From its humble beginnings as a small recreational park, Geauga Lake became one of the Midwest's most popular theme parks by the late 20th century. Being owned by the two largest theme park companies, Cedar Fair and Six Flags, Geauga Lake went through many name changes and major additions over the years. Eventually, after years of steady decline in attendance and finances, the park closed its doors in September 2007.
Backstory and Context
Originally, Geauga Lake was a recreational park and picnic park, with the first year of organization being unknown. However, many can agree that the area was first established recreationally in the early to mid-1800s. Statewide recognition came in 1888 when a hotel, the Kent House, was built on the location. The first ride was a steam-powered carousel, along with a roller rink as another attraction. In 1925, under the leadership of William J. Kuhlman, the Skyrocket, a wooden 2,600-foot roller coaster made its debut. Geauga Lake grew even faster after nationally renowned swimmer, Jimmy Weissmuller, set a freestyle record on the property. In 1937, Geauga Lake bought the historic Marcus Ilion’s carousel to place on the site.
Adversity first occurred in 1952 when a huge fire caused $500,000 of damage to the bowling alley, roller rink, and the carousel's band organ. In 1968, Earl Gascoigne, Gaspar Lococo, and M.P. Jacobson, known for rebuilding Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, organized Funtime Inc and bought Geauga Lake. The men also went on to lease twenty-five acres to Sea World. The 1970s became the largest period of growth for the park, with a pay-once price being added in 1973 and the largest investment coming in 1977. The 1980s were marked with success as many new rides were built. To make room for their larger projects, the park removed some older and smaller rides. In 1998, Premier Parks, the later version of Funtime Inc, decided to buy and merge with other Six Flags parks, thus adding Geauga Lake to the long list of parks that comprised the nation's second-largest theme park company.
After the merger with Funtime, Inc, Six Flags renamed the park Six Flags Ohio and added several popular rides. One of these rides was Batman Knight Flight, the world's longest floorless roller coaster. In 2000, more record-breaking rides were added. In 2001, Six Flags purchased Seaworld for $110 million and combined the two parks. The name would be changed again to Six Flags Worlds of Adventure and would become the first to offer rides, water rides, and animals for a one-time price. The park flourished with attendance growing steadily year after year. However, rumors surfaced that Six Flags was in heavy debt. Additionally, park attendance began to decrease in 2003.
In March of 2004, Six Flags sold the park to Cedar Fair for $145 million. Cedar Fair went on to change the names of all the rides and revitalize the park by painting and replacing signage that displayed any references to the Six Flags organization. Following company policy, the animals were sent to other parks or facilities and ticket promises and prices were changed. Cedar Fair reopened the water park under the name of Wildwater Kingdom and sold it as the largest water park in the region. In 2006, management removed the most popular ride of the park, X-Flight. Amidst much local criticism, the ride was sent to Kings Island. The 2007 season, although shortened, became the busiest since the Six Flags ownership. However, financial issues resulted in the park deciding to close its doors permanently. All rides and attractions were sent to other locations.
Futrell, Jim. Hahner, Dave. Geauga Lake, Ohio: The Funtime Years 1969-1995. Arcadia Publishing SC, 2015.
Smolko, Tom. Taylor, Joe. Geauga Lake Sunrise to Sunset. Edition First. Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland Landmarks Press, Inc., 2014.