It's hard to believe that nearly six years ago Geauga Lake Park closed its gates. Cedar Fair shuttered the decades-old amusement park after the 2007 season.

The 400-plus acres straddling the borders of Bainbridge Township and Aurora continue to lay barren -- except for the Wildwater Kingdom water park -- with few buildings and rides remaining.

The campground north of Treat Road is closed, and the former Geauga Lake Hotel is being renovated by the Anna Maria of Aurora people to house an elderly care center called the Atrium at Anna Maria.

Cedar Fair is still seeking a buyer for the amusement park land. Aurora planners envision it to someday become a multi-use area, with retail businesses, offices and residential units filling the landscape.

The humps of the Big Dipper wooden roller coaster, a John A. Miller creation built in 1924, are still visible to passersby on Route 43. The ballroom, built in the early 1950s, also has survived. But weeds are taking over much of the grounds.

The coaster, bought at an auction after the park's closing, was supposed to be moved, but that hasn't happened. It's rotting away in the harsh elements of Northeast Ohio. Parts of the Raging Wolf Bobs, erected in 1988, still stand.

Some of the rides were purchased and scrapped and some were moved to other Cedar Fair parks or to venues not owned by the company.

After restoration at Mansfield's the Carousel Works, the 1926 Marcus Illions carousel from Geauga Lake was relocated to Worlds of Fun in Kansas City. It is one of only six remaining authentic Illions carousels in the world.

GEAUGA LAKE'S HISTORY

Many Aurorans are familiar with the history of Geauga Lake Park. For community newcomers and those who are not familiar with it, I'll fill you in.

In 1872, Sullivan Giles created a picnic grounds along what was then called Picnic Lake. Alexander Kent built the Kent House hotel in 1888 on the east side of what by then was called Geauga Lake. It had 75 rooms and a ballroom.

A new ballroom was built in 1921, but the grounds didn't become an amusement park until William Kuhlman built some rides and attractions in 1924. The Erie Railroad brought many visitors to the park in those days.

The Skyrocket roller coaster was erected in 1925, and its name later was changed to the Clipper and then the Big Dipper. In earlier times, the park's main entrance was under a section of the roller coaster.

The 64-horse Illions carousel came to the park in 1937 at a cost of $35,000, and is valued at more than $1 million today.

Like many amusement parks of that time, Geauga Lake featured attractions such as a bowling alley, recreation arcade, circle swing, Skee Ball alleys, the Whip, miniature railroad, Custer Cars, playground, fun house, Dodgem cars, rifle range, picnic pavilion, baseball fields, and game and refreshment stands.

At the edge of the park along Route 43 was J.H. Allendorf's sit-down restaurant, which was famous for steak and chicken dinners. The park also had a huge pool -- 110-by-300-feet -- where Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, who played Tarzan in many movies, set a world record in the 220-yard freestyle in 1926.

In 1941, a windstorm caused $50,000 damage. In the mid-1940s, three local businessmen took over the park. Fires destroyed the bathhouse, ballroom, bowling alleys, roller skating rink and theater in 1947 and 1952. A new bathhouse and the current ballroom then were built.

In 1969, four former Cedar Point executives bought the park under the name Funtime Inc., and invested $35 million through 1989.

Sea World of Ohio opened in 1970 across the lake from the park. Busch Entertainment Corp. bought Sea World of Ohio in 1989 from Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich Inc., a major textbook publisher.

In 1988, Geauga Lake added the $2.5 million wooden coaster Raging Wolf Bobs, and in 1995, Premier Parks paid $60 million to acquire Funtime Inc. Geauga Lake transformed into Six Flags Ohio in 1999, and erected four new roller coasters and other attractions at a cost of $40 million.

In 2001, Six Flags acquired Sea World for $110 million and the two parks were renamed Six Flags World of Adventure. Cedar Fair LP acquired the combined parks in 2004 for $145 million, changed the name back to Geauga Lake and eventually closed Sea World.

Summer cottages began going up in the residential area west of the park in the 1920s-30s.

According to Aurora Ward 1 Councilman Jim Vaca, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood, the west side of Route 43 once was a haven for bars, with seven or eight operating. What is now the Volunteers of America, VFW Post 2629 and Peking Garden restaurant were some of them.

