1905 ELECTRIC PARK – Kinderhook Lake
Photos and story excerpted from Lost Amusement Parks of the Hudson Valley by Wesley Gottlock and Barbara H. Gottlock
In the October issue of Boating on the Hudson and Beyond we highlighted the rise and fall of numerous amusement parks along the Hudson Valley starting around the turn of the 20th century. We focused on Indian Point Amusement Park in the Westchester town of
Buchanan. While many parks such as Indian Point were serviced primarily by steamers plying the river, some saw their customers
delivered to the parks’ main entrance gates via another popular mode of transportation, trolley lines. These parks belonged to a genre
of “electric parks”, so-named not so much for their use of electric lighting but for the “electric” trolley lines that serviced them. One perfect example of such a park was Electric Park at Kinderhook Lake located about six miles east of the Hudson River in beautiful Columbia County about halfway between Hudson and Albany. It was described by some as the “largest amusement park on the east coast between Manhattan and Montreal” during its run from 1901 to roughly 1917. The park was the creation of the Albany & Hudson
Railroad Company (the company subsequently underwent several name changes). The A & H’s main line ran between Albany and Hudson providing primarily commuter service between those two cities and stops in between. In 1902 alone, just over 1,000,000
one million people rode the line.
By 1905, after the amusement park had taken hold, the line recorded a ridership of 1,350,000. The reason for the park’s creation was quite simple. While the line’s Monday-Friday business was brisk, the trolley cars remained substantially idle on the weekends. Looking to maximize their use and increase the bottom line, A & H sponsored the establishment of an amusement park spread over forty acres along tranquil Kinderhook Lake’s waterfront and additional acreage in the lake itself. Double cars were added for the weekends to accommodate the throngs. The park was an immediate success. It was not uncommon for crowds of over 10,000 to enjoy the new park on a good day. Always dressed in their Sunday finest, customers came for the boating, the amusement rides, the picnic areas, the garden-lined strolling paths, games of chance, vaudeville shows, daily concerts, and, of course, the food. The A & H management team insisted upon a safe and wholesome experience for its clientele. Among their advertisements, it claimed that Electric Park was a place “…where ladies and children can go unattended” and it was “… a place of refinement for people of refinement”. To help insure this policy the park closed at reasonable hours (10:30 on weekdays and Saturdays; 7:30 on Sundays). In addition, all vaudeville acts were screened in advance in order to weed out any offensive material. The park was “dry” although clever businessmen got around that minor detail as we’ll see later.
A round-trip trolley ride, admission to the park, and a seat to the vaudeville show at the Rustic Theater cost forty cents. After stepping off the trolley, visitors passed a large steam-powered Ferris wheel just outside the main gate. Since the wheel was too heavy and bulky to haul up a hill inside the admission gate, an extra five cents was charged for a ride. An electric Ferris wheel was located inside the park next to a refreshment stand. The stand’s unscrupulous owner did not appreciate the keg of free fresh water adjacent to his stand provided by the park since it siphoned off his liquid business. He was known to have replaced the keg’s drinking ladle with a dirty rusted one so thirsty patrons would steer to his stand for a healthier alternative. In addition, small drilled holes were often discovered
near the bottom of the keg draining its contents, again, leaving customers little choice.
The park’s roller coaster was built over the lake around 1907. It was constructed during the winter months. Holes needed to be chopped through the ice in order to set the pilings. Once completed, the ride cost an extra dime. There were numerous other rides including a “shootthe chutes”, a precursor to today’s water flume rides. In the winter, the ramps for the ride were converted to toboggan runs which swiftly delivered its riders on to the frozen lake for an extended thrill. For little ones, there was a menagerie, animal rides, a petting zoo, a miniature railroad, and fish from Kinderhook Lake could be observed in an aquarium.
Boating was popular on the lake and several companies provided rentals by the hour, day, or week. An escorted excursion around the lake by motor boat would set patrons back a nickel. Swimming in the lake was refreshing and best of all it was free. “Professor Speedy” performed his comedy high-dive act twice daily. Tent platforms were constructed for families desiring extended stays. The openair
Rustic Theater (a roof was eventually added) brought the throngs together twice a day for live entertainment which relied heavily on
music, slapstick comedy, song and dance acts and novelty acts such as Montague’s Cockatoo Circus. Occasionally, special plays were performed in the 400 seat theater. Proper manners were expected once inside the theater. Ladies were reminded to remove their hats out of respect to those sitting behind them and it was considered rude to leave before the show concluded. While drinking was outlawed inside the park, clever entrepreneurs found ways around it. Shortly after the park opened, a beer company constructed a bridge from the midway area to Hawley Point, out of the park’s limits, where the Point Hotel and its grand mahogany bar served
up the company’s brew. The rickety bridge was deemed a thrill ride in itself. The bridge collapsed in 1911 and was never rebuilt.
Even more intriguing, in 1904 “Cap” (Adam) Shaver purchased a tiny 150 foot by 30 foot island in the “wet” area of the lake. He built a twostory structure with a small dock to receive husbands looking for a “rest area”. Locals remember the men telling their wives they were going “fishing for beer”. The full galley and bar on the lower floor provided the proper nourishment and refreshments to meet their needs. Rooms upstairs were available to those who may have over-imbibed. Electric Park at Kinderhook Lake had a good run but by 1917 it had essentially closed. The popularity of automobiles no longer restricted fun seekers to rails and river steamers’ ports of call. World War I was being waged. Insurance premiums for the park rose as a number of parks had succumbed to fire. Only a few vestiges remain of this once glorious attraction.
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