December 1992

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Memories of

Roseland Park

Canandaigua, New York


Richard F. Palmer

Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer

Of all the childhood memories of growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, the visits we frequently made to Roseland Park in Canandaigua are among the most pleasant. To us, Roseland was an airy place along the tree-shaded shoreline of the lake where "us kids" were free to do what we wanted and ride until our hearts were content on the carousel, bumper cars, airplanes, and miniature train. We could also spend our nickels and dimes in the "spook house," the penny arcade, or on an array of other amusements.

I can't recall when I first saw Roseland, but I believe it was in the mid 40s, after World War II, when gas rationing was lifted. We didn't do much traveling until 1946, and then on a very conservative itinerary compared with what we would do today—especially in a 1937 Ford!

We lived in nearby Palmyra and we ususally came over to Roseland two or three times each summer. In those days there was also a free theater act, the open air theater actually being out in the lake, where a wide variety of acts and musical shows were held.

Some say that Roseland was the first and only amusement park in the Finger Lakes. This is not true. In the early 1900s the trolley companies established similar parks—near Seneca Falls, on Cayuga lake; and at the north end of Owasco Lake near Auburn (today's Emerson Park).

However, these parks were essentially gone by the time Roseland was developed in 1925-26. Some remnants of what was originally called Enna Jettick Park at Auburn continued to exist into the 1960s, but it eventually became a county park, primarily for picnicing and bathing.

But unlike these parks, Roseland was built along Routes 5 and 20 to take advantage of the growing automobile trade. It was never served by trolley lines. Roseland became the legendary host to generations of tourists and area residents seeking summer fun and a respite from the heat.

Closed at the end of the summer season in 1985, after 60 years of operation, the amusement park next to the lake became closely identified with this area and helped build its reputation as a tourist haven.

Fortunately, Roseland hasn't been gone so long that it has been forgotten. Both young and old alike reminisce about the good times they had at the park, and in fact, the Ontario County Historical Society plans to publish a book on the subject if sufficient funds can be raised. Written by Lynda Hotra, a research consultant for the Society, based in Canandaigua, the book will contain many photographs, both color and black and white. The only stumbling block is raising some $60,000 to have the book published.

A 15-minute video taken on the last day of the park's operation is available for $15 from Timothy Wagner, WEX Studio, 58 Wex Ave., Buffalo, N.Y. 14211.

"Roseland may well have been the first amusement park built that was not accessible by public transportation," Hotra said. "It was built as an automobile park. The owners were banking on the fact that the automobile would become the primary means of transportation."

Many people still have the image of concession workers leaning against a counter top with a sign in the background advertising strawberry shortcake for 20 cents. Or riding on the outside horses on the carousel trying to reach for the brass ring for a free ride. For a later generation there was the roller coaster called the "Skyliner," the Yo Yo, Tilt-a-Whirl and Flying Bobs. In "our day" there weren't such exotic rides, but I recall we had as much fun on the bumper cars, train ride and the rocket or airplane ride. Also, in later years, there was a chair lift over the water.

Roseland was built on the dreams of William Muar of Rochester, on an 8-acre parcel. It was originally called Lakeside Amusement Park and consisted of only one building—an old slaughterhouse.

Eventually, Muar's $34,000 investment was renamed Roseland Park and grew to include a dance hall, hotdog stand and gasoline station. Muar used commissions from the rides that were brought in each summer to eventually buy his own equipment, including the famed carousel in 1942, which came from the defunct Long Branch Park on Onondaga Lake near Syracuse.

"The first years were very hard," Hotra said, pointing to the Depression and government gasoline rationing during World War II. But despite this difficulty, Muar continued adding to the park, filling the marshland across the road to create more space. A miniature golf course was also built. Other rides included a Ferris Wheel, Loop-the-Loop, and assorted kiddie rides. Muar began purchasing his own rides in 1935, rather than depending on concessionaires.

In partnership with George W. Long of Seabreeze Amusement Park, the last carousel was brought to the park. It was originally built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1909. Today, it is the centerpiece of the Carousel Mall in Syracuse, beautifully restored and continuing to be enjoyed by thousands of people. This partnership was also responsible for building the Crazy House dark ride, predecessor of the latter-day and highly popular Gold Nugget.

One other concessionaire active during this time was Mickey Hughes, who operated several rides at Roseland for three years. He then moved the rides to Toronto, and the Canadian National Exhibition.

Systematically, Muar added 25 more acres to the original site, reclaiming swampland, and developing much of the land into a scenic family playground. In 1945, he convinced Jackson and Perkins, the famous rose bush purveyors of nearby Newark, to plant a rose garden on the property. A one-and -a-half-mile-long miniature train ride was built to convey visitors through and around the plantings. Although some have said this train only operated through the end of the 1947 season, I recall either this or a similar one was in operation much longer, across the road, which was developed later. For a couple of years, in the 1960s, the Pageant of Steam was held here before the New York State Steam Engine Association purchased its own property off Routes 5 and 20 east of Canandaigua.

