West Virginia’s 116 Year Old Amusement Park

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Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. The entrance sign to Camden Park, a 26-acre amusement park just outside Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington Huntington. United States West Virginia, 2015. -05-07. Photograph.
Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. The entrance sign to Camden Park, a 26-acre amusement park just outside Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington Huntington. United States West Virginia, 2015. -05-07. Photograph.

As a son of Appalachia, whose shaky family income flourished and floundered based upon the price and demand for tons of West Virginia coal, there were seemingly few opportunities for leisure; however, any time such an opportunity presented itself, typically a trip to Huntington, West Virginia, was in order.

While Brooklyn has Coney Island and Orlando Disneyworld, the people of West Virginia and neighboring Ohio and Kentucky have been enjoying Huntington’s Camden Park for 116 years.

Just yards from the Ohio River, Camden Park’s history can be traced back to the early 1900s and will forever be tied to a bygone era in American history.

In September 1899, the Ohio Valley Electric Railway began operation, operating a street railway system that connected Huntington, West Virginia and Ashland, Kentucky. The system was also connected by ferry to Ironton, Ohio.

Financially backed by the wealthy West Virginia Senator Johnson N. Camden, who was worth an estimated $25+ million, the new company soon became known as the Camden Interstate Railway Company.

Two years later, in 1902, a park was established on the West Virginia side of the two rivers which would serve as a picnic spot for travelers along the Camden Interstate Railway.

The park was located near the mouth of Twelvepole Creek in Huntington, where riders traveling between Huntington, Ceredo, Kenova, Ashland, and Coal Grove would stop to change lines. Company officials believed the park would ease the angst of waiting passengers.

Named for wealthy West Virginia Senator who was instrumental in forming the company, the new park came to be known as Camden Park.

The following year, in 1903, the park received its first amusement park ride, a carousel; the park owners consider this to be the official date of the park’s founding.

About 1912, the park’s first roller coaster was added. Described as the “new sensation,” the attraction featured a tall hill, a spiraling section, and several dips along the line.

The railway sold the park in 1916 to Eustace Via who operated Camden Park through the West Virginia coal wars, World War I and to the end of World War II, adding various rides and attractions.

In the years that followed, the park changed hands multiple times until it was purchased by the J.P. Boylin family, who continue to operate the park to this day.

In the summer of 1957 the original roller coaster was deemed unsafe and was demolished, however in the summer of 1958 the Big Dipper, a new wooden roller coaster, was unveiled.  This 61-year-old coaster continues to operate to this day, pleasing visitors and offering a glimpse back to the golden years of local amusement parks.

Today, Camden Park showcases what is considered to be a vintage amusement park, with rides that include a carousel, The Whip, Dodgem Cars, Camden Princess and Skyliner.

In addition to these rides, the park also has a haunted house, mini-railway and a West Virginia themed mini-Golf course.

According to park officials,”Over the years Camden Park has been the setting for baseball games, tens of thousands of picnics, fairs, marathon dances, roller derbies, flagpole sitting, a swimming pool, a zoo, plus numerous attractions and rides.”

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