Park History

Home > About the Park > Park History

Waldameer & Water World is proudly family owned and operated. Waldameer is currently the fifth oldest continuously operating amusement park in the United States and the fourth oldest in the State of Pennsylvania.

Check out some of the highlights of our storied 125+ year history below!

 

1896

Hoffman’s Grove Becomes Waldameer

Hoffman’s Grove, a popular local picnic spot, was purchased by the Erie Electric Motor Company trolley line. The property was renamed, “Waldameer,” which is German for “Woods by the Sea.” The picnic area was highlighted by a large beach on Lake Erie and a modern bathhouse for the time. Some of the first “rides” were along the lake shore. The trolley company expanded the park with a $1,000 dance hall, carousel, and Hofbrau German Beer garden complete with singing waiters in the early 1900s.

Postcard image of the old trolley line station at Waldameer.

1902

Waldameer’s First Roller Coaster – Dip the Dips

Postcard image of the Dip the Dips roller coaster at Waldameer.

Known by the names Figure 8 and Dip the Dips, Waldameer’s first roller coaster operated from 1902 until 1937. At first, the ride experience was relatively tame with the largest drop being only 9ft reaching speeds around 10 mph. In the late 1910s, several of the dips were deepened to provide a more thrilling ride experience. Dip the Dips stood in the present-day location of the Arcade.

1920s & 30s

Golden Years and Depression

The 1920’s were the golden age of the amusement park industry. Now under general management of Alex Moeller, a variety of new attractions opened in the 1920s such as a miniature train, caterpillar, whip, funhouse, and the fondly remembered Old Mill. The Depression of the 1930’s brought on the most challenging decade of the Park’s existence halting the growth of the park throughout most of the decade.

Waldameer midway in the 1920s.

1922

Ravine Flyer

The original Ravine Flyer going over Peninsula Drive.

Opening in 1922, Ravine Flyer was Waldameer’s largest coaster to date. Designed by the legendary John A. Miller, Ravine Flyer featured drops up to 90ft with two of the largest spanning Peninsula Drive. Much of Ravine Flyer stood on the present-day location of Ravine Flyer II. The Lakeview picnic shelter next to the present-day Ravine Flyer II was originally the station for Ravine Flyer. Ravine Flyer only operated for 16 years until August of 1938.

1940s and 50s

Emerging from the Depression

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. Rainbow Gardens continues to host large events to this day.

World War II limited park expansion throughout the early and mid 1940s. In 1945, Alex Moeller became owner of the Park and an 11-year-old Paul Nelson (a family friend) began working. As the war ended, and families boomed. Kiddie attractions became popular in amusement parks. At the end of the 1940s and into the early 1950’s, several children’s rides including present-day Pony Carts, Wet Boats, and Sky Fighter were added. In the mid 50’s, Monkey Island closed – reportedly the government bought all the monkeys for the new space program.

Waldameer in the 1940s

1951

Comet Opens

The family-favorite Comet coaster opened in 1951. Comet was designed by Herb Schmeck of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. Standing 45ft tall reaching speeds up to 25mph, Comet provides a traditional wood coaster experience that is not too scary for the little ones yet still enjoyable for adults and grandparents. To this day, Comet remains one of the most popular attractions at Waldameer.

1960s

New Ownership

Flying Coaster ride at Waldameer.

The 1960s introduced family favorites such as Scrambler and Tilt-A-Whirl in 1964. Thrill seekers welcomed the infamous Flying Coaster known by locals as “The Bump” in 1962. In 1965, Park Owner Alex Moeller died and General Manager, Paul Nelson, took over operations.

1970

Whacky Shack

Whacky Shack and Spider rides in the late 1970s.

The acclaimed Whacky Shack opened in 1970 and has been haunting generations of families ever since. Whacky Shack was designed by the famous dark ride designer, Bill Tracy, and is the last remaining ride of its kind. Most of the scenes and props inside are original from the ride’s debut. The instant success of Whacky Shack inspired the addition of Pirate’s Cove which opened in 1972 and was also designed by Bill Tracy.

1970s

Paul Nelson Takes Ownership

Paratrooper ride at Waldameer in the 1970s.

Then General Manager, Paul Nelson, took full ownership of Waldameer in 1978. Paul was an active owner and operator of the park until his passing in 2023. The 1970s also saw the addition of many popular attractions families still enjoy today. The L. Ruth Express opened in 1972 with Pirate’s Cove, Paratrooper opened in 1973, and Sky Ride finished out additions for the decade in 1978.

