Monday, February 18, 2013

A Tree Grows in Chippewa Lake Amusement Park

- Paule B, Cody Jay Mode and Gordon Bombay standing at the base of an abandoned ferris wheel and on the midway of what once was Chippewa Lake Amusement Park.

The small village and lake have more in common than just a name. The northern Ohio municipality has around 700 residents according to the 2010 census. It's a quiet, sleepy town of narrow streets lined with bungalows slowly billowing out smoke from their chimneys. Situated on the shores of a frozen lake (which would come to be an adversary and an allie) - hidden behind the houses lays an abandoned amusement park: one that operated for a century before closing its doors in 1978. What's left today isn't so much a time capsule of a bygone era, but more like ruins of what was once considered the 'heart' of the village.


Paule B, Cody Jay Mode and I were making a trip across the Northeastern areas of Ohio. Seeing Chippewa Lake was our priority that day. The three of us had become friends while working at amusent park ourselves. Despite the cold weather we had experienced in our respective homes of Cincinnati and Dayton, we weren't prepared for just how cold it was "upstate." After a five hour car ride, we escaped from Paule's SUV and stretched our legs on the lakeshore, shivering from the abrupt temperature change. Below the snow was the sand and we approached the frozen lake, carefully testing whether or not the ice would hold us. It turned out to be cold enough that not only did the ice hold us as we walked out onto the lake, but tracks could be seen from where others had ice skated before we arrived.

In the years writing and photographing for this website, I've been able to see and explore six different abandoned amusement parks, each with their own unique history and modern day ruins left behind. While I always knew about Chippewa, I had never made an attempt to get there, even when I would pass by it on trips to Cleveland. I had heard that there wasn't much left and shrugged the abandoned park off, but the research of Paule B would prove worthwhile when he organized a road trip up North.

We had heard from a contact that there was a museum dedicated to the park near what used to be its main entrance and if you ask politely, they may open the gates for you to see what's left of the property. Given the recent history of vandalism and arson on the park's grounds, we figured it'd be best to show our intent. We came for photography and history, nothing more.

However, the "museum" seemed to be more of a house than an actual museum. No tire tracks by the garage or footsteps on the porch seemed to indicate that no one was home. A rusted sign out front read: "Future Site of Chippewa Lake Park Museum. Opens May 1987." However, it seemed that such a museum never opened or operated. We weren't surprised when our knocks on the door went unanswered. We had to reassess our plans, discussing how to see the park as we peered over the gates to see the abandoned ticket booths:

- The entrance/ticket booths at Chippewa Lake Park.

We needed to find a way into the park, one that wouldn't arouse suspicion - after all we came with good intentions, but sometimes people don't want to believe that. Our tactical situation was hampered by the park's proximity to the nearby neighborhood. While little remained of the fence guarding the derelict property, a casual look outside one's windows might frighten a nearby resident who may not take kindly to three random dudes snooping around. And due to recent problems on the property, said resident might want to alert the authorities - in essence we wanted to be as unobtrusive as possible. The park was bordered by houses and people on three sides with the lake on the other. Without a boat, the lake was a natural barrier, except for the fact that it was frozen and we were able to walk on it.

- Paule B. and Cody Jay Mode on the frozen tundra of Chippewa Lake.

We found a place to stash our vehicle close to the park and where we had access to the lake. The docks that once anchored boats in the summer, had temporarily been removed and the ice was dotted with footprints and skate tracks. We were still in plain sight and nearby vehicles would pass by and park on the shoreline, facing right in our direction. I repeatedly made Paule and Cody Jay pose for stereotypical portraits until the vehicles left and we could resume our hike across the ice.

We had almost made it. On the shore, we saw where the fence ended and the abandoned amusement park began. The ice made low cracking noises beneath us at times, forcing us to go around some spots, but we were almost there - until we noticed someone watching us. A man walking his dog stood on the shore line, staring right in our direction.

- A frozen Chippewa Lake.

We turned back around and headed for the shore, waving to the man who had been watching us. We introduced ourselves and made small talk. After about twenty minutes of conversation, I flatly asked him if he cared that we might go into the park and take some photographs.

"I figured that's what you guys were trying to do he replied. I don't care and don't think anyone else would."

We said goodbye and resumed our course, but as we got closer to the park's shoreline, the ice grew thin. We were cold enough and the prospect of being cold and wet, or dropping any of our camera's into the water wasn't a pleasant thought. It was time for Plan C.

As we walked up a street, we could see one of the park's abandoned roller coasters literally in the backyard of some of the residents. We also noticed that the fence was completely gone in some parts and that one resident was out in his backyard doing some housework. We decided to talk to him and ask for permission to cut across his backyard and into the park.

