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Boblo Island Amusement Park: closed after nearly 100 years

Nikola Petrovski
Photo Credit: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo Credit: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

By their very nature, amusement parks are places of fun, relaxation, excitement, and recreation. One such an example is Boblo Island Amusement Park initially opened on Bois Blanc Island in Ontario in 1898. For visitors based in Detroit, it was about 30 kilometers away and could be reached by ferry.

BOBLO Island poster. Author: el cajon yacht club CC BY 2.0

BOBLO Island poster. Author: el cajon yacht club CC BY 2.0

The SS Ste. Claire and the SS Columbia offered ferry services to all those wishing to travel to Boblo Island. These steamers are the oldest passenger steamers in the United States of America, currently anchored at the Great Lakes Steel Dock in Ecorse, Michigan.

Remains of the mini golf course. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

Remains of the mini golf course. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

These steamers could carry more than 2,000 passengers from Detroit to the island. Many years later, the ferries were sold but the service was continued by a number of different, smaller boats. Interestingly, the island’s history starts long before the amusement park was even planned.

Bois Blanc Island was where Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, a Native American warrior, decided to place his headquarters during the War of 1812. It was the site of a conflict in 1838 during the Upper Canadian Rebellion, where 50 attackers were locked in one of the three blockhouses that had been built on the island.

Abandoned building on the island. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

Abandoned building on the island. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

Only one blockhouse remains today. The island was also an important stop on the Underground Railroad to Canada, which worked to help escaped slaves leave the country. An estimated 30,000 people passed through the island on their way to freedom.

Part of the amusement park. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

Part of the amusement park. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

And then came the Boblo Island Amusement Park with its famous Screamer, Nightmare, and Wild Mouse rides, its zoo, and carousel. Visitors could travel between rides and attractions using a mini railroad. The amusement park was so famous in its day that Henry Ford himself provided money for a Dance Hall to be built, designed by the architect John Scott.

Abandoned building on the island. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

Abandoned building on the island. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

Once built, the dance hall was the second largest in the world, able to accommodate no less than 5,000 dancers. Plus it was a place where the 400-pipe, 4-meter high, self-playing orchestra was housed. Boblo Island Amusement Park had its own custom version of bumper cars, known as Boblo’s Scootaboats.

The lower part of the space needle. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

The lower part of the space needle. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

Over the years, the park began to decline and wane in popularity. In 1993, after nearly 100 years in the business of entertainment, it was decided that the park was to be closed.

No more bumper cars. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

No more bumper cars. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

The reasons for its closure were numerous, ranging from rising maintenance costs and poor management to stronger competition from the nearby, more attractive Cedar Point Park.

Barely visible remains of the park. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

Barely visible remains of the park. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

Though not all is lost. The Sky Streak Ride, for example, was moved to Selva Magica, a theme park in Mexico, and the Nightmare was initially moved to Six Flags Houston where it was known as the Mayan Mindbender, only to be moved once again to a theme park in Amarillo, Texas.

Decaying dock. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

Decaying dock. Author: Michael R Stoller Jr CC BY-ND 2.0

Today, 24 years after the park was closed and 118 years after its grand opening, little remains as a reminder of the island’s history. A private community is now being built on the island. The plan is to restructure the whole island and populate it with luxurious houses. The little that remains of the park is covered with vegetation or has been demolished.

Today the community on this island is known as the Marina Resort Community.