In 1898, a popular picnic spot began its transformation into one of the greatest amusement parks this country has ever seen. Is that an exaggeration? Not to the generations of children who experienced its magic. Located high atop the Palisades, straddling Cliffside Park and Fort Lee, Palisades Park Amusement Park became one of the most visited amusement parks in the United States.

By the 1920s, the nearby town of Palisades Park considered changing its name to avoid confusion. The amusement park was so popular, it overshadowed the town. With a history like this, it is safe to say you may have asked yourself “why did Palisades Park close?” Well, we are here to tell you, but not without a healthy dose of history first!

The park was originally developed to increase ridership on the local trolley, but it grew into something truly incredible. By 1908, the scenic picnic spot with views of New York City added a carousel, several rides, and a western show! In 1910, the property was sold to the Schenck Brothers. With a background in motion pictures, the brothers knew how to make a spectacle. They built the park up to rival Coney Island.

In 1913, the Schenck brothers built the world’s largest outdoor salt water pool in the Park. The Palisades Amusement Park Pool was a major attraction, drawing thousands of visitors from all walks of life. The 400′ x 600′ pool was filled by pumping water from the saline Hudson River, 200′ below. It featured a waterfall and massive pontoons for making waves.

In 1934, the Park was sold to the Rosenthal Brothers who made their fortune in Coney Island concessions. They brought the park to a whole new level of fame! The park hosted musical guests including The Four Seasons, Frankie Avalon, Diana Ross, and many more. It was also home to the Cyclone Roller Coaster, a sister coaster to the Cyclone in Coney Island. Though it was temporarily shut down by fires in 1935 and 1944, the park persevered.

The park advertised itself as having over 200 rides and attractions, but nearly anything could be considered an attraction. There were about 40-50 rides each season, many of which were rotated or replaced to keep things interesting. Throughout its history the park featured boat rides, giant slides, Ferris wheels, and a number of roller coasters.

Some of you may remember the Funhouse, Penny Arcade, Jungleland, Rock-O-Plane, Wild Mouse or Flight To Mars! If you don’t remember the rides, you may remember the song, “Palisades Park”, by Freddy Cannon. In 1962, it reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100!

By the mid-1960s, the park had become one of the most popular amusement attractions in the United States. However, local neighborhoods were not equipped to handle the immense amount of tourism and traffic. This meant that the area was rezoned for high-rise development.

The owners were much older at this time and decided to sell the park rather than fight the rezoning. It officially closed on September 12, 1971. In the parks former spot now stands several condo complexes, The Winston, Carlyle, and Royal Buckingham. There is a small monument to Palisades Amusement Park on the property. Many rides still survive in other parks or stashed away in warehouses.

According to a local news article, five cars used on the Cyclone wooden roller coaster recently returned to Fort Lee from Pennsylvania, where they had been gathering dust for decades in a storage barn. A restoration is planned and the cars will likely go on display outdoors or in local museums. If you’re feeling nostalgic now, enjoy the following video:

Did you ever visit this wonderful park? If you were lucky enough to see this park in its heyday, share your Palisades Park Amusement Park stories in the comments below, we would so love to hear them!

For those who want to learn a bit more about New Jersey history, take a look at our coverage of the C.A. Nothnagle Log House. This cabin dates back to the 1600s and is arguably the oldest place in New Jersey that you can actually visit. What a fascinating slice of history!

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