Coney Island – A History of Amusement

Image: Patricia Hofmeester / Shutterstock.com

Located on the Coney Island Channel in Brooklyn, New York is an entertainment centre, beach and leisure park known collectively as Coney Island. The development of this area began shortly after 1829, when the first bridge connecting Coney Island Creek to the mainland was built. During the 1830s and ‘40s, it grew in popularity as a vacation spot, as roads and travel by steam ship reduced the amount of time it took to get there. Originally, these travellers were mainly wealthy carriage owners until a ferry service began to operate to Norton’s Point, encouraging middle class vacationers.

The area’s first resort was built by William A. Engleman, and later named ‘Brighton Beach,’ after the British vacation town. The hotel could accommodate up to 5000 overnight guests, and provide meals for 20000 daily. The Brighton Beach Pavilion, a 400ft double-decker resting area was built nearby. Development along different parts of Coney Island continued and between the years of 1870 and 1900 the three main areas: Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and West Brighton competed for tourists. By 1900, West Brighton had become the most popular, and Coney Island’s scenery included: Victorian Houses, Vaudeville theatres and private bathhouses, to increase the comfort and entertainment that visitors enjoyed. After the early 1900s, when the railroads were electrified, Coney island became a convenient day trip location,in addition to being a holiday spot.

In 1876, the first carousel and amusement ride was installed by Danish woodcarver, Charles I.D. Looff. The 5c ride had hand carved horses, and other animals, standing two abreast; and music was provided by two musicians, a drummer and a flute player. By 1880, Coney Island had become the greatest amusement area in the United States, attracting several million customers per year. At its peak, there were three major amusement parks: Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeple Chase Park. It was also a centre of entertainment technology during the early 1900s, and electric lights, roller coasters, the Parachute Jump and the Wonder Wheel all showcased at Coney Island.

The ‘Funny Face’ logo, which is still used today, dates back to the opening of Steeple Chase Park. The area’s most popular era began in the 1920s, shortly after the opening of the New West End Terminal, and all property north of the boardwalk and south of Surf Avenue became a recreational and amusement only zone. During the 1920s and ‘30s, the Coney Island Creek was filled, permanently connecting Coney Island to the mainland.

The beginning of WWII caused a decline in the area’s visitors and many of the recreational facilities were forced to close down. After the war, there was a boost in visitors and in the decades since then, many renovations have been made. Coney Island currently has two amusement parks: Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. These continue to be popular tourist destinations, along with the area’s beaches. Many renowned events are held in Coney Island, and the area continues to attract and amuse millions of people each year.

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