CLEVELAND-AREA PARKS

Cedar Fair owns Ohio's only two remaining megaparks -- Cedar Point and Kings Island. They boast monstrous roller coasters which contrast sharply to the ones which operated at defunct amusement parks.

Thrill rides at Cedar Point date back to 1892, when the Switchback Railway was built. Kings Island is a relatively new park, having opened in 1972 after the closing of Cincinnati's famous Coney Island.

Cleveland had its share of amusement parks, including Euclid Beach, Luna, Puritas Springs, White City and Kiddie Playland. A handful of others operated for a few years and were quickly forgotten.

Memphis Kiddie Park in Brooklyn, which opened in 1952 and features simple rides for small children, remains.

Probably the most remembered Cleveland park -- and I'm sure some Aurora oldtimers have memories of it -- was Euclid Beach. It became popular after being purchased by the Humphrey family in 1901, and operated until 1969.

The Humphrey family, which still markets popcorn in Cleveland, imposed strict rules on park patrons, and it was one of the few area amusement parks which did not sell or allow alcohol on the premises.

The park was famous for Laughing Sal outside the fun house. One of the shiny steel cars from its Rocketships ride has been made into a vehicle which is driven in many Northeast Ohio parades. It has appeared in Aurora on July 4.

The park's carousel is being restored at the Carousel Works and should be back in operation in a few months on the grounds of the Western Reserve Historical Society in University Circle.

Luna Park was on Cleveland's west side and operated from 1905 to 1929. Upon its closing, most of the rides and structures were demolished, and the remaining roller skating rink burned down in 1938.

Puritas Springs was located in the Rocky River Valley. It was leased in 1901 by John E. Gooding, whose family established what became one of the largest outdoor portable amusement ride companies in the world.

The park closed in 1958 and parts were sold, razed and destroyed by a fire the next year. A housing development eventually was built there.

White City Park on East 140th Street was shortlived, opening in 1905 and permanently closing in the 1910s after it had closed and reopened several times. A sewage treatment plant was built there.

Some other smaller, shortlived and long forgotten Cleveland area amusement parks were Gordon Gardens, Mentor Beach Playland, Lincoln Park and Orchard Lake.

OTHER AMUSEMENT PARKS

Many longtime Aurorans might remember Shady Lake Park on Route 14 in Streetsboro, which is now occupied by an apartment complex and a bank.

Consisting mostly of kiddie rides, it was opened in 1978 by the Humphrey family of Euclid Beach fame, who moved the rides from Euclid Beach after it closed. Shady Lake survived only until 1982.

Many of the rides eventually were moved to Old Indiana Fun Park, including the Euclid Beach Chief. That park closed in 1996. The tall gate structure, resembling the one at Euclid Beach Park, remained standing until 2004.

Another much remembered area park was Chippewa Lake in southern Medina County, which operated from 1878 to 1978. Its rides and structures were left standing, only to rot away over a 30-year period.

Councilman Vaca and I visited the grounds four years ago. Parts of many rides still remained, as did some buildings, but other buildings had collapsed. The land has since been leveled for eventual development.

Other Northeast Ohio amusement parks of the past include Silver Lake, Brady Lake, Summit Beach in Akron, Crystal Springs in Vermillion, Idora Park in Youngstown and Meyers Lake in Canton, the latter being the one I visited many times as a youth.

Tuscora Park continues to operate in my hometown of New Philadelphia. It opened in 1907 as a privately-operated park, but was acquired by the city in 1912 and has been the city's pride and joy for more than 100 years.

Its centerpiece is a 1928 Herschell-Spillman carousel, which has been there since the 1940s.

It also has a Parker Ferris wheel with 10 enclosed gondolas, steel kiddie coaster, miniature train, several kiddie rides, miniature golf course, concession stand, enclosed pavilion, amphitheater, picnic shelters, basketball and tennis courts and a large swimming pool.

My friends -- the Scroggses from the Woods in Aurora -- saw the park when I took them on a tour of my hometown and fell in love with it. They take their granddaughters there when they visit in the summer from Buffalo, N.Y.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189