Riverside Amusement Park began as a picnic grove in the late 1800’s before being bought by the Carroll Family in the late 30’s and blossoming into New England’s largest amusement park.
Riverside was considered a family park and still has fond memories for many in the region as a place for fun, relaxation and, in many cases, summer employment.
Connecting Point Producer Dave Fraser talks with a local historian to learn the history of the park and to reminisce about a bygone era
This story originally aired on April 13, 2016. Find more stories of western Mass places that are “gone but not forgotten” here.
Read the Full Transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Riverside Amusement Park began as a picnic grove in the late 1800s before being bought by the Carroll family in the late thirties and blossoming into New England’s largest amusement park.
Riverside was considered a family park and still has fond memories for many in the region as a place for fun, relaxation and in many cases, summer employment.
Connecting Point producer Dave Fraser talks with the local historian to learn the history of the park and to reminisce about a bygone era.
David Cecchi, Local Historian: The Riverside Park really attracted the local area, but also all over New England. It was the largest amusement park in New England for-for decades.
Riverside was known as Gallop’s Grove back in the 1850s. It was a picnic grove that people came down from Springfield and at that time a few miles from Springfield was really going out into the country. So it was on the river and the cool breeze was a nice place for people to spend their Sunday afternoons. It was a 300 foot diameter pool.
When it opened it was the Riverside Park Natatorium and that soon became known as Lake Take a Dip. Charged quarter for a towel and a bathing suit rental. It became so popular that by the end of the summer they double the price to $0.50 and that didn’t go over so well.
But there was a huge diving platform in the middle, and it was this big concrete structure, and after the the pool had been filled in, that was in the middle of the parking lot at Riverside Park up until the 1990s. People didn’t know what it was because it was just this giant concrete thing.
They just thought it was some kind of, you know, power base or something, but it was actually the diving platform from the pool that had been filled in.
Ed Carroll was the was managing the drive in theater that was on the park and in 1939, he bought Riverside Park and he started working on getting rides. He bought the Thunderbolt and had it rebuilt in Agawam.
Riverside had pretty much everything they had, you know, they had a bowling alley, they had the skating rink, they had the roller coasters, they had dancing. They, you know, Riverside Park was the destination.
We’ll give you that feeling. A good, happy feeling.
Ed Carroll would go out to California every year and see what was the latest and greatest and he really used Disneyland as, as a model for Riverside Park. When the monorail was built at Riverside Park, it was the only monorail outside – outside of Disneyland in the country.
At the time, there was no admission to get into the park. So to get people into the park, they had free shows. So he would scout celebrity singing groups. You know, he tried to get people right and that cusp where they were, he could still afford to bring them in, but they were just breaking. So by the time they appeared at the park, they would be a big name.
Like the cast of Bonanza was was at the park. You know, Lauren Green was singing, Michael Landon rode the roller coaster with people, you know, so it was people – Lassie came out to the park.
So people really have a lot of memories of of the shows that were out there also, and you know, that that got people into the park and then they would buy their tickets to take, you know, do the rides.
The racetrack operated for over 50 years. They had the races on Saturday nights, they had the demolition derbies. They had people you know, they followed the drivers. They were – it was a regular tradition and everyone knew the racetrack, whether you went went to the track or not, you knew it was around, and it was it was part of it was part of this area.
When I was doing research for my book, would I – the way I put it is everybody has a Riverside story. So many people that their parents or their grandparents met at Riverside Park.
So many people worked at Riverside Park. They met their spouse at Riverside Park. They just it was just socially Riverside Park played such a huge role in this area. It was a family park. And it really, it really just touched people in a really personal way.