No one had ridden the classic "Screechin` Eagle" wooden roller coaster, or any other ride for that matter since 2002. In fact, the park hadn't seen any guests since it closed a week before it was planned to end it's season back in August of 2002, with its Halloween and holiday event plans also being cancelled. In June of 2007 myself and two other photographers were permitted to enter the park property. A place that once provided so many memories and served as a symbol of the fading era of the "classic" American amusement park, sat quiet and abandoned.
Fans of the park looked towards 2003 season with uncertainty. 2003 turned into 2004 turned into 2005. Finally in 2006 news came from the standing, but not operating, amusement park; "Most of the rides will be sold and the park will never operate as a traditional amusement park again." These words came as a sad shock to both amusement park enthusiasts and locals alike. Owner Jerry Couch uttered them along with his ambitious plans to expand his camper business on the property and create a campground on what once was the former park. In June of 2007, myself, Ryan Suhr, and Dane Thomas (on behalf of KICentral.com) were permitted to enter the now defunct park and meet with Mr. Couch.
Lesourdsville Lake Amusement Park first opened in 1922 when Owner Edgar Streifthau gave the man-made lake a concrete bottom for swimmer's to enjoy. He also constructed a bathhouse, restaurant, and dance hall in the hopes of providing guests with an enjoyable place where they could picnic and swim with friends and families by day and enjoy themselves with dancing and dining at night.
In 1922 vacation cabins and camping areas were constructed and by 1929 Lesourdsville had grown so popular that Streifthau bought 100 acres of more land to expand his business. The park continued to expand into the next decade despite the onset of the Great Depression. Streifthau ended the decade by purchasing "The Cyclone," a 1927 John Miller wooden roller coaster, and adding it to his park in 1939. The park continued to expand by adding more rides and gaining a reputation for being an exceptional amusement destination. By 1957 the park was known as "Disneyland of the midwest."
Edgar Streifthau had sold off Lesourdsville to new owners and by 1962 was opening his new (and also now defunct and abandoned) amusement park: Fantasy Farm. Despite Streifthau's new park located right next door, Lesourdsville continued to thrive even well past 1972 when Kings Island opened up a few miles away in nearby Mason, Ohio. 1978 brought on the first name change for the park as it became "Americana: the great American amusement Park". In 1984, the park expanded with the opening of "Raging Thunder," a log flume, in the newly renovated "Logger's Run" section of the park. The investment was the largest in the park's history and boosted attendance to more than 500,000 guests that year. Americana moved forward to the 90s with a positive outlook for continued prosperity despite increasing competition from it's new neighbors.
The 90's started Americana off on a low point. In January 1990, an electrical fire caused over $5 million dollars in damage.
In 1991 a scandal arose over the hiring of foreign workers that caused many local unions to cancel their once traditional company picnics. I personally attended a few company picnics for my father's company and have many memories of the park during this era. The park received new owners in 1991, Leisure International, who worked to upgrade the park and increase attendance throughout their ownership until they sold the park to Park River Corporation, owners of Cincinnati's Coney Island, in 1996. Despite millions of dollars spent on upgrades throughout the rest of the decade, Park River announced that the park would not open for the 2000 season.
Americana was once again up for sale. In May of 2000, Jerry Couch, owner of Couch's Campers in Hamilton, purchased the park from Park River Corporation. He outlined his ambitious plan of having not only a new RV super center built, but also a year round park facility with Halloween and Christmas activities as well as a campground. The park sat idle for the 2000 and 2001 seasons. Finally in 2002 the gears started turning and the park once again regained life. The park had its name changed back to "LeSourdsville Lake" and began what seemed to be a prosperous summer season, the park's 80th. Despite lofty claims of successful attendance by the park's marketing team, the park unexpectedly closed a week early in August and cancelled its planned Halloween events. The management company Couch had hired had gone bankrupt leaving the park with no operational leadership and some employees unpaid. A lawsuit ensued and the park once again went idle and quiet. No more official announcements came from the park, but rumors of potential buyers and an appraisal of park rides for auction came and went. In 2006, owner Jerry Couch announced the park would never operate as a traditional amusement park again. He purchased the adjoining defunct Fantasy Farm amusement park and announced plans for a campground that could possibly feature rides such as The "Screechin` Eagle" wooden roller coaster and the "Raging Thunder" log flume.
In June of 2007, I contacted Jerry Couch to ask about the possibility of being allowed to enter the park and photograph it in its current condition. Myself, along with fellow photographers Ryan Suhr and Dane Thomas (whom I have done work with for www.kicentral.com), met with Mr. Couch and discussed the park's future. "You will notice we have drained the lake and have begun to plant grass" said Mr. Couch. "The larger section of the lake will be turned into soccer and ball fields while a small section will be re-filled with water to be used for paddle boats and water activities." When asked about the campground, Mr. Couch informed us that construction was underway on the former Fantasy Farm location. "As for the park; most of the rides will be sold off and I don't see the coasters ever running again. We're currently in talks with two groups who want to turn the property into a Christian youth summer camp but have not reached an agreement with either party yet." We thanked Mr. Couch for allowing us to visit and talk with us and with our cameras in hand entered the park which had not seen a guest since 2002.
