Lake Compounce

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Lake Compounce
The Modern Lake Compounce logo, Nov 2017.jpeg
Location271 Enterprise Drive, Bristol, Connecticut, United States
Coordinates41°38′30″N 72°55′24″W / 41.64167°N 72.92333°W / 41.64167; -72.92333Coordinates: 41°38′30″N 72°55′24″W / 41.64167°N 72.92333°W / 41.64167; -72.92333
SloganNew England's Family Theme Park
OwnerParques Reunidos
Previous namesLake Compounce (1846–1985),
Hershey Lake Compounce (1986–1987),
Lake Compounce Festival Park (1988–1995),
Lake Compounce (1996-Present)
Operating season May through
Area332 acres (1.34 km2)
Roller coasters5
Water rides13

Lake Compounce is an amusement park located in Bristol and Southington, Connecticut. Opened in 1846, it is the oldest continuously operating amusement park in the United States.[1][2] It spans 332 acres (134 ha), which includes a beach and a water park called Crocodile Cove included in the price of admission.[3] The park was acquired from Kennywood Entertainment Company by Palace Entertainment, the U.S. subsidiary of Parques Reunidos. In addition to the 14th oldest wooden roller coaster in the world, Wildcat,[4] its newer wooden roller coaster, Boulder Dash, has won the Golden Ticket Award for the #1 Wooden Coaster in the World for five consecutive years.[5]


The main gate of Lake Compounce, with rides in the background
The main gate of Lake Compounce

The lake's name is derived from Chief John Compound, a Mattatuck/Tunxis American Indian. On December 3, 1684, his tribe signed a deed that left Compound's Lake to a group of white settlers, including John Norton, who had migrated to central Connecticut from Massachusetts. The property was left to the settlers in exchange for a small amount of money and miscellaneous items, including a large brass tea kettle.[6] A local myth suggests that Chief Compound drowned while trying to cross the lake in the brass tea kettle.[7]

Early days[edit]

The park's history goes back to 1846, when Gad Norton hired a scientist to perform an experiment using explosives, which failed. The experiment brought large crowds, which inspired Norton to open an amusement park. His park had public swimming and rowing on the lake, a gazebo for lakeside band concerts and several rides. The park saw success as a picnic park through the post-Civil War era.[8]

In 1851, a California Gold Rush 49er named Isaac Pierce joined Norton to establish a firm. The two men petitioned local legislators that their residences be ceded from the town of Southington to the town of Bristol. In 1895, a casino was built on the property, which was the first permanent building at the site. Later that year, the Bristol and Plainville Tramway Company constructed the Southington and Compounce trolley line.[9] Shortly after, Lake Compounce purchased the Lake Compounce Carousel for $10,000, opening it on Memorial Day, 1911. The Carousel is now included in the National Register of Historic Places.[10]

Green Dragon roller coaster

In 1914, Lake Compounce opened the Green Dragon, the park's first electric-powered roller coaster. The coaster was torn down in 1927 to make room for the Wildcat, a wooden coaster designed by Schmeck and built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company.

The early 1930s brought more growth. The casino was expanded with a dance floor. On Easter, Glenn Gray and the Casa Loma Band opened the Starlight Ballroom. The all-time attendance record of 5,000 was set in the spring of 1941, when Tommy Dorsey's reorganized band featured Frank Sinatra, who had yet to reach the height of his career.[11]

The effects of the Great Depression and the popularity of the automobile brought trolleys in the United States into a decline, which negatively impacted attendance at Lake Compounce. These same factors had similar effects on other parks in the New England region, such as Canobie Lake Park and Riverside Park.[8] In 1944, Lake Compounce opened a steam railroad. It was designed and built by Connecticut actor William Gillette, the original portrayer of Sherlock Holmes in silent films.[12]

New ownership[edit]

The park's success was steady until the late 1960s, when the park's attendance was decreasing. Lake Compounce remained under the ownership of the Pierce and Norton Corporation until 1966, when Edward G. Pierce sold his share to the Norton family. The Nortons owned and operated the park through 1985 and were able to restore some profitability and raise attendance. No major attractions were added during this time, and the Nortons listed the park for sale in 1984. In 1985, Lake Compounce was sold to the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company, owners of Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania, who briefly renamed the park to "Hershey's Lake Compounce".[13] Factors such as poor marketing, low attendance, and repeated ride outages caused Hershey to sell the park after two seasons in 1987, a decision that upset local representatives.[14]

