Lost Columbus: Relive Buckeye Lake’s Heyday as an Amusement Park and Stop for Famous Bands
The Central Ohio waterfront tourist attraction also included dance pavilions, a beach and bath house, picnic facilities and a baseball park.
Buckeye Lake, about 30 miles east of Columbus, has a laid-back vibe with wide appeal. It never would have existed, though, but for the Ohio and Erie Canal that connected Cleveland to Portsmouth, Ohio. Using dams and levees in 1826, canal builders turned a swampy pond into the Licking Reservoir to supply the canal with water. In 1894, the General Assembly named the reservoir Buckeye Lake and designated it a public park; the canal was abandoned in 1913.
In 1904, the Columbus, Buckeye Lake & Newark interurban railroad completed a line from Downtown to the park and built tourist attractions to generate traffic. There were hotels and restaurants, and by 1911, the park’s 9 acres along the north shore also offered dance pavilions, boating, a beach and bath house, picnic facilities, and a baseball park.
The 1920s began the golden years, with the addition of a Ferris wheel and a spinning and twirling ride that likely made riders regret their hot dog lunches. In 1931, the Dips, a wooden roller coaster, offered a thrilling ride, and the park became the Buckeye Lake Amusement Park. The Wild Mouse was another ride, and there was a skating rink, too. By the 1940s, the park hosted up to 50,000 people daily who could cool down in the Crystal Pool (100 by 200 feet) and see famous bands at the Crystal Ballroom.
Alas, nothing lasts forever. Buckeye Lake became a state park in 1949, but by the 1950s, the amusement park began to lose its appeal as people found other diversions. Maintenance began to suffer, and various attractions were demolished. The Dips had a serious, nonfatal accident in 1958 and ceased operating; a storm blew it down in 1966. The park closed in 1970 after trying a new life as a country-and-western theme park.
Today, a single fountain, once a park centerpiece, survives in the state park’s parking lot. Fortunately, a visit to the Greater Buckeye Lake Historical Society’s museum, 4729 Walnut Road (State Route 79), will bring a lost era to life and is well worth visiting.
Sources: buckeyelakehistory.org, ohiohistorycentral.org, coasterpedia.net, hmdb.org (historical marker)
This story is from the May 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.