INDIAN POINT AMUSEMENT PARK by Wesley Gottlock and Barbara H. Gottlock
Excerpted from “Lost Amusement Parks of the Hudson Valley”
Around the turn of the twentieth century, the Hudson Valley was undergoing dramatic changes largely fueled by New York City’s burgeoning population. Fewer residents along the valley were pursuing agricultural jobs as the Industrial Revolution was still taking hold. Manufacturing jobs became plentiful in the city and throughout the valley. Workers soon found they had idle time, particularly on the weekends. Entrepreneurs quickly realized New York City residents’ desires to find refuge from sweltering tenement life during the warm weather. They responded by building a series of first-rate amusement parks along or near the Hudson’s banks. Three factors made the Hudson River valley especially appealing…its natural beauty and the built-in transportation system provided by steamboats and trolley lines. Amusement parks cropped up at Kinderhook Lake, Kingston Point, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Buchanan, and northern Manhattan to name just a few. Each one had a unique rise and fall.
One of those built a bit later than most was in the small river town of Buchanan in Westchester County. Today’s boaters now pass the huge nuclear reactors that dominate the landscape. Few remember the glorious park that was once located there from 1923 until 1956 when the property was turned over to Con Edison. The era of steamboats led to the creation of Indian Point Park. Since the days of Robert Fulton, steamboats had become fixtures along the river. The Hudson River Day Line (so named in 1899 by a Supreme Court of New York decree) established the park at Indian Point in order to enhance its profits. Previously, passengers on the company’s steamers would simply debark at one of its ports such as Bear Mountain. However, once they left the ship, the steamboat company lost any further revenue until the return trip. But if the company owned the land at the port, it could continue to make money all day long.
In 1923 the company selected and bought 320 riverside acres, the former site of a brick yard in the Town of Buchanan just south of Peekskill. The owners named the park Indian Point Park because they learned the Kitchawank tribe once walked there. Quickly developed, the park soon took on the flavor of a European “pleasure” park with beautiful wooded paths for strolling, picnic areas, eateries, a beach with a small bathing area, terraced lawns, ball fields, and a dance pavilion among other relaxing and wholesome attractions. The amusement rides and pool would come later. The early stages of the park were perfect for city residents fleeing the hustle, bustle and heat of urban living. The weekends attracted tens of thousands. Even the wheelchairbound had access so they could enjoy a day at the park.
In 1929, a swimming pool measuring 100 by 150 feet was added. The owners laid claim to it being the “largest on the east coast” (despite the contradictory statements of Woodcliff Pleasure Park owner Fred Ponty in Poughkeepsie). The bathhouse contained lockers for 1,500 bathers. Admission was ten cents before 11 AM and 25 cents after (affording the locals a bargain before the steamboats arrived). Local boys remember going to Indian Point Park in time to meet the boats arriving from New York City. The more adventurous ones waded in the water as the boats were docking and encouraged the girls to toss pennies overboard. The boys would dive to retrieve them and later they would try to find the girl at the swimming pool and return the pennies to her. If they were lucky, they would get to spend part of the day in her company until it was time to sail home.
But the good fortunes were not to last much longer. After World War II automobiles became more affordable. People no longer needed to travel the river or ride rails to escape the city. The company started falling on hard times. Ridership was way down. By 1948, the Hudson River Day Line announced it was going out of business (although its name would be bought by a new company). The park suddenly closed. Sections of the park were sold off. Businessman Emanuel Kelmans purchased 52 acres from K.B. Weissman
of New Rochelle in 1949. Kelmans reopened the park in 1950 with the goal of making it a full-fledged amusement area with rides and
concessions. Each year he doubled or tripled the number of attractions. By 1952, the park had over 50 concessions. Among the newer attractions were five ball fields, beer halls, a roller skating rink, a dance hall, an outdoor arena, a new midway, miniature golf, a driving range, and countless amusement rides including scooter cars, a carousel, the Double Looper, the Caterpillar, a chair plane swing ride, the Jumping Jack, a hot rod ride, a whip ride, and speed boat rides (in the river) in addition to a multitude of kiddie rides. Fireworks displays were regularly scheduled. Saturdays or Sundays could draw as many as 15,000 visitors. Kelmans created a large parking area to accommodate cars and buses (buses from New York City primarily but there was a local bus out of Peekskill as well).
On a good day 90 buses could be counted in the parking lot. Kelmans was a master of promotion and advertising by offering contests and gimmicks to entice people to the park. Many local employees felt their stint working at Indian Point Park was more fun than work and more than a few workers reportedly met their future spouses there. Kelmans revived the Westchester County Fair by holding the event at Indian Point in 1952 and 1953. But after owning and operating the park for five years, Kelmans perhaps became tired of the seasonal business and sought to sell the property. Consolidated Edison Gas and Electric Company was looking for property near New York City. It had plans to build a new power plant to provide for the growing electrical demands of New York City. In October 1954, Con Ed bought the property for $250,000.
As part of the agreement, Kelmans would be allowed to operate the amusement park for at least two more years in order to give his concessionaires an opportunity to relocate. Kelmans had achieved his goals. He had taken a “pleasure” park operated by the Hudson Rive Day Line and turned it into a profitable full-scale amusement parks. The grand Cristiani Circus was the last major event to be held at the park in 1956. By 1962, the first nuclear reactor at Indian Point began generating electricity. Today all that remains of this once glorious site is part of the stairway that once led to the swimming pool and an empty lot that was once a ball field. Emanuel Kelmans passed away in Lake Worth, Florida in 1989.
Lost Amusement Parks of the Hudson Valley is available through the authors only. Go to http://www.gottlockbooks.com or call (845) 561-8023.
ABOUT the AUTHORS
Retired educators Barbara and Wes Gottlock became fascinated with Hudson Valley historic sites when they began researching Bannerman’s Island. That research was included in their first book, Bannerman Castle (2006), which was written along with Thom Johnson, a long-time Bannerman historian. They followed that with a second book, New York’s Palisades Interstate Park (2007) , the pictorial history of that remarkable park system. Both of those books were published through Arcadia Publishing. Lost Towns of the Hudson Valley for History Press (2009), evolved when they became curious about certain towns up and down the valley that were
once vibrant but no longer exist except for some vestiges or road markers. Their newest book Lost Amusement Parks of
the Hudson Valley was released in May 2011. The authors chronicle the rise and demise of amusement parks that lined the Hudson River from the turn of the twentieth century through the 1950s. Some of the parks covered include Electric Park at Kinderhook Lake, Woodcliff Pleasure Park in Poughkeepsie, Orange Lake Park in Newburgh, Indian Point Park in Buchanan, and the Fort George
Amusement Park in northern Manhattan. The book contains about 160 photographs.
Both Barbara and Wes are still active volunteers with Bannerman’s Island. Wes is an island docent and coordinates all the public tours that come to the island. Barbara is also a docent in addition to being a board member and the island’s coordinator of volunteers. They have presented nearly 100 Power Point lectures throughout the Hudson Valley in the last few years covering their books’ topics.
In addition, they both participate in river clean-up projects and fundraisers benefiting various Hudson River causes. They also find enough time to spend with their two children and five grandchildren. Barbara and Wes reside in New Windsor overlooking the majestic Hudson River.
You can find this article and more in the latest issue of Boating on the Hudson Magazine! Pick up a FREE copy at your local Marina or favorite waterfront location. Not sure where you can pick up a copy? Not close to the Hudson River? Want to have the magazine delivered right to your door? Feel free to email us, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website www.boatingonthehudson.com and view our magazine online!