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Amusement Parks

Central Park Gardens Amusement Park

The Central Park Gardens Amusement Park at 3100 Auburn Street owned by Thomas Fay opened in August 1920. The formal grand opening occurred in June 1921 during the roaring 20's and quickly became a popular spot. The opening night at Central Park Gardens justified the claim that it had suddenly turned into the center of population. A crowd estimated at 25,000 people crowded every concession while hundreds of others stood in line to ride on the roller coaster and gain admission to the dance pavilion. The outdoor theater which had 3,000 seats was crowded and the rides were providing thrills for 700 persons per hour.

The airplane fliers were crowded and all of the refreshment stands were very busy. Even the tattoo man had a big night of business. The parade which preceded the opening extended two miles and gave downtown people some idea of the interest in the park which had been aroused by the extensive newspaper advertising, in the opening of Rockford's biggest amusement center.

The roller coaster "Thriller" was the featured attraction at Central Park Gardens, a sprawling wooden coaster and the length of the track was 3,400 feet and was said to be the largest Midwestern roller coaster outside of Chicago. Big band sounds and romantic melodies rang through the park on Friday and Saturday nights, with couples swinging to the beat of the latest hits of the 20's and 30's.

Another view of the entrance to Central Park Gardens Amusement Park

Central Park Gardens Amusement Park not only offered the giant roller coaster but other attractions as well such as a swimming pool, merry go round, an athletic field, picnic grounds, roller skating, the old mill, a fun house, Japanese Village, miniature railway, concerts, airplane rides a 15 car " dodgem ride" giant swings and other attractions.

The workers who constructed the giant roller coaster gathered around with saws and hammers in hand for this picture upon the completion of the project. One of the construction workers, Lloyd "Whitey" Roush would end up behind the controls of the massive coaster for much of the time it operated.

The electric lighting at the park was very elaborate. For miles around the park the reflection of the lights in the night sky guided the visitor and the roadways were lighted brightly. The illumination from the airplane swings and the big circle in  front of the outdoor theater rivaled anything ever seen at Coney Island or the World's Fair. Thousands of automobiles lined Auburn Street and hundreds were parked in the six blocks of free parking space surrounding the park on opening night. Arrangements were made for a street car line to run to the park which had a terminal at the park. The street cars would run down Furman Street from the School Street line. Fay Buses also served the park.

Baseball was another activity at Central Park Gardens.

Rockford again took its place in the radio field on June 23, 1924, when Central Park Gardens opened its new broadcasting station with a midnight revue program that aired from 10 to 12 o'clock. Harry Jones Royal Harmonics Orchestra were featured on the opening trial program, when the microphones were tried out for the first time at the local park. Members of the Miller and Vogel music revue broadcast several local numbers. The following day Cox's Collegian orchestra played dance music for radio fans and vocal solo numbers were interspersed during the program. The station broadcast a high-class grade of jazz music and popular vocal selections by well-known artists.

Central Park Gardens featured a 400 hundred foot midway. Carnival shows were changed weekly so interest would not lag. Carnival rides and park devices were purchased from a large amusement manufacturing concerns in Chicago. Coupons were given away with each admission ticket to the "Greatest Show on Earth", a carnival feature, and at the end of the show season a drawing contest was held and the lucky number was awarded a car.

Representative business firms of Rockford furnished the material for the construction of all buildings and amusement devices at the Central Park Gardens, particularly the gigantic new coaster.

 

Thousands of pounds of paint were furnished by the big paint and wallpaper establishment of W. S. Harper company for outside surfacing and decorative work on the buildings. The giant coaster absorbed a lot of this preservative against the ravages of the elements. The throngs that would visit Central Park Gardens would feel a sense of security against bad weather when they entered the buildings. The structures were well roofed with slate surface covering. The David Carlson roofing company roofed the buildings.