It seems rare that unexpected visitors drop by and knock on anyone's doors anymore and if someone does - who wants to buy what they're selling or join whatever religion they're preaching? People react negatively enough to those things, how would this guy react to us asking permission to use his property to trespass? How would we phrase that question to him? Before we came up with a firm answer, he came to the door with a blank stare and I tried as eloquently as possible to make my case.

He obliged us in a friendly manner, telling us to be careful and even offered the services of a makeshift wood pallet bridge that allowed us to cross one of the lake's tributaries. Finally, we had arrived at the ruins of Chippewa Lake.

- Chippewa Lake Park brochure. Image Via: Forgotten Ohio.

Like the other abandoned parks featured here on QC/D, Chippewa Lake is a reflection of changing American culture and an evolving entertainment industry. Small, family run parks like Chippewa are few and far between these days, especially in Ohio - where the modern amusement landscape is dominated by two corporate run parks.

Such as another abandoned Ohio amusement park, Americana/LeSourdsville Lake, Chippewa began as a picnic ground in 1875, becoming an "amusement park" with the addition of its first ride in 1878. Throughout the 20th century, the park expanded immensely. New rides were added, live bands took the ballroom stage almost nightly and the park built its signature attraction: The "Big Dipper" roller coaster. Opening in 1925, the Big Dipper was the definition of a classic wooden coaster. It would remain with the park after its eventual closure and even in death, remained one of the key icons at the now abandoned property.

- The "Big Dipper" as seen abandoned sometime in the early 2000's. Image Via: Forgotten Ohio.

The park eventually closed after the summer of 1978, citing competition from the nearby, and much larger, Geauga Lake and Cedar Point parks. After a century of operation, the park had closed its gates and was left mostly intact.

- Chippewa Lake as seen from the air, date unknown. Image Via: Forgotten Ohio.

While there doesn't seem to be any indication that there were plans to reopen the park following its closure, mostly everything remained in place. By the late 90's though, nature had claimed a firm grip on reclaiming most of the park's land. Kids snuck past the fences and brought spray paint, vandals broke glass windows and in 2002 - the park's ballroom burned down. More fires began to break out in the abandoned park as arson claimed more of the amusement ruins. By 2008, the land had been sold. Developers announced an ambitious plan to build a hotel and spa resort, demolition of the property began. One of the demolition's first casualties was the "Big Dipper," but the demolition did stop and the plans halted. By 2012, the resort was scrapped and the property entered foreclosure. It sits today as you see it in the following photographs.

- Remains of the "Wild Mouse" roller coaster.

The first thing of consequence remaining from the old park was the rusted structure of one of its roller coasters. The "Wild Mouse" was purchased by Chippewa from Geauga Lake, another northeast Ohio park, in 1972. It operated at Chippewa until its final day in 1978.

- Looking up at the "Wild Mouse" track structure.

Paule B, Cody Jay and myself had all become friends while working at an amusement park, albeit an active one. All three of us have done our fair share of walking up a roller coaster's lift hill to tell guests that "we hope to have you moving soon" during a break down. Despite all the coaster's we've walked up, including the 200 ft "Son of Beast," no one seemed to want to try and climb the "Wild Mouse" that day at Chippewa. The wood has long since rotted, yell still manages to hold up the rusting track and superstructure.

- Track of the "Wild Mouse."

As nature reclaims the land on which the park was built, trees have even begun growing through and around the coaster's track. Through the rusted remains of the roller coaster, a tree grows in Chippewa:


- The sharp turns of the "Wild Mouse."

- The lift hill of the "Wild Mouse."

Still somewhat visible to the neighborhood, we quickly moved from the coaster in people's backyards to the rest of the park. We came across a building right on the edge of the lake. What this place had been used for, I haven't been able to find out. However, there seemed to be a small wooden stage at one end with bleachers stacked in the middle. Had we gone through with crossing the ice, this would've been the first place we came upon.


We then started down a clear cut path towards where the rest of the park had been. Judging by the numerous footprints, it was obvious that we weren't the first people to treck through the park since the snow fell.

- The midway.

It became clear that the path we were walking was once the park's "midway," or main boulevard that linked its various attractions in its heyday. Thirty-five years ago this midway would've been packed with kids looking for a ride on the kiddie coaster aka the "Little Dipper." However, the aptly named pint sized version of the park's main attraction is now nothing but a rusted and twisted hulk in the woods:

- The "Little Dipper."

We found our way to a wide open area. It was hard to imagine that we were in an abandoned amusement park. Between the arsons, vandalism, deterioration, foliage and partial demolition - there's not a whole lot left of old Chippewa. Not to mention, we were all used to sweating our assess off at an amusement park during the summer, not freezing in one during the winter.

- Former boat dock entrance.

