americana / lesourdsville lake - monroe
Middletown resident Edgar Streifthau opened LeSourdsville Lake on May 8, 1922. Edgar and his business partner, Bill Rothfuss, built a bathhouse, a restaurant, dance hall and a bridge crossing the abandoned Miami-Erie Canal that passed through the property linking the parking lot and the park. They also constructed a concrete bottom in the man-made lake for swimming. Admission was 10 cents per person, 25 cents for swimming and 10 cents for a jitney dance per couple.
Just before the park was to open for the 1934 season, an accidental fire destroyed the bathhouse. Edgar was desperate to rebuild a new bathhouse before the park opened in May. He went to the Middletown Lumber Company and solicited the assistance of a personable and talented draftsman, Don Dazey. On May 30, the park opened with a new bathhouse.More importantly, Edgar realized how valuable Don's talents could be operating the park and offered him a 1/3 interest in the park with an option to purchase 1/2 interest at a later date. Don accepted the challenge and began making changes immediately. He convinced Edgar that dances could be successful without the fighting and melee that plagued the park earlier. Don constructed the Stardust Gardens next door to the bathhouse. Bands such as Ray McKinley, Glenn Miller, the Dorsey Brothers and Stan Kenton graced the rich, maple wood floor to thousands of delighted customers.
Don also solicited area companies to hold their picnics at the park and began an important tradition that continued into the 1980's. The decade ended with Edgar purchasing a 1927 John Miller wood coaster from Moxahalia Amusement Park in Zanesville, Ohio for $35,000. The coaster was rebuilt and named "The Cyclone."
Don Dazey passed away suddenly in June 1959. Edgar was lost without Don's ability to work with the staff and customers alike. Edgar's role had been mainly behind the scenes developing new revenue sources for the park and developing a plan for the park's future. A local bank required Edgar to immediately pay off an outstanding loan. Edgar decided he did not want to chance taking on a partner he couldn't get along with so he put the park up for sale.
In 1960, former Cedar Point concessionaires Howard Berni and Frank Murru purchased the park for $550,000. In 1964, Middletown resident William "Bill" Barr became a partner in the park and contributed his creative ideas and endless energy to help make LeSourdsville Lake the favorite park for hundreds of thousands of patrons.
By the mid 1970s, LeSourdsville Lake was drawing about 600,000 patrons annually. The opening of Kings Island just a few miles away in nearby Mason, Ohio in 1972 didn't damper the spirits of Howard Berni. "We wish them luck," said Howard in an interview in the Cincinnati Enquirer. "The first year we may feel a pinch because the local people will be curious, but we don't anticipate it will be to the point where it will bother our business. On the other hand, if Kings Island brings in the tourist, we will benefit from the overflow. We aren't going to fade away. They have the worries, not us."
In 1975, Bill Barr retired and park veteran Bill Robinson took over some of duties left by Barr. Bill's knack for producing interesting promotions enabled the park to enjoy large crowds. Some of the more unique promotions developed by Robinson included the 1976 designation as the country's only "Official" Bicentennial Amusement Park, the Coca-Cola/WSAI Radio Rock, Roll n' Remember concerts, and the Jell-O Jump, where contestants jumped into a huge barrel of gelatin to find the winning key to a new car. Robinson also created the host of costumed characters, including Uncle Freddy, the park's mascot.
In 1978, the name of the park was changed to Americana Amusement Park; the Great American Amusement Park. Local artist David Warren designed the Americana logo with Uncle Freddy.
On January 8, 1990, an electrical fire broke out in the Bathhouse and Stardust Gardens Ballroom. The result was over $5 million in losses, including a first aid office, arcade, games building, locker rooms and food concessions. Ride parts and cars from the Rock-O-Plane, Flying Scooter, Bumper Buggy and two kiddie rides were destroyed. The park quickly enlisted the assistance of local labor unions to rebuild the area in time for the April opening with payment to come later in the summer. Meanwhile, the park began experiencing problems with its insurance company regarding its multi-million dollar claim. To make matters worse, Ron Berni, a longtime fixture at the park and son of Howard Berni, took a position at Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville, Kentucky with the backing of his father.
