Pennsylvania's Picnic Groves and Trolley Parks (PAGE 5 OF 8)
by Phil Gould
: Added February 2013

One of the last remaining trolley parks in the States. You will find Lakemont Park in the town of Altoona. It first opened for business in Spring 1894 and is home to the oldest operating roller coaster in the world The Leap The Dips which took its first passengers for a dip in 1902. The park has had a somewhat chequered past but is still surviving adjacent to the Altoona Curve Baseball Stadium. It is the eighth oldest amusement park in the United States.

When I pulled up in Lakemont's car park I wasn't even sure the place was open for business as there were only a few cars and the park looked deserted. But apparently this is how it is on quite a few days during the season. All the ride operators looked slightly bored and during our two hour stay some of them didn't have a single passenger on their rides. A lot of the mature trees were removed in the 1980s during an attempt to turn the park into a fully fledged theme park. This was something of a disaster and has left Lakemont with a somewhat stark appearance. The rides along the main midway are built up in pens. These are mainly rides similar to those that you would find on carnivals in the States. The northern end of the park is dominated by the baseball stadium.

As I walked through the entrance the first thing I spotted was Kiddie Land. This is home to some vintage rides including a number manufactured by Allan Herschell. Those featured were  a Little Dipper, Kiddie Wheel, Star Fighters, Wet Boats and Pony Carts. Nearby is the Big Eli Ferris Wheel which gives riders great views across the park and the Merry Go Round. The original 80-year-old Carousel was sold back in 1982 to raise money for new attractions including the current Merry Go Round.

Walking north past the Monster Motorway (go karts) I came to the park's main wooden coaster Skyliner. Built in 1960 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and designed by John Allen. Its first home was the now defunct Roseland Park in Canandaigua, New York. It was moved to Lakemont in 1986 to be one of the star attractions at the doomed Boyertown theme park. It's a great little double out and back coaster that gives a very smooth ride. You could also look over into the baseball stadium as you zipped along the undulating course. From here I moved across to the park's main midway. Here I found a Tilt A Whirl, Scrambler Twist and Spider. The latter is similar to an Octopus with two cars attached to each arm and boy did the cars spin on this version. Across the way was a 1971 Chance Toboggan coaster. As I wanted to keep my spine intact I decided not to ride this. Next door was an Allan Herschell Twister. This is an unusual ride which is pretty rare. A spinning frame is built on a sloping floor with free spinning cars on the end of each arm. Unfortunately Lakemont's didn't get up much speed so was more like a whip with a slope.

Next I headed to the southern end of the park where there was a Skydiver, the same as the one that was travelled by W H Summers in the UK in the 1980s, a set of German Swings or Chair-o-planes as they are known over here. Next door was an empty pen which had been home to a Monster ride but there were parts of what looked like a Music Express lying around. However I haven't seen any evidence of such an attraction opening since my visit. Walking to the far end of the park I came to the main reason for my visit the Leap The Dips. Built in 1902 this is the oldest operating roller coaster in the world and the last figure eight that I know of being in existence. Given the park's chequered history it is amazing that the ride has survived. It was closed down in 1986 and remained standing but not operating until 1999. Five years earlier the Lakemont Park Historical Society launched a campaign to raise one million dollars to restore the ride. It is a National Historic Landmark. It was painstakingly restored using the same construction techniques as when it was first built. The side friction coaster zigzags its way along its course. The four person cars are heavily padded and sprung so you bounce along the track. It reminded me of the Runaway Coaster at the Rotunda, Folkestone and the Big Dipper that once operated at Rhyl's Ocean Beach - which I rode in my youth. I take my hat off to everybody involved in maintaining this one of a kind coaster.              

A train runs along the back of the park past the picnic pavilions and Skyliner. There is a small waterpark, games, Dodgems, miniature golf and many refreshment kiosks including one serving funnel cakes that have to be seen to be believed. Just looking at them is enough to add on a few pounds. Lakemont has a reputation for being one of the country's least expensive parks to visit. A traditional urban park that has survived against all odds.                               


General view of Lakemont park. Picture: Phil Gould

The unusual Alan Herschell Twister ride. Picture: Phil Gould

The world's oldest roller coaster, Leap the Dips at Lakemont Park. Picture: Phil Gould



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