EMMAUS PUBLIC LIBRARY
Residents and amusement park enthusiasts gathered at the Emmaus Public Library recently to discuss the history of Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom with Joshua Fink.
Fink, a Dorney Park enthusiast, shared postcards and newspaper articles along with additional research of his own.
Fink said Solomon Dorney established eight trout ponds and a fish hatchery in 1860 and had a vision to create a place where city dwellers could have fun. Photos displayed showed women walking around in long dresses and men in suits. At the time, there were no parks within the city and no amusement rides.
Several years later, Dorney acquired the Helfrich Farm which became part of Dorney Park. The farm was used for growing food for the park.
In 1870, according to the Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom website, “Solomon Dorney realized that the best future for his estate would be as an attraction. He added games, playground-style rides, refreshment stands and even a hotel and restaurant. The resort also included a small zoo.”
Fink said Dorney also added a number of mechanical rides including Bowling-on-the-Greens.
In 1884, the estate was renamed “Dorney’s Trout Ponds and Summer Resort.” A casino was added at the park as well as a swimming pool with a sand bottom which Fink said was considered Pennsylvania’s largest swimming pool at one time.
An elevated railway cable ride, similar to today’s zip line ride, was introduced to the park in the late 1800s, according to Fink.
In 1899, transportation to and from the park was provided by the Allentown-Kutztown Traction Company trolley which traveled between Allentown and Kutztown. According to Dorney Park, the roundtrip fare was 5 cents.
During the early 1900s, Dorney Park had competition from another Allentown Park known as Central Park which was located in what was known as Rittersville which is in the area of what is now Westminster Village.
In 1901, the Traction Company purchased Dorney Park from Solomon Dorney who died that year and is buried at the Cedar Lutheran Church. Jacob Plarr, a German immigrant and concessionaire then took over the operations of the park.
Plarr brought a Dentzel Carousel to Dorney Park. Fink said the park became known as a beautiful area for picnics and a “natural spot.” With its scenic railway and boating pond, the park soon established itself as a favored place to spend time.
The Whip was introduced in 1920 and is currently Dorney Park’s oldest ride.
The Philadelphia Toboggan Company built the first coaster in the park in 1923 which was made from pressure treated pine.
According to Dorney Park history, the park was incorporated in 1930 and renamed “Dorney Park Coast Company, Inc.” The park was purchased by Plarr, Bill Ruske and Ray Sandt and a few years later, Plarr purchased the park from his partners.
A dance pavilion and the Tunnel of Love ride were established in 1927. The attraction later became the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride.
The coaster in Dorney was rebuilt in 1930; its new configuration was made into a figure eight.
In 1930, the first of the ‘dark rides’ was created and Devil’s Cove debuted. A new carousel was purchased in 1936, Fink said. This carousel was originally built in 1916 and used at another park. When Dorney Park purchased it, the ride had been refurbished.
The 1930s were plagued by the Depression and Dorney Park did not escape the downturn. Fink said certain entertainment businesses did not do well during this time. Plarr decided to add a new attraction and “enlisted the help of Miles Erbor, of Wescosville, to build a train ride modeled after the first steamline train, the Burlington Zephr. This attraction, known as the Zephr, saved Dorney Park from closing,” according to the Dorney Park website.
In 1937, Castle Garden was enclosed. There was a deer preserve around the park and the deer would enter the dance hall and get into the kitchen, Fink said.
In 1937, the baseball field at the park was turned into another roller coaster. Fink said 1941 brought the attraction “Flying Scooters.” The Philadelphia Tobaggon Company brought another ride to the park in 1946. The attraction was called the Cuddle Up. The Water Scooters ride arrived in 1946. Kiddieland was established and a Ferris wheel was added.
The “Paratrooper” ride was added in 1948 as well as an arcade to the Mansion House. The “Tilt-a-Whirl” ride debuted at the park in 1949.
Dorney Park observed its 70th anniversary in 1954 and Plarr celebrated 50 years with the park. ThunderHawk was painted golden yellow and the original Denzel Carousel was painted gold.
In 1962, the clown figure “Alfundo” the park’s mascot, became the greeter plaque for visitors. Alfundo is a combined abbreviation for Allentown, Fun and Dorney.
Fink said in 1961, the swimming pool closed because sand bottom pools were no longer acceptable in Pennsylvania. The area that was the pool became Zoorama in 1963. Whale boats also were added.
In 1963, Devil’s Cove was rethemed as Pirate’s Cove. The Chanticleer Carousel was restored in 1964. One of the reasons for the return was because people did not like riding on chickens featured in the carousel in the park.
Plarr died in 1966 and left the park to his son Stephen who died in 1967.
In 1967, Robert Ott became the president and chief executive officer of Dorney Park after marrying Plarr’s daughter.
Dorney Park was featured in the 1967 film “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows” starring Rosalind Russell. During the film, Russell rode the Chanticleer Carousel.
Dorney Park celebrated its 85th anniversary in 1969 and the Dentzel Carousel returned. The Flying Dutchman coaster arrived at the park in 1970. The Wild Mouse ride was also added.
The Dentzel Carousel was painted red, white and blue for the nation’s bicentennial in 1976.
Dorney Park Road was closed in 1980 after Plarr’s daughter was killed on it. The park was enclosed by fence and an admission fee was charged. This also was the first time Dorney Park took on a loan to purchase the attraction Thunder Creek Mountain.
In 1983, a fire destroyed the 1916 Philadelphia Toboggan Carousel, the Bucket of Blood and the Flying Bobs rides and several food stands. The fire was caused by fryers, according to Fink.
Dorney Park celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1984 and added new rides.
Harris Weinstein became the new owner and chief executive officer in 1985. Weinstein sold the Dentzel Carousel to help make money to expand the park.
Wildwater Kingdom opened in 1985. Fire destroyed the Castle Garden ballroom the same year.
The Laser attraction coaster was added in 1986 as well as an antique carousel.
Dorney Park was purchased by the amusement park company Cedar Fair Entertainment Company in 1992. Dorney Park is considered the “crown jewel” of the corporation, Fink said.
Dorney Park continued to expand by adding new attractions.
The park celebrated its 130th anniversary during the 2014 season.
Dorney Park’s competition, Central Park, met its demise after a series of malicious fires, Fink said. The park overlooked the Lehigh River in an area that became Hanover Township and, ultimately, Allentown.
Fink will present a program on the history of Central Park Sept. 13 at Luther Crest Senior Living community, Allentown.