For families in southwestern Pennsylvania, Kennywood has been a staple of summer since it opened in 1898.
From its early rides like the carousel and Thunderbolt to its newest roller coaster, the Steel Curtain (the tallest in the state at 220 feet and featuring nine inversions), the amusement park has thrilled visitors for more than 120 years.
In fact, Pennsylvania has some of the most iconic amusement parks in the country: Hershey Park, Idlewild, Dorney Park and Lakemont Park are among them.
Canonsburg, it turns out, was once home to a popular amusement park.
For a brief time in the late 1920s and early 1930s, families flocked to Mapleview Park.
The 1920s are considered the golden age of amusement parks – by 1910, about 2,000 amusement parks were operating throughout the country, said Logan Dennison, whose family collects amusement park pieces for their private museum, American Amusement Park Museum.
And Mapleview was among them.
According to records and old articles, the park was opened in 1928 on 200 acres along Route 19, behind Frankie I’s Restaurant.
But, said Pittsburgh resident Jim Futrell, a historian for the National Amusement Park Historical Association, Mapleview Park probably opened too late for its own good.
“After the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression, many amusement parks closed,” said Futrell.
The number of amusement parks plummeted to about 500.
During its heyday, though, Mapleview offered a midway with state-of-the-art rides – a merry-go-round, Dodgem bumper cars, Tilt-a-Whirl, Whip, and The Dangler (swings that spun in a circle) – and a large dance pavilion where bands and musicians including Perry Como performed.
It was the site of picnics for school classes, companies, communities, organizations and clubs.
“I knew about Mapleview from my great-aunt,” said former Canonsburg resident Linda Stewart. “I remember seeing a picture of her with her husband and son standing in front of the roller coaster.”
The roller coaster was called the Brown Flyer, a nod to its designer, A.M. Brown, who was Mapleview’s supervising engineer. It was about 2,000 feet long and 80 feet high, similar in length and height to Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit.
“They probably bought what they considered to be the latest and greatest rides at the time. The roller coaster was a sizable ride,” said Futrell.
The Brown Flyer was the site of two fatal accidents in separate incidents, in 1929 and 1930, which were detailed by the late James T. Herron Jr., a historian from Canonsburg who wrote an extensive article about the park in 2011.
On June 29, shortly after the roller coaster was put into operation, Samuel Malone, 22, of Burgettstown, died after he fell out of the rear car.
The following year, 15-year-old Mario Mark was in the front seat of the roller coaster when he fell out as the coaster rounded a curve and was crushed by the car.
The roller coaster operated until 1935 – much longer than the midway rides – when it was dismantled and the wood was sold.
A swimming pool that was slated to be constructed when Mapleview opened was never built.
And after years of struggling to make a profit, the once-promising amusement park shut down in 1936 and was replaced with a golf driving range.
The dance pavilion enjoyed some success, hosting name bands and events such as dance marathons – including one marathon in 1933 where 29 couples participated and, after more than 10 days, 12 couples were still competing.
“Just about every amusement park had a dance pavilion,” said Dennison. “‘Cedar Point still has theirs, Hershey Park had one. Dances and dance marathons were popular, and a good way to attract people to parks.”
Patrick Arena of Washington said his father used to talk about going to Mapleview Park, where he said the Noah Sisle Band band with Lena Horne performed.
In December 1936, the dance pavilion was destroyed in a fire.
“It was a short-lived park, but it was significant because it was part of the second great wave of the park industry,” said Futrell.
The first occurred in the late 1800s, when trolley companies opened parks like Kennywood at the ends of trolley lines to get people to ride the trolley on weekends, Futrell said.
“They had carousels, picnic grounds and live entertainment,” he said.
But trolley companies started selling off parks as people began to rely less on trolleys, and more consumers began to own cars.
That led to the 1920s and the second wave, when entrepreneurs opened parks offering more thrilling rides.
The third wave, Futrell noted, began in the 1970s with the opening of Walt Disney World and corporate-backed theme parks like Busch Gardens.
In addition to Mapleview Park, Washington County was the site of two other amusement parks.
In 1903, Eldora Park opened in Carroll Township. It featured a figure-eight gravity roller coaster, a merry-go-round and a dance pavilion that was converted into a roller rink during winter months.
Donora Historical Society and Smog Museum offers walking tours of the Eldora Park grounds, which highlights how the park was you how it was laid out.
Cecil Township was home to Cabana Beach, a 25-acre park that included a figure-eight roller coaster and a Ferris wheel.
The park, originally called Rakun Lake, was open from the 1920s through 1950s.
Dennison, whose family has collected hundreds of amusement park pieces since 2006, believes there is a nostalgia to old and defunct parks that is captivating to people.
“Some parks try to capture the magic of past amusement parks, like in the Lost Kennywood section. Some parks’ legacies will always be remembered in movies or songs, such as Palisades Park in New Jersey,” said Dennison. “I think it reminds people of their grandparents. It’s how I feel when I visit Hershey Park, my home park. You can ride the same ride that your grandparents rode, that’s something unique.”