Remember This: At Americana, amusement park fans found thrills, carnival vibe, lots of memories
Serpent, Screechin' Eagle, sky ride among faves
Juli Hale | WCPO contributor
7:00 AM, Sep 6, 2017
6:46 AM, Sep 10, 2017
MONROE, Ohio — Americana was the “great American amusement park” according to its own propaganda, but for many who spent summer days riding the Screechin’ Eagle and The Serpent, it wasn’t just great, it was the greatest.
Despite nearby roller coaster competition, Americana flourished for decades, delivering a dose of innocence in the form of family-friendly fun. Distinguished by its vibrant colors, classic rides and carnival feel, the park attracted millions during its nearly 80-year run, many of whom have waxed poetic on the park’s charm and its role in their youth.
Located near the intersection of Ohio 4 and State Route 63 in Monroe, the amusement park opened in 1922 as LeSourdsville Lake and quickly became a popular entertainment venue that attracted the likes of Fats Domino, Glenn Miller and the Dorsey Brothers. The installation of rides, including the park’s main attraction the Screechin’ Eagle, and games soon followed. The attractions, paired with the swimming and picnic areas, made it the ideal location for company picnics, a tradition that continued until the park’s closing in 1999.
In 1977, five years after the opening of nearby Kings Island, the park was renamed “Americana” during a rebranding phase that included the addition of several new rides, attractions and promotions. The renovations gave visitors a front-row seat to circus shows performed by the Henneford Family Circus and daredevil acts at the Coca-Cola Great American Thrill Show theater.
“One of the benefits of working at Americana was the ability to come in for free on your days off, which I did all summer,” said Judy Pochard, who worked concessions near the circus tent during the 1978-79 seasons. Among the many friends she made during her employment was acrobat Gary Borstelmann, who has gone on to some fame as the Amazing Sladek, appearing at halftime shows for the NBA as well as on “America’s Got Talent” and “Little Big Shots, Forever Young.”
In his book of poems “Life Goes On,” due out this month, Joe Tallarigo recalls fondly his annual trips to the park and his first ride on The Serpent.
Tallarigo is not alone in his adoration. Americana has been immortalized in the form of Facebook fan pages, videos, short films, books, poems and even an episode of the History Channel’s “Life After People.”
Dawn Houk Mummey is one of those who has shared her memories with fellow fans online.
“My parents took me at least once a summer. It was such a big deal and we looked forward to it all year long. I recall being so nervous once we would arrive. I was nervous I would have to ride something big that I was too scared to ride,” she said. “Of course, my dad never made me. We loved the Bear Jamboree, bumper cars and The Scrambler. The powdered waffles and great junk food were the best. My dad used to joke that was the only reason we went ‘was for the junk!’ When I look back over my childhood, these are my fondest memories.”
While some remember fondly the park that provided first jobs, coaster thrills and midway prizes, Matt Dawson said he owes his existence to the park. Both sets of grandparents met there, setting in motion the creation of the Dawson family. His paternal grandparents met while working summer jobs at the park in the 1950s and maternal grandparents at a dance held there. While the park is important because of his family’s history, it is his own memories that make it special.
“I got to go with my family every year, and my grandpa and grandma took us on all the rides. All those memories are probably the strongest I have of my grandparents,” said Dawson, who counts the sky ride and The Serpent as his favorites. “I liked just going over the lake in the sky ride. You got to see the entire park and see all the people waiting in line for the rides.”
The park reopened for a single season in 2002 under new ownership. Remnants of the rides and buildings remain on the property, a sad reminder of happier times. Families may soon return to the property for picnics and outings, as it has been divided and resold.
Butler Tech has purchased the property east of the railroad tracks, which was most recently home to Couch’s Campers, for development of a new school campus. The city of Monroe is in the final steps of procuring the remainder of the park, with plans to create an open-space park as well as a hiking/bike trail that would connect to the Great Miami River Trail, said City Manager William Brock.
“The city does plan to recognize the former use as an amusement park within the future use of the park. We are assessing the structures that still exist and looking for ways to reflect on its history in the overall development of the park,” Brock said.