 

1986

Water World

Water World Speed and Freefall slides in the 1980s.

After a slow period for expansion in the early 1980s, Paul Nelson made a major business choice in 1985: deciding to go into debt and significantly expand. Water World debuted in 1986 with two giant water slides and a children’s play area. Following the 1988 season, the old carousel and Blue Goose children’s ride were auctioned off with $1 million proceeds used for further expansion of Water World and picnic areas. The risk paid off with record seasons closing out the decade.

1990s

Ride Expansions Continue

Ferris Wheel ride at Waldameer in the 1990s.

With Water World expansions dominating the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, ride expansion resumed for the remainder of the decade. New rides included Sea Dragon in 1992, the 100’ tall Giant Ferris Wheel in 1994, and Wipeout in 1995. While very popular, increasing mechanical costs led to the decision to remove the Flying Coaster after the 1994 season. The decade closed out with the opening of the Ali Baba thrill ride and the addition of two very popular two children’s rides – Frog Hopper and Big Rigs.

1996

Celebrating 100 Years

Thunder River from the top of the second hill.

Waldameer & Water World celebrated its 100th anniversary with the most ambition expansion yet – the Thunder River log flume, replacing an aging Old Mill. Steve Gorman, Paul Nelson’s son-in law, came on as Park President and General Manager this same year, ensuring continuity of ownership.

 

2000s

More Coasters & Thrills

Guests riding Steel Dragon at Waldameer in 2004.

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, the Steel Dragon spinning coaster in 2004, and the XScream Drop Tower in 2007. Following the success of Ravine Flyer II, the Mega Vortex thrill ride was added in 2009.

2008

Ravine Flyer II

First and second hills of Ravine Flyer II at Waldameer.

In 2008, after years of planning and legal battles, Owner Paul Nelson’s dream of seeing the Ravine Flyer soar again was realized with the opening of the Ravine Flyer II roller coaster. Ravine Flyer II features a 120ft drop (largest in Pennsylvania) and crosses over Peninsula Drive as did its predecessor, Ravine Flyer. Ravine Flyer II exceeded all expectations and won the prestigious Amusement Today Golden Ticket Award for the best new ride in the world in 2008 and continues to be recognized as a Top 10 Wood Coaster to this day.

2011-2013

Stretching Out

The Swings at dusk

In 2011, the opening of the North End on land occupied by the former maintenance facility added three more rides for the entire family – Flying Swings, SS Wally, and Wendy’s Tea Party. In 2013, the southern end of the park was reimagined with the addition of the thrilling Music Express and relocation of Scrambler.

 

2015-19

A Water World Renaissance

The Giant Wave Pool in Water World.

2015 kicked off a long-awaited expansion of Water World with the addition of the Giant Wave Pool capable of accommodating up to 1,000 people. Water World expansions continued for the next five years with openings of Kidz Zone, Battle of Lake Erie, Cannon Bowl, Giant Heated Relaxing Pool, and Rally Racer.

May 2023

Thank You, Mr. Nelson

In May of 2023, Waldameer & Water World lost its longtime owner, Paul Nelson. Starting as an 11-year-old dishwasher and working his way through every job in the park to eventually becoming owner, Paul was a fixture at Waldameer and the Erie region for more than 7 decades. Paul will always be remembered for his tireless work ethic and unique vision which built Waldameer from a quiet picnic spot with a handful of attractions to the regional tourist destination it is today.

Photo of former Waldameer Owner Paul Nelson.

2023

Blasting Into the Future

Emerging from the devastating impacts of a global pandemic, expansion resumed in 2023 with the debut of Rocket Blast – a thrilling combination of water slide and roller coaster. This first of its kind attraction in the region was met with great acclaim for both the thrilling experience and unique layout intertwined with existing attractions. Later that summer, Rocket Blast earned the prestigious Golden Ticket Award for best new water park ride.

Park Awards

Best of the Best!

2023 Golden Ticket for Best New Water Park Ride, Rocket Blast.

2023 Best New Water Park Ride

Golden Ticket Award

2008 Golden Ticket for Best New Ride, Ravine Flyer II.

2008 Best New Ride

Golden Ticket Award

Golden Ticket Award

2008 Person of the Year

Golden Ticket Award

Industry Memberships

IAAPA Logo

International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions

Proud Member

Visit Website
Pennsylvania Amusement Park Association logo

Pennsylvania Amusement Park Association

Proud Member

Visit Website