Back when I was a wee small version of my current self, in the days before Six Flags and an era of amusement parks being built and operated by enormous multinational corporations (McFun!), Upstate New York was replete with all sorts of theme parks. Family-friendly attractions for summer weekend outings and class-trips, built and owned by much smaller companies (like a partnership, or even a family-run business) and chock full of character. A great many of these parks didn’t make it through the 1980′s, a mid-century mainstay outlived and left-behind, their assets bought-up by and integrated into other theme parks.For nearly 50 years, “Frontier Town” was a mainstay of New York’s North Country region. In 1951, Art Benson and some friends built 12 log houses from trees they felled with double-bladed axes on their newly-bought property in North Hudson. By 1954 they added a wild west cowboy section to their park (complete with stagecoach), in 1955 they added a park-wide railroad system, and in 1956 a rodeo arena. Later additions would include a cavalry fort, a “forge village” (with an ice house, a grist mill, sawmill and bloomery forge) and even an airstrip. When the Adirondack Northway was completed in the late 1960′s, a new entrance to the park was built taking advantage of the new highway exit, and a large A-frame and nearby restaurant were built. The park was sold in 1983, and in 1985 the park closed. It re-opened in 1989 and ran for nearly a decade, but in 1998 the park closed for good.More than a decade later, North Hudson is a ghost town. Empty hotels, gas stations and storefronts are all that remain of the town. The site itself is for sale for $850k (http://www.glebusrealty.com/Business_%20Listings.htm …see item listing G40), and its remains are left to the elements. Our latest adventure took us to the remains of this park, which is still standing but steadily decaying. There’s just something truly profound about a deserted kiddie park… for nearly 50 years it was a kid’s wonderland where time stood still, now just a carcass – the magic stripped away and reality left in its place. Still, when you walk through the now-overgrown streets, far from the sounds of traffic and the hum of power lines, it still feels like another world, and the world outside has been temporarily suspended.Click here to read more and see the pics:
To be able to appreciate the current state, let’s begin with some old photos and postcards from the park’s earlier life (Photo credits: frontiertown.net)…
An early pic of the site (before the cowboy town was built)
Later, after the “Prairie Junction” expansion
The Cavalry riding through town
Finally, a good aerial photo postcard of the park in its heyday
Now for some comparison photos (some photos via frontiertown.net):
Click the thumbnails below to see more:
Now into the park…
What’s left of the Rte 9 entrance sign (Click Here to see what it used to look like)
We started at the A-frame and worked our way back
…past what I believe was the restaurant (click thumbnails below)
Now onto the main event: the park itself…
The old turnstiles from the original Rte 9 entrance
This cash register looks like it too was abandoned use in the late 60′s
The first thing you see when you get to the bottom of the downward-sloping path to the park is the bear enclosure. The park used to have bears, first “Samson and Delilah” and later “Molly and Dolly.” Molly and Dolly, unfortunately, were abandoned when the park closed and were poorly kept for the next three years. They now live on a wildlife refuge in Florida. Click Here to read the story of their rescue.
A sight not see by many humans prior to 2005: A view of the Pioneer Village as seen from inside a bear enclosure.
The next thing we saw was the Pioneer Village. This was the original park, the 12 log buildings cut down with axes and built by hand by the original owners in 1951. One thing that’s quite remarkable is the well-preserved condition that the original log-built section remains in. These were the first attractions and, like the rest of the site, these traditional log cabins haven’t been maintained in more than 12 years. While much of the park that was built from more modern materials is sagging and falling, these cabins remain strong. The wood floors inside are free from rot, the heavy wooden latches on the doors are still strong, the doors still open and close, and the roofs don’t show any signs of sagging. The blockhouse itself looks like it would withstand a barrage of gunfire from “wild” Apaches.
There were two cow hides tacked to the walls of this one building
Several of the log buildings still have beds, chairs and other furniture inside (and like most of the buildings of the park site, are strewn with random junk). In this pic you can see that the fireplace was used quite a bit in its day.
This weird little house was different from everything else in this area. It looked like it could have been a hunting cabin or some other sort of housing for modern purposes. Inside this dark and creepy little place was a full kitchen and bathroom, a double-bed and a storage pantry. From the look of the inside, however, it hasn’t been used in many years.
While many of the buildings were holding up remarkably (and remarkably free from vandalism), many others were slowly decaying and being reclaimed by the land. here is a perfect example.
This blockhouse was amazingly solid. No windows – only rifle slots in the walls, so it was very dark inside. However, through the darkness I could see a large log stockade in the middle of the room, and stairs leading up to a second floor. Memo to me: if we come here again, be sure to bring a flashlight!
Another remarkable building in the village is this log church. Click the thumbnails below to see more of it…
The church in the pioneer village was truly amazing. Still just as strong as ever, papers are strewn about the pulpit, the hinged windows with the cross cut-outs were mostly intact (one was broken), and it was just kinda cool… in that spider-webby spooky ghost town kinda way.
Covered bridge to the forge village. We didn’t have enough time this day to explore, perhaps next time. On the Frontier Town Map this structure is just called “Carousel Park”
At the center of the carousel structure is an over-tipped can of trash
Through the overgrown fields of the “Boot Hill” cemetery we approach the “Prairie Junction” wild west town
Prairie Junction still stands, but has seen way better days
A view down the covered sidewalk
Half the town block has collapsed, the roof over the train station has collapsed recently, ceilings are drooping and floorboards are rotting through. This part of the park likely won’t last another 10 years.
The barred window of the sheriff’s office, one can only imagine how many photos are in family albums that feature this window, a kid or two on the other side, and a caption that mentions what happens to children who misbehave!
While some interiors were in pretty good shape, others looked as though they were about to cave in completely
There are decidedly more broken windows in this side of the park, either a product by elements native to fierce Adirondack winters, or by fierce Adirondack vandals.
The saloon piano seems to has held up
The saloon window, however, has not. The sad part about this is, when you compare it to a photo taken this time only one year ago (click here), you can see that this damage is recent.
Inside a snack bar (complete with a menu board, fridges, fryers, soda fountain, ice cream machine and menu board)
The heavy snows of the winter of 2007 -2008 did quite a number on many of the remaining buildings. Here you can see the dilapidated roof of the train station
…and what’s left of the “Wild West Music Hall.” Click Here to see what they looked like just one year prior.
Though we drove past the billboards by the I-87 off-ramp at least twice a year for most of my childhood, I never actually went to Frontier Town when it was a functioning theme park (though I did go to many others). I always wanted to, naturally, but then what kid wouldn’t? To the general public at large, parks like this just aren’t in very much demand anymore. To understand why, all one needs to do is drive 40 miles south of Frontier Town on the very same Rte 9 and see the sprawling 140-acre mega-complex of “Great Escape” (now a Six Flags). A whole lot of fun, I agree, but there’s just no history or local heritage associated with a Six Flags-type amusement park. No one who goes there probably tells their kid “This is where your daddy used to go when he was little, and this is where MY daddy used to go to as well!” No one likely boasts of three generations of their family working there during summers. Even the Great Escape hasn’t always been the Great Escape, and in another 10 or 15 years it will likely be something else entirely. Parks like Six Flags are more like a shopping mall, with none of the same character, and decidedly less personality than the older parks of the mid-century.
In it’s current state, much like it was in its heyday, Frontier Town remains a museum of Americana… just a museum in a whole different form.
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