At the turn of the 20th-century, Northern Manhattan was an amusement destination in New York City. Attractions like The Polo Grounds sports stadium, the High Bridge walkway over the Harlem River, and the Harlem River Speedway, where horse races were held all drew leisure seekers uptown. New York City revelers also traveled to the far north region of Manhattan to visit the Fort George Amusement Park. In our upcoming virtual talk on the hidden gems of Washington Heights, you can learn more about these lost attractions and other unique features of the neighborhood from throughout its history! Dubbed “Harlem’s Coney Island” by The Sun, the Fort George Amusement Park was a short-lived attraction that unfortunately met a fiery end.

Fort George Amusement Park
Courtesy of the Joseph Covino New York City Postcards Collection, The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

The amusement park was located along Amsterdam Ave in what is now the northernmost portion of High Bridge Park. Opened in 1895, the park featured an exciting assemblage of rides, including two Ferris wheels, a toboggan slide, and a roller-coaster set amongst the waterfront hills where thrill-seekers could catch views of the Harlem River. Along with the rides, there were also various hotels, food vendors selling fairground snacks like popcorn and hot dogs, saloons like “The Old Barrel” beer garden created by brothers Joseph and Nicholas Schenck, music halls, and a shooting range.

Hidden Gems of Washington Heights

Though much smaller than Coney Island in Brooklyn, the Fort George Amusement Park was a popular summer destination that expanded throughout its years in operation. In 1906, the Schenck Brothers opened their own section of thrill rides called Paradise Park and charged a 10 cent admission. According to The Sun, a typical Sunday in the summer of 1905 would see 70,000 visitors in the park. It was conveniently located at the end of the Third Avenue Trolley Line.

Amusement parks are inherently loud and rambunctious places that can sometimes attract seedy characters. As the areas around the park began to be developed into residential neighborhoods, residents started to take issue with the noise and crime. According to The Sun, the police attempted to clean up the park by banning palm readers, “megaphone men and barkers,” and gambling. They also tried to rid the surrounding woods of highwaymen and enforced segregation in the park. Still, local residents called for the resort’s closure and campaigned to have it turned into a public park.

In December 1911, someone took measures into their own hands and set fire to Paradise Park. The fire caused more than $25,000 worth of damage and destroyed multiple buildings on the property, but the park was repaired and reopened. Another suspicious fire broke out in June of 1913, and this time, the damage was too severe to be undone. According to the New York Times, “flames reached upward more than one hundred feet, while the surrounding country for half a mile in all directions was lighted. Not a single building in Paradise Park escaped.” The parkland was eventually condemned and incorporated into High Bridge Park. Today, you will find the Fort George Playground on the former site of the amusement park.

Seymour B. Durst Old York Library, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University

Uncover more hidden gems of Washington Heights on our upcoming virtual tour on April 6th! Tickets to this talk are just $10. You can gain access to unlimited free virtual events per month and unlock a video archive of 100+ past events as an Untapped New York Insider starting at $10/month. Already an Insider? Register here! Can’t make it live? Register for this virtual talk and we’ll email you a recording of it after it ends!

Hidden Gems of Washington Heights

Next, check out NYC’s Lost Amusement Parks