Summer Memories: Storytown USA
Growing up in Upstate New York was a fun time because of all the great theme parks and other attractions that surround the area. I have written before about these places on this very web site, such as The Enchanted Forest, The Baseball Hall of Fame, and The Sylvan Beach Amusement Park. Here’s yet another fun park that I grew up with and it grew up with me as well. This place was once called Storytown USA, which was a children’s theme park that featured nursery rhyme characters and kiddy rides (just liked Enchanted Forrest, but a little bit bigger). In the early to mid-80’s the park changed its name to The Great Escape and added rides geared to teens and adults, which were mostly thrill riding roller coasters. Even though the name and the focused changed, the magic of Storytown USA was still there.
Storytown USA first opened in 1954 in Queensbury, New York (the park is advertised being located in Lake George, which is next to the small town of Queensbury) and was started by Charles Wood. The place started with a nursery rhyme theme with many different displays of your favorite characters throughout the park, which were painted statues of the characters. They were also plenty of children’s rides all around the theme park. In 1957, Storytown opened its Ghosttown section, which was a replica of an old western town. Three years after that in 1960, they built a Jungleland section and years after that in 1967 they created an Alice in Wonderland walk through adventure area. Storytown was one of the many bright spots to a kid in the New York area.
Some of the nursery rhyme displays at the park. On the left; The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. On the right; Moby Dick.
My first memories of Storytown go back to the 1970’s. Lake George was about close to two hours away from where I lived, so trips to the park weren’t as frequent as other places like Enchanted Forest, which was just an hour north of me. I believe I use to go there every other summer, where my Enchanted Forrest trips were every year. I have always favored Enchanted Forest over the other parks, but Storytown was my second favorite. The park was pretty much like Enchanted Forest, with nursery rhyme characters and kiddy rides, but Storytown was much bigger and instead of the characters being displayed throughout the woods like they were at Enchanted Forest, they were displayed on the main streets of the park, kind of like Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The place was amazing and I always looked forward to going to the park.
Paying a visit to Storytown was a big deal growing up, since I didn’t go their every summer, when I went there it was very special. Lake George was also a beautiful part of the state. It had the same vibe as Old Forge, which is the town where Enchanted Forest is located. Lake George was nothing but, lakes, forests, great little shops for tourist along the main street, and great attractions. As a kid, it was great going through the park and looking at all the characters. Pretty much, what nursery rhyme characters Enchanted Forest didn’t have, Storytown did. The place had some memorable characters and ones that stood out to me were Jack and the Beanstalk, which was a very high beanstalk that had Jack climbing down and at the very top was the giant and you could just see his head and his big hands coming from the top of the beanstalk. Others were Little Miss Muffet, Three Men in a Tub, and Moby Dick, which was the huge whale sitting out of a small pond and you could walk inside his mouth and see Ahab inside of him.
Another favorite character, Jack and the Beanstalk.
Another character that stood out was The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. The display for that was this big yellow boot with a roof on top of it made to look like a house. The yellow boot house was actually the park’s trademark. Every time the place was advertised or merchandise was being sold the boot was used as their logo, just as Enchanted Forest used Paul Bunyan for theirs. The boot became the main staple for the park. Also the rides they had there for the kids were great, like the boat ride and the dragon train were big standouts.
My favorite parts of the park were Ghosttown and Jungleland, which were both scary at times as a kid. I remember the entrance to Jungleland was a big hut with huge gorilla on top of it. When you entered you had to follow this trail through the jungle. Right towards the beginning they would be this wooden native that would pop up from behind the brushes and would shout out something. That use to scare me when I first saw it. Walking through they would be fake lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, tigers, and other jungle animals. There was also a point where you walked across a bamboo bridge. Years later when I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the scene when they’re all walking across that long bridge at the end of the film reminding me of that bamboo bridge. Also, they use to play this jungle music with jungle sounds in the background when you walked through it. When I saw Dawn of the Dead for the first time in the late 80’s, the music that is played when Peter and Steven are in the gun shop in the mall reminded me of the music in Jungleland. Then towards the end of Jungleland, there was another big gorilla that seemed just as big as King Kong at the time. It would roar at you as you passed by it, which scared the hell out of me.
