There is something about amusement parks that bring out a sense of nostalgia. This is especially true for amusement parks that are no longer around.
If you can believe it, at one time there were more than two dozen Pittsburgh amusement parks, many of them being trolley parks.
Trolley parks were an attempt by the trolley car companies to increase ridership — particularly on the weekends. These parks started out as picnic groves (often featuring entertainment) and many later added rides. With an increase in popularity of the automobile, as well as people moving to urban settings, fewer people were utilizing the street cars. This ultimately led to the demise of the trolleys as well as trolley parks.
Other parks closed because of competition from neighboring parks, changing demographics, and redevelopment. Sometimes you can find a trace of what was at the site, but most have vanished without a trace. Here are some Pittsburgh-area amusement parks you may not have known existed.
Oakford Park in Jeannette
Completed in 1896, Oakford Park was a trolley park located along the Jeannette/Greensburg border. It was also the site of one of the area’s biggest disasters when a dam used to create a lake at the park broke, flooding area towns and causing multiple fatalities. Once rebuilt, the park featured rides such as a circle swing, Leap Frog roller coaster, and a carousel. The rides closed in 1938 but a large swimming pool remained open until the mid 1980s.
Nothing remains of Oakford Park today.
Burke Glen in Monroeville
Located off Route 22, where Spitzer Toyota now sits, Burke Glen once featured both an amusement park as well as a large public swimming pool. Some of the rides included a circle swing as well as a roller coaster. However, the 1940s were not good for Burke Glen. Although the park survived the Depression, it struggled during the World War II gas rationing. The final blow was the construction of the new Route 22 which took land from the park. A scaled-down version of the park survived until 1974 when it closed for good.
Ingersoll’s Luna Park in Oakland
If you’ve ever been to Kennywood’s Lost Kennywood you’ll notice a one-third scale replica of the facade of Luna Park. Opened in 1905, the park only operated for four years. It was the first park to be covered with electrical lighting. A city amusement park, it was only 16 acres and included a roller coaster as well as a shoot-the-chutes ride. After Frederick Ingersoll declared bankruptcy in 1908, Luna Park was closed.
Rainbow Gardens in White Oak
Opened in 1924, Rainbow Gardens built off the success of Kennywood. The park added a swimming pool in 1926. A wooden coaster called The Bomber as well as a Schiff Wild Mouse were added in the 1950s. In 1968, a highway plan originally called for a highway right-of-way to run through the park. PennDOT condemned the property with eminent domain. The plan ultimately changed, and it was decided not to run the highway through the park but the damage was done and Rainbow Gardens closed forever.
White Swan Park in Coraopolis
Built in 1955 as a park geared toward a younger audience, White Swan amusement park did feature some larger rides such as roller coasters. The park gradually expanded over the next 34 years and eventually grew to 15 rides. In 1989 PennDOT purchased the park in order for a realignment of Route 60 for the Pittsburgh International Airport. Although PennDOT offered to relocated the park, the owners declined and the park closed for good.
West View Park in the North Hills
Out of all Pittsburgh’s defunct amusement parks, this one is probably the one that hurts the most. Once a direct competitor of Kennywood, West View Park was home to the iconic rollercoasters the Dips and the Racing Whippet. The park began to decline after a major fire destroyed the dance hall in 1973 and the structure was never rebuilt. After struggling for several seasons, the park finally closed in 1977. The rides, including the two roller coasters, remained on the property until 1980 when the park was torn down. The land is now used as a shopping center.
Dream City in Wilkinsburg
There isn’t a whole lot of information about Wilkinburg’s Dream City, but there are a few images of it floating around. Although the park didn’t have a roller coaster (bummer!) it did feature a dance hall and a few rides. Built as a trolley park, Dream City opened in 1908 and closed its gates in 1916. Nothing remains of the park today.
Griftlo Park in Apollo
A trolley park originally named Allison Park, Griftlo Park was purchased in 1922 and renamed Griftlo — combining the last syllables of Vandergrift and Apollo. The park featured a swimming pool, boating pond, carousel, dance hall, bandstand, and picnic pavilions. Must of the park was destroyed in the 1936 flooding and public picnics ceased in 1964. The land is now part of private property.
Cascade Park in New Castle
Cascade Park in New Castle was a larger amusement park so more is known about it. It was opened as a trolley park in 1897 and was only accessible via trolley or the Harmony Short Line. It featured the largest dance pavilion in PA at the time. In 1934 Penn Power donated the park to the City of New Castle with the stipulation that it forever be used for public recreation. The amusement park closed in the 1980s and the rides were removed. The park has gone back to its Victorian roots and is now a public garden and recreation space.
Eldora Park in Donora
Yet another trolley park existed between Charleroi and Donora named Eldora Park. Eldora Park opened sometime between 1900 and 1905 as a trolley park for the Pittsburgh Railways Trolley Company. The park boasted a figure-eight roller coaster, a carousel, an electric theater, a bandstand, a bamboo slide, and dance pavilion. The park closed before the 1940s. The Donora Historical Society does an annual walking tour of the old park grounds in order to keep the memories alive.
While this article names just nine of the former Pittsburgh-area amusement parks, there were actually many others. To find out more about these parks as well as the parks that didn’t make it into this blog post, pick up a copy of my latest book Western Pennsylvania’s Lost Amusement Parks which is 128 pages of pictures and information about parks of the past.