Hidden on a lakeshore in Medina County is one of the state's most unique forgotten treasures: the abandoned amusement park called Chippewa Lake. What you'll find there today is the tragic shell of a once-glorious family fun park, one with a history going back to the 1840s. The crying shame is that it's been reduced to an inadequately-fenced-off stretch of acres, overgrown with every imaginable form of vegetation native to this state and festooned with faded NO TRESPASSING signs. Don't let those signs throw you, though; getting past the fences and into this astonishing ruin is about as easy as following a path through some sparse woods. And the people who live along here don't seem to mind much, as long as you're not there to vandalize. They've had a few fires set by the malicious or careless in recent years, and they try to keep an eye on the park, but they must know the futility of guarding it from sightseers. After all, it is quite a unique place to live. How many neighborhoods can there possibly be with an abandoned roller coaster in the backyard?
Ohio is notoriously lacking in natural lakes thanks to the smoothing effect of the receding glacier, but Chippewa Lake is the state's oldest natural-water exception, a rare Ohio lake that wasn't dammed into existence. (The glacier actually dug this 385-acre bowl as it receded more than 12,000 years ago.) In the middle of the nineteenth century it was a popular picnic and boating spot for families and sometime meeting place for religious services and social clubs. Around 1875 Edward Andrews organized the first official picnic grounds and beach under the name Andrews Pleasure Grounds. There were occasional concerts and tent shows, as well as fireworks on the lake's biggest event day, July 4th.
Chippewa Lake had its own amusement park for precisely one hundred years--from 1878 through 1978, when the park's last owner, Continental Business Enterprises, finally threw in the towel. It was largely the brainchild of Parker Beach, a dedicated entrepreneur who asked to be buried on the grounds. His wish was granted, supposedly, though I've never been able to find a grave there. Now Parker Beach's entire park is in ruins. Its huge rides stand silent and overgrown in the shady woods, in a state roller coaster afficionados like to refer to as "Standing But Not Operating." My good friend Rookie's website SBNO is the definitive source for information about Chippewa Lake, as well as other defunct parks in Ohio (including the recently-demolished Idora Park). It's thanks to his kind permission that I'm able to use many of these photos, both historic and new, since I didn't always get the best angle on some of the weed-choked machinery. Sometimes the artifacts were harder to miss, though--like this stripped-out pickup truck lying alongside its twin in the middle of the main thoroughfare.
Back to Chippewa Lake. It really became an amusement park, as we understand the term today, in the 1880s, when Andrews added the tourist steamboat (usually called Miss Chippewa) and installed the park's first roller coaster. The coaster was typically primitive and typically dangerous, consisting of a single passenger car on a narrow-gauge track with one steep drop; after each ride workers had to push the car back to the top of the hill. Despite the advances, Edward Andrews wasn't up to the task of maintaining a popular amusement destination, and the place began to deteriorate, often covered in litter and disrupted by drunks.
The next owner, Mac Beach, vastly improved the park as a whole. He was in charge of the midway after appearing on the scene in 1898 and took the crucial step of outlawing liquor on the grounds. He brought the carousel, then a major craze, to Chippewa Lake and continued to run things efficiently, all the while grooming his son, Parker Beach, to take over. It was Parker who oversaw the park in its glory days, particularly the Roaring Twenties, when Chippewa Lake's bandstand hosted live music seven nights a week and frequently sold out every show. He leased the entire place in 1936 and bought it at auction the following year for $3,500 he and his family managed to scrape together and borrow. Along with the land, beachfront, and equipment, Parker inherited about $300,000 in Depression-era debts from the previous owner.
Somehow Beach managed to keep the amusement park running flat-out for a single round century. Chippewa Lake is a far more important piece of Ohio history than many people are aware. Think about it: When it officially opened its gate as an amusement park, Rutherford B. Hayes was one full year into his stolen presidency (the worst electoral theft for 124 years); when it closed a peanut farmer was in the White House. When it opened there were thirty-eight states, the country was full of guys in their 30s who fought the Civil War, women couldn't vote, and nobody had ever driven a car, seen a movie, or turned on a lightbulb. When it closed the country was full of guys in their 20s and 30s who had just fought a longer, less productive war in Southeast Asia, women were struggling for equal pay and reproductive rights, and everybody drove cars and was watching Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman in the big-budget Superman. In 1878 Reconstruction was, unfortunately, just coming to an end; in 1978 segregation was, fortunately, almost entirely at an end. When the park opened black people weren't welcome there, even in a northern state; when it closed, racial segregation was illegal, though it had only been for twenty-four years. The lifespan of this park on the Ohio lakshore encompassed social and political changes almost immeasurable in size and scope.
