Gone but not forgotten: Celebration of Ludlow Lagoon marks the 100th anniversary of its closing

Lagoonfest marks 'insane history' on Oct. 21
Gone but not forgotten: Celebration of Ludlow Lagoon marks the 100th anniversary of its closing
Posted at 12:00 PM, Sep 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-01 12:50:48-04

LUDLOW, Ky. -- From 1895 to 1917, one of the nation's largest amusement parks operated just southwest of downtown in Ludlow, Kentucky.

The Ludlow Lagoon Amusement Park derived its name from an 85-acre manmade lake that sprawled between Ludlow and Bromley and contained five separate islands. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the park's closing, and members of the Ludlow Historical Society are gearing up for a commemorative celebration featuring period-specific displays, lectures, local food, drink, music and walking tours of the neighborhood that now sits atop the filled-in lagoon.

Ludlow Lagoonfest will take place Oct. 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the 800 block of Elm Street, near the Ludlow Senior Center. Tickets are $5 ($10 for the lecture series) and available via the event's Facebook page. Circus Mojo and Second Sight Spirits will be among the local vendors attending.

The festival will also provide backdrop for a special screening of "A Ride Through the Ludlow Lagoon," a documentary by local filmmakers Lee Schuler and Josh Flowers.

Visitors can also enjoy 3-D computer animation showing the buildings as they stood a century ago as well as a series of lectures by Dave Schroeder, executive director of the Kenton County Library. The lectures -- "Over Here: Ludlow in the World War I Era" and "Ludlow Lagoon: Victorian Playground" -- will be followed by a discussion on the "West End Development of Ludlow." 

"We have a wealth of insane history here in Ludlow and the lagoon is a big part of that," said Matt "Catfish" Williams, who serves as city councilperson and owner of the popular Folks School Coffee Parlor in Ludlow. Williams is also a member of Ludlow's Historical Society. "For how small this city is, there's a ton of interest and expertise in our history. Plus, history is cool now, so that makes spreading the word a little easier."

At the peak of the Ludlow Lagoon's popularity, it saw 75,000 visitors in one weekend. It is said those visitors arrived via trolleys departing Fountain Square every 10 minutes.

A series of catastrophic events signaled the park's closing: 1913 brought a flood to the Ohio region that set the park back financially; then a tornado in 1915 destroyed much of the lagoon itself. Later, a performance on the park's motordrome turned tragic when a motorcycle crashed into a gas lamp, sparking a fire that incited panic and resulted in the deaths of nine people.

But it was America's entrance into World War I and adoption of Prohibition -- and the resulting rationing of beer-making wheat -- that would sound the final death knell. The park closed for good in 1918. 

Upon the park's closure, the lake was partially filled in and covered over with criss-crossing streets and craftsman-style bungalow houses. Local fisherman would continue to enjoy the smaller lake for several years until eventually it was filled in entirely to make way for expanding neighborhoods. 

"I've heard many stories of people recalling ice skating on the lake," said local historian and Lagoonfest organizer Brenda Boone. "At some point, the property was sold to Wayne Carlisle. He filled the lake in and was going to develop the property at one time. I understand it is in the process of being sold now to an unknown party, and I have no idea what the future may bring to the property."

Through her historical research, Boone learned that over the years, Lagoon organizers installed a beach and a boathouse, where boats large and small were available for visitors to cruise the lake's expanse. Organizers are reported to have drawn inspiration from the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, two years before Ludlow Lagoon opened.

"The park featured electricity in the buildings and a midway with food and games," said Boone. "Many of the more substantial buildings were designed by local architect John H. Boll."

Two of the park's original structures remain today: a clubhouse and caretaker's house. Other structures -- including a large dance hall, amphitheater and authentic Japanese tea house -- have long since been demolished. 

The Oct. 21 Lagoonfest event will endeavor to re-create the park for visitors and expand understanding of Ludlow's cultural meaning within the region.