Amusement parks are the kind of place we associate with fun and thrills. But this abandoned one in Pennsylvania, which is slowly being reclaimed by Mother Nature, will leave you feeling disturbed rather than cheerful.
Williams Grove Amusement Park is located close to the small town of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Its history stretches back to 1850, when the Williams family first began operating it as a picnic grove.
This makes Williams Grove one of the oldest amusement parks in the U.S. The only one that can claim to be older is Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut, which also started out as a picnic ground in 1846.
Williams Grove later evolved into a fairground, but because amusement rides weren’t invented until the end of the 19th century the first rides were only installed in 1928. By this point ownership of the park had changed more than once.
The park’s main ride, the 65-foot-tall Cyclone, was completed in 1933. With a top speed of 45 mph and a length of 2,300 feet, the wooden roller coaster was certainly a novel attraction when it opened.
In 1939 Roy Richwine, the park’s owner, opened the adjacent Williams Grove Speedway. The popular half-mile-long racing track is still in operation today, with the World of Outlaws National Open among its event highlights.
The park’s ownership changed again in 1972 when rides enthusiast Morgan Hughes bought it for $1.2 million. In a bid to revitalize Williams Grove he brought in rides from Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey, which had just closed.
That same year, however, Williams Grove was hit by Hurricane Agnes – a storm that caused approximately $2.1 billion of damage across the U.S. The park, which was nearly annihilated, certainly felt its wrath.
Hughes’ bad luck didn’t end there; Cyclone was nearly burned to the ground in 1995 and, in an ironic twist of fate, suffered further damage from heavy snowfall in 1996. He was forced to spend $500,000 on repairs and didn’t reopen the ride until 1997.
Despite all his misfortunes Hughes continued to invest in the park. He added more rides, with one of the most notable being the 1,500-foot-long, 45-foot-high Wildcat rollercoaster, which opened in 2001.
By the early 2000s the park seemed to be doing well. It had three different rollercoasters, a haunted house, a Ferris wheel and several rides that were popular thanks to their exhilarating gravitational effects, such as the Octopus, Twister and Tilt-a-Whirl.
Despite the improvements, however, Hughes himself was in his 80s by the turn of the century. It was time to move on, and so in 2005 he closed Williams Grove to concentrate solely on the speedway.
Although Hughes was able to sell most of the rides in 2006, he couldn’t find someone to purchase the park itself. Two years later the theme-park tycoon, who was 88, passed away in his sleep.
Williams Grove, which was forced to close, quickly fell into disrepair. To make matters worse it also suffered at the hands of sustained attacks by vandals.
Today the park looks like a place that’s best avoided. The grounds are full of aging structures with peeling paint, with the creepy atmosphere underscored by abandoned train cars and a rusted ice-cream truck.
The interiors of the buildings, meanwhile, are filled with dust and cobweb-covered props and furniture that look straight from the set of a horror movie. One of the structures even features a frightening statue resembling an imp.
Its props may be long gone, but the park’s haunted house looks scarier than ever. The creepy satanic figures depicted on its walls look like they belong in a medieval treatise on demons.
The park’s desolate vibe is further accentuated by the fact that it’s slowly but surely being reclaimed by nature; Cyclone’s wooden tracks being a case in point. Amazingly, however, there are people who still live at Williams Grove.
Members of the Hughes family continue to reside in an on-site house, as evidenced by the property’s trimmed grass. Judging by the “no trespassing” signs, however, they’re not too keen on people exploring.
Indeed, it doesn’t look like they share their late father’s passion for amusement parks; instead they’re seem to be content to operate the speedway. Is the park destined to slowly return to the natural grove it was some 160 years ago, before any humans had ventured there? Only time will tell.