- Americana/Lesourdesville Lake Amusement Park
Americana/LeSourdsville Lake Amusement Park was an amusement park located in
Monroe, Ohio, USA. This park is currently closed with no immediate plans to be reopened. When the park opened in 1922 it was named LeSourdesville Lake. The name was changed after the 1977 season to Americana Amusement Park. The park closed after the 1999 season and was sold in 2000. It opened briefly in 2002 but closed unexpectedly before the end of the season. It has been closed since that time.
Middletown, Ohio, resident Edgar Streifthau opened LeSourdsville Lake Amusement Park on May 8, 1922. The park's modest beginning slowly transformed the park into one of the Midwest's best traditional amusement parks. Edgar's dream was to transform the former ice manufacturing facility in the tiny village of LeSourdsville into an area for residents to enjoy a decent and clean place to picnic and swim with friends and family. Construction began on the park in 1921. Edgar and his business partner, Bill Rothfuss, built a bathhouse, a restaurant, dance hall and a bridge crossing the abandoned Miami-Erie Canal that passed through the property linking the parking lot and the park. They also constructed a concrete bottom in the man-made lake for swimming.
Admission was 10 cents per person, 25 cents for swimming and 10 cents for a jitney dance per couple. LeSourdsville Lake was open for business and attracting thousands of area residents.
Edgar began the second season by constructing the first of several "vacation" cabins surrounding the lake and platforms for camping tents. Edgar's brother, Ernest, joined his brother as a partner as Bill Rothfuss advanced his career at nearby ARMCO Steel (now known as AK Steel).
Within two years, Edgar stopped hosting dances at the park due to numerous fights that occurred on a regular basis. Meanwhile, more cabins were built and improvements were made to the lake to keep the water fresh and maintain it at a constant level. In 1929, Edgar purchased 100 acres of apple orchard located between the park and the village of LeSourdsville. The land was needed to accommodate the increasing number of people visiting the park.
Despite the onset of The Great Depression, Edgar continued to expand the park's offerings. He expanded the bathhouse, installed a new parking lot, built the park's first office building, and imported over 1,000 tons of white sand for the beach. Admission prices, food prices and employee wages were cut. Just before the park was to open for the 1934 season, an accidental fire destroyed the bathhouse. Edgar was desperate to rebuild a new bathhouse before the park opened in May. He went to the Middletown Lumber Company and solicited the assistance of a personable and talented draftsman, Don Dazey. On May 30, the park opened with a new bathhouse.
Edgar realized how valuable Don's talents could be operating the park and offered him a 1/3 interest in the park with an option to purchase 1/2 interest at a later date. Don accepted the challenge and began making changes immediately. He convinced Edgar that dances could be successful without the fighting and melee that plagued the park in earlier years. Don constructed the Stardust Gardens next door to the bathhouse. Bands such as Ray McKinley, Glenn Miller, the Dorsey Brothers and Stan Kenton graced the rich, maple wood floor to the delight of thousands of customers.
Don also solicited area companies to hold their picnics at the park and began an important tradition that continued until the park closed. Edgar also added two toboggan water slides, a waterwheel, seven diving boards, and a 20-foot high platform for diving. Thanks to the efforts of Don Dazey and Edgar's drive to survive The Great Depression, LeSourdsville Lake was ready to enter the 1940s with a full head of steam. In 1939, Edgar purchased a 1927 John Miller wood coaster from Moxahalia Amusement Park in Zanesville, Ohio for $35,000. The coaster was rebuilt and named "The Cyclone."
The 1940s represented an important decade for LeSourdsville Lake. The park became the "Miami Valley's Chosen Playground" and became the hottest entertainment spot during the summer months.
In 1941, the park added The Whip and a giant Ferris wheel to its "thrill ride" line-up. Bands appearing in the Stardust Gardens Ballroom included Eddie Kadle, Earl Holderman, Gene Roberts, Mary Marshall, Little Joe Hart, Eugene Jelesnick, Billy Snyder, Tommy Flynn,
Billy Yates, Jimmy Scriber and Emerson Gill. The following summer, Carl Taylor, Lloyd Labrie and Michael Mehas joined the Stardust Gardens headliners. Edgar also built a new front entrance and added a section of new midway near the entrance to the The Cyclone.
