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What is a Trolley Park?


Canobie Lake Park, a trolley park that dates back to 1902.

The Caterpillar is an example of one of the classic rides featured at Canobie Lake Park, a trolley park that dates back to 1902.

© Arthur Levine, 2010. Licensed to About.com.
Definition: Trolley parks are so named because U.S. railway companies constructed them in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a way to drum up weekend business. During the week, passengers kept the trains full as they commuted to and from work, but on the weekends, ridership was low. The companies typically placed the parks at the ends of their lines to maximize use of the streetcars (and to maximize their profits).

Sometimes, the railway companies also owned the electric utility in a community and would use the parks to showcase electricity (which many homeowners did not have in the parks' early years) by decorating them with many lights. Typically built by lakes, rivers, or beaches, the parks offered swimming along with bandstands, picnic groves, and ball fields. A carousel was often the first amusement ride to open at a park. Roller coasters and spinning rides came later.

According to the National Amusement Park Historical Association, as many as 1,000 trolley parks dotted the U.S. by 1919. As automobiles gained popularity, however, the trains and the parks began to disappear. Today, 11 parks remain. They typically maintain many of the classic rides that have graced their grounds through the years, are often independently owned and operated, and have a decidedly un-corporate look and feel to them.

Also Known As: Amusement Parks, Picnic Groves, Picnic Parks, Pleasure Parks, Seaside Parks
Alternate Spellings: None
Common Misspellings: None
Trolley parks still open:
  1. Camden Park in Huntington, WV. Opened 1903
  2. Canobie Lake Park in Salem, NH. Opened 1902
  3. Clementon Park in Clementon, NJ. Opened 1907
  4. Dorney Park in Allentown, PA. Opened 1884
  5. Kennywood in West Mifflin, PA. Opened 1898
  6. Lakemont Park in Altoona, PA. Opened 1894
  7. Midway Park in Maple Springs, NY. Opened 1898
  8. Oaks Amusement Park in Portland, OR. Opened 1905
  9. Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, CT. Opened 1908
  10. Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester, NY. Opened 1879
  11. Waldameer Park in Erie, PA. Opened 1896
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