Finally we came upon what has become the definitive icon of Chippewa Lake's abandonment: the ferris  wheel. The tracks in the snow were clear, we weren't the only ones who made the trek to see the forgotten park and in nearly forty years of being abandoned. Not to mention, several other people have been here and shared their photographs all across the internet. The park's rusted out ferris wheel with a tree growing through it has become the photograph everyone seems to take when they go here. We were of no exception. The symbolism of the object speaks for itself - the park is dead and nature is reclaiming the land, rising through the rust and deterioration of humanity's remnants.

Through the rusted remains of the ferris wheel, a tree grows in Chippewa:

- The iconic ferris wheel and its tree.

- The ferris wheel up close.

A destroyed pick up truck, a collapsed wooden building and some other objects were found scattered in the brush, but the last significant piece of history we found was the track of the "Tumble Bug."


The "tumble bug" had been one of the park's key attractions. Hell, as of this writing, only two of them still exist today. Riders boarded cars attached to rods that connected to a motor in the center. When powered, the ride would turn and pull the cars along a circular track that featured changes in elevation.

- "The Bug" operating at Chippewa in better times. Image Via: Forgotten Ohio.

With leaves dead in the winter, it gave us a chance to creep up and onto this rare piece of history.


- Rusting Tumble Bug cars. Photograph by Paule B.

- Tumble Bug track.

- Tumble Bug track.

- Arms of the Tumble Bug that once pulled the ride's cars.

With not much left to see, we turned back down the "midway" and headed for the exit.


I couldn't help but wonder if one day our park, the one that three of us spent so many summers working at, would one day be left behind like Chippewa has been. If so, who, if anyone, will explore it and how will they look back on it?

- Gordon Bombay exiting Chippewa. Photograph by Paule B

Over the years, several of QC/D's urban exploration stories have focused on abandoned amusement parks: View all of the stories


  1. Great story Gordon. You keep out-doing yourself!

  2. Really cool - great pics!

  3. i went to the park back in 95, everything was still standing at that time, the ballroom was there, very cool inside! i took videos of everything! there were banners still hanging from the ceiling, tables with chairs on top of them, the midway was there, the bumper cars were not there, but the area where they would go was there. tools still on the workbench! under the ballroom was a storage area where they kept all of the signs of the companies that would have picnics there. on the coaster ride, the words coaster were still mounted. there was a caboose there, but i don't know about now .if anyone out there really is fasinated with old chipp, let me know and i'll make a copy of the tape for you, very cool tape to watch, if you have a vcr,lol today is march 25th 2013

  4. According to Wikipedia, all that's left is the ferris wheel? Do you know if that's true.. I was looking forward to seeing the rollercoasters and the fun house!

  5. The Big Dipper and Fun House (not sure if you mean the old bathhouse that was labeled as the "fun house" for the movie shoot that was done on site or the old arcade, but the answer is the same for both) are gone.

  6. Is there Ferris wheel there today? And can you access it for a photo shoot?

  7. A technical point about the Tumble-Bug: I imagine you'd like knowing that the "arms" connected to the central pier helped keep the Tumble Bug's cars on the monorail track, but no motor or anything at the central pier applied any force to the arms to move the cars. The motors that moved the train were actually mounted out near the track, on mounting plates near the ends of the radius rods or "arms" you saw, and the cars rode over the track between the wheels (one wheel at the end of each rod.) All that would've been mounted on the central pier would've been the bearing and pivots which the "arms" themselves were connected to, and an electrical "slip ring" assembly, to transmit electrical power from the stationary central pier to wires attached to the moving "arms." In the picture of the operating "Bug" at Chippewa, you can see the first of these motors (under the black cover,) partially obscuring our view of the first (or yellow-ish colored) "car." Also, in the photo captioned "Arms of the Tumble Bug that once pulled the ride's cars" (taken by Paula B.) we can see (on the "arm" in the photo's center) an electrical junction or fuse box, and a motor mounting plate, both mounted on top of the "arm."

  8. Please say this is still going to be standing untouched! It sounds as if it's cursed, whoever buys the land of the park to demolize will surely have financial problems. I want to visit this place, and a couple of other abandoned amusement parks, if only just for the rollercoasters. I was also reading that the lift of the big dipper was on the other side of the fence?

    1. Well, they do say that the former owner wanted to be buried there. :P

  9. I was wondering if you know if this is still standing or not? I read an article written a few years ago that said they were tearing this all down but they obviously haven't if these photos are from this year. I'm going to Cleveland in early November and I'm trying to arrange to stop here on the way. I would love to visit this place, I am so fascinated with abandoned places and I'm from the Cincinnati area as well. So if you know any other places around here that are abandoned, I'd love to hear about them and visit them as well!