 

J Holmquist and Sons Lumber and Coal dealers who were located on Seventh Street, furnished the lumber for the buildings and giant coaster and all other lumber requirements necessary in the new work at Central Park Gardens.

 

Nothing but bolts would do. It would look nice to build a Ferris wheel or "Figure Eight" with nails only but the Rockford Bolt Works shot a bolt and rivet into every joint of the big toy that would rob it of all terror in the minds of coaster riders. That was the wise way.

 

Swords Brothers didn't do a thing to the Central Park Garden's buildings and premises. The firm supplied all the electrical equipment, plumbing, mill supply material, motors, the silent chain drive pulleys, wire cables, etc. The splendid illumination system was the Edison Mazdas and the  reflectors are Ivanhoe Regent, brilliant and powerful. Swords Brothers had contributed materially to the completion and perfection of Central Park Gardens.

 

The elaborate window posters around town announcing the opening of Central Park Gardens was another evidence of the handsome printing turned out by the Rockford Printing Company. Claude Dunlap, directed the typographical arrangement injected originality into his product which made it instructive and pleasing reading.

 

Smith Oil and Refining Company supplied tons of oil to the coaster and other machinery at the Gardens. The Smith company had five service stations and Rockford in 1920..

 

Rockford Electric Company was one of the greatest factors in the industrial and home life in amusements of the city. Electricity was the modern pathfinder to prosperity.

 

The lumber that entered into the giant coaster was shaped in the various purposes by woodworking machinery under the supervision of the Rockford Machinery Exchange, 524 Cedar Street. It was a big concern and dealt in new and rebuilt machinery.

Central Park subdivision was opened in phases over the years to capitalize on the success of the amusement park. That area of the city is still referred to as Central Park.

At the end of the 1920 season Central Park Gardens gave away a Dort touring car.

Charles O. Breining would take over ownership of the park around 1924. Some of Harlem Park's most popular rides were moved here in 1928 when that park was shuttered and demolished. In 1930 the hundred or more artisans of the trades completed their jobs of renewing, repainting and refreshing the spacious acres of the big Auburn Street Auburn Street, which for the past several years has beckoned Rockford's thousands to escape from workday cares and worries amid its dozens of rides, ballroom, concessions and its picnic grounds. A new flashing and brilliant electrical display had been installed at the Central Park Gardens entrance as one of the seasons innovations, and the entire park presented an entirely new aspect to patrons on opening night. A regulation size baseball diamond and bleachers furnished an excellent playing field for many local ball nines during the summer. The Pennsylvanians, superb 11 piece dance orchestra which scored a tremendous hit with Inglaterra ballroom patrons downtown over the winter, was the opening attraction in the beautiful Gardens Ballroom. The famous Central Park refreshment pavilion provided food for those who did not bring their picnic baskets and for dancers who find their appetite stimulated by the dancing. Both the ballroom and the giant roller coaster, the latter famous at the time as one of the greatest amusement park thriller rides in the state outside of Chicago, had undergone extensive remodeling and fresh coats of paint. Warm weather brought out the green grass and buds so that the landscape garden at Central Park was far ahead of schedule.

Central Park Gardens thrived for years but the Depression of the 1930's, rotting timbers on the giant roller coaster which led to the ride being discontinued and changing tastes would take it's toll on the attendance at the park. Central Park would remain in operation until 1942 when it was sold for more profitable commercial use. Many of the buildings were left standing although the majority of the other attractions were removed. A few years after the park closed flames leaped more than 100 feet in the air transforming the dark night into noonday brightness as fire destroyed the beer and refreshment building at the closed Central Park Gardens. The fire burned so rapidly that the roof of the large building collapsed before firemen arrived on the scene and within 15 minutes after a score of nearby residents had frantically telephoned the fire department, only the bare framework stood gauntly against the billows of smoke. The fact that there was virtually no wind kept the flames from spreading to the dance hall and other buildings at the park. Cause of the fire was not determined.

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