Monday, October 29, 2007

LeSourdsville Lake/Americana Revisited



Screechin` Eagle Rollercoaster as of June 2007

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.


From humble beginnings to becoming "Disneyland of the midwest"

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.


Bathhouse and Lake circa 1922


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."


The Cyclone in 1939



Continuing to prosper despite the new neighbors.

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 Raging Thunder log flume



New owners come and go, an 80 year tradition fades away.

The 90's started Americana off on a low point. In January 1990, an electrical fire caused over $5 million dollars in damage.


1990 Middletown Journal Article


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.


Typical day during the park river years


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.


Once again called Lesourdsville



The Final Chapter: some possible closure arrives


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.


The


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.


The Serpent with the sky ride to the right


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:


A lake lacking water.


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.


Ryan photographs the Little Dipper


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.


Tombstone Territory


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.


Tombstone Territory


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.


The Belle of Lesourdsville


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.


The Screechin Eagle


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 Screechin Eagle


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.


The Screechin Eagle


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.


The Abandoned Midway


To see the full gallery click here.

Video from the trip to LeSourdsville/Americana:



Article By: Ronny Salerno
Historical Photos and information courtesy of Scott Fowler of www.americanaamusementpark.com

Photographs by Ronny Salerno, Dane Thomas, and Ryan Suhr of KICentral.com

35 comments:

  1. Wow!Thats pretty sad i went there when i was very little and the only time i remeber going was summer 2002.This is RaCeR from KIcentral.com.

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  2. Thank you so much for putting this link in the Middletown Journal I really enjoyed it. I remember going when I was a child & as an adult. We would go to the cabins that were across the lake it was a wonderful time. As a teenager the Lake was a great place to go to the dances at the moon light garden. They had a great dance floor & live bands that played on the weekends. Mr steifthau sold the park to Don Daisy & his family ran it for many years. His daughter, Donna Switzer, I believe is still alive & living in Middletown.

    Thank you again for the great photos & story.

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  3. Mr. Crouch should be ashamed of himself. If he was just going to close it why didn't he sell it to someone who'd keep it open?

    You can't tell me he couldn't make a go of it. He'll go down in history as an ass.

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  4. agreed..he's an ass

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  5. So sad to see this. I used to go to Fantasy Farm and Americana both in the 70's and 80's. I would take my kids there now if it were open. Much cheaper and less overwhelming than Kings Island.

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    1. It really is sad. I went there from the late 50's with my parents thru the late 90's with my own children, who continued to go there with their own children until the park closed. It really is too bad that they couldn't have sold it to someone who would have kept alive instead of killing it. Was soo much better than Kings Island. Families could have a great time right here in the area at much more affordable prices and without having to fight the crazy crowds like at KI. Very disappointing! humph, wonder if they are proud of themselves . . .

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  6. SAdly the last time I was ever at either park was when FF had closed for good, I attended an auction where they were selling off the rides and contents. My father still has a carousel horse from the FF ride.

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  7. It was extremely interesting for me to read the post. Thanks for it. I like such topics and anything connected to them. I would like to read a bit more on that blog soon.

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  8. Does anyone have any old photos of Tombstone Territory with the maniquins playing cards and the chicken eating grain when you put in a quarter? Remember those? Any/all photos of Toombstone would be greatly appreciated.

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    1. I remember those things! Didn't they also have a shootin range where you could shoot at characters going by? I had forgotten about the chicken. lol I only looked this up today because I unpacked my Tombstone mug I got when I was a kid and my dad took us. Wanted to see what happened to it. So sad nothing ever stays. :(

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  9. I would go to Americana all the time growing up during the 80's and early 90's. It was a family tradition. Salt water taffy, watching my mom throw up after riding the Tilt-A-Whirl, dad getting dressed up as a princess fairy during the circus show, riding the rollar coasters, going swimming, I could keep going on and on. Great memories were created there. Sad to see it the way it is, but I'll always know how much fun it was. Thanks for the pictures and walk down memory lane. I pasted it along to my family to see.

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  10. Discovered your site while searching for info on the Cincy Subway. LL and FF, along with Old Coney were huge parts of my childhood memories. Your pics and story actually brought a tear to my eyes, and probably represent the "writing on the tombstone" for an epic piece of Americana. I was fortunate enough to back up an Elvis Presley tribute show one year during the 90's and remember how good it felt to be back at a classic local amusement park. Anyhoo, hats off to your team and I'll be watching for new cool places you've visited. -David
    PS: Ever been to the old Mariemont steam generating plant? ;) PSS: Mr. Couch-I believe there's still room in Southern OH for a place like LL... hint hint!

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  11. It was 1953 or 1954 I'm guessing. The Howdy Doody characters were at the park and I got Clarrabelle the Clown to honk his waist horn at me. The attraction I would cry if I didn't get to ride was the train that circled around. But the one thing I was in awe of, and still am to this day, was waiting for a train to go by at the entrance, with the most ugly, World War 2 looking steel railroad cars. Not your typical freight train.

