Random Terrain's Lakeside Lament
A mini-tribute to Lakeside Amusement Park (Salem, Virginia).
The first amusement park that I (Duane Alan Hahn) ever visited was Lakeside Amusement Park in Salem, Virginia, near Roanoke. Of the various amusement parks I've visited over the years, Lakeside was my favorite. All of my best memories revolve around that one place. I even lived behind Lakeside from November 1970 to March 1971 when I was a little kid.
I thought Lakeside would always be there, but a few years after I moved away, it was gone. Does anyone have a time machine? If you have any Lakeside pictures, pamphlets, or videos from the 1960s until the 1980s when it closed, please let me know and I'll add them to this page. And I don't care if your photos are faded. Please scan them in and upload them to a place like Flickr or Facebook, then please let me know about them. I have Paint Shop Pro, so I might be able to restore them somewhat.
Here is a video of the Shooting Star from swampfoxer at YouTube. I wish it had more shots of the park, but this is a great start:
Here is a video from cgoffpoet at YouTube. It's not very long, but it does show clips of various rides including the Spider, Cloud 9, and Flight Thru Space:
Below is a video from jjwheeler1 at YouTube:
If you have a video of Lakeside Amusement Park (Salem, Virginia), please upload it to YouTube and let me know about it so I can embed your video on this page. And remember, don't worry about the quality of your film or video. Every scrap of footage from Lakeside is precious. It doesn't matter if it's faded or the camera was shaky. Thanks for your help.
Lakeside: 65 Years of Thrills & Chills
by Mary Hill
The following 1996 article is used with permission from the Guide to Historic Salem, published by the Salem Museum & Historical Society. If you like the article, please send all praise to the Guide to Historic Salem since I didn't write it (Mary Hill did).
Seventy-six years ago, a cool breeze swept through the Roanoke Valley. Something new, something rare and magnificent, had arrived.
Country folk called it "a concrete lake;" marketers hailed it as "the world's largest swimming pool;" for years, it has been fondly remembered by young and old alike as "Lakeside."
On a Saturday morning in July, 1920, at the grounds of an apple orchard just outside Salem, a man-made "lake" 300 feet long and 125 feet wide was pumped full of water and opened to the public. People flocked from miles around in hopes of finding some relief from the summer heat, some camaraderie with friends and neighbors, possibly some tid-bit to gossip about.
The Salem Times Register reported upon Lakeside's opening that "thousands of visitors journeyed to Conehurst, about one mile east of the corporate limits of Salem and took their initial swim of the season in what is said to be one of the largest inland lakes in the United States.... [S]treet cars from Salem and Roanoke were filled to overflowing all the afternoon and far into the evening with pleasure-seekers. The main road running past the Lakeside Inn was almost completely blocked with automobiles for a distance of nearly half a mile on either side of the swimming pool."
Efforts were taken to create a lake-like effect at the pool—including a boardwalk and "sand covered beach." A pump which could furnish the "lake" with 20,000 gallons of water every hour was used to "guarantee a fresh and continuous supply of water." Every modern convenience was introduced: electric lights illuminated the entire grounds; a spacious pavilion hosted a soda fountain, news stand, restaurant, and cloak rooms; and male and female bath houses were equipped with individual dressing compartments, lockers, and showers.
Such auspicious beginnings marked the dawn of 65 years of family entertainment in the heart of southwestern Virginia. The success of the pool soon generated a novel attraction: in 1923, Lakeside erected a wooden rollercoaster.
Known at various points as "The Thriller," "The Mountain Speedway," and "The Wildcat," Lakeside's first rollercoaster was a welcome addition. Eight thousand people braved its spine-tingling track in its first year—a number which increased steadily in its 40-some years of peaks and descents.
Roger Roberts, whose family owned Lakeside at one time, especially remembers one of those descents. In a newspaper interview several years ago, Roberts recalled a woman approaching him about her missing husband: "[She] said that her husband was on the [rollercoaster] when it started, but he wasn't on when it came back. She wanted to know where her husband was. After a little searching we found him hanging from one of the guide beams. He was drunk and he'd fallen out around a curve."
