For residents of Northeast Ohio, Geauga Lake theme park was the place to go for company picnics, one-day vacations or even school field trips during its heydays. It was home to the original Big Dipper wooden roller coaster, and for many years, was situated perfectly across the lake from SeaWorld Ohio. However, like many smaller amusement parks, it now stands abandoned, because after more than 100 years, it could no longer compete with nearby theme park giant, Cedar Point.
The Early Years
Originally operating as a swimming and picnic haven, Picnic Lake (as Geauga Lake was first called) opened its gates in 1872 on a small area of land in Geauga County, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland. it was owned by Sullivan Giles, and it quickly became a popular resort, even playing host to several major league baseball games. This timeline shows how the park quickly grew from a weekend family getaway to one of Ohio's most prestigious amusement parks:
- 1887: Renamed Geauga Lake
- 1889: The park's first ride was constructed, a steam-powered carousel
- 1925: New owner William J. Kuhlman expanded the park; the Big Dipper was built, which at the time was the largest wooden roller coaster of its kind
- 1930s: Racetrack, dance hall, theater and bowling alley were added
- 1937: Hand-carved Marcus Illions carousel was brought to the park at a cost of $35,000
- 1938: New owner, Vi Schryer, inherited the amusement park
- 1941: A tornado hit Geauga Lake park, damaging the Big Dipper and several buildings
- 1952: Fire destroyed several buildings including bowling alley, dance hall and theater
- 1969: Geauga Lake was purchased by Funtime Inc.
- 1970: SeaWorld Ohio opened across the lake
From Swimming Resort to Amusement Park
The 1970s saw major growth for Geauga Lake theme park. After SeaWorld opened, the park expanded into acres of undeveloped, adjacent land. Major attractions added during this time included:
- Gold Rush log flume
- Fun Bunch characters: Geauga Dog, Gunkey Money, Dandy Lion and Andy Panda)
- Skyscraper, a 200-foot tall observation tower
- Bayern Kurve thrill ride
- Calypso scrambler ride
- The Matterhorn roller coaster
- Zyclon roller coaster
More Roller Coasters, Oktoberfest and a Major Expansion
In 1977, Geauga Lake built the Double Loop roller coaster, the first coaster ever constructed with two vertical loops. A year later, it added the ever-popular Corkscrew coaster to the front of the park. By 1980, the park began an $800,000 renovation of the Big Dipper.
During the 1980s, several of the older Geauga Lake rides and attractions were removed to make room for an updated park expansion. A water park area, Boardwalk Shores, was added and included:
- Neptune's Falls flume body slide
- Undertow double water coaster
- Kiddie pool
- Open beach and swim area
- Paddle boats
In 1981, Geauga Lake started an annual Oktoberfest celebration, which culminated the end of a season at the theme park. Visitors were able to come in, ride their favorite rides, dancing and authentic German food and drinks.
Another major change during the 1980s was the renovation of Kiddieland, which was renamed to Rainbow Island. The popular carousel received a facelift and several new rides were added.
Over the next few years, the park expanded even more with the additions of more water park attractions and roller coasters, including the $10 million Serial Thriller coaster.
100th Anniversary Celebration
In honor of the park's centennial celebration, the Raging Wolf Bobs were built, the first roller coaster added to the park in 10 years. The park also broke the one millionth mark for attendance.
Six Flags and Cedar Fair
In 1998, the then-owners of Geauga Lake, Premier Parks, purchased the Six Flags amusement park chain from Time Warner for $1.8 billion, creating the second largest theme park company. A year later, it was announced that Geauga Lake would be renamed to Six Flags Ohio and a $40 million park conversion was under way. When it opened for the 2000 season, four roller coasters were brought to the park:
- Batman Knight Flight
- Superman Ultimate Escape
- Roadrunner Express
Boardwalk Shores was converted into Hurricane Harbor, and a new wave pool was added. A new kiddie area was also constructed, as well as numerous other attractions and rides.
In 2001, SeaWorld Ohio was sold to Six Flags for $110 million, thus closing down the long-running Shamu show and expanding the theme park to both sides of the lake. The park was now called Six Flags Worlds of Adventure. Other water attractions and shows were brought in to draw crowds over to the marina.
Six years after Six Flags purchased Geauga Lake, it was sold to Cedar Fair, the owners of nearby Cedar Point Amusement Park, for $145 million and brought back the Geauga Lake name. Any ride or attraction that was signature of Six Flags was removed including the animal shows. However, the move to new ownership proved to be a disaster.
That first season saw only 700,000 guests, a major decline from the previous year. In an attempt to save the park, Geauga Lake Wildwater Kingdom opened its gates in 2005 on the old SeaWorld property. It was a success. Improvements were made to the amusement park side of the park and things ran smoothly for a few years.
End of an Era
In 2007, despite a steady summer attendance, it was announced that Cedar Fair would close Geauga Lake for good. Wildwater Kingdom remained open, but all of the rides and attractions across the lake were sold off. This came as a major blow to park attendees and residents who called Geauga Lake home.
Today, while the water park is doing well, Geauga Lake stands vacant. Only shadows of childhood memories are left amongst the abandoned buildings and whatever is left of the rides.