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  12. Remember the jingle from the 60s?
    "If you're looking for fun in the moonlight or sun,
    Come out - to LeSourdsville!
    Ride the rides -swim and get tanned,
    Dine and dance to your favorite band!
    If you're looking for fun in the moonlight or sun,
    Come out to LeSourdsville Lake!

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  13. Thanks so much for this history and the photos of Lesourdsville Lake. There was just nothing like it. It's a shame we can't make a go of it. I recently visited Coney Island, and it reminded me so much of Lesourdsville. Oh, and that wooden roller coaster was the scariest and most fun ever!

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  14. I drive by the park every day and I still get sick at my stomach.I wish Couch would go bankrupt. What a waste. Although, it could never compete with Kings Island, it could have been made back into a proffitable opperation. Couch prommised to reopen the park, that admission and food would be affordable. He lied. Why would any one buy a camper from him?

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  15. Back in 1974 my family used to go all the time. With five children, we couldn't swing the admission to King's Island, but we had a ball at LeSourdsville Lake. I remember getting sick on the spinning rides and my dad chasing my sister down the midway because she got turned around and wandered off. Mom and Dad loved the dances and music, and I loved riding the horse down at the Saloon. I am saddened by the demise of the park. I live near Nashville, TN now and we lost Opryland when my daughter was 5 years old. It's such a shame that these businesses are so greedy that they don't want to work at keeping these parks open.

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  16. Thanks to Anonymous for the jingle! I'd forgotten it. For several years, LeSourdsville Lake was part of Middletown High School's Post-Prom activities. I remember going home after the romantic Prom, to change from ballgown into khaki slacks, a sleeveless white blouse, and a black cardigan sweater to wait for my date, who changed at his own house, to pick me up to go to LeSourdsville. We were there all night and had such a fun time! The Cyclone (or was it the Screaming Eagle then?) was my first roller coaster ride. I'll never forget LeSourdsville. The rides and the sand beach were part of my childhood, my teen years, and my dating years. I'll always have precious memories of LeSourdsville Lake.

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  17. I went there in the 60s My grandparents took us every weekend.We loved it.It was the high point of our week.I was sad when i heard it closed.A lot of good memories there.Thanks for all the pics, loved them.

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  18. I have had a lot of good memories of going to the lake but they where all washed away when that guy that owned it let all those SCABS park their cars here and be bused into AK Middletown plant during the last Ak lockout and taking away jobs from local citizens that had worked there for years. What kind of a person would do that. I hope he reads the bible. MARK 8:36 "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

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  19. Would anyone know how to get in contact with someone in charge of this place? I'm a photography student nearby and would LOVE to get the opportunity to go take pictures for my portfolio.

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  20. I just found this site & I must admit it was very upsetting. I grew up going to the park in the 70's, 80's, & 90's with my parents & the rest of my family. We had such a great time there. I have so many great memories there. In 2002 while attending a Van-Dells show we found out the park had re-opened & they were going to be playing a show there. So immeditly we were on our phones calling family & planning a big family trip to see the Van-Dells at our favorite place. I got to take my daughter for her first & only trip to the park & it was amazing to see her enjoy the rides & the park as much as I did growing up. As I type this I have tears in my eyes because after so many trips there it was the last summer to see the park & my dads last summer but atleast I got to share one more day & make more great meories with my dad before I lost him. Does anyone remember the huge fish in the lake? I do remember the Tombstone Territory & how it changed over the years. I miss the park but one thing I'm glad of is that I don't live near there & I don't have to see it looking so sad. Our friend Glenn Bowles started his singing career working at Americana & has went on to become one of the lead singers for The Van-Dells. Anyone that could post photos on the Facebook site (that I have recently found) would be appreciated. I would love to see your pictures. My daughter races go karts & she did get to race onetime at the track that was located at the old FF. We could see LL/Americana from the track & it was very sad to see it standing idle with noone there. To Mr.Couch I hope you know how many hearts you broke by closing the park. I'd like to wish you well but I can't find it in my heart. All I can say is you must not belive in family. Your love must be the all mighty dollar. Thank you to all that had anything to do with this amazing site. God bless you all for sharing your mrmories.

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  21. I grew up at LeSourdsville Lake, it was summers of young innocence and family laughter. I remember there was a train that ran along the entrance of the park. I reminisce now, about a time my family went up there, mom and dad were just ahead of grandmaw and me, and we got seperated by the train. OH and my mom would sit for hours and play "FASCINATION California Bingo". Some of my best and favorite childhood memories go back to LeSourdesville Lake. The Trambant, The Calypso, The Green Thing, The Umbrellas, The Sky Ride(that would take you out over the lake and scare me when it went throughe the pulleys). I could go on and on, The Flying Scooters and The Whip. They weren't big huge thrill rides, but they were family fun rides, that is what them special. I remeber the way the lights would flicker on and reflect onto the lake as day would somehow turn to evening and evening quickly into night. Looking at the pictures make me sad, but thinking of the summers I spent there still make me smile. But, those days are gone, the park may not be there, but the memories are forever in my heart.

