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Coney Island

Coney Island was on the north bank of the Ohio River east of Cincinnati. Butler Countians experienced a change in summer entertainment destinations in the early 1970s. Coney Island closed as an amusement park on Labor Day 1971.

Taking its place in the spring of 1972 was Kings Island Amusement Park on I-71, near Mason and Kings Mills and just a few miles east of the Butler County line. Coney Island -- which traced its history to 1867 -- had previously been known as Parker's Grove and Ohio Grove. As it developed, it attracted fun-seekers of all ages -- children enjoying rides and games along its midway; teens attracted to the large swimming pool; young people and adults dancing to the music of big bands; and patrons of all ages attending company picnics, church outings and family reunions. "The park site was owned by James Parker and exploited as a picnic spot until 1886, when it changed hands and was called Ohio Grove. Later that same year it was advertised as 'The Coney Island of the West,' " explained Cincinnati, A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors, compiled by workers of the Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration. The WPA guide, published in 1943, offered this description of Coney Island: "In the park itself are many amusement devices: a large ballroom for dancing to the music of big-name orchestras; a popular-priced cafeteria and a more formal dining room supplied with an orchestra; an extensive picnic grove with many tables and shade trees for group outings; an artificial lake for canoeing; an athletic field laid out for such games as baseball and softball; and ample parking space for automobiles. In addition, the park includes what is said to be the largest tiled, recirculating-water swimming pool in the world, measuring 200 by 400 feet, with a capacity of four million gallons of water."

For many patrons, the most memorable part of a Coney Island outing was the trip. "Not the least of the many attractions is the boat ride on the Ohio River from the city and return aboard the oil-burning steamer, Island Queen," the WPA guide said. That pleasurable experience disappeared after Coney Island's 1947 summer season. An explosion and fire in Pittsburgh Sept. 9, 1947, ended the entertainment feature popular with Butler County residents. The 286-foot Island Queen was destroyed while docked on the Monongahela River. Twenty people died in the disaster. The Island Queen had been transporting people between downtown Cincinnati and Coney Island since the summer of 1925. The green-and-white steamer carried as many as 4,000 passengers at a time on its frequent 30-minute trips. "Nearly everybody in Hamilton has been on that boat at one time or another," observed the Journal-News in reporting the loss of the popular five-deck excursion boat. Coney Island's position on the Ohio River made the park susceptible to frequent spring floods. The high water -- although seldom interfering with the park's opening -- imposed high costs for cleanup and repairs.

With the loss of the Island Queen, the river was no longer a transportation link for visitors. By the 1960s, the vast majority of customers arrived by motor vehicles, and adequate highway access and plentiful parking were major considerations. Taft Broadcasting -- which purchased Coney Island in 1969 -- decided to relocate the park to a high, dry site. It purchased land off I-71 near Mason and Kings Mills in Warren County, and April 29, 1972, opened a new amusement park, Kings Island, combining the name of the new location with that of the familiar park. (See Kings Mills, Mason and Warren County.)

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