Reminisce: Lima’s amusement parks


By Greg Hoersten - For The Lima News



The entrance to McCullough Park can be seen at the foot of East McKibben Street. McCullough Lake was an amusement park where Schoonover Park is now on Lima’s east side.

The entrance to McCullough Park can be seen at the foot of East McKibben Street. McCullough Lake was an amusement park where Schoonover Park is now on Lima’s east side.


SOURCE

This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.

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See past Reminisce stories at limaohio.com/tag/reminisce

It had been a long time, The Lima News wrote in the long-ago summer of 1898, since the Fourth of July was celebrated as “elaborately” as it was that year, when news of the defeat of the Spanish fleet in Cuba arrived with the holiday.

To the sound of bells, whistles and cannons, a “flag was secured, and a drum corps organized … They paraded along Main Street until a large number had joined them, and finally near High Street a halt was made, where patriotic addresses were made,” The Lima News wrote.

The happy happenstance was a bonanza for Lima’s street railway, which, The Lima News estimated, transported “probably the greatest number of people ever handled in the history of the road” with “the largest number of passengers … hauled to and from Hover and McCullough parks.”

While large crowds picnicked and watched the local volunteer reserves drill at Hover Park, thousands more watched a re-enactment of the Battle of Manila Bay on McCullough Lake, complete with replicas of the American and Spanish fleets.

Today, the two sites are pleasant city parks, places to fish, picnic or take a walk. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were destinations, easily reached in open-air city streetcars, their openings as eagerly awaited as the return of warmer weather. Both opened in the mid-1890s, were privately owned and evolved early in the 20th century into amusement parks with roller coasters, dance pavilions, swimming and live events — some livelier than others.

“The opening of McCullough’s Lake to the public last night was an event of more importance than casual observers would consider it,” the Lima Times-Democrat wrote May 16, 1893. “For years the one great crying want of the town has been a place where leisure hours could be spent by those weary of toil, and the monotony of business. … The more there are of like places, the better will be the community in body and mind.”

Near the entrance to the park, at the foot of East McKibben Street, Harry Johnson, who once bet he could swim across McCullough Lake with “100 pounds of sheet iron attached to him,” opened Johnson’s Swim, possibly the city’s first swimming pool. By 1894, Johnson had added a “toboggan” (slide) to his swimming spot, offering a free ride on the slide with every swim.

The summer of 1894 also saw the opening of another park.

“Much has been said about the new resort opened this week by Hover Bros., but when a representative of this paper visited there last evening,” the Allen County Republican-Gazette wrote July 6, 1894, “he declared at once that the half had not been told. Woodland Island Park, as they have named it, is certainly a beautiful spot.”

Woodland Island Park, which soon became known as Hover Park, “is of nice size for boating and contains two islands which lend beauty to the landscape. On the west bank is a nice little boat house, a wide boardwalk runs along the entire south bank of the lake, benches and chairs are scattered at close intervals, and there is everything provided for ease and comfort.”

In late August 1894, a touch of the previous year’s popular Midway Plaisance at the Chicago world’s fair was reproduced for a two-day run in Hover Park.

“The much talked of and extensively advertised Midway Plaisance to be reproduced in Hover’s Park for the benefit of the Y.M.C.A. Ladies Auxiliary fund will be thrown open to the public tomorrow afternoon at 2 o’clock with a grand parade of nations,” the Lima Times-Democrat wrote Aug. 20, 1894.

Among the attractions of the plaisance were a Japanese tea garden, a Turkish coffee house, a Javanese playhouse with “a large porch in front upon which there will be dancing,” a Hungarian street scene, an American Indian village and an Irish village.

“The streets of Cairo will be truthfully reproduced with camels, donkeys, etc., upon which the visitors can enjoy a ride,” the newspaper wrote. “The wild West, a genuine attraction engaged especially for this occasion, will be located at the south end of the plaisance, while the streets in Venice will run along the lake on which gondoliers will be seen floating about in boats, which are also for public use, and an electric fountain is located on one of the islands and is supplied with water from the city mains.”

By the early 1900s, both parks were offering more than just a bucolic getaway. Acts, the more dangerous the better, abounded. Balloonists went up and parachutists came down, battles were re-enacted and, occasionally, people were injured. In 1910, a Lima daredevil attempted to cross the lake at Hover Park hanging by his teeth from a wire strung from the roller coaster. He didn’t make it, and the 50-foot drop landed him in the hospital.

A balloonist and parachutist caught his clothing on fire while inflating his balloon at McCullough Park in May 1930 and was saved by a quick-thinking 14-year-old Lima boy who extinguished the flames using sand from the balloon’s ballast.

In August 1909, the Junior Order of American Mechanics, a paramilitary group, held a 10-day encampment at Hover Park. The highlight of the encampment, which included dress parades and minstrel shows, was a “sham” battle. “After a thirty-minute engagement the attacking forces overcame the fort and a U.S.A. flag now floats over Fort Hover,” The Lima News wrote Aug. 18, 1909.

In 1907, a Cleveland amusement company bought Hover Park. The company built a dance hall and a skating rink. The park also had a merry-go-round, a roller coaster and a Figure 8 Toboggan Slide as well as concessions. When the improved Hover Park opened June 1, 1908, some 45,000 people bought tickets on the interurban and city streetcar lines for transportation to the park’s Vine Street entrance.

The Hover Park dance hall gained some notoriety in 1913 when Lima, then under Socialist Mayor Corbin Shook, banned the tango and other suggestive dancing there. Hover Park, newspapers reported, had become “the main source of evil in the city.”

McCullough Park, too, had a dance pavilion contained on the second level of a building at the edge of the lake. The lower level was home to a fishing club and boathouse. Above this was the auditorium used for dancing in the summer and roller skating in the fall and spring. A full balcony was on three sides.

Eventually, a separate dance hall and bandstand were built in the park. In 1928, a merry-go-round and roller coaster were added.

In 1927, construction began on a National Guard Armory on four acres on the south side of Hover Park. The land had been deeded to the state by the Hover heirs. The amusement park eventually fell into disrepair and was abandoned to the weeds. The city purchased the property in 1943 and developed Hover Park on the property.

Lima philanthropist T.R. Schoonover acquired McCullough Park from the heirs of G.M. McCullough and Cal McCullough, the original owners of the park in 1937 and donated it to the city. Today, it is known as Schoonover Park.

The entrance to McCullough Park can be seen at the foot of East McKibben Street. McCullough Lake was an amusement park where Schoonover Park is now on Lima’s east side.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2022/04/web1_McCullough-Lake-Park-Entrance.jpgThe entrance to McCullough Park can be seen at the foot of East McKibben Street. McCullough Lake was an amusement park where Schoonover Park is now on Lima’s east side.

By Greg Hoersten

For The Lima News

SOURCE

This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.

LEARN MORE

See past Reminisce stories at limaohio.com/tag/reminisce

Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected]

Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected]

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