Wildwood Amusement Park

Wildwood Amusement Park

The Slide at Wildwood Park at White Bear Lake c. 1905 MPRNews

For over three decades, Wildwood Amusement Park stood on the southeastern shore of White Bear Lake, leaving an indelible mark on generations of Twin Cities families. Strategically built and operated, at least initially, by the Minneapolis and St. Paul Suburban Railroad Company in Mahtomedi, it enticed crowds to board the streetcar and embark on an adventure near the eastern end of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul line.

From 11 am to 11 pm between Memorial Day and Labor Day, hundreds of men, women, and children caught a standing-room-only streetcar in St. Paul, paid ten to fifteen cents one-way, and rode to the "hoppin' place" along White Bear Lake. Traveling at speeds greater than sixty miles per hour, they arrived at Wildwood about forty-five minutes after leaving the city. Upon arrival, guests walked down steps from the depot, went through a tunnel, and emerged at the entrance to Wildwood Amusement Park.

Admission was free.

Once inside the park, visitors were treated to various attractions catering to all ages. Among its highlights were a dance hall, a roller coaster, a merry-go-round, a tilt-a-whirl, a Ferris wheel, a shooting gallery, and a penny arcade, among other amenities. Beyond the rides and games, guests could go swimming or boating on the lake and enjoy picturesque picnics on the nearby park grounds.

Besides the picnics, boat rides, and other amusement, there were traveling shows, diving ponies, and hot-air balloon rides. A bathhouse with a water chute and springboards operated west of the rides. Athletes played baseball on a beach near the water's edge.

But Wildwood Amusement Park offered even more delights. The park hosted traveling shows, featured diving ponies, and provided hot-air balloon rides for thrill-seekers. A bathhouse with a water chute and springboards operated west of the rides, adding to the excitement. Athletes played baseball on a beach near the water's edge, providing a perfect blend of recreation and amusement.

The park buzzed with entertainment, offering music from an orchestra, dancing lessons, bowling, fishing, playgrounds, a postal photo gallery, swings, and ball-throwing games. Companies from the Twin Cities often held employee events out at Wildwood.

Locally, it was considered the "Coney Island of Saint Paul," a reputation Wildwood earned. Its bustling atmosphere, thrilling rides, and lively entertainment made it a beloved destination for Twin Cities residents and visitors alike. The park's popularity surpassed its sister park at the opposite end of the line, Minnetonka's Big Island Amusement Park, which closed its doors in 1911. Although an immensely popular destination, financial difficulties plagued Wildwood throughout its existence, leading to multiple closures.

In 1916, a group of investors recognized the park's potential and purchased it hoping to revitalize its fortunes. They added new attractions, including a miniature train and a funhouse, and renamed the park "White Bear Park." In 1927, the park again changed hands, this time to the White Bear Lake Amusement Company. Under new ownership, Wildwood Amusement Park received several improvements, including a new roller coaster, tilt-a-whirl, and swimming pool.

However, despite these efforts, the park's money problems continued, and in 1932, ownership was forced to close its gates for good. Some of its remnants were given new life elsewhere. The rollercoaster found a new home in the former Excelsior Amusement Park.

The parks' decline is often attributed to two significant factors. First, the widespread adoption of the automobile allowed people to travel to places beyond the reach of the streetcar lines. Families ventured further for their vacations, and Wildwood's attendance declined. Second, the Great Depression of 1929 took a toll on the economy, leaving families with very little disposable income for recreational activities throughout the 1930s.

Wildwood Amusement Park's final chapter unfolded on April 10, 1938, when the Twin City Rapid Transit Corporation announced it was abandoning the venture. The dance pavilion and other remaining buildings were dismantled, and the land was sold and subdivided for residential development.

Streetcars continued to run to the area until 1951.

Today, the park holds a special place in the history of Mahtomedi and the Twin Cities, reminding us of a bygone era when streetcars whisked visitors away to a world of laughter, excitement, and pure joy. Although the physical park is gone, and few pieces of verifiable memorabilia remain, its spirit lives on through the many photographs and stories passed down by those who experienced its magic firsthand.

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  • Harlow, Tim. "Remembering Wildwood Amusement Park." Star Tribune. Last modified April 27, 2012. https://www.startribune.com/remembering-wildwood-amusement-park/148956905/.
  • Hatler, Carrie. "The End of the Line: Wildwood Amusement Park." Forgotten Minnesota. Last modified November 25, 2020. https://forgottenminnesota.com/forgotten-minnesota/2011/06/the-end-of-the-line.
  • "Quiet White Bear Lake Was Once a Minnesota Vacation Mecca." MPR News. Last modified May 8, 2009. https://www.mprnews.org/story/2009/05/08/whitebearhistory.
  • Twin City Rapid Transit. 1916. "Wildwood Park on Beautiful White Bear Lake 1916, Mahtomedi, Minnesota." Minnesota Streetcar Museum, https://collection.mndigital.org/catalog/msn:544
  • Weber, Eric W. "Wildwood Amusement Park." MNopedia | Minnesota Encyclopedia. Last modified September 21, 2012. https://www.mnopedia.org/place/wildwood-amusement-park.
  • ""Wildwood Amusement Park – Twin Cities Music Highlights." Twin Cities Music Highlights – Jeanne Andersen. Last modified January 6, 2023. https://twincitiesmusichighlights.net/venues/wildwood-amusement-park/.