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  22. I still have pictures taken at LL in the early 1940s when I went with my parents. The trip to Lesourdsville lake was a big part of our summer as I was growing up. We took our children there when they outgrew Fantasy Farm, along with 4 other families, and had some wonderful times together. It was big enough for fun but small enough that we could let the children go and have a good time without much worry on our part. I remember the sand beach and the red spinning tops out in the water. Had fun playing "Fascination" and won a lamp and other things at that game. Still have a record recorded in the Penny Arcade by my children when they were very small though we have trouble finding some way to play it now. Really sorry when we found out our summer fun at LL was to be no more.

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  23. Wow....how sad, I worked there back in the late Seventies (I worked the BB machine gun booth where you tried to shoot out the red star next to the roller coaster) and remembered riding the Screeching Eagle over and over. Its only too bad they couldn't make it work:(

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  24. Wow, this brings back so many memories. My grandchildren would have loved this place.
    Reading this brought tears to my eye.

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  25. I have such fond and vivid childhood memories of LeSourdsville Lake Amusement Park. I grew up near there in the late 60's thru the 70's. I loved Tombstone Territory and the piano playing duck. I can still see that duck today, I was so fascinated by it. Crazy what you remember from childhood. My mother would play Fascination in the arcade while us kids roamed the park and rode rides. The kiddy roller coaster was amazing! Of course, we LOVED the big wooden roller coaster. That was a scarier ride than anything built today. That coaster would beat you to death and jump the tracks!! Thanks for the memories. Good childhood memories on this Christmas day.

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  26. It's so sad that they let it run down. I loved this place. We were there a couple of times every summer, while it was still the original Le Sourdsville Lake. I had many family picnic reunions there. It was a very big part of my childhood in the 70's. I brought my children in the 80's when it was known as Americana. $ 10.00 a carload ? Who could beat that for so much fun.

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  27. I took my kids here all of the time. Luckily my oldest remembers the great times when the park had a lot of business. My daughter is too young. I would rather spend my money in a small park where I can have some real family time and have a lot of fun, not a lot of hype like Kings Island. What a shame that it had to come to this. I will always remember this park and spending time with my family as a child and my family as an adult. No real memories at the pricey parks because all I did there was spend a lot of money and spent a lot of time in lines. No green space to "hang out" like the picnic groves or the picnic tables lined along the side road if you chose not to ride the Iron Horse. It was nice there.

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  28. I to have fond memories of Americana as a kid! Wasnt it like 5 or 10.00 a carload at the time (80's) ahh Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

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  29. Well i just showed this to my two young kids and 17yr old nephew ahhh the fun memories i have of that park and the sadness i wont be able to share it with my kids. Me and my wife went on a date there the last year it was open took her younger sister with us. Too bad thats the last time i got to go.

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  30. I was around 7 or so when Coney Island closed or became Kings Island, however you want to say it. LeSourdsville Lake became the destination for our once a year treat of going to an Amusement Park because KI simply was not affordable. I grew up in Norwood, and used to go to LL on Norwood Day. It was a huge deal to be lucky enough to go multiple times a season like Norwood Day in the 3rd Weds of July, maybe invited to one of the many company picnics or the annual trip thanks to Mom and Dad and their sacrifices to see that us kids had fun. It is really sad every time I drive past the old park and seeing how sad it looks. Even worse that instead of selling it someone that could have potentially returned it to a place of fun for many, Mr Couch CHOOSES to let it rot away. I think his idea to make LeSourdsville and Fantasy Farm a campground and amusement park (ie. Beach Bend Park in Bowling Green,KY) was a wonderful idea and would still be possible with the right investor(s). Instead he is greedily holding on to it and doing nothing. Here is a suggestion Mr Couch, instead of doing nothing and receiving nothing why not offer tours at say $5.00 a head to those who would like to see a piece of history rotting away but you would rather chase them off with your golf cart. Or you could just clear all the land and offer it as a storage lot for the RVer's like me that when picking up my camper could dream of what could have been right here in our backyard. Oh well, guess I will drive 4 hours to Beach Bend or Cedar Point, not Kings Island because they don't have a campground anymore.

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  31. Thank you for this site. We attended as children of the 60's. Renting a cabin on the lake, swimming to the red platforms, watching my sister on the tilt-a-whirl. Recently converted our 8mm reels to DVD and found the most precious memory of myself and my mother walking and eating cotton candy from a man who actually swirled it on a cone!(unlike the crap you buy in a bag today). Thank you for posting the history. The memories live forever in my heart.

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  32. I remember the park when it was called Americana. Alot of memories having picnics, riding what we called the mexican hats. I remember when part of it had burnt down and come back after it was rebuilt. You used to use I can't remember if it was coke of pepsi cans to get reduced admission and seeing discount coupons on the back of Home City Ice bags. Boy, brings back memories. I sure do miss it.

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  33. I went there as a kid for several years with my family. We would go at least 10 Times a year. We had picnics there. The screechin eagle Was my very first roller coaster. I would Love for it to become Americana again so i can take my children there. Who could we talk to about getting The place restored and reopened?

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