Decades before Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun, Kansas Cit and Independence had lots of amusement parks.
Before the days of televisions, computers, and air conditioners, the place to be on summer weekends were the city parks, and the area was loaded with them. Adair Park, Hill Park and Slover’s Park were the best in Independence. We would pack a picnic basket, a blanket, and grab the baseball gear and head out for a Sunday afternoon.
Beer gardens were popular back in our grandparent’s day, which were a bit more elaborate than city parks; they were loaded with gorgeous flower beds and plenty of beer, musical entertainment and dancing. The beer gardens were generally built and operated by the local breweries to promote the sale of their product.
The old Fairmount Amusement Park on U.S. 24 at Northern Avenue grew out of one such beer garden and went on to become the largest amusement park west of Chicago. The Fairmount Park was constructed by railroad magnate, Arthur Stilwell, to promote ridership on his Airline Railroad, which ran from Independence to Second and Grand, downtown Kansas City. Willard Winner built Washington Park, which was located where today’s Mount Washington Cemetery is, for the same reason; riders for his Winner Road rail line. In fact, amusement parks sprang up at the end of streetcar tracks all across the country.
While Fairmount was the largest in the area, the most famous amusement park had to be Electric Park in Kansas City. In the 1890s, the Heim Brothers built a brewery in the East bottoms, far outside the city core where the work force lived. The need to build a street car line from downtown to the brewery to provide access for their employees cost a whopping $96,000.
So, in 1900 Heim’s Beer opened Electric Park just north of the Brewery to provide traffic on their street car line. Electric Park was a combination beer garden and amusement park. It was located down Chestnut Traffic Way at Nicholson Avenue. While it was a tremendous success, it was under water during the great flood of 1903. Electric Park was rebuilt and added a few new attractions, but 1906 was its final year in the East bottoms. That same year, Heims purchased the grounds of the Kansas City Driving Park at 46th and Lydia (now The Paseo) for $51,500. Plans were announced for a new amusement park patterned after White City in Chicago.
The Natatorium, an indoor swimming pool at the old site was used for many years afterwards, but was closed in mid-summer 1943, because of the hoodlums. Opening day was Sunday, May 19, 1907, for the new park built on 28.7 acres. One of the major influences on Walt Disney’s life must have been the fabulous, new Electric Park, where he spent much of his youth; it was located just down the street from the house where he grew up. The amusement park buildings were all outlined with little white lights, much like Disneyland is today.
Electric Park closed following the 1925 season, because the automobile stole their business. Fairmount Park managed to operate through the summer of 1931, but closed because of the Great Depression, and there would be no other great amusement parks until the opening of Fairyland Park at 75th and Prospect following World War II. Fairyland was highly successful through the 50s and 60s, but fell victim to the new Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun, which are up-to-date modern world class amusement parks. Worlds of Fun was built in 1973, and Oceans of Fun a few years later.
Oh yeah, Slover’s Park vanished with the construction of the Truman Library, which was built on the park grounds.
Reference: Electric Park by Craig M. Bryan.
In cooperation with The Examiner, Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups. These informative and entertaining programs have been well received over the past number of years across Jackson, Cass and Clay counties.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send e-mail to teddystillwell @yahoo.com or call him at 816-252-9909.