Sandy Beach Amusement Park

From Ohio History Central
Minnewawa Dance Hall at Sandy Beach Park.jpg
Minnewawa Dance Hall at Sandy Beach Park

In the early 1900s, Ohioans flocked to amusement parks in large numbers. Amusement parks offered a variety of entertainment, including rides, dance halls, and, in many cases, a beach. With the advent of electric railways and other forms of transportation, it became easier for people to travel to these amusement parks. Parks like Sandy Beach and Buckeye Lake offered city dwellers the opportunity to escape the city heat in the summer.

Indian Lake, located in Logan County, had originally been created to supply water for the Miami and Erie Canal. By the early twentieth century, the area surrounding the lake had become an ideal location for traveling Chautauqua speakers. People would travel significant distances to hear famous people speak. A resident of the Indian Lake community of Russells Point, Pappy Wilgus, capitalized on the region's popularity and built the Sandy Lake Amusement Park. The park opened to the public on May 29, 1924.

Within a short period of time, Sandy Beach Amusement Park had become known as "Ohio's Million Dollar Playground" and the "Atlantic City of the West." Famous musicians played at the Minnewawa Dance Hall, while the park also offered a number of rides, a penny arcade, and other types of entertainment. Visitors could also walk along a boardwalk to Sandy Beach Island for swimming. Even when the Great Depression devastated the United States economy, Sandy Beach was still a great success. The Minnewawa Dance Hall was a significant part of that success, as it hosted many dance marathons in the 1920s and early 1930s.

A fire that destroyed the Dance Hall and parts of a number of rides could have meant the end for the Sandy Beach Amusement Park, but officials rebuilt the park. The Moonlight Terrace Gardens replaced the Minnewawa Dance Hall and continued to draw large crowds until the 1950s.

The amusement park entered a new phase in 1949, when the Ohio state legislature created the Ohio State Park system. Indian Lake became one of the first state parks. The new state park and Sandy Beach Amusement Park were able to support each other's efforts by drawing visitors to the region. When Ohio celebrated its sesquicentennial in 1953, approximately 100,000 people traveled to the area. The 1950s were a time of great prosperity for the amusement park and local businesses that thrived on tourism.

Unfortunately, Sandy Beach's success was challenged in the 1960s. One of the most successful weeks each year was the first week of July, when Ohioans traveled to the region on vacation. On July 4, 1961, a riot broke out nearby. Every year thereafter, riots continued to erupt during the holiday weekend. These riots caused significant financial damage but, more importantly, hurt the amusement park's reputation. Sandy Beach Amusement Park was renamed the Indian Lake Playground in 1967, but the change of name did not improve the park's fortunes. In addition, Sandy Beach had to compete with larger amusement parks like Cedar Point during this era. Attendance figures dropped significantly throughout the decade and eventually led to the park's closure in the 1970s.

Today, a historical marker commemorates the site of the Sandy Beach Amusement Park. Despite the park's closure, Indian Lake State Park continues to draw large numbers of Ohioans each year.

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