In the spring of 1987, Joseph Entertainment Group, owned by Joseph Balestieri, bought the park and renamed it "Lake Compounce Festival Park". The park received renovations and in 1988 a 20,000-seat outdoor amphitheater. One of the first notable musical acts to perform at the new venue was the group Milli Vanilli, and their live performance was broadcast on MTV in what became the first public sign they were lip-synching, when a recording of the song "Girl You Know It's True" began to skip.[15] JEG focused on concert promotion and neglected the amusement park portion of the property. The Wildcat roller coaster and other rides became nonoperational by 1991. That year, JEG's financial troubles were exposed when a check the company wrote to Guns N' Roses bounced, and the performance was cancelled. It was later discovered that JEG was nearly $900,000 behind in taxes and had not refunded nearly $300,000 to ticket-holders for 15 cancelled concerts.[16][17]

At the end of the 1991 season, Joseph Entertainment Group filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and did not open the park for the 1992 season. The park was put up for sale at a very low price. After being unable to find a buyer, JEG filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and liquidated the park. The land and what was left of the rides and buildings was sold to a previous owner, Stephen Barberino. His plan was to hold onto the park and the few rides and buildings left and sell it to another amusement park owner. The park remained closed for the 1992 and 1993 seasons, but during both years the beach area was opened for the three days of Labor Day weekend in order to preserve the park's status as the oldest continuously operating amusement and trolley park in the United States. In 1993, Funtime Parks, which owned the now defunct Geauga Lake near Cleveland, Ohio and Darien Lake near Buffalo, NY, among other parks, became Barberino's management partner. The existing rides were repaired, some new rides were added, and waterslides were constructed for the beach and lake areas. The park reopened for the 1994 and 1995 seasons. That year Funtime merged with Premier Parks, which went on to purchase Riverside Park (now Six Flags New England) 30 miles north near Springfield, MA and owned other parks such as Great Escape in Lake George, NY. Premier Parks and Barberino then put Lake Compounce up for sale again in 1995. Companies such as Cedar Fair, Alpha Smartparks, and the Kennywood Corporation made offers.

Kennywood and Parques Reunidos[edit]

Early in 1996, Kennywood Entertainment, owners of Pittsburgh's Kennywood amusement park, signed an agreement to purchase Lake Compounce. That year the park added a few more new rides and a Boomerang Roller Coaster which was actually purchased by previous operators. The park prospered as it was positioned as a family medium-sized amusement park rather than a thrill park. In 2000, the roller coaster Boulder Dash was opened, and later received the 2004 Golden Ticket Award for the #1 rated Wooden roller coaster by "Amusement Today."[18] In late 2007, Kennywood Entertainment Company sold its parks to Spain-based Parques Reunidos.[19]

Plans include a significant expansion of the Crocodile Cove water park. This has required the moving of nearby Mount Vernon Road to the north to give the park more room for expansion. The road move was expected to cost $6 million, while the additions to the water park were expected to cost $15 million.[20] In 2013, the park added the Bayou Bay wave pool as part of its expansion plans. In 2014, the park added a campground off-site called Bear Creek Campground with cabins, tent and RV spaces, and a main lodge.

In 2016, the park added a new roller coaster called "Phobia Phear Coaster," a Sky Rocket 2 model from Premier Rides. Phobia features three LSM launches and a heartline roll at 150 feet (46 m) high. General Manager Jerry Brick stated that the coaster was the biggest investment in the park's history.[21][22]

Lake Compounce SkyRide chair lifts from the Tunxis Trail Compounce Ridge side trail (2010)

In early July 2017, Lake Compounce shut down the "Sky Ride"—a twenty-five minute round trip chairlift from the park up to the top of the Southington Mountain ridge. The non-ski chairlift was one of the new rides brought to the park by Kennywood Entertainment in 1997. The decommissioning came after a chairlift accident at Six Flags Great Escape on June 24, 2017. The remote and inaccessible nature of the lift's path and terminus on top of Southington Mountain were cited by General Manager Jerry Brick as reasons for the closing.[23]


During October, the park runs a Halloween event. The midways are decorated, many of the park's rides are run in the dark, and a haunted house called "The Haunted Graveyard" is opened. The attraction consists of a 45-minute walk-through of catacombs, castles, special effects, and graveyards, as well as many other houses being added every year. The Haunted Graveyard started in 1991 and relocated to Lake Compounce in 2001. Portions of the proceeds are donated towards the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.[24][25]

