The Phantom That Was Olentangy Park

Railroad and Streetcar Connections to Parks of Yesteryear

Union Station in Columus OH on High Street. People picked up a street car to head to Olentangy park from here. A train also ran to the park at one time. demolished after 1976, its main arch sits in a secluded park downtown near a multiplex theater (p
Union Station in Columus OH on High Street. People picked up a street car to head to Olentangy park from here. A train also ran to the park at one time. demolished after 1976, its main arch sits in a secluded park downtown near a multiplex theater (p

Union Station 1897 - 1976

This third station building was opened a year after the City purchased Villa Park and changed it to Olentangy Park. This Union Station survived the Park by 38 years. an old streetcar sits out front in this image. Only the large arch was saved in 1976
This third station building was opened a year after the City purchased Villa Park and changed it to Olentangy Park. This Union Station survived the Park by 38 years. an old streetcar sits out front in this image. Only the large arch was saved in 1976

Where Was It? Almost at Disneyland!

Union Station was an important part of Olentangy Park in that the railroad and streetcar line purchased land for the park at the turn of the 20th century and provided the primary transportation to and from it. The park operated to 1938 and the station until 1976.

In the 1970s, there were rumors and speculation about the Disney Company proposing to purchase all the land in Franklin County Ohio from xxx North High Street, 10 miles to the west to the Olentangy River and 20 miles North to the cities of Delaware and Powell. This was at least 200 square miles of commercial and residential properties. According to the local media, Disney planned to build another Disney World in Columbus. However, this was never accomplished.

The lands in question included the first site of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium just to the south and beside of Graceland Shopping Center. That small area also once contained a vacation spot with fishermen's cottages where people stayed to fish at a nearby stream. The cottages are small and still there, in a tiny but attractive residential area of a few blocks.

This area along Rathbone Road has been a topic of uproar for over 20 years, because the City would like to pave a highway from Morse Road on the other side of High Street, across High, down Rathbone, across the water; then connect it to Bethel Road to eliminate traffic jams. The residents won't sell now and they would not sell in the 1970s.

No Disney Columbus and No Morse Road Connector.

At the south end of the land that Disney wished to buy was the former site of Olentangy Park.

Vintage Postcards

Figure 8 coaster.
Figure 8 coaster.

Boat Dock

"Olentangy Park", Columbus Streetcar and Railway Co. - No publication year.
"Olentangy Park", Columbus Streetcar and Railway Co. - No publication year.

Ray Bradbury and Streetcar Parks

If you read some of Ray Bradbury's stories, you'll find tales about defunct parks at the ends of Streetcar or Trolley Car lines.

One favorite is about a driver that took his streetcar-load of kids beyond the current tracks, down the old tracks to a former park, where they could have one last picnic before the streetcar and its system were retired permanently (that'e "progress"). It's a lovely story full of his memories from childhood. These parks would decay around an old carousel, picnic tables, band gazebos, and abandoned concession stands unti the cities demolished them and built something else.

The transportation companies would build these parks in order to increase ridership by providing a venue to attend at the end of the line. Weekends were popular in the spring, summer, and early fall around these parks and the streetcars stayed busy. This is how Olentangy Park started, as a street car park.

I learned the following from friends in Cincinnati several years ago and from grandparents of friends:

A private owner, Robert Turner, first built The Villa amusement park back in 1893. After three yers, the City of Columbus saw an opportunity and the Columbus Street and Railroad Company bought the property in 1893 and devloped it into Olentangy Park. As street car parks go, it was one of the best, with the most amusements and the most lush landscaping.

People from Southern Ohio would ride a train from Cincinnati up to Union Station in Columbus, then hop a street car right at the entrance of the station to ride up High Street directly to Olentangy Park, about 5 miles. A train ran right into the park at one time as well, through a special arch like those of Union Station. The park was just off High Street, with a large manmade lake and a carousel and other rides among trees, flowers, and other plants.

20th Century Park

The decided to sell Olentangy Park in 1899 and did so to the Dussenbury Brothers, who added a theater and a ballroom much like that at Buckeye Lake to the east, and more rides. New rides includes a Loop-the-Loop like a small roller coaster, the Whirlwind coaster, and the Shoot-the-Chutes that had been invented by Captain Boynton (Boyton) at Sea Lion park (Luna Park) at Coney Island in NYC.

Olentangy Park operated for 44 years, from 1893 to 1938, around the beginning of World War II. Property values were increasing and the Dussenbury Brothers made a profit when they sold to the LeVeque Family, after whom a prominent downtown skyscraper was named and stands today. A race up and down the stairways of the LeVeque Tower is held annually to benefit charities in Columbus. The LeVeques built apartments on the site that stood until the 2000s. A huge bowling alley, Olentangy Lanes, fronted High Street and just to the south was one of the first Big Bear grocery stores (now defunct) in town. Physicians' offices and a restaurant also fronted High Street, on the other side of the bowling alley.

Olentangy Park in it heyday was not tiny, as one might think from looking at the Olentangy Condominiums standing on the site today. They simply block the view of the land behind them. After full development, the park included four (4) roller coasters, two (2) Ferris wheels, two (2) carousels, a swimming pool, a boat ride and boat house, a race track, a train ride, a sawmill attraction (the old Piatt's Mill and a dam), a Grand Ballroom, Loop-the-Loop, Shoot-the-Chutes, and even more rides.

The park may have introduced a swimming pool because police cracked down on swimming behind the Piatt Mill on the Olentangy River at the west border of the park. People were swimming in the nude and this was close to Downtown Columbus and heavy traffic, including boats.

Olentangy Park was not your ordinary street car park, but began in that guise.

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Comments 7 comments

John Z profile image

John Z 7 years ago from Midwest

great hub. I was amazed that parks came out of the need for ridership on the trolleys. Thanks!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

We used to have a radio show on Sundays that was done by senior citizens in Central Ohio. They spoke a lot about the streetcars and the parks, and about how the streetcar tracks ran right through front yards in Bexley on the near East Side. That must have been convenient if you wanted to hop on, but kind of a nuisance to privacy and lawncare!  

I just found about about a HUGE amusement park that used to be in north Columbus as well - Minerva Lake Park. Now it's houses and apartments. Amazing.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

Very interesting story and it is fascinating to hear about all of these parks of years past. Actually, I have thought about writing a hub about a theme park that is no longer around, but it was very cute and whimsical.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Cute and whimsical is just fine! I think chikldren loved those parks, but so did adults. A mall in Pennsylvania has on its walls pieces of the carousel that used to be such a park on its site.


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

Wow! Too bad we don't have those today for our families to enjoy.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

That would be great, wouldn't it RGraf? I knew nothing about these until the 1980s; not too much published about them. I wonder if there is a theme park museum?


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

I bet there is. Just need to look for it. The days of yesteryear.....

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