May 16, 2018
Depending on when you grew up, you know it as either LeSourdsville Lake or Americana. Either way, it’s a fading, but not completely forgotten, memory of summers gone by in Southwest Ohio.
It was opened by Middletown resident Edgar Streifthau in 1922 in what was then the tiny village of LeSourdsville. Essentially a family picnic ground at first, the park featured a restaurant, dance hall, bathhouse, and cabins. The man-made lake was also given a cement bottom. In the 1930s, a new dancehall called the Stardust Gardens was constructed and hosted many big bands of the day including the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Dorsey Brothers. Area businesses also began holding their annual company picnics there.In 1939, it turned into a modern amusement park with the addition of the John Miller-designed Cyclone roller coaster. Originally built in 1927 at Moxahalia Amusement Park in Zanesville, Streifthau bought it and had it reassembled at LeSourdsville Lake. In 1961, the coaster’s name was changed to Space Rocket, before being changed again in 1977 to Screechin’ Eagle. Throughout the 1940s, more rides were added and attendance grew steadily, particularly after World War II. The operation faced many challenges in the 1950s, though, as parks near, like Cedar Point, and far, like Disneyland raised the bar for parks everywhere. However, Streifthau and his business partner Don Dazey continued to make improvements to the park with even bigger plans slated for the 1960s.However, in 1959, Don Dazey passed away after a battle with cancer. With loans due, and worried he couldn’t find a business partner that he could get along with as well as he had with Dazey, Streifthau sold the park to two former Cedar Point concessionaires, Howard Berni and Frank Murru.Streifthau wasn’t out of the amusement park business entirely though. On the 20 acres of land he owned next to LeSourdsville Lake, he built Fantasy Farm in 1963, which was geared toward younger children. It featured smaller rides, a playground, petting zoo, and picnic area. It closed in 1991.The new owners continued to invest in the park and by the 1970s, LeSourdsville Lake was out drawing Cincinnati’s Coney Island, with over 600,000 annual visitors coming to the park between Hamilton and Middletown. Even after Taft Communications bought Coney and decided to move the operation to nearby Mason as Kings Island, LeSourdsville Lake hummed along.In 1978, it became Americana Amusement Park and underwent $3.5 million in renovations and improvements. The soft economy of the early ‘80s impacted attendance, but even so, a new attraction was added for the 1984 season, the Raging Thunder log flume which proved to be one of the park’s most popular attractions. A swinging ship ride came along in 1987.The following decade wasn’t as kind. In January 1990, a fire destroyed several buildings and while a lot was rebuilt by late spring, the park struggled. The park changed hands a few times, winding up in 1996 under the ownership of the Park River Corporation, operators of Coney Island. When the head of that company passed away, the family divested of its holdings including Americana.Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures’ amusement park division had acquired Kings Island in 1992 and poured millions of dollars into it. There was also competition for swimmers from The Beach, Surf Cincinnati, and of course KI’s water park which opened at the end of the ‘80s as WaterWorks.
Eventually, Hamilton businessman and RV mogul Jerry Couch purchased Americana from Park River with plans to have the park open year round. He invested $3 million, added 10 new rides, and changed the park’s name back to LeSourdsville Lake. Operating on a Thursday through Sunday schedule in 2002, the park seemed to be on its way back. But it didn’t reopen for the 2003 season, and in January of that year Couch opened an RV dealership on the site.
A piece of Americana/LeSourdsville Lake lives on in Southern Indiana. In spring 2017, the old Calypso ride, installed at LeSourdsville Lake for the 1972 season, took up residence at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana, about 45 minutes west of Louisville. Rebranded the Firecracker, to match the Fourth of July area of that Indiana park, the ride has been a big hit.
In 2002, when Americana was shuttered, the ride was moved to Fun Spot Amusement Park & Zoo in Angola, Indiana. When that park closed at the end of the 2008 season, Calypso sat idle. In 2016, it was purchased and moved south to Santa Claus. Folks who remember riding Calyspo in its Americana/LeSourdsville Lake heyday can ride it once again in Indiana. Holiday World, somewhat reminiscent of Americana/ LeSourdsville Lake features four themed areas: Christmas, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Halloween. While most of its rides are geared toward younger guests, there are 4 world class coasters, Raven, Legend, Voyage, and Thunderbird, all of which have won awards. Free soft drinks, free parking, free suntan lotion, and reasonably priced food make for a fun visit.
Calypso/Firecracker joins a list of other former rides and attractions that have lived on past Americana/LeSourdsville Lake’s closing. Bear Country Jubilee can be found at Jungle Jim’s International Market in Fairfield. Rock-O-Plane is now at Coney Island in Anderson Township. The Serpent rollercoaster went to Nobles Funland Amusement Park on Paducah, KY before ending up at Kokomo’s Family Fun Center in Saginaw, MI.
In the spring of 2018, a new development plan was announced by the city of Monroe for Bicentennial Commons, the renamed property that was once home to the amusement park. It will feature a nature area, walking and bike trails, playgrounds, paddle boats, and more. Developers hope to utilize many of the old park buildings and honor the history of LeSourdsville Lake/Americana in the new park’s overall design.
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