The hiring of local students and senior citizens was always a challenge because of the keen competition of other attractions in the area. To help alleviate that problem, the park entered into an agreement with a Mexican college to hire Mexican students for the summer. The plan quickly fell apart and the park experienced a lot of negative media coverage regarding claims by the students of poor living conditions in their dorms and illegal working conditions. The local unions, who normally booked their picnics at the park, suddenly canceled their lucrative picnic outings due to the allegations and the park began a deep decline in attendance and revenue. By the end of season, attendance reached an all-time low of just under 200,000. The park then learned that its insurance company would only pay $3 million in claims, leaving the park to pick up the remaining $2 million in expenses. In December, the park filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
By spring 1991, the park was purchased and reopened by Leisure International, a group of former park management. Joe Faggionato, Guy Sutton, Lenny Gottstein and Don Robison took over the park and began the long, hard effort of erasing the previous year's nightmare from customers, including the local unions. In July, Guy Sutton left the park to become the Operations Director at Clementon Lake in New Jersey. By 1995, Faggionato, Gottstein and Robison realized that a bigger company with more capital would be needed to continue upgrading the park so Americana was put up for sale.
In 1996, Park River Corporation, owners of Coney Island Amusement Park in Cincinnati, Ohio, purchased Americana for an estimated $3 million. In 1997, Park River owner Ronald Walker died unexpectedly and family members expressed concern about the future of the park. The park was quietly marketed for sale by 1998. In a shocking announcement on January 6, 2000, Park River announced the closing of the park for the 2000 season.
On May 24, 2000, Hamilton businessman Jerry Couch purchased the park from Park River Corporation. He said he would change the park's name to "Couch's Americana Amusement Park at LeSourdsville Lake" out of respect for the park's 77 year-old history. Initial plans called for a year-round facility with Halloween and Christmas activities, construction of a campground, the opening of Couch's Campers Superstore on the property and new food services.
In April 2002, former carnival owners, the Pugh Family, established the LeSourdsville Group and took over management of the park for the 2002 season. Over $3 million in improvements were made including the addition of 10 new rides. They included a fun house, a swinging pirate ship, and a kid’s bumper car ride, the Zipper, the Music Express and the Tip-Top Tea Cup Ride. The adult bumper car ride was removed due to mechanical problems. In addition, a $150,000 ride safety inspection system was installed to improve preventive maintenance.
After experiencing a successful summer, the park unexpectedly closed a week prior than planned and announced that it was looking for a new management company to operate the park for 2003. Plans for the upcoming “LeScaresville Lake - a Halloween fright event” were cancelled.
The Pugh management team filed for bankruptcy and failed to pay some of the park employee’s wages due to them. Rides brought in earlier in the year were repossessed after the season ended due to non-payment by the Pugh management group. Rides included the Music Express, the Zipper, the Western Express Train, the Tip Top, the Mini Indy and a fun house.
On January 24, 2003, Couch's LeSourdsville Lake RV Super Center held its grand opening at the park. The park's old dormitory used during the 1990 season, was remodeled and made a part of the new store and showroom. "With the opening of the ....Super Center, we are one step closer to fulfilling our ultimate goal of establishing an RV and amusement park combination." said Couch in a Middletown Journal interview.
In February 2004, former Peony Park owner, Carl Jennings announced that he was seeking to purchase the park. A deal could not be reached.
On May 17, 2006, about half of the rides were sold and owner Jerry Couch announced that the park would not open as a traditional amusement park anytime in the future.
In 2011, the Screechin' Eagle roller coaster and several buildings were torn down. There are no plans to reopen the park.
Americana / LeSourdsville Lake Photo Album
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Photo credits: Top: soaphs file, T.Rhein, park archive.