  10. I live back in the.park in a summer.cottage all year round...this park is seriously overgrown and all that is left...ferris wheel with tree through it...and a funhouse or part of one....a lot of debris as they started to rip things down

  11. As far as I saw- The Ferris Wheel stands, The Tumble bug stands, The Ticket Booths stand. That's about it, there is a lot of rubble littering the area as it appears they've given up on the 'clearing' project. It appears there is metal from the coaster or train tracks piled up. The ballroom is a twisted wreck of metal and the "funhouse/bathhouse" has totally collapsed. Was unable to locate either the wild mouse or the flying cages but we didn't fully explore the property.
    It was still beautiful but haunting to see.

  12. I last checked Wikipedia a couple minutes ago and now the wild mouse is in fact gone.
    The flying cages however are still there and even though the ferris wheel no longer has its tree
    it's still there and so is the tumble bug. But the wild mouse is gone.

  13. Loved your article! Used to go there quite a bit as a child with the family. FOP used to have their family picnic there! My parents used to go dancing in the dance hall quite regularly!

  14. Loved your article! Used to go there quite a bit as a child with the family. FOP used to have their family picnic there! My parents used to go dancing in the dance hall quite regularly!

  15. When they were running day tours a few years ago we drove almost 5 hours to get there (through horrible pouring down rain). I didn't know the tours closed at 5:00 and we got there at five min til close. One of the guys conducting the tours gave me just a couple of min (literally) to quickly run around taking pictures, even after explaining my predicament. We haven't had a chance to make it up again since, but that was the only reason for our trip that time. So, on the way back, rainbows streaming through the clouds as the sun started to come out, we pulled out the Hidden Ohio map, and stopped by the Olivesburg manufacturing plant and Mansfield Reformatory...

  16. I lived in Chippewa lake from 1981 to 1994. I visited a girl from school who lived in a little bungalow right next to the park. The "Big Dipper" was right next to the house, and I remember walking over railroad tracks that were left behind from the train. That was the first time and the only time I encountered a ghost sighting. I remember it like it happened yesterday. I was going to her house after school to get ready for a 7th grade dance. I walked into her house for the first time and saw her mother standing there talking to a Catholic priest, at least I think he was Catholic, he was in uniform holding a bible. They just moved here, so it wasn't unusual for your pastor to come visit you at your home. I said "hello" and we walked to my friends room to drop off our stuff and listen to music. Now, my friend never commented to me about anything that she knew, she acted completely content. She left the bedroom to go to the bathroom, which is located on the other side of the house and to the back, you have to walk through the open living room/ kitchen to get to it. Her mother's bedroom is adjacent to the room I was in. I was laying on the floor of the bedroom, the bed is to the right of me and the bedroom door is behind me and to the left and was left closed. I was searching for a station on the radio to listen to, that's when it happened. I heard her mother's bedroom door slammed shut, so loud it made me jump and I turned to look at the door,nothing happened. I could just hear her mother still talking to the priest, I couldn't make out what they were saying. I turned my head back to look back at the radio and thats when I saw out of my peripheral vision, a man sitting on the edge of my friends bed with his hands resting on his knees. I could see everything about him but he was kind of translucent, not as clear to see as you and I are. He had on a " wife beater" and mechanic like pants and boots. He was an old man with white hair and it was short like a buzz cut. Believe me when I say I have never been so scared in my life, I couldn't move. I remember shaking, I kept telling myself scream, run, do something. So I jumped up open the door and flew out of that room running past her mother to my friend who is standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom. Panting very heavily trying to catch my breathe I asked my friend if her house is haunted. She looks at me and said "Yes, why do you think the priest is here? He is here to bless the house" She didn't even seem scared or bothered by it and that scared me even more. I walked out into the living room and before I could say anything to her Mother and the Priest, out of the corner of my eye I see the man move from her mother's bedroom to my friend's bedroom and I see her mother's door slam shut. I jumped up went towards the front door saying "there is no way I am staying in this house another second". My friend brought my stuff out to me and I left and never went back into that house ever again. I did drive back to the house years later to see if that house was still there and it was, it was all boarded up with a condemned sticker on it.

  17. Cool pictures! I went to college nearby (ish), and we made a short documentary in 2007 about abandoned places based around Chippewa Lake. It was super fun to shoot - a lot more stuff was up because no one had quite yet taken ownership yet, and we got a ton of good shots, even though we were constantly worried about being caught trespassing. Also got to talk to a lot of locals about the place. It wasn't the best documentary by any means but it was really fun to shoot especially the ferris wheel, the coaster and some of the graffitti.

    Also I saw they later filmed a real horror movie there (Though it's rated pretty badly). I've always wanted to watch it because I saw the trailer somewhere and some of their shots mimiced ours/brought back cool memories.