Edgar and Don were recipients of an award given by the Secretary of War, Harry Stimson, for the part the park played with providing Army and Navy personnel with free entry in the park. Bobby McClung, a member of the Dead End Kids, appeared for an autograph session in August 1943. LeSourdsville Lake was ranked 27th among the nation's amusement parks in attendance.
After World War II, LeSourdsville Lake continued to grow and prosper. In 1947, two stream-lined trains were added to The Cyclone and a kiddie racing car ride was installed. On July 4, the park celebrated its largest one-day turnout in its history when 30,168 came through the front gate. Big bands popular in 1947 included, Barney Rapp, Jimmy Miller, Ches Walker, Les Shepard, Harold Greenanyer, Del Mason, Whitey Howard, Karl Taylor and Johnny Doom.
Major improvements were visible as LeSourdsville Lake opened its 1949 season. A state-of-the-art masonry building was constructed next the to The Cyclone entrance. New rides and attractions included the Fun Parade, and a Penny Arcade. Don Dazey was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Association of Amusement Parks, Pools and Beaches. The park also won a national award for its food show sponsorship with area groceries and meat dealers. Big bands making appearances included Sammy Leeds, Whitey Howard, Tommy Robbins, Al Cassidy, Karl Taylor, Leo Pieper, Skitch Henderson, Jimmy James and Earl Holderman.
The 1950s ushered in some changes for LeSourdsville Lake as the park's image began to decline from its peak the previous decade. Big bands that once graced the Stardust Gardens Ballroom throughout the week were now featured on weekends only. Edgar renovated the bathhouse to accommodate the large number of swimmers the park serviced each year. The brick addition to the bathhouse also "provided a fire resistive barrier between the wood frame building bordering the midway." In addition, Edgar constructed "self-service lunch counters" facing the midway. The self-service concept was reportedly the first self-serve lunch counter operating at an amusement park.
New rides for 1951 included a Rock-O-Plane and Tilt A Whirl. By 1954, Edgar was manufacturing his own line of turnpike cars in a partnership with Oxford, Ohio resident Frank Dodd. Kiddieland, located where the picnic shelters stand today, saw five new rides added, including a new steel coaster called the Jack Rabbit. In 1956, the Turnpike ride was built next to the Screechin' Eagle roller coaster.
Edgar and Don realized that more had to be done to modernize LeSourdsville Lake. Disneyland opened in 1955 to such rave reviews from the public that they expected other parks to become just as modern and clean. At Cedar Point, a multi-million dollar renovation was under way by 1957 in an attempt to become the "Disneyland of the Midwest." Edgar and Don decided to take out a loan and initiate a multi-year improvement plan.
In 1957, a stone tower and fountain were constructed at the main entrance. Edgar and Don were ready to enter 1958 with a new vision. However, Don Dazey died in June 1958. Edgar was lost without Don's ability to work with the staff and customers alike. Edgar's role had been mainly behind the scenes developing new revenue sources for the park and developing a plan for the park's future.
A local bank required Edgar to immediately pay off the outstanding loan. Edgar decided he did not want to chance taking on a partner he couldn't get along with so the expansion plans were dropped and the park was put up for sale.
The 1960s ushered in a prosperity for the 40 year old park. Two suitors were entertaining thoughts of purchasing LeSourdsville Lake. The owners of Cedar Point toured the facility but decided not to pursue the park. Former Cedar Point concessionaires Howard Berni and Frank Murru were successful in their purchase of the park for $550,000. They took over the park in 1961 and quickly continued the renovation effort that stopped prematurely when Don Dazey died.
