The Tale of the Lost Amusement Park at Orange Lake
A closer look at one of the Hudson Valley's long-lost amusement parks
Photograph courtesy of Wesley Gottlock
The amusement park at Orange Lake was located about six miles west of Newburgh. It had always been a place where people could enjoy fishing, boating, swimming, and a pleasant walk. The advent of trolley service greatly increased the park’s popularity and led to it become one of the most popular parks in the Northeast.
The first trolley line, which extended from the western end of the city to the riverfront, began running in Newburgh in December 1886. In those early days, the trolleys were on tracks drawn by horses; passengers had to jump off overloaded cars so that the horses could pull them up Broadway’s steep hill. By the mid-1890s electricity had replaced horse power, and trolley service had expanded throughout the city as well as to nearby Walden. Visitors would take a steamboat to Newburgh where they could board trolleys for the 15-20 minute ride to the lake.
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Former New York governor Benjamin Barker Odell, Jr. was the president of the Central Hudson Steamship Company, and was also on the board of the trolley company. By 1906, he was developing Orange Lake Park into a showcase. Each year he added new forms of entertainment, including a roller skating rink, snack bars, a midway with games of chance, a Ferris wheel, a public beach for swimming, and row boats and canoes for rent. Not only were there many amusements to enjoy, but the vistas around the lake were quite lovely. Visitors could come for the day or stay for an extended visit in one of the bungalows dotting the lakeside.
The park opened every year on Decoration Day (presently called Memorial Day) and closed around Labor Day. A theater provided both musical and comedy acts. On opening day in 1911, the program included the Globe Comedy Four, one of many African American troupes that entertained in venues around the country. Famous music artists — including Ozzie Nelson, Tommy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman — performed at the bandstand. One of the park’s rides was Ye Olde Mill: Passengers rode in boats that floated on tracks through dark tunnels. People who remember the park said that this was a scary ride. There was also a rambling path through the trees that locals referred to as Flirtation Walk or Lovers Lane.
Like most trolley parks of the era, Orange Lake saw a chain reaction of factors which led to its demise. As the use of automobiles increased, it allowed people the freedom to travel further from home to more varied places. The effects were felt in both steamboat and trolley travel, as it was no longer profitable for boat companies to continue their runs up and down the river.
During the Great Depression, the park was forced to close for a number of years. It was eventually dismantled in 1941; now the site is a residential community. Nothing remains of the amusement park that brought thousands of visitors to the lake and the area around it.