Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Blast From The Past - LeSourdsville Lake's Screechin' Eagle

The amusement industry was and still is built on dreams. Edgar Streifthau was a one of those dreamers. Streifthau’s dream was to convert an old ice manufacturing plant into a nice place for families to picnic and swim. Construction on this big dream began in 1921, with Streifthau and his partner Bill Rothfuss building a bathhouse, a restaurant, dance hall and pouring a concrete bottom for the man-made lake. A bridge spanning the abandoned Miami-Erie Canal was built so patrons would have access to the parking lot.

The dream came to fruition when LeSourdsville Lake Amusement Park in Middletown, Ohio opened for business on May 8, 1922. Admission was a dime, taking a swim was an extra quarter and for those who liked to dance, a jitney was 10 cents (per couple.) The park was an immediate success attracting thousands of area residents in it's opening year. The next year the first of several lake-front cabins was constructed, as well as some wooden platforms for tent camping. Bill Rothfuss moved on to other ventures and Edgar welcomed his brother, Ernest as his new partner. By 1924, LeSourdsville Lake had stopped hosting dances, due to numerous regularly occurring fights.

Meanwhile in nearby Zanesville Ohio, Moxahala Amusement Park opened a new wooden coaster designed by John Miller, the Thunderbolt on June 21st, 1928.

Despite the Great Depression, the park continued to expand, the first office building was built, the bathhouse was expanded; a new parking lot was installed and over a thousand tons of white sand was used to create a beach for the lake. The cost of admission and food was lowered and employee wages were cut.

Just before the start of the 1934 season the bathhouse was destroyed by a fire. Desperate to get the bathhouse rebuilt before the park opened Don Dazey was hired to do the construction and the bathhouse opened with the park on May 30th. Dazey, who brought in as a partner, also built the Stardust Gardens after convincing Streifthau that dances could be successful, without the fighting. Dazey also solicited area companies to hold their picnics at LeSourdsville, beginning a tradition that continued until the park closed.

In 1939, Moxahala Amusement Park decided to retire the Thunderbolt and Streifthau purchased the ride for $35,000. The coaster was rebuilt and named "The Cyclone." In 1947, two stream-lined trains were purchased for the Cyclone

The 1950s ushered in some changes for LeSourdsville Lake, with Disneyland opening in 1955 and closer to LeSourdsville, in 1957 Cedar Point was undertaking a multi-million dollar renovation in an attempt to become the "Disneyland of the Midwest." And, in 1959 Don Dazey died and Streifthau was lost without him. Dazey was the face of the park, while Streifthau was more comfortable behind the scenes.

In 1961 was the parks 40th Anniversary and there were some big changes. Howard Berni and Frank Murru bought the park for $550,000 and one of the many changes was the Cyclone was renamed Space Rocket.

The parked prospered during the mid 1970s, with attendance nearing 600,000. And, even the 1972 opening of nearby Kings Island didn't worry Howard Berni. He was quoted in a local paper, wishing Kings Island luck and saying, "We aren't going to fade away. They have the worries, not us."

In 1977 Space Rocket became Screechin' Eagle and in 1978, the name of the park was changed to Americana Amusement Park; the Great American Amusement Park.

The park went through another series of owners over the years, including Howard Berni and Frank Murru, who been concessionaires at Cedar Point, A group of former park managers Joe Faggionato, Guy Sutton, Lenny Gottstein and Don Robison formed Leisure International, Park River Corp., owner of Coney Island Ohio and Jerry Couch.

In April 2002, the Pugh Family, who formerly owned carnivals, founded the LeSourdsville Group and were hired to manage the park for the 2002 season. The name of the park was changed to "The Great American Amusement Park at LeSourdsville Lake." Over $3 million in improvements were made including the addition of 10 new rides. They included a fun house, a swinging pirate ship, a kids bumper car ride, the Zipper, the Music Express and the Tip-Top Tea Cup Ride. The adult bumper car ride was removed due to mechanical problems.

Custom Coasters International was brought in to repair and update the Screechin Eagle and many other rides had thier safety systems improved. The park opened on June 5, with the parks name changed back again to "LeSourdsville Lake." It was stated that the name change was due to the fact that "that's how people remember it." Actually, the name was changed due to the Great American Financial Company, owners of Cincinnati's Coney Island, threatening the legal action against the park.

The park operated Thursdays through Sundays, with the park packed on Saturdays and Sundays. After experiencing a successful summer, the park unexpectedly closed a week earlier than planned and announced that it was looking for a new management company to operate the park for 2003. Plans for a Halloween event were cancelled and the Pugh management team filed for bankruptcy.

The park has been closed ever since and for a time there was hope it would reopen and the Screechin Eagle would run again. However a recent rumor is that the Screechin Eagle will soon be demolished. Personally, I don't like the thought of losing yet another classic woodie, but there are already so many just rotting away that I don't think will the Screechin Eagle has much of a chance of ever running again.