Waldameer’s origins began in the late 1800’s as Hoffman’s grove, an Erie area popular picnic spot overlooking the lake. This serene destination caught the attention of the Erie Electric Motor Co., the city’s main trolley company. They leased Hoffman’s grove and renamed the land Waldameer, German for “woods by the sea” – in 1896 Waldameer Park was born.
Trolley company building up park. A $1,000 dance hall and carousel were added. Three roller coasters were built, the first being Dip the Dips in 1907 and the last was the Scenic Railway in 1915 at a cost of $30,000. Prohibition in 1919 caused Waldameer to close one of its most popular attractions, the Hofbrau German Beer Garden complete with singing waiters.
The 1920’s were the golden age of the amusement park industry. The largest roller coaster – the Ravine Flyer was opened in 1922, then came the Old Mill. Many other attractions were added in the 1920’s under the general management of Alex Moeller. The Depression of the 1930’s brought on the most challenging decade of the Park’s existence. Talking movies and the repeal of prohibiton helped attendance, but tough times continued, including a tragedy on the Ravine Flyer resulting in the removal of the ride.
With an improving economy, more rides were added and new dance hall was built (replacing the one that burned down in ’37). A local contest was held for a name and Rainbow Gardens was selected. World War II limited park expansion. In 1945, Alex Moeller became owner of the Park and an 11-year-old Paul Nelson (a family friend) began working. 1951 saw the addition of the Comet roller coaster and in the mid 50’s, Monkey Island closed – reportedly the government bought all the monkeys for the space program.
The early to mid 60’s were a quiet period. In 1965 Alex Moeller died, and Paul Nelson (since adopted by the Moellers, working up to GM) took over. He immediately began upgrading the Park’s aging infrastructure. 1970 saw the addition of the Whacky Shack and kicked off a long period of expansion. Current attractions that were built then included the Pirate’s Cove, L. Ruth Express Train (named after Alex Moeller’s widow), Paratrooper & Spider. In 1978 Paul Nelson assumed full ownership and added the Sky Ride.
Expansion slowed in the early 80’s. In 1985, Paul Nelson made a major business choice: deciding to go into debt and significantly expand. Water World debuted in 1986. Following the ’88 season, the old carousel & Blue Goose ride were auctioned off. The $1 million in proceeds were used for further expansion of the water park and additional picnic shelters were built, helping the Park to register record seasons to close out the decade.
Ride expansion resumed all thru the 90’s, with the Sea Dragon opening in 1992, the 100’ tall Chance Giant Ferris wheel debuting in 1994 and the Wipeout in 1995. Waldameer’s 100th Anniversary in 1996 (making Waldameer the 10th oldest amusement park in the Country) saw the most ambitious expansion ever – the addition of Thunder River, and OD Hopkins log flume, replacing the Old Mill. Steve Gorman, Paul Nelson’s son-in law, came on as GM this same year, ensuring continuity of ownership. The decade closed with major renovations to the midway Games, Concessions and opening of the high flying Ali Baba.
Waldameer entered the new millennium with a continued commitment to an ever-improving experience for guests. New rides included the Ravine Flyer 3 family coaster in 2000, Steel Dragon spinning coaster in 2004, the 140’ XScream Drop Tower in 2007, and the Mega Vortex thrill ride in 2009. In 2008, after years of planning and legal issues, Paul Nelson’s dream of seeing the Ravine Flyer soar again was realized with the opening of the Ravine Flyer II. This Gravity Group designed thriller exceeded all expectations and won the most prestigious award in the industry, the “Golden Ticket Award” as best new ride in the world for 2008 by Amusement Today.
2011 brought Waldameer’s biggest expansion since the Ravine Flyer II. The “North End” featured three new family rides including the Flying Swings, the SS Wally and Wendy’s Tea Party. Nestled between the RFII and the Ferris Wheel, the “North End” brought families plenty of excitement with it’s 20′ archway. In 2013, Waldameer redesigned the North part of the midway to include the new attraction Music Express. With thousands of flashing LED lights, great Top 40s hits, and speeds of over 25 MPH, the Music Express spun riders forward and backward, giving them a great thrill. The expansion also included a relocated and updated Scrambler, with new LED lights, a fountain, and a new bronze statue in the surrounding gardens and landscaping.
2015 began Waldameer’s largest expansion in its entire history. With the purchase of new land along Peninsula Drive and 6th Street, Waldameer expanded its parking lot to accommodate the new Giant Wave Pool. With almost 500,000 gallons of water and accommodating over 1,000 people, this wave pool created waves of fun for young and old. In the following years, Water World continued to grow with the additions of the Kidz Slide’n Spray Zone, a shallow zero-depth entry pool with ten slides designed for small children and a “sprayground” featuring dozens of fountains, water curtains, and dumping buckets for the enjoyment of children and families. Finally, the Battle of Lake Erie 40ft multi-level play structure was added in 2017, themed after Erie’s role int he Battle of 1812. It features seven slides, a giant 400-gallon tipping bucket, along with over 110 other water features for the entire family to enjoy.
2018 brought two new attractions. Water World saw the addition of the thrilling CannonBOWL water slide to the Awesome Twosome and Liquid Lightning slide tower. The Balloon Race family ride opened next to Kiddieland in the amusement park. Also, in the amusement park, the Fudge House and Cookie House were renovated with several new sweet offerings added.