There is a lot left to see of the park; it remains a complex of ruined buildings, rides, machinery, and equipment. When it was decided not to reopen following the centennial year, the park's owners sold what they could and left everything else behind. In most cases that would mean a very bare-bones lot left to us, but that's really what makes Chippewa Lake such an unusual situation. Perhaps it's because they held out hope of reopening for so long, but there ended up being a lot of things left in the park that could easily have been taken out years ago. Many of them have disappeared over the years, but you can still see the cars to some of the rides and even an assortment of rotten toys and memorabilia. As for the park itself, you can see what it used to be in the aerial photograph above. Much of what's visible there, from the vast parking lot to the hotel on the lake, is little more than a faint memory. What wasn't packed up was left to fall apart and, in more than one case, burn down.
The woods have reclaimed a lot--most strikingly the ferris wheel, which has a massive tree growing directly up through it. But so much is there--three roller coasters, three or more major rides, a paddleboat, kiddieland, games, assorted concessions and pavilions, and what's left of the lakefront pier--that Chippewa Lake Park can hardly help but be one of the greatest abandoned sites Ohio has to offer the amateur explorer. My own long-overdue trip to the park happened in 2002 with friends of the site (and personal friends) Troy and Jennifer.
And if you'd like to see it for yourself, you're most certainly welcome to try. As usual it's trespassing to actually go back behind the houses in the sparse CL Park neighborhood and look around, but the fences are nearly all gone, torn down by explorers who come by literally every day. The flow of trespassers is so steady that I can understand, to some degree, how irritated folks who live here must be. So do everyone a favor and be quiet and polite on your way in and out.
There are ghost stories told about Chippewa Lake, often about a fatal roller coaster accident which never actually took place, but I'm inclined to leave it off the "haunted" lists for the time being. There's a spooky, Scooby Doo kind of ambience to any abandoned amusement park, and the skeletal look of the wooden roller coaster frame probably has something to do with it, but the memories people have of this place aren't like those associated with a mental hospital or a prison or even a school; these are happy memories, and it's still a fun place to visit, albeit for different reasons--and nowadays you might want to leave the little kids at home, unless they like to play with rusty metal and broken glass. As amazing as this place is, the most amazing part is that I operated Forgotten Ohio for almost seven years before I put up a section profiling it. It's hard to talk about "abandoned Ohio" locales without mentioning Chippewa Lake Park in the same breath. Years ago a producer from the MTV show Fear (remember that one?) contacted me about an episode they wanted to film in Ohio and asked for recommendations. When I responded with a list of actually-supposed-to-be-haunted sites, the producer wrote back and said that they were actually interested in shooting it in an abandoned amusement park, and weren't there a couple of those in Ohio?
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To explore different parts of the park, click on one of the different sections listed below. The last features historic images of the park; for more Chippewa Lake nostalgia, try joining the Yahoo Group dedicated to it, complete with discussion boards and galleries full of personal vacation photos. If you have anything you'd like to add about this great piece of Forgotten Ohioana, as always, send me an e-mail.
UPDATE: As of April 2008, reports indicate that the buildings and other structures have been readied for demolition, each marked with a big red X while a big sign indicates that all 95 acres of park land have been sold. It looks like Chippewa Lake won't be around much longer for us to explore, so if you've never seen it, now is the time. I'm sorry to have to report such sad news.
SBNO: Chippewa Lake Park
Defunct Parks: Chippewa Lake Park
Negative-G Roller Coaster Page: Chippewa Lake Park
Brad's Defunct Parks: Chippewa Lake Park, Medina, Ohio
Outsider Graphics: Chippewa Lake Park
Ohio UrbEx: Chippewa Lake Amusement Park
Yahoo! Group: Chippewa Lake Park
Chippewa Lake.net: Village of Chippewa Lake
Wikipedia: Chippewa Lake Park
Chippewa Lake Amusement Park: Books by Sharon L.D. Krayneck.
"Abandoned Amusements" Slideshow - Photography by John Stone
Oberlin Review article: "Alone with Barbed Wire, Roller Coasters."
Cowden, Joe. "Chippewa Lake Park Shapes..." The Cleveland Press: April 9, 1969.
Dybdahl, Peter. "Alone with Barbed Wire, Roller Coasters." The Oberlin Review: November 9, 2001.
Francis, David W. and Diane DeMali Francis. Images of America: Chippewa Lake Park. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
Kraynek, Sharon L.D. Chippewa Lake Chronicles. Self-Published, 1993.
Kraynek, Sharon L.D. Chippewa Lake Park 1800-1978: Diary of an Amusement Park. Self-Published, 1987.
Kraynek, Sharon L.D. and Eli R. Beachy. Chippewa Lake Park: The Rush to the Glory Years, 1900-1929. Self-Published, 2005.
Krayneck, Sharon L.D. Chippewa Lake Revisited. Self-Published, 1995.