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Silver Beach Amusement Park History
Page 4    Page 5 of 6    Page 6

Click photos below
for expanded views

Ferris Wheel
Play Drome Arcade
Play Drome Arcade
The Velvet Rollercoaster
The Comet Rollercoaster
The Comet Rollercoaster
Louis Wallace died 7-5-1945
Logan Drake died 9-27-1947
Kiddieland Wooden Boat Ride
Kiddieland Wooden Boat Ride
Kiddieland Airplane Ride
Kiddieland Fire Engine Ride
Kiddieland Buggies Ride
Kiddieland Miniature Train Ride
The River Queen Excursion Boat
The Rock-O-Plane

During the war years two more attractions were added. The Ferris wheel, essential to every good amusement park today, was installed near the center of the park across from the midway. Two years later, it was moved to a more advantageous position parallel to the river. From the top of the Ferris wheel the rider could view the entire park to his left, Lake Michigan straight ahead, and the St. Joseph River and other Twin Cities beaches to the right. In 1945 a miniature diesel train called "The Century Flyer" was built. The one-mile track began across from the Fun House and traveled between the Midway and the beach, circled the parking lot, and returned back along a section of concessions. Though this five minute ride gained popularity by the mid-fifties, the growing problem of sand on the tracks and excessive repairs forced its removal.1

The 1940s also had its fair share of promotional gimmicks. In 1942 the park staged a Wild West Show in the back lot. Silver Beach Amusement Park also hosted strawberry festivals in June and even fireworks festivals on the fourth of July. Perhaps the biggest promotional gimmick was the origin of "Economy Night" during the 1945 season. Every Thursday night adults could enjoy any ride in the park for just 15 cents.2 Like the Kiddies Day policy initiated 20 years earlier, Economy Night remained with the park until it closed.

Terrill saw another possibility for improving the park. The old indoor heated swimming pool had begun to show its age, and needed constant upkeep and repair. And with the beach about a hundred yards away, it was infrequently used. The park already had a popular penny arcade, but Terrill believed that the arcade would pick up more business located closer to the park's center. So he filled in the pool, brought the portable machines from the old arcade, and bought a number of new machines to fill the larger building. The arcade was renamed the "Play Drome Arcade" : Image 1 / Image 2 and featured several pinball machines, rifle shooting games, candy machines, picture postcard machines, love-meters, miniature bowling games, and the like.

Terrill made another change, roller-skating had outlived its use as an amusement. Rarely was the rink more than one-third full, so it was replaced by the "Pretzel" ride, a haunted house ride, later renamed "Laff in the Dark". The individual sat in an open car and traveled on a track through a pair of old creaky doors into a world of darkness. As the car maneuvered over certain points in the track, haunting devices attempted to scare its occupants. At the end of the ride a realistic-looking six-foot Frankenstein monster hovered over the car, sometimes touching a rider.

By the late 1940s the park had assumed the look that would be its final face until it shut down three decades later. The Velvet Rollercoaster (later renamed "The Comet" : Image 1 / Image 2), Fun House, Mirror Maze, penny arcade, merry-go-round carousel, bumper cars, Laff in the Dark, Whip and many of the various concessions, all remained apart of the carnival atmosphere to the end.

Drake, Wallace and more recently Terrill, gave Silver Beach Amusement Park the fine reputation for excitement it held in the 1940s, but only Terrill could extend that reputation into the 1950s. Wallace, although not directly associated with the park anymore, died July 5th 1945, at the age of 80. Two years later, on September 27th 1947, the park's 83 year old co-founder, Logan Drake, died. In death, as in life, these two almost inseparatable lifelong friends and business partners were buried in the same section of St. Joseph's Lakeview Cemetery, a mere fifteen feet apart. With their deaths, Terrill and his wife Roberta, Drake's daughter, assumed full ownership as the park entered the 1950s.

By the 1950s, Silver Beach Amusement Park was well acquainted with the young people in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan areas. The parking lot was often filled with busses bringing students to the park for school outings, class picnics and field trips. Buses from as many as ten or twelve different schools clogged the parking lot daily.

