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Abandoned Geauga Lake, Ohio, once the largest theme park in the world

Petar Djajkovski

Geauga Lake was known in the 19th century as Picnic Lake. The area was home to early settlers of Ohio, including the notable Sullivan Giles, who chose this place to build his log cabin, and later, a larger timber frame home.

The place was thereafter referred to as Giles Pond. Giles also established picnic grounds and built a dance hall and other entertainment cabins in the vicinity, for “all-day pleasure of visitors and residents.”

This paved the way for the great and successful pleasure ride park named Geauga Lake.

Entrace to Geauga Lake & Wildwater Kingdom, 2005 – Author: Chris Hagerman – CC BY-SA 3.0

Entrace to Geauga Lake & Wildwater Kingdom, 2005 – Author: Chris Hagerman – CC BY-SA 3.0

The park and lake were officially opened for picnics and swimming in 1872. Newspapers of the day had nothing but praise for the establishment of Mr. Giles.

He continued to work on the area, adding a hall of considerable size near the lake. A great steamboat circled the lake, dragging a wide scow behind it that had a dance floor on top.

Many people passed through, and the lake became a popular place for relaxation and entertainment.

The grounds were well-maintained, and the papers continued to publish glowing reports, writing in 1880, “…without exception, this is the most charming place to spend a leisure day.”

In 1925, the largest wooden roller coaster of the time was erected in the park. Known as the Big Dipper, the ride was 2,800 ft long and 65 ft high.

Big Dipper from across the lake – Author: IronGargoyle – CC BY-SA 3.0

Big Dipper from across the lake – Author: IronGargoyle – CC BY-SA 3.0

The park changed owners many times over the years. It was first bought by Funtime Incorporated in 1969, though few changes were made and the main attractions continued to be swimming and water rides.

But Funtime soon added to the grounds, constructing big rides and even bigger roller coasters. By the end of their period of ownership the park had more than 30 rides, the most notable including the Skyscraper, Double Loop, Raging Wolf Bobs, Mind Eraser, and Grizzly Run.

View of Thunderhawk (yellow), Dominator (blue), and Raging Wolf Bobs (white) with the ferry boats (then unused) in the background in 2006 – Author: JonRidinger – CC BY 3.0

View of Thunderhawk (yellow), Dominator (blue), and Raging Wolf Bobs (white) with the ferry boats (then unused) in the background in 2006 – Author: JonRidinger – CC BY 3.0

In 2000, Geauga Lake was bought by Six Flags Ohio and received an additional $40 million expansion. Twenty new rides were introduced.

Road Runner Express (a junior roller coaster), Villain (a wooden roller coaster), Batman: Knight Flight (a floorless roller coaster), Superman.

Ultimate Escape (an inverted impulse roller coaster), Shipwreck Falls (a new shoot the chute ride), and a new pool with artificial waves in the water section of the park.

Six Flags also later purchased SeaWorld, on the other side of the lake, for $110 million. The merger of the two parks, Geauga Lake and Sea World, was an historic event.

Combined together, they formed the largest theme park in the world to this day.

One of the last standing rides, Ripcord, pictured in 2011 – Author: Jeremy Thompson – CC BY 2.0

One of the last standing rides, Ripcord, pictured in 2011 – Author: Jeremy Thompson – CC BY 2.0

Just four years after Six Flags became the owners of the park, financial difficulties arose. They sold it just before the summer season in 2004 to Cedar Fair, who closed down a large section of the park.

It was subsequently unbranded and the name returned to Geauga Lake. Cedar Fair decided to run the park only in summer seasons and keep it closed for the rest of the year. In summer 2007 it was opened once more, but it wasn’t long before rumors began to circulate.

The fate of the park was uncertain. Some rumors claimed it would be closed for good, some were more hopeful, and others proffered that only the lake would remain functioning.

All of the rumors were put to bed with the announcement that came on September 21, 2007. Cedar Fair announced permanent closure of all the rides in Geauga Lake, and the subsequent reopening under the name of Wildwater Kingdom, exclusively a water park.

What’s left of the Geauga Lake entrance, pictured in 2011 – Author: Jeremy Thompson – CC BY 2.0

What’s left of the Geauga Lake entrance, pictured in 2011 – Author: Jeremy Thompson – CC BY 2.0

On June 17, 2008, authorities decided to sell the entire park by the means of a public auction. Prior to the auction, a flood of customers arrived for one last visit.

The public auction was unsuccessful, and the park remained abandoned. In March 2013, Cedar Fair listed the property as for sale again, this time making it possible to buy smaller sections of the land.