A Heinrich Wild Mouse roller coaster was the newest ride to greet visitors for the 1961 season. In addition, a 18-hole miniature golf course and a new Arcade building were built at the end of the midway next to the Screechin' Eagle roller coaster. The park also featured a native Hawaiian ornamental garden with hand carved Tiki and live palm trees. On Mother's Day, the first 2000 women received a free orchid. Unfortunately, the year was plagued by abnormal amount of rain which affected attendance. At the end of the season, the area's first "pay one price plan" was established. For $1.65 for adults and 75 cents for children customers could ride all day.
In 1964, Middletown resident William "Bill" Barr became a partner in the park and contributed his creative ideas and endless energy to help make LeSourdsville Lake the favorite park for hundreds of thousands of patrons. Between 1962 and 1969, a number of attractions were added to the LeSourdsville Lake line-up, including a NAD train (called the Iron Horse), a remodeled Haunted House, and a new theme area called Tombstone Territory. The big band names of Jack Huntlemen, Sammy Kaye, Buddy Rogers and Bobby Grayson were slowly replaced by Dick Clark's Rock N' Roll shows, regular appearances by WLW's Bob Braun, The Cool Ghoul from WXIX, WKRC's Glenn "Skipper" Ryle and a host of television stars, movie celebrities and music acts.
By the mid 1970s, LeSourdsville Lake was drawing about 600,000 patrons annually. The opening of Kings Island theme park just a few miles away in nearby Mason, Ohio in 1972 didn't damper the spirits of Howard Berni. "We wish them luck," said Howard in an interview in the Cincinnati Enquirer. "The first year we may feel a pinch because the local people will be curious, but we don't anticipate it will be to the point where it will bother our business. On the other hand, if Kings Island brings in the tourist, we will benefit from the overflow. We aren't going to fade away. They have the worries, not us."
One of reasons of LeSourdsville's success at this time was the commitment and dedication that the LeSourdsville management put into it's company picnics. Howard Berni, Bill Barr, Bill Robinson and Frank Silvani would temporarily drop their management roles and help serve over 200,000 catered dinners annually. The group was so successful that Kings Island sent their people to LeSourdsville to discover the secret to the group's success.
In 1975, Bill Barr retired to Italy and park veteran William "Bill" Robinson took over some of duties left by Barr. Bill's knack for producing interesting promotions enabled the park to enjoy large crowds. Some of the more novel promotions developed by Bill included the 1976 designation as the country's only "Official" Bicentennial Amusement Park, the Coca-Cola/WSAI Radio Rock, Roll n' Remember concerts, and the Jell-O Jump, where contestants jumped into a huge barrel of gelatin to find the winning key to a new car.
In 1978, the name of the park was changed to Americana Amusement Park; the Great American Amusement Park. Along with a name change came a $3.5 million, three-year renovation plan to help keep the park a viable alternative to Kings Island. New attractions included a 1200-seat tent featuring performances of the Hanneford Family Circus, a Trabant, a seven character animated band called the Country Bear Jubilee, and the Coca-Cola Great American Thrill Show theater.
Despite the new attractions, renown picnics and dedicated management, the future of the park entered the 1980s with some grim news; a strong recession began gripping the country.
The recession in the early 1980s began affecting attendance at the park. As a result, gate admission was reduced from $6.95 to $5.50 in 1982. New attractions that year included a transformation of the Hanneford Circus tent into a platform for Bumper Buggys, a soft-core version of bumper cars.
At the end of the 1982 Bill Robinson left the park and was replaced by industry veteran Lenny Gottstein. In May 1983, Food Services Director Frank Silvani died after a lengthy battle with cancer.
The highlight of the decade was the addition of the Raging Thunder Log Flume in 1984. The attraction represented the largest investment in the park's 77 year history and helped boost the annual attendance over 500,000. The flume, designed by Ron Berni and built by Barr Engineering of Minnesota, was located in a former bird sanctuary in the old Tombstone Territory section of the park. The area was renamed Logger's Run after the flume was added.
In 1985, the park auctioned off the horses from its 1924 PTC #71 carousel. Although some fans were disappointed about the sale, the carousel burned to the ground in an accidental fire in 1988. Over $500,000 in damages were reported, including the loss of the park's 1925 Dodgem' ride.
