My Town Monday Cincinnati – Old Coney Island

Lots of cities have a Coney Island, New York’s, of course, the most famous. And a lot of cities boast chili-covered hot dogs named for the local park so named. In Cincinnati, the Coney is naturally covered with Cincinnati-style chili. And the park?

Coney Island

Coney Island

Old Coney was once one of the grand dames of American amusement parks. It began in 1867 when the owner of an apple orchard noticed he was making more money renting out parts of his land to tourists than he was off of apples. He built a dance hall, dining hall, and bowling alley. Thus began “Ohio Grove.” In the 1880’s, a pair of steamship operators purchased the site and renamed it “Ohio Grove, the Coney Island of the West.” Never mind that Ohio had not been anything resembling the West since about the end of the Civil War.

Eventually, they began building coasters and other rides on the site. For a time, Coney Island (“Ohio Grove” was eventually dropped from the name) became a go-to park for coaster freaks. Over time, it became as big as its northern Lake Erie rival Cedar Point and had, as it does today, the added attraction of nearby River Downs for horse racing.

Coney, however, was doomed in the era of the Interstate. Though the park sits directly next to the I-275 interchange with US-52, it also sits on the Ohio River. Flooding is a frequent problem for the park. Because of this, park ownership pulled up stakes in the late 1960’s and opened a new, bigger amusement park north of the city, the more famous Kings Island. Coney closed in 1970, and it looked like it would close for good. Ownership even donated the site of its largest coaster for construction of Riverbend Music Center. But…

Redeveloping the site became a low priority, and new ownership reopened the park in 1973. Though a shadow of its former self, Coney remains a popular summer destination for the local population. Not nearly as crowded as King’s Island, the park has kept up much better than most other parks of its size and age. While Cedar Point and Kings Island have become behemoth magnets for national tourists, smaller parks such as LeSourdsville Lake (Americana, in its waning days), Geauga Lake, and Chippewa Lake, the latter two near Cleveland, have disappeared or sit idle.

Coney remains popular partly because of Sunlite Pool, the world’s largest recirculating pool, and attracting traveling shows such as a shark exhibit back in 2000 and Cirque du Soleil in 2011. Flooding remains a problem, but to build flood walls would take away from Coney’s biggest attraction – the muddy Ohio River that forms the park’s border.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

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