By Mary Heyl
There’s no better way to savor the final days of summer than visiting Midway State Park, one of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the country, located on beautiful Chautauqua Lake. Since 1898, Midway State Park has been a family destination for all kinds of fun, from thrilling rides to arcade games to swimming. Located at 4859 Route 430 in Bemus Point, Midway State Park is open daily now through Labor Day, and it’s certainly worth the drive.
Midway State Park was established by the Jamestown & Lake Erie Railway as a trolley park, where passengers could relax and picnic with their families. In 1898, a round-trip ticket from Jamestown or Mayville to Midway was just twenty-five cents, and visitors could enjoy bathing, boating, tennis, croquet, baseball, dancing and more! Now, Midway is one of only five trolley parks left in the country, and is the sixteenth oldest continually operating amusement park in the United States.
In the 1920s, the park reached the peak of its popularity, and was a destination for visitors from all over the area. In addition to swimming and bathing in the lake, Midway offered roller skating, a dance hall, games, and a carousel. The concession stand, which was built in 1915, still stands and serves its original purpose; this and several other buildings are included in the National Register of Historic Places, including the Lakeside Pavilion (1915), arcade (1930), carousel (1948), ice house (1900) and three pavilions (1900-1920).
In the 1950s, the Walsh family purchased the park, and Midway continued to thrive through the 20th century. The Walsh family’s relationship with the Allan Herschell Company in North Tonawanda resulted in the addition of a complete Herschell kiddyland of rides, and later “Dodgem” cars, a “Tilt-A-Whirl,” and a new carousel were installed. Today, the amusement rides, which remain a focal point of the park, include several of these original rides, as well as a dragon roller coaster, a large slide, bumper boats, go-karts, and more!
Since the park opened in 1898, several notable individuals have visited, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lucille Ball, and Jack Paar, former host of NBC’s The Tonight Show. At the close of the 2006 season, the park was transferred into the New York State Parks system, and it continues to offer a variety of amusement rides, arcade games, concessions, a museum, a gift shop and several picnic facilities.
The park is fondly remembered by many couples as the place where true love blossomed! In 2011, the Friends of Midway hosted a Midway Couples Reunion at the park, where couples in attendance shared their stories about meeting, dating, and roller skating at Midway Park in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Since 2010, Friends of Midway, a non-profit organization, has been dedicated to preserving and promoting the park, and is responsible for the completion of several projects.
During their first six years, Friends of Midway undertook the installation of the new Putt-a-Round mini golf course, the restoration of the miniature train, the restoration of the 1957 pony tractor vintage ride, and the full restoration of the 1946 Herschell Carousel roundhouse shelter and its horses. To learn more about the history of the park, visit www.friendsofmidwaystatepark.org.
The park is open from noon to 7 p.m. daily, but amusement rides and the arcade are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Play a round of miniature golf during the day or after hours: 7 to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 7 to 10 p.m. on weekends. Visitors can purchase tickets or wristbands to enjoy the rides; prices vary based on amount and age of visitor. For more details, call (716)386-3165 and be sure to follow Midway State Park on Facebook!