In 1987, the Galleon swinging ship was installed in Logger's Run. At the end of the season, park vice president Guy Sutton left to take a position with an industry consulting firm.
After the carousel fire, the park purchased a used Galaxi roller coaster from Nobles Funland Amusement Park in Paducah, Kentucky. Attendance at the park was maintained at 500,000.
On January 8, 1990, an electrical fire broke out in the Bathhouse and Stardust Gardens Ballroom. The result was over $5 million in losses, including a first aid office, arcade, games building, locker rooms and food concessions. Ride parts and cars from the Rock-O-Plane, Flying Scooter, Bumper Buggy and two kiddie rides were destroyed. The park quickly enlisted the assistance of local labor unions to rebuild the area in time for the April opening with payment to come later in the summer. By May, a new 300-seat indoor/outdoor food court, an arcade, a Dodgem' ride and a refurbished Flying Scooter ride reopened on the site of the fire. Meanwhile, the park began experiencing problems with its insurance company regarding its multi-million dollar claim. To make matters worse, Ron Berni, a longtime fixture at the park and son of Howard Berni, had been offered a position at Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville, Kentucky. He reluctantly accepted the offer with the backing of his father.
The hiring of local students and senior citizens was always a challenge because of the keen competition of other attractions in the area. To help alleviate that problem, the park entered into an agreement with a Mexican college to hire Mexican students for the summer. The plan quickly fell apart and the park experienced a lot of negative media coverage regarding claims by the students of poor living conditions in their dorms and illegal working conditions. The local unions, who normally booked their picnics at the park, suddenly canceled their lucrative picnic outings due to the allegations and the park began a deep decline in attendance and revenue. By the end of season, attendance reached an all-time low of just under 200,000. The park then learned that its insurance company would only pay $3 million in claims, leaving the park to pick up the remaining $2 million in expenses. In December, the park was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
By Spring 1991, the park was purchased and reopened by Leisure International, a group of former park management. Joe Faggionato, Guy Sutton, Lenny Gottstein and Don Robison took over the park and began the long, hard effort of erasing the previous year's nightmare from customers, including the local unions. In July, Guy Sutton left the park to become the Operations Director at Clemonton Lake in New Jersey.
The trio built a petting zoo and opened a new restaurant for the 1992. Their efforts enabled the park to build the attendance back up to just over 330,000. In 1993, the animated Country Bear Jubilee show was sold to the Jungle Jim's Food Market in Fairfield, Ohio. No new attractions were added during the year, however, attendance increased to 412,500. During the 1994 and 1995 seasons, Leisure International spent an additional $6 million to upgrade landscaping and infrastructure throughout the park. By 1995, Faggionato, Gottstein and Robison realized that a bigger company with more capital would be needed to continue upgrading the park so Americana was put up for sale.
In 1996, Park River Corporation, owners of Coney Island Amusement Park in Cincinnati, Ohio, purchased Americana for an estimated $3 million. Between 1996 and 1998, over $1 million was spent on upgrading the Screechin' Eagle roller coaster, developing a new paint scheme of magenta and teal, introducing a new merchandising line in the gift shop consisting of unique Americana emblazon clothing, and adding a variety of rides, including a carousel, Ferris Wheel, and the Tempest. In 1997, Park River owner Ronald Walker died unexpectedly and family members expressed concern about the future of the park. The park was quietly marketed for sale by 1998. Perhaps the brightest moment in Americana's history was achieved in June 1999 when a group of 90 British roller coaster enthusiasts invaded the park to experience the legendary Screechin' Eagle roller coaster.
In December 1999, informational letters regarding the 2000 Family Funpacks (similar to season passes) were distributed across the area. In a shocking announcement on January 6, 2000, Park River announced the closing of the park for the 2000 season.
