Midway Park opened in 1898, making it one of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the United States. The Jamestown and Lake Erie Railway built the park as a means of attracting more customers to use its trolleys for transportation. The park featured tennis courts, playing fields, and a dance hall. A large pavilion was added by new owners in 1915. The park changed hands a few times between the 1920s and the 1950s and underwent expansions and updates each time. The Walsh family took over Midway in the 1950s and operated it until the mid-2000s when they sold it to the State of New York. Today, guests can enjoy old and new rides, an arcade, and a museum and gift shop at Midway State Park.
When the Jamestown and Lake Erie
Railway decided to invest in an amusement park, they chose a seventeen-acre
plot of land known as “Midway,” so-called because it featured a dock midway
between two of a local steamship company’s stops. The park held its grand
opening on July 12, 1898. The railway soon acquired the Chautauqua Steamship Company
and expanded the dock to allow more visitors to arrive at the park via steamship.
Two years later, the Chautauqua Lake Navigation Company took over the Jamestown
and Erie Railway and with it, Midway Park. The new owner built a 40,000-foot pavilion
with space for a dance hall, roller-skating rink, kitchen, bathhouse, and
games. The company also commissioned the construction of the Jack Rabbit wooden
roller coaster and later a carousel in 1928.
In 1934, the hard times of the
Great Depression led the Chautauqua Lake Navigation Company to lease the park
to Thomas Carr, who began renovations. Carr had to deal with an ice flow on the
lake that destroyed the big dock as well as the deterioration of the Jack
Rabbit ride. Despite early setbacks, he purchased the park in 1939. Carr died
in the late 1940s, and his family sold the property to brothers Martin and
Frank Walsh. The Walshes added many rides to the park in the 1950s, including those
aimed at kids, such as handcars, a kiddie coaster, mini-train, and Roto-Whip.
Expansion continued into the 1960s,
with the replacement of the Ferris wheel by a larger one and the additions of a
Tilto-Whirl and Scrambler. But, like many other amusement parks in the latter part
of the twentieth century, Midway Park had to deal with declining attendance. In
the 1980s, Martin Walsh’s son and daughter-in-law Michael and Janis became the
managers. They helped Midway keep afloat by expanding further. Midway became
one of the first parks in the country to install a Dragon coaster, a compact
coaster with self-propelled trains, in 1985. Updates were done on the bumper
cars in 1995, the arcade in 1997, and other rides in 1998. To celebrate the new
century, the Tidal Wave ride was built in 2000. Since then, the Walshes have
retired, but they secured Midway’s future by selling it to the state of New
York in the mid-2000s.