We were permitted to drive our cars into the park while being escorted by a security guard then we were allowed to freely roam the park grounds taking as much time as we needed. We walked past the park's operations office which still holds cases filled with trophies and awards from the park's past. The first ride we came upon was the park's swinging ship.
Next we came upon the main midway which featured one the park's larger attractions; the Serpent roller coaster. The coaster still had a few cars sitting in its station. Next to the Serpent was the park's sky ride which once carried guests up into the air and over the lake then back again and safely to the ground.
For the most part, this section didn't look too bad. I had worked at Kings Island in high school and had seen how an amusement park looks in its off season as the park temporarily stops operation and rehab maintenance begins for the next season, except this park would not be opening this summer. While photographing the sky ride we came upon what may have been one of the most iconic shots from the park's current state: the now drained LeSourdsville Lake:
The former lake currently has grass growing in it. It is designated for potential re-use as soccer and athletic fields.
We moved silently throughout the park snapping photo after photo. Besides the sky ride and Serpent roller coaster many, many other rides and attractions still remain such as the carousel, basketball games, the swimming pool, and Little Dipper roller coaster - a kiddy roller coaster that had stood at the park since 1968. For Ryan, it was particularly hard to see the coaster in its current state.
"The hardest thing for me to see was the Little Dipper. It was my first coaster and really launched my passion for the amusement industry." Ryan said as he photographed what had been his first rollercoaster.
We proceeded through the park back towards its "Logger's Run" section. On the way there, we came across what once was one of the stations for "The Belle of LeSourdsville," a paddle boat that took guests across the lake. We stepped down into the field that once used to be the lake and then proceeded towards Logger's Run. This section of the park had been very overgrown with brush and weeds and has not been kept up as well as the other sections closer to the camper showroom and highway. The Scrambler has vacated the area and the themed buildings that once held the mock Saloon are boarded up. This area unfortunately has been the victim of vandalism by uninvited guests but the star attraction of the section is still standing tall.
The Raging Thunder log flume stands as the centerpiece of the Logger's Run section. The log boats that once splashed down the hill, soaking generations of riders now reside in storage under one of the picnic shelters while the trough and lift hill of the ride sit empty and quiet. At the top of the lift and in the station, the control panels for the ride still remain. When it was still operating; Raging Thunder was regarded as one of the best water attractions in any American amusement park.
We followed the overgrown railroad tracks of the former train ride around the back of the park along the Great Miami River to the train station where both engines and their cars sit silently.
The back of the park features a few boarded up buildings that were once food stands. In one area we found where the Electric Rainbow, a "round-up" type ride, once stood. Today the Electric Rainbow has been given new life at Stricker's Grove. We came across the park's giant slide which now serves as a shelter for storing relics of the park's past such as cars for the turnpike ride, spinning sombrero ride, and Serpent roller coaster. We found the tent like building that once held the park's circus show to now be housing the sky ride cars. This area also featured what's left of the park's 18 hole mini golf course. We walked along the course of the former "Speedway" turnpike and found the "Belle of Lesourdsville" propped up on a trailer.
As we neared the end of our tour we came across the park's gem; the Screechin Eagle roller coaster. The was originally constructed in 1927 by renowned designer John Miller for Moxahala park of Zanesville, Ohio in 1927 and was purchased by Lesourdsville in 1939 where it operated under the names "The Cyclone," "The Space Rocket," and finally "The Screechin` Eagle" until the park's closure in 2002. It was regarded as one of the best wooden coasters around the area and across the country.
In 1999, over 90 British roller coaster enthusiasts visited the park to face the legendary Eagle and praised it with rave reviews. It was often regarded as "a coaster that made you say WOW when you pulled into the station" according to the online coaster forum "Jake's Coaster Land." I rode this coaster for the first time in 1999 during a visit to the park with my father. That would be the first and last chance I got to experience the ride. Seeing it lifeless and abandoned in 2007 brought back some of those memories of visiting here as a kid.
The lift hill is still lined with the light bulbs that gave the coaster its "classic carnival" look at night. An American flag still flies on the lift hill. We walked along the full course of the coaster photographing every hill and turn. This coaster had been around for 80 years and it was very sad to see such an awesome piece of history sitting unused and dormant.
After grabbing some last photos of the Eagle we made our way out of the park snapping the last few photos of the midway now being overtaken by vegetation and neglect, wondering what would become of the park's future. We thanked Mr. Couch one last time for his kindness and help with allowing us to photograph the park. According to Mr. Couch; he is currently involved in talks with various Christian organizations to sell the park and have it turned into a youth summer camp. His camper business seems to be doing very well and his plans for a campground just might soon materialize as construction continues on the new Fantasy Farm property. While no exact answer can be given as to the fate of the park and attractions like the Screechin Eagle, I would say its pretty safe to say that we won't see LeSourdsville Lake re-emerge as one of Ohio's classic amusement parks ever again. It can safely be said it will be remembered in the history books as part of an era of small parks, parks that seem to be being replaced by massive theme parks. The day of the classic American amusement park has come and gone it seems. While today's parks are excellent places for forming family memories, spinning till you puke, visiting with friends, taking your first date, and having the time of your life we may just never get to experience the same type of classic charm parks like LeSourdsville Lake once offered.
Article and Photos By: Ronny Salerno
Historical Photos and information courtesy of Scott Fowler of www.americanaamusementpark.com