A History of Minerva Park, 1895-1992, by Vernon Pack, historian.


Although the unique community of Minerva Park wasn't incorporated until 1940, it is of interest to reflect upon some of the events leading to that significant milestone.
Stone Tower
One of central Ohio's most famous amusement parks had as its site a small area on both the north and south side of the Park's large Lake. It was situated in a large grove of tall trees nearly 10 miles from downtown Columbus. The entire region was located within the 3rd Quarter, Township 2, Range 17 of the U. S. Military Lands.

Opened to the public on May 15, 1895, the Minerva Amusement Park was built and managed by officials of the Columbus Central Railway Company. The president of the line was John J. Shipherd of Cleveland; he named the park for his wife, Minerva.

Passengers from downtown Columbus faced the front as they sat on either side of the Green Line streetcar. Even though the unpaved street was sprinkled twice each day, there was considerable dust. The final segment of the trip was on Harbour Road which had a bumpy, plank surface. Today that thoroughfare is called Cleveland Avenue.

The Stone Tower, a landmark of the Minerva Amusement Park combined a water tower with a telegraph office for the streetcar line and a one-room jail.


Streetcars entered the park between present-day Minerva Lake Road and Woodley Drive. Today, residents are aware that overhead electric wires are situated along the same route the streetcars followed from Columbus to Westerville. Some people are of the opinion the streetcar tracks went around the gigantic oak tree on the north side of the sharp bend. There is no documentation for that idea.

The streetcars passed under the attractive stone entrance arch that was still standing when Minerva Park was developed in the late 1920s.

Passengers were discharged in front of the Stone Tower. That is approximately where Minerva Park Road makes its right-angle turn west of today's Community Building. The tower contained the telegraph office for the streetcar line as well as a one room jail.

The 15¢ round-trip fare from downtown Columbus included admission to the Park. Some visitors arrived by horse and buggy. The tie up was just north of the railway entrance, along what is now Woodley Road. Bicycles were left in a small building at the main entrance. The stone entrance arch featured two tall posts; arc lights were atop the posts.

Designers of the amusement park had built a dam at the lower end of the ravine-known today as Kilbourne Run-to provide the beautiful large lake. Water was piped in from Alum Creek more than one mile to the east.


Former Park resident Harold Harmon found what he believes was part of a cistern used by the casino on his 2710 Lakewood Drive property. The casino's enormous auditorium could seat 2,500 people. Some of the finest entertainment of the day performed in that building.

Various vaudeville acts, acrobats and currently popular comedies and dramas were featured. When the opera "Carmen" was performed, 170 trunks were needed to transport its costumes!

Well-known bands played before each show. The term casino was apparently a misnomer. No newspaper ads or articles of the era (1895-1902) indicate that any form of gambling ever took place inside the famous building.

Many visitors enjoyed renting a boat to paddle on the lake. Riding in one of the three swan excursion boats was a popular activity. Another prominent Park attraction was the crescent shaped pavilion. The huge edifice featured a large dance floor and cafeteria. The building was destroyed the night of September 21, 1896; it was believed to have been arson.

Another extremely popular Park attraction was the Shoot the Chutes. Entering a boat at the top of a small brick building passengers were conveyed down a steep ramp and onto the lake. The Minerva Park Band (Liberati's Band) played popular songs. The 60-member band was at the time considered to be second only to Sousa's troupe in size.

An extremely exciting amusement was the roller coaster. Also known as the Scenic Railway, its passengers passed the tropics, ice caves and a cave where the riders viewed "hideous animals that inhabited the seas."

Situated near the present Community Building's driveway was the Ornithology Building. Its scores of stuffed animals and birds were under the management of the noted naturalist and taxidermist, Oliver Davie; his claim to global fame was as author of Nests and Eggs of the North American Birds. Daily lectures were offered to visitors.

Amusements also included a 15-week baseball season and an 8-lane bowling alley. At the west end of Maplewood and on north to Lakewood was the pony track The bird sanctuary was partially on what is now the front lawn of Jack and Jeri Wunderle's 2699 Lakewood Drive property.

 

 

 

In its heyday, the Minerva Amusement Park featured agigantic casino that was located on the south side of the lake. The structure was built in four weeks at a cost of at least $35,000. The casino's enormous auditorium could seat 2,500 people. The term casino was apparently a misnomer. No newspaper ads or articles of the era indicate that any form of gambling ever took place aside the famous building.


Always popular, especially with children, was the monkey cage. DeVere Kerr, at that time only 13 years old, had an unfortunate encounter with a monkey. DeVere carried a scar his entire life. There were other animals in cages at various sites within the Park. Decades ago, Herbert Otting informed Ernie Limes that the latter's front yard- southwest corner of 2626 Minerva Lake Road-once featured a cage for lions and tigers.

Upon the demise of the Minerva Amusement Park, its animals were transferred to the Olentangy Amusement Park. That entertainment, located a short distance north of The Ohio State University, helped bring a close to the Minerva Amusement Park.

Also popular at the amusement park was the Orchestrion, which featured a $6,500 instrument. As large as a pipe organ, the Orchestrion played all the instruments of a regular 36-piece orchestra. It was reputed to be better than the one in New York City's Great Atlantic Garden!

The amusement park was beautifully landscaped with numerous flower gardens. The gravel paths were well maintained; litter was kept to a minimum. The July 4,1898 fireworks were celebrated around the lake with the moon offering a magnificent reflection.

Camp Coit held its encampment in the Park from August 19-29,1900. Many celebrities, including Governor George K. Nash, traveled by streetcar to view the performances. Located somewhere north of today's small lake, the camp was the site of the 4th Regiment of the Ohio National Guard. It was named in honor of Colonel A. N. Coit, an ex-commander of the ONG. Thousands of visitors watched the colorful parades which involved companies from various Ohio cities.

The amusement park was well attended during its first two or three seasons. On opening day of its third year, there were more than 16,000 visitors! But in 1900 the Dusenbury brothers built the Olentangy Amusement Park a short distance north of The Ohio State University. The Dusenburys also owned the Minerva Amusement Park, which simply could not compete with a facility that was so much closer to downtown Columbus. Consequently, the Minerva Amusement Park experienced rather poor attendance; it ceased to operate as of July 15, 1902.

Many groups enjoyed holding picnics in the park before and after each season's operation and throughout the following two decades. Chiggers did bother some people.

With the closing of the park, as many as 20 streetcars were deposited in what has come to be called the "Streetcar Graveyard;" it was situated north of present-day Minerva Lake Road and JUSt west of the small lake. Some of the park structures were soon dismantled; others remained as landmarks for many years.

No official photograph or sketch has been located to pinpoint the precise position of the many amusement park structures. It was Betty Burwell Homer's grandfather, John Burwell, who provided the Bicentennial Committee with his recollections as to where structures had stood.

Significant dates from this era

 

 

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The historical text and photos reproduced here are used with the permission of the author. The graphics contained in this web site were produced by the copyright holder.

Rick Lakin, rlakin@home.com