On May 24, 2000 Hamilton businessman Jerry Couch purchased the park from Park River Corporation. He said he would change the park's name to "Couch's Americana Amusement Park at LeSourdsville Lake" out of respect for the park's 77 year-old history. "The job market is tight and I've missed the window of opportunity to hire kids who are getting out of school," he said in a Cincinnati Enquirer interview. "But, we'll be ready, possibly in July."
Initial plans called for a year-round facility with Halloween and Christmas activities, construction of a campground, the opening of Couch's Campers Superstore on the property and new food services.
On July 4,2000, local media began asking if the park was going to open. Finally, on July 24, it was announced that the park would not open until April 2001.
In late February 2001, the local media again began asking when the park would open. On February 28, Couch announced that the park would not open until 2002.
"I'm not giving up on the park," he said in a Cincinnati Enquirer interview. "I need more time to develop adjoining property and get my management team together. The park isn't for sale. I don't want people to think I'm trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Everybody wants the park to succeed. It can't sit there year after year. If it is going to happen, it will be in 2002."
The Tempest ride was sold to a private individual and then immediately sold to Cincinnati's Coney Island. No other rides were sold although the Serpent roller coaster was listed for sale with no buyers.
In 2002, Couch donated the park's Jolly Roger playground ship to the City of Monroe. The city was to keep the attraction in storage until they decided which city park it would be installed in.
In April, former carnival owners, the Pugh Family, established the LeSourdsville Group and was hired to manage the park for the 2002 season. The name of the park was changed to "The Great American Amusement Park at LeSourdsville Lake."
Over $3 million in improvements were made including the addition of 10 new rides. They included a fun house, a swinging pirate ship, a kids bumper car ride, the Zipper, the Music Express and the Tip-Top Tea Cup Ride. The adult bumper car ride was removed due to mechanical problems. In addition, a $150,000 ride safety inspection system was installed to improve preventive maintenance.
When the park opened to the public on June 5, the name of the park was changed once again to "LeSourdsville Lake." A park spokesperson stated that the name change was done because "that's how people remember it." The name was changed because of a threat of legal action against the park by the Great American Financial Company, owners of Cincinnati's Coney Island.
The park operated Thursdays through Sundays. "Saturdays and Sundays have been packed to the point that our parking lot was just about full, which we would estimate to be 8,000 to 10,000 people," said park Marketing Director Mike Mefford.
After experiencing a successful summer, the park unexpectedly closed a week prior than planned and announced that it was looking for a new management company to operate the park for 2003. Plans for the upcoming "LeScaresville Lake - a Halloween fright event" was cancelled. The Pugh management team filed for bankruptcy and failed to pay some of the park employees wages due to them.
Rides brought in earlier in the year were repossessed after the season ended due to non-payment by the Pugh management group. Rides included the Music Express, the Zipper, the Western Express Train, the Tip Top, the Mini Indy and a fun house. All of the rides were portable and not installed as permanent rides.
On January 24, 2003, Couch's LeSourdsville Lake RV Super Center held its grand opening at the park. The park's old dormitory used during the 1990 season, was remodeled and made a part of the new store and showroom. "With the opening of the ....Super Center, we are one step closer to fulfilling our ultimate goal of establishing an RV and amusement park combination." said Couch in a Middletown Journal interview.
In April, local media began questioning the status of the park for 2003. After several days passed, the Middletown Journal reported that the park may open for the 2003 season. "There's definitely a possibility that we could open this year. I'm not saying that will happen," said a publicist with Expo Management & Ad Agency in Cincinnati, which was hired to handle marketing for Couch's camper company.
A press release stated that several options are being considered for the park, including 1) updating the rides and creating a "more competitive" atmosphere, 2) running the park as is with a new management team and 3) selling the park.
Couch filed a lawsuit against the Pugh management group for non-payment of bills and rental fees totaling more than $100,000. The courts dismissed the lawsuit because the management group had filed for bankruptcy.
In February 2004, former Peony Park owner, Carl Jennings announced that he was seeking to purchase the park. A deal could not be reached with Couch.
On May 17, 2006 it was announced that most of the rides would be sold and that the park would not open as a traditional amusement park in the future.
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