Bumper cars were added in 1938 and by the time the park closed in 1985, it was on its third set of cars. Many of the older cars were later converted into flower boxes. Before the days of the more exotic rides, the bumper cars were perhaps the most popular ride. it was always an ideal place for people to work out their frustrations, by banging into each other.

Roseland's wooden roller coaster, called the Skyliner, was built as a result of a partnership between C. James Miller, a concessionaire, and the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. Erected in 1960, it was operated by Miller. John Allen designed the ride, a modified figure 8 with the entire trackage dog-legged in the middle to fit an L-shaped parcel of land. The first "hill" had a 65-foot drop, and the track was about 2,500 feet long.

The park was sold in December, 1961. William Muar and his two daughters, Evelyn Muar Walsh and Ruth Muar Colvin, sold the park to Boyce-Canandaigua, Inc., a corporation owned by Lester and Richard Boyce, Canandaigua trucking and real estate executives. The purchase price was $900,000 and included the park and the former rose garden property, or a total of 55 acres.

Managed by Richard Boyce, the park constantly added or replaced rides and attractions to try and keep up with the times. A chair lift, called the "Satellite," was added in 1963 and carried riders up and over a portion of the lake. The "Flying Bobs" were added in 1968, purchased from the Allen Herschell Company of North Tonawanda, a firm once known for its carousels.

In 1971, the "Crazy House" was completely renovated and re-themed as the "Gold Nugget." The "Paratrooper" and antique autos were added in the mid-1970s. The Ferris Wheel was replaced by a "Yo-Yo" ride in 1978 and a water slide, Crazy Splash," was added in 1981. A new thrill ride the "Dragon," was about the last new attraction added to the midway in 1984.

Both owners over the years were dedicated to running a clean, wholesome, family-type operation, endeavoring to avoid the stereotype carnival atmosphere. But rising expenses, especially liability insurance and a desire to dispose of the valuable lakefront property for condominium development, prompted the Boyces to close the facility forever, on Labor Day, September 2, 1985. Two weeks later, on September 16th, a park-wide auction was held.

Both before and after Roseland closed, there had been much concern over the fate of the carousel which had been a fixture at the park for 43 years. There was a local effort in Canandaigua to try and keep the ride intact there, but fundraising fell short. What was raised was eventually turned over to the Ontario County Historical Society to be applied towards the cost of an exhibit and the proposed book on Roseland.

Usually there is an attempt at carousel auctions to keep the ride intact. After each piece has been sold individually to the highest bidders at the sale, the auctioneers total up all the final bids and add 20 percent to the total. The entire carousel is then offered up for bid at this price.

There were several parties interested in preserving the carousel, including the Friends of Historic Onondaga Lake, a non-profit community group. They were interested because the Roseland carousel was located at Long Branch Amusement Park there between 1926 and 1941. That park closed in 1938. The Onondaga Lake group would have liked to have relocated the carousel next to the Salt Museum in Onondaga Lake Park, not far from the old Long Branch site. But raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a merry-go-round in tough economic times was out of the question, at least as far as local government was concerned. Roseland's carousel, the original Philadelphia Toboggan Company No. 18, manufactured in 1909, was bid off to the Pyramid Companies of Syracuse for a mere $397,500.

Each of the 42 horses were hand-carved by Leo Zoller, PTC's master carver. Mr. Zoller was paid $1000 for his work, but in contrast, one horse alone today is worth many times that amount. Before coming to Long Branch, this particular carousel was used at amusement parks in Louisville, Kentucky; Worcester, Mass.; and Erie, Pa. Prior to coming to Long Branch, it was sent back to the company for refurbishing. It was repaired and redecorated using the very bright, contrasting colors typical of that era. It served at Long Branch for 15 years.

After so many years of use, the carousel, although reasonably maintained over the long period, was pretty well time-worn. It took nearly two years to restore it to its original state. All the horses had to be stripped of their many coats of paint, then repaired, primed, repainted in their original 1909 colors, and varnished.

Every picture had to be professionally cleaned and restored, and new, wide-planked oak flooring was installed, along with all new brass poles and fixtures. No expense was spared in this restoration project. The mechanism was totally rebuilt, including re-casting the metal gears, joints and jumping poles. The entire carousel was then rewired with a new, modern up-to-code electrical system, and its hundreds of lights were replaced.

The band organ, which was barely operable, had to be completely taken apart and overhauled. New components had to be created, lost connections replaced, and the complicated instrument had to be tuned. A new center-housing enclosure for the band organ, the center pole, and the motor was built, then decorated with mirrors, flowers and gold leaf—all the work being done by hand.

It was a painstaking project, but what resulted was a carousel as it originally appeared in 1909. In all respects it is an authentic restoration of American folk art and continues today to bring joy and laughter to men, women, and children.

Although Roseland is gone, the memories remain—memories that have a way of surfacing occasionally—even more frequently as time goes on as we try to hang on to the past. This author for instance, recalls Roseland's "Gravel Gertie" especially, which was a mannequin in the form of a fat woman who shook and was in a fit of constant laughter.

People would just stand in front of the fun house and she would start people laughing without much motivation. It's strange how such memories hang on—but simple things for simple minds, one might say.

© 1992, Richard F. Palmer
Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer
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