During December, the park becomes covered in lights, becoming a Christmas experience for adults and children. There is a selection of children's and family rides open and a place to meet Santa. The event also features a 100-foot-tall Christmas tree, which is the largest in Connecticut.[26][27]


Ride name Picture Opening year Manufacturer Description
Roller coasters
Boulder Dash Boulder Dash 2000 Custom Coasters International First wooden coaster to be built on the side of a mountain.[28] The track length is 4,725-foot (1,440 m) long with a 115-foot (35 m) first drop.
Kiddie Coaster 1997 Molina & Sons A children's roller coaster with an oval shaped track. The train consists of five cars with two children or one adult and one child per car.
Phobia Phear Coaster 2016 Premier Rides Sky Rocket II model roller coaster. Features an inline twist, a non-inverting loop, 3 LSM launches, and a top speed of 62 mph (100 km/h).[29]
Wildcat Wildcat Coaster 1927 Philadelphia Toboggan Company A historic wooden roller coaster and recipient of an ACE Coaster Landmark Award.[30]
Zoomerang Zoomerang 1997 Vekoma A Boomerang shuttle coaster from Vekoma with a 125-foot (38 m) drop, a cobra roll and vertical loop.
Amusement rides
American Flyers 1997 Rocco Amusements A Flying Scooters ride that previously resided at several different amusement parks, including Kennywood, before being relocated to Lake Compounce in 1997. The ride was located near the front of the park until 2001 when Mammoth Falls was built. The ride returned in 2003 to the area where the former Top Spin attraction was located.
Bumper Cars 1997 Reverchon Industries Classic bumper cars ride
Carousel 1911 Looff/Murphy Built in 1898 and moved to Lake Compounce in 1911, it is one of the oldest-operating carousels in the US. A Wurlitzer 153 band organ that plays off of style 150 paper rolls provides the carousel's music.
Central Pacific Railroad, C.P. Huntington Train C.P.HuntingtonTrain 1997 Chance A 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge family train ride which navigates alongside the east shore of Lake Compounce
Down Time Down Time.jpg 2004 S&S Power A drop tower ride that drops riders 185 feet (56 m) up to 60 mph (97 km/h)
Giant Wheel 1997 Chance A Ferris wheel
Ghost Hunt Ghosthunt 1999 Sally Corporation A ghosts and ghouls dark ride experience where riders shoot laser guns at targets to score points[31]
Pirate Ship 1986 HUSS Classic swinging pirate ship ride
Rev-O-Lution 2011 Zamperla A Disk'O flat ride that spins 360 degrees on a half-pipe-shaped track
Saw Mill Plunge 1986 Arrow Dynamics A classic log flume ride
Sky Coaster 1998 Skycoaster Inc. A Skycoaster amusement ride that swings riders in a pendulum motion
Thunder N' Lightning Thunder N Lightning 2006 S&S Power A Screamin' Swing ride where two giant arms swing riders up to 60 mph (97 km/h) producing up to 3 G's
Thunder Rapids 1997 Hopkins A classic river rapids ride
The Trolley 1997 Osgood Bradley Car Company A 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge open-air trolley ride utilizing the historic Connecticut Company #1414 trolley car, built in 1911[32][33]
Twister 2000 Wisdom Industries Ltd. A tornado-style ride where riders are able to spin their gondolas while the entire platform rotates and tilts
Wave Swinger Wave Swinger 1986 Zierer A wave swinger flat ride that tilts as riders swing in a circular motion
Wipeout 2009 Chance Rides A modern version of a classic Trabant ride
Zoomer's Gas N' Go 2007 Morgan A 1950s' car-themed attraction for children
Children's rides
Caterpillar Train 1997 Zamperla Ride vehicle has been themed to resemble a caterpillar. Consists of a powered first car and four non-powered training cars which run around a small scale track at a moderate speed. Ride is housed under its own open-air pavilion.
Drop Zone 2004 Moser A 40-foot (12 m) drop tower designed for children. An adult may ride if accompanying a child under 56-inch (140 cm). Riders are lifted 36-foot (11 m) in the air and then 'bounced' to the bottom. There are four different drop sequences to make each ride feel different.
Drum Circus 1997 Sartori Each ride seat is a drum that spins individually while the entire ride spins clockwise. The drums are fixed to arms which raise and lower automatically.
Fantasy Carousel 1997 Morgan A miniature carousel that has two rows of menagerie animals, including a fish, cat, and horse. Some of the figures are animated while others are stationary and there is one wheel chair accessible bench seat. The ride is designed for smaller children, but adults may stand next to a figure to accompany a child.
Flying Elephants 1997 Sartori The ride rotates in a clockwise direction and has 6 arms, each with an 'elephant' attached. The arms rise when the rider pulls the control stick towards them-self, and the elephant descends when the control stick is pushed away.
Jolly Jester 2009 Visa SRL A smaller version of the Pirate Ship where a motor below the ship turns a drive wheel that allows the boat to move back and forth in the direction of the spinning tire.
Kiddie Swinger 1985 Dietz Consists of sixteen swings suspended from chains on a rotating center.
Little Critters 1999 I. E. Park Small scale bumper cars themed as animals which seat up to two riders. Each passenger wears a shoulder strap across one of their shoulders. The overhead grid provides the power to each car motor. Ride is housed under its own open-air pavilion.
Little Dare Devils 1985 Hampton Consists of small scale motorcycles which rotate in a counter clockwise direction. A large umbrella canopy covers the ride and simultaneously rotates in a clockwise direction.
Rainbow Riders 2007 SBF Visa Consists of eight hot-air balloon themed baskets suspended from a center carriage which rotates and raises 25-foot (7.6 m).
Water rides
CrocoNile 2005 Lazy river that also includes an optional waterslide
Bayou Bay 2013 Wave pool
Buccaneer Bay 1998 Soak zone
Clipper Cove 2003 Soak zone
Compounce Cabana Boat 2007 Pontoon
Keeper's Cottage 1998 Soak zone
Mammoth Falls 2001 Enclosed raft slide
Riptide Racer 2012 Body slide
Tunnel Twisters 2009 Body slide
Wave Pool 1998 Wave pool
Venus Vortex 2020 Raft slide

