Cedar Point, a summer destination since the 1800s

"The Queen of American Watering Places" Ohio historical marker, in front of the Midway Carousel. Photo by Rachel Polaniec

As the weather starts (finally!) warming up, many of us start looking forward to the pleasures of summer, especially that old Ohio favorite, Cedar Point. This month's Magical History Tour reflects on summers past and the summer to come at Cedar Point, "America’s Rockin’ Roller Coast."  

Once called “The Queen of American Watering Places,” Cedar Point has been captivating pleasure-seekers for generations. In the 1860s the arrival of a rail line brought picnickers and bathers looking to enjoy the sandy peninsula now known as Cedar Point, officially debuting as a tourist attraction in 1870 with the construction of a bathhouse, beer garden and other public amenities. In 1892, the park’s inaugural roller coaster, the Switchback Railway, opened. Towering an impressive 25 feet high, the Switchback took riders on the gravity-powered journey of their lives, reaching the astonishing speed of 10 miles an hour. 

While the Switchback was retired over a century ago in 1907, there are many pieces of Cedar Point’s storied history still to be found located throughout the park, if you know where to look. Those entering through the main gate won’t have to look far. 

Located at the front of the park right inside the main gate, the Midway Carousel is Cedar Point’s oldest operating ride. Built in 1912, the Midway arrived at the park in 1946 and is one of the few extant works of carousel master-carver Daniel Carl Muller (active 1890-1928). Added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1982, visitors can enjoy a spin on one of the Midway Carousel’s beautifully detailed 60 horses or four chariots. A little farther along is the Midway’s Cedar Downs Racing Derby with 64 horses (NRHP 1990). It is one of only two racing carousels left in the United States, whose horses fly along the track at almost 15 miles per hour.  

In addition to the carousels, the Main Midway is prime viewing ground for Cedar Point history. Impossible to miss is the impressive Coliseum, built in 1906. The second floor holds the Cedar Point Grand Ballroom from the days when dances were part of the park-goer's experience, while today’s visitors encounter a first-floor collection of video games and pinball machines, added in the 1960s. Not too far from the Coliseum is the Pagoda Gift Shop, an East Asian-inspired structure originally built in the early 1900s, and is now home to the park’s largest gift shop. 

On the other side of the Main Midway and also tucked away, behind the looping green inverted coaster that is 1994’s Raptor, is Cedar Point’s classic wooden coaster, Blue Streak. Opened in 1964, Blue Streak is the park’s oldest operating roller coaster, a mellow ride perfect for first-timers, those looking to get their feet wet, or anyone looking to revisit an old favorite. 

While Blue Streak remains a faithful standby, other coasters have been completely remade and reborn. The first of its kind, Steel Vengeance is a hyper-hybrid, steel-on-wood roller coaster standing 205 feet tall. To frequent Cedar Point visitors, the wooden structure supporting the track of Steel Vengeance should be recognizable as the remainders of the notorious Mean Streak (1991), known for taking riders on a jolting, jerking ride and perhaps being the leading cause of Sandusky’s Dramamine sales for the next quarter-century.

Steel Vengeance improves upon its predecessor, dropping riders 200 feet at a 90-degree angle and reaching speeds of 74 miles per hour. The overall experience is infinitely sleeker, a welcome respite for those faithful ride warriors who gamely climbed aboard Mean Streak every visit, and a testament to the innovation of the roller coaster industry. 

While innovation and technological advancement literally built upon the likes of Mean Streak, other rides were completely cleared away to make room for new arrivals. Past coasters and other attractions can still be found in Frontier Town’s Town Hall Museum, albeit in modular form. The museum is also home to a plethora of park history and memorabilia, including photographs, maps, souvenirs and famous visitors, as well as a fire engine, antique model train display, and Frank Stienle’s Automatic Wonder Clock.

Throughout the decades Cedar Point has made a habit of collecting and displaying pieces of local history, and not only in the museum. Perhaps this is best illustrated in the surprisingly verdant Frontier Trail, a wooded area connecting Frontier Town and Millennium Midway. Under the welcome shade of the many trees are an assortment of log cabins dating to the mid-1800s, moved to the site from nearby townships beginning in 1971. The log cabins house craft demonstrations, a glassblowing workshop, candlemaker and candy shop, among other things. A gristmill, a reconstruction of Fort Sandusky, and the Petting Farm round out the bucolic charm. 

While Cedar Point is famous for whirling people through the air, its oldest building, the Cedar Point Lighthouse (NRHP 1984), was once used to ground travelers, guiding them as they sailed the perilous waters of Lake Erie. Located on the northwest corner of the peninsula, the lighthouse was first built in 1839, and underwent multiple iterations before being abandoned in 1975. The surrounding property and building were acquired by Cedar Point in 1987.

In keeping with the park’s tradition of rehabilitating old structures instead of tearing them down, the lighthouse was restored as the centerpiece of Lighthouse Point, a campground featuring cottages, cabins, and RV stations made to resemble a waterfront New England village. It opened in 2001. 

I would venture to say many, if not most, people enjoying a stay at Lighthouse Point fail to realize the historic importance of the lighthouse, though they appreciate its presence and the gravitas it lends their experience. Such is the beauty of Cedar Point, a treasure trove of history. For while the technological marvels on which we soar above the rooftops come and go, the storied old guard remains on the ground, to welcome us back again next year.

Rachel Polaniec

I live in Westlake with my husband and our two, soon to be three, sons. I work as an Alterations Specialist at David's Bridal. In my free time I like to read, write, and cook. My family and I take part in War of 1812 reenactments throughout the summer. My lofty dreams are of traveling abroad, visiting the great museums, and drinking all the coffee. For now I content myself with antiquing and Keurig sampler packs.

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Volume 11, Issue 10, Posted 10:36 AM, 05.21.2019