring insurance, maintenance and operating cost. The park ownership would transfer ownership, first to Funtime, Inc. in 1968, to Premier Parks, Inc. (Six Flags) in 1995. 

A year later Premier Parks purchased Sea World and combined the two parks creating Six Flags World of Adventure.

In 2004, ownership transferred to Cedar Fair, owners of Cedar Point in Sandusky, renaming the park Geauga Lake & Wild Water Kingdom. 

In 2007, after 120 years, Kent’s “picnic lake” park, which had evolved into a major attraction in Northeast Ohio, closed it gates. The water park, Wildwater Kingdom, closed in 2016. 

Printed with the permission of the Aurora Historical Society which retains rights to all content and photos.

John Kudley, Jr.
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