Former attractions[edit]

Ride name Type Year opened Year closed Service years Description Replaced by
Roller coasters
Green Dragon Roller coaster 1914 1926 12 Wooden roller coaster that was replaced by the Wildcat Wildcat
Roll in the Dark Enclosed Roller Coaster 1979 1982 3 Enclosed Roller Coaster
Amusement rides
The Sky Ride Chairlift 1997 2017 20 A 25-minute Chairlift amusement ride that took riders to the top of Southington mountain and back. TBD
Enterprise Amusement ride 1986 2015 29 An Enterprise amusement ride model that consists of 20 gondolas arranged in a circle that spin at nearly a right angle to the ground. Manufactured by HUSS. Phobia Phear Coaster
Musik Express Amusement ride 1985 2008 23 A Mack Music Express Wipeout
Rotor Amusement ride 1997 2010 13 A cylindrical spinning ride where centrifugal force stuck the riders to the wall Rev-O-Lution
Top Spin Amusement ride 1997 2002 5 A Huss Top Spin American Flyers
Tornado Amusement Ride 1975 1999 24 Indoor scrambler ride. Twister
Children's rides
Arctic Express Kiddie ride 2008 Miniature version of the Musik Express for children Jolly Jester
Water rides
Lake Plunge Tube slide 1999 2011 12 Tube slide that was enclosed. It splashed out into the lake with 2 variants. Riptide Racer
Lights Out Body slide 1998 2019 21 Enclosed body slide that went around a lighthouse Venus Vortex
Twister Sisters Body slide 1985 2007 22 3 twisting enclosed body slides that were tan in color Tunnel Twisters
Miniature Golf Course Extra Fee Attraction 1959 2004 45 18 miniature golf holes Anchor Bay
Amphitheater Stage 1988 1997 9 20,000 seat outdoor amphitheater, home to concerts for many big names bands, and was constructed during the JEG era of the park Zoomerang
Paddle Boats Extra fee 1985 2005 20 Rental paddle boats Compounce Cabana Boat
Swan Boats Extra fee 2005 2007 2 Rental paddle boats themed as swans Compounce Cabana Boat
Mark Twain Transportation 1999 2007 8 Flat bottom paddle boat that transported guests across the lake, themed as a classic steam boat Compounce Cabana Boat
Gillette Railway Transportation 1943 1997 54 Train designed by William Gillette, and was borrowed from and later returned to Gillette Castle. C.P. Huntington Train


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External links[edit]