The Dragon Train at Storytown USA.
The Ghosttown was a very cool frontier village, which was basically a bigger version to what Enchanted Forest had in their park. It was set up with a saloon, jail, and other different buildings from the Wild West. They even use to put on a show where actors would go around shooting each other. One ride that I always remember is the train ride in Ghosttown. It was a great ride that would pass through a western setting with fake cactuses, mountains, and it had a scary cave that we went through they would have skeletons inside of it. That was the best part of the ride, even though it use to scare me when I was a kid, but every time I was there I had to ride it. Another ride they had was The Desperado Plunge, which was a water flume ride where you rode boats in the shape of logs and at the end you would plunge down a slope, like on a roller coaster, but when you get down the slope the boat would splash into water. The ride opened in the late 70’s and once I was old enough to ride it, that was another must go on when I attended the park.
By the 80’s the park would change its name and direction. In 1983, Storytown USA became The Great Escape Fun Park. Just as I was growing up, so was the park, which shifted its focus to young adults and families, instead of just kids. The park started to add more rides that adults would enjoy and they started off with a roller coaster called The Steamin’ Demon. Rides like these would pop up throughout the 80’s and 90’s as the park expanded. Although they did keep their nursery rhythm village, (which was called International Village and Storytown) Ghosttown, and Jungleland, so the park still had something for the kids, it just added things for the adults. The same thing happened with Enchanted Forest a few years after Storytown changed. They became a water park but still kept their name and just modified it to Enchanted Forest Water Safari. They also kept their nursery rhyme characters throughout the forest.
Through the rest of the 80’s and into the 90’s, I only went to the park a few times since it changed. I wasn’t big into roller coaster rides and preferred the water rides at Enchanted Forest, so I spent most of my time there as a teenager. In the beginning of the 90’s, I started to get brave and wanted to try out all these coasters. I went back to The Great Escape and finally went on The Steamin’ Demon and other wild rides they had there at the time. It was great and I had an awesome time on those rides. It was also fun to still check out the old Ghosttown and Jungleland and to stroll through the Storytown section of the park.
On the left; Jungleland. On the right; Ghosttown train.
Great Escape is not the only attraction that Lake George had. Along with boating, camping,
and other summer activities, Lake George had a number of fun places to go to. Gaslight Village was Vaudeville themed amusement park, which open in 1959 by the same owner of Storytown. The park featured many different Vaudeville type shows and also included standard amusement park rides. I believe I went there once with my family, but I don’t remember much of it. It was very close to Storytown and it was a park geared for adults just as Storytown was geared towards kids, so I guess it was a great place for parents to go to after a day with their kids at Storytown. Gaslight Village closed in 1989. Other places around Lake George were a wax museum that featured many classic movie stars. I remember a display of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and The Wolf Man that they had at the museum and like the big gorilla in Jungleland and the cave during the Ghosttown train ride it scared the hell out of me as well. I’m not sure if the museum is still around, but I hope it still is. Also, there was Fort William Henry, which was an 18th century British fort that is best known as the site of the a great battle between the Indians against British troops following a successful French siege, an event which is the focus of the novel and motion picture, The Last of the Mohicans. The fort I’ve been to a few times during my visits there and it’s a great sight to see.
Throughout the 90’s and into the 2000’s, Great Escape grew bigger and bigger. In 1995 they added a water park called Splashwater Kingdom. They also became a part of Six Flags and are now known as The Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom: A Six Flags Theme Park. The park continued to open more rides and attractions like, Looney Tunes National Park and The Wiggles World. It’s good to see the park growing after all these years and I’m also very happy to see it kept its classic attractions instead of shutting them down. It’s been almost twenty years since I’ve been to the park, but hopefully one of these days I’ll have to pay the wonderful Storytown USA a visit once again.