Summer Memories: Sylvan Beach Amusement Park
Today we are going to go back in time. To a place that doesn’t really fit into the high-tech big attractions of today. This place is almost a sanctuary where you can forget about the problems of today and go back into a time when it was much simpler. The Sylvan Beach Amusement Park in Upstate New York is one of those places that didn’t change with the time and stayed classic like it was when it was first built. It’s a place that has all the trademarks of a classic amusement park, like the rides, the games, the food, and the atmosphere. Sylvan Beach was a big part of my childhood and is still a place I visit from time to time. Now I would like to give you a history, some memories, and a tour through this great amusement park.
The park dates back into the 1880’s and it was a great getaway place during the summer to forget the cold winters earlier in the year. The park is very close to a beach where people could swim, boat, cook out, and have a fun time. At the time the amusement park was closer to the beach and featured a huge wooden roller coaster and a big funhouse. Years later, the wooden roller coaster was gone and the funhouse was burned down in a fire, but the park survived. It moved a little ways from the beach and more closer to the road. Still walking distance from the beach, many of the rides still there at the park, such as the original carousel that was made in the 1890’s. A much smaller roller coaster was built and later on in 1954 another funhouse was built called Laffland, which remains a favorite of mine.
My first memories of the place go back as far as I could remember. I was very fortunate to have these fantastic places where I go to as a kid. Who needed Disney World when I had The Enchanted Forest in Old Forge or Storytown in Lake George. Then only a half hour away was The Sylvan Beach Amusement Park. It wasn’t as big as Enchanted Forest or Storytown, but the great thing about it was it was a park that was a part of the town. It wasn’t a park that you had to pay admission for to see the place. It was right out in the open with all the other shops, restaurants, and motels. It even dated further back than the two other parks that I mentioned and the park opened earlier in the year and closed later.
Throughout my many trips to the park in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, I can remember the anticipation of riding in the car waiting to get there. You had to go through a long stretch of country road then go up a hill and soon after that you would be there. I remember driving down the road I can see the park almost emerge in front of my very eyes. As a kid the sight of it was great and I would see down below all the rides and the Laffland building that had two huge cardboard clowns on top of it. It was almost the same feeling when I was going to Enchanted Forest and I could see the place coming up from down the road, just the excitement of seeing this fun place and knowing it was going to be a good day.
Once you are at the park and even in the small town you feel as if you went back into time. I recently visited Sylvan Beach and I must say it still captures that feeling. The place is timeless and like many other towns in Upstate New York has that look and feel of the 1950’s, 40’s, or even further back in time. As you walk through the place you can hear the laughs of the children, you hear the roars of all the rides and the screams coming from the people on them, you smell the great food that you get at festivals and fairs, you also smell the beach that’s right around the corner, and the sights you see of the rides, games, and all the other fun stuff you have at your finger tips.
Going through the many wonderful aspects of the park, I would like to mention some of the things that stood out to me throughout the years. First off, the rides of the amusement park, which there is a wide variety of them. They have tons of classic rides such as a roller coaster, Ferris wheel, the bumper cars, the scrambler, the round-up, the tilt-a-whirl, and of course the classic carousel. The roller coaster I didn’t go on until I was older and I remember it being very scarier at first. It wasn’t a monster roller coaster like the ones in fun parks all over the world and it didn’t go high up in the air or upside down, it was a simple roller coaster, but it was very old and when you rode the ride it felt like it was going to come off the tracks with every twist and turn that it did. Plus, you’re not in a harness like other coasters and what they have is just a bar that goes across you. The ride was very fast for a small coaster and although scarier at first it was a lot of fun. I almost went on it the last time I visited there, but decided not to, thinking I thought it was old back then and now it’s even older, I still feared that once it made those sharp turns it was going to go off its track, so I passed on it.
The classic carousel I’ve always liked and it’s still in good condition after over a hundred years. The carousel is inside a small building and surrounding the carousel are arcade games. One of the favorite things in the park is playing the old video games. Now here is a section that is more for my generation. During the video game craze of the 80’s, the park installed a number of popular video games. These classic games are still at the park today with a few new ones added. I remember even in the 90’s being glad that classic games like Pac-Man, Frogger, and Space Invaders were still on display and still only a quarter at the time. I have many fond memories of playing those classic games at the park.
Video games weren’t the only cool games they had at the park. They were two other buildings that had video games and other games such as pinball machines, skeet ball, and many others. Playland and Treasureland were the name of the two places that housed these games. Playland had more non-video games than Treasureland did from what I remember. Also, in the Treasureland building as well as the carousel building was the old lady fortuneteller machine, kind of like the one from the movie, Big. I just remember it being very creepy. They were also a row of carnival style games about a half a block long where you can win prizes.
Now on to my favorite part of Sylvan Beach is the Laffland funhouse. This was your traditional style funhouse where you get in the cart and it brings you through twist and turns in darkness with scary things popping out at you. Laffland is the best ride and I always ride it when I’m there. As I mentioned before, the funhouse had two clowns on top of the building and clowns are always scary. Also on the front of the building and right where the carts were they had other cardboard cutouts, like a devil and a headless skeleton holding his skull in his hand. I have always wanted those cool creepy cutouts. They also had a number of bat cutouts all over the front of the funhouse.
When entering the Laffland, it’s pitch dark and all you hear are strange noises like glass crashing, screams, and devilish laughter. You then start to see quick flashes of light when the scary stuff would pop out at you. Most of the scares were just cardboard figures, creepy paintings on the wall, and plastic monsters. Although the ride was very simple and the scares in the house seem very tame, it still is very eerie and scary going through it. These images of these cheap scares make the Laffland much more fun. Also, the quick flash of these creepy creatures appearing making it more frightening because it’s very quick and you’re left wondering what did I just see and then more start to appear faster and faster. I have many great memories of the Laffland and I also remember when I was a teenager and first was getting into horror movies and started writing some short horror stories, I thought that The Sylvan Beach Amusement Park would be a great setting for a horror movie, especially at Laffland. A Carnival of Souls type of movie would be prefect there.
There are also other fun things to do at Sylvan Beach besides the amusement park. During the spring, summer, and fall the place is always having festivals and flea markets. One of their popular events in the summer is their classic car show. You can also just go to the beach or take a boat out on the lake. During the mid-90’s when I would come home for summer break from being away at college, my friends and I would go to the beach, bring some music, drink some beers, go swimming, and have a good time.
The Sylvan Beach Amusement Park has been around for over a hundred and thirty years and it’s still going strong. The place hasn’t lost its magic and continues to be a big attraction in Upstate New York. I have many great memories of the place from a little kid all the way until an adult. The place is fun for all ages and is a treasure for the great state of New York. So, if you’re ever in that area, stop by Sylvan Beach and take a scroll through the park, or grab a bite to eat in one of their restaurants, or go check out the beach. I hope the place never changes and I hope it still stands for decades to come.