Before we had Six Flags, Noah’s Ark or Disney World, before the roller coaster hit 100 mph and put you on the road like a tidal wave, there were intercity parks or trolleys.
These early amusement parks were built by streetcar or power companies and located at the end of train tracks designed as a ploy to get workers and their families to ride streetcars and railroads on weekends. Sunday excursions were particularly popular, charging runners about a penny per mile for the adventure.
The parks were equipped with rides, picnic areas and shows. They were often located near lakes, rivers or beaches where visitors could take a boat ride or swim.
The emergence of cart parks from the 1880s coincided with the rise of power companies as America moved towards full electrification. Railroad companies were also rapidly expanding their intercity lines, especially in the eastern half of the United States, replacing horse-drawn carts with newer, larger, and faster electric wonders.
The success of Coney Island Amusement Park spurred the creation of dozens of Electric Parks, Luna Parks, and White City amusement park chains in the 1890s. The latter was in fact inspired by White City during the 1890s. ‘World’s Fair of 1893 in Chicago.
Here in Sheboygan, we had a similar destination, long before Blue Harbor graced the shores of Lake Michigan. Much of the following information was compiled by Jan Hildebrand, a long-time SCHRC volunteer.
Lake View Park was part of a popular lakeside resort town near Lakeshore Drive and Wilson Avenue. The first hotel was built around 1895 and was owned by the Pabst Brewing Co. Although Pabst owned the building, the furniture was owned by the local tram company.
On June 6, 1892, an extension of the streetcar lines to Lake View Park was completed. Lakeview’s heyday came in the late 1890s and early 1900s, when an open-air theater known as Lake View was built by the streetcar company. A building housed the stage, but unprotected benches served as seats for clients. No entry was charged as the car price provided the entry price. With the end of the summer season, a period of vaudeville took place, and years later a roof was built over the benches.
The hotel, erected at a cost of $ 15,000, contained 50 rooms. All were rented on August 17, 1903, when a fire destroyed the hotel. A carnival was playing in the park and the last summer theater production of the season was presented. Many actors and people related to the carnival had rooms at Lake View.
Fortunately, everyone escaped the fire and saved their belongings. The manager, Mr Brunjes and his wife, were not so lucky. By waking up the guests and cleaning the hotel, they didn’t have time to save their own belongings and lost everything.
Captain Farnsworth, grandson of Sheboygan founder William Farnsworth, was the hotel’s first manager and was replaced by Brunjes in 1903.
The second Lakeview Hotel was built in 1904 by Hildebrand and Ebenreiter Co., for Lakeview Amusement Co. It also burned down on November 13, 1929 and at that time the hotel was not rebuilt. Mike Sacher was the owner of the structure at the time.
Other attractions in Lake View included the part of White City Amusement Park, which featured roller coasters built like a giant eight. A well-stocked menagerie was preserved for a number of years and there was a municipal baseball park in the southwestern part of the park. The baseball grandstand was then dismantled and moved to the Plymouth Fairgrounds.
The streetcar company increased its passenger numbers by sponsoring outdoor shows such as carnivals or balloon rides on the open grounds of Lake View.
In 1912, a group of 43 shareholders of the Lake Front Shooting Park Assoc. (owners of the land since 1895) offered to sell the land to the city for $ 6,000 on the condition that a park remained. At about the same time, the president of the Sheboygan Railway and Electric Co. offered to donate the land known as Lake View Park to the city that extends north of the Shooting Park property.
After the approval by the Common Council for the two acquisitions, the board of directors of the railway refused to confirm the proposal of its chairman. The Shooting Park property was purchased and ceded to the city in March 1915. Lake View Park was eventually acquired, by purchase, from Wisconsin Power and Light Co. in 1970 for $ 54,000.
The era of the trolley park declined with the decline of the entire intercity system. In 1919, just after World War I, there were 1,000 amusement parks across the country, and most were wagon parks.
As people took the highways and cars replaced other modes of transportation, streetcars and their fleets vanished. Today, there are only a dozen operating cart parks left across the country.