Mark and Holly Woodruff, on the other hand, intimately remember the ups as well as the downs of the rollercoaster which replaced the "Wildcat" in 1968. The young cousins rode the 4,000-plus feet of Lakeside's "Shooting Star" (claimed to be the largest in the world) 50 consecutive times in July, 1972. "We wanted to see if we could break a record," said 11-year-old Holly at the time. "We didn't know what the old record was but we thought 50 times would be enough."
Through the years, Lakeside added a slew of rides and attractions—including "Lindy" planes, the mini-train, the Whip, the Peanut, the carousel, a skating rink, the outdoor movie theater, bumper cars, the Spider, a game arcade, the Avalanche, the scrambler, and the music pavilion and dance hall. It seems everyone had a favorite: one was scarier, one faster, one brought luck, one brought love....
Fascination—an over-grown mechanical tic-tac-toe game—holds particular... well, fascination for one local family. Sonja Smith, who ran the game in the mid-1970s, would regularly sabotage the machine so that Danny Kane, who worked in the park's maintenance department, would have to come fix it for her. Sonja didn't break the game for spite. In fact, she was motivated by quite a different emotion: she wanted to see Danny more often. This year, Sonja and Danny celebrate their 20th anniversary.
World War II era newspaper advertisements reveal two drawbacks to life at Lakeside: drunkenness and segregation. Although drunkenness continued in some form or another up to the park's last days, segregation ended at Lakeside—at least in one respect—in 1964. While the park was integrated, Lakeside's swimming pool was converted into a "private club" for whites only; soon after, the pool closed altogether and was filled in to make more park space.
In all likelihood, Lakeside would have continued attracting customers, scaring them witless, and taking them for a ride for years to come, had not a series of misfortunes befallen the park. In the early 1980s, new owners found themselves in tax trouble and were forced to sell Lakeside to Mountain Park, Inc. The company spruced up the park with fresh paint, landscaping, fountains, games, rides, and more. All these efforts at rejuvenation, however, were quickly laid to waste when a devastating flood surged through the park in 1985.
Lakeside was left in shambles. The rollercoaster, bumper cars, skeet ball machines, miniature golf course, train tracks, arcade, and pavilion were all damaged or destroyed. Still, the company decided to recoup what they could, and modify the rest. The rollercoaster was repaired; the bumper cars and skeet ball machines were replaced; construction of a 250-seat theater to host professional marionette shows had been initiated; and a Treasure Island—with animals, giant family swings, and mazes—was in the works. There were even plans for several major rides to be added before the park re-opened in the spring of 1986.
That was when real tragedy struck. As crews were sprucing up the park for the summer crowd, a worker cutting weeds around the rollercoaster was hit and killed by a car of the Shooting Star during a test run.
The flood damage, coupled with a $1 million lawsuit issued by the family of the victim, and waning park attendance, was enough to force the owners' hand. On October 19, 1986, Lakeside Amusement Park closed for good.
A year later, a North Carolina park bought the rollercoaster and some of Lakeside's biggest rides. The dream that local enthusiasts could one day make a pilgrimage down to Emerald Point water park in Greensboro to take yet another turn on the Shooting Star, another spin on the Tilt-a-Whirl, however, was short-lived. Emerald Point had its own financial woes; it closed in 1991, before ever re-erecting the Roanoke Valley's Shooting Star. And "the largest rollercoaster in the world" was eventually sold as scrap wood to someone with plans to build a storage barn and bridge.
The land that once boasted amusements and extravaganzas of epic proportions was converted in 1988 into the Lakeside shopping mall.
It's hard to find someone who lived in the Roanoke Valley prior to 1986 who doesn't have some special recollection of Lakeside. The park has spawned generations of tall tales and summertime remembrances—whether it's losing your lunch on the Tilt-a-Whirl or finding a husband at the Fascination game. Although bigger, more elaborate amusement parks were springing up all over Virginia, Lakeside was, to its very last days, a place for fun and memories—a place the Roanoke Valley could depend on for a little relief from the harsh summer heat, a little camaraderie with neighbors and friends, and a little bit of gossip for the weeks to come.