Constantly searching for new ways to further expand the park, Terrill created "Kiddieland". The new section was an amusement center in itself, only smaller. Each ride was customized for children too small to enjoy the larger rides. Kiddieland consisted of a boat ride; wooden boats revolving on a turnstile in a pool of water; an airplane ride which was a smaller rendition of its predecessor; miniature merry-go-round carousels that not only had ponies, but cars, buggies and fire engines; and a miniature train on a very small track that was half the size of the one that ran a few years earlier. A "tyke size" fence and a welcome arch that spelled "Kiddieland" surrounded all of these rides.

Capitalizing on a new family fad, Drake added a miniature golf course in 1951. Located between Shadowland and the merry-go-round carousel, the course was a duplicate of the Vendei Hotel course at St. Petersburg, Florida, and consisted of 18 holes winding in and out of trees and shrubs, including a number of trick holes.3 Although the course was finely built and fun to play, it did not last very long. Compared to its faster counterparts, golf was just too slow a game to be profitable. The course was removed after approximately five years and a "guess your weight" station and a "ring the bell" strongman-type concession was added.

Lee Sies built the "River Queen" excursion boat in 1955. A 65-foot stern-wheeler riverboat, Sies operated it up the river from St. Joseph for 10 years on the St. Joseph River and for 5 years in Grand Haven.

In 1961 the favorite hobby among teenagers was the go-kart, a low-leveled frame vehicle independently steered and driven by a low horsepowered motor. Continuing its tradition of offering customers new and exciting entertainment, a 350-foot banked oval cement track was laid and six new go-karts were purchased.4

Other additions included the "Swingin' Gym", an enclosed wire cage in which the rider would swing, using his own strength through the air on a circular axis. The "Rock-O-Plane", a "stomach sickness" ride, in which the rider would find himself traveling through the air and spinning upside down in two different directions; the "Tarantula", with all its twisting arms; and the "Tilt-A-Whirl", featuring an umbrella-type coach spinning on a twisting, dipping circular platform, found Silver Beach Amusement Park a welcome home. All in all, so many rides and amusements appeared at the park that it would be difficult to remember them all. Many only stayed a season or two and then moved on.

When old man winter came to southwestern Michigan, Silver Beach Amusement Park was dealt its fair share of the snow. The park often received so much snow that it had to be plowed away from the buildings or the spring thaw would leave the grounds too wet and delay the opening of the park. Occasionally too much snow would accumulate on the flat midway rooftop, causing it to collapse. This happened in 1967.5 But springtime always appeared and Silver Beach Amusement Park was ready to please its crowds.

Silver Beach Amusement Park began to change during the late 1960s. The crime rate at the park rose significantly as theft; purse snatching and fights became more frequent. Much of the blame was placed upon visiting out-of-town youths who ruined the park's congenial atmosphere.

The violence culminated on a particularly crowded Independence Day in 1969. As thousands milled through the park, a group of about 40 or 50 teenagers attempted to jump on the rollercoaster without paying. A sixty-year-old security guard tried to stop the youths, but was struck from behind and his revolver stolen. The throng moved toward the ticket booth, struck the ticketeer, grabbed $125 and an undetermined number of ride tickets, and fled.6 The violence continued the following year and on August 10, 1970, local police closed the park.7

Silver Beach Amusement Park Brochure
Appears to be from the late 1960's
~ Click images for expanded views ~
Silver Beach Amusement Park Brochure - Outside
Silver Beach Amusement Park Brochure - Inside


Page 5 of 6
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1 Interview with John Wenzlaff, February 1976.   [ Back ]

2 Interview with Horace "Chief" Terrill, December 1975.   [ Back ]

3 Benton Harbor News Palladium, June 1, 1951.   [ Back ]

4 Benton Harbor News Palladium, April 5, 1961.   [ Back ]

5 Interview with John Wenzlaff, March 1976.   [ Back ]

6 Benton Harbor News Palladium, July 6, 1969.   [ Back ]

7 Benton Harbor News Palladium, August 11, 1970.   [ Back ]


We credit Alan Schultz, Jeff Terrill, John Wenzlaff, Dennis Burlingham & Michigan History Magazine for the materials necessary to create this chapter in SW Michigan History.

To subscribe, click Michigan History Magazine.

 


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