Kiddieland, Galesburg, IL (early 1950s - 1972)
A case can be built that a former business located in the ’50s and ’60s at 1721 N. Henderson St. may have touched as many lives as any local enterprise in history. Reliving the memories of an all-time favorite Galesburg amusement park has been one of the most requested columns.
Thanks to the efforts of Sheryl Bacon and Patty Mosher it seems fitting to remind area residents of the popular Kiddieland amusement park. Sheryl is the daughter of Saylor Conard, the last owner/operator of the fun park. Patty is archivist at the Galesburg Public Library. Sheryl has donated a scrapbook of her Kiddieland memories, including pictures, to the library.
Legend is that in the early ’50s a traveling carnival, whose owner went belly up financially while set up in Galesburg, abandoned the rides and flew the coop. Robert L. Green, known as the Traveling Welder, assumed ownership with his father and operated the amusement park for nearly 10 years. He designed many of the rides. The answer to hundreds of area children’s dreams included a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round (operated by Martha M. Morrison), flying swings and the very popular bumper cars.
In 1962 Saylor Conard, his entire family and a multitude of his friends took over operation of Kiddieland. Conard’s daughter remembered that her father’s love for children was his motivation to keep the park alive. No child was ever left out, as free tickets were always available to those who couldn’t afford them. Conard considered Kiddieland the vacation spot for those who couldn’t afford the traditional vacation. The price per ride was maintained at 10 cents until the latter life of the operation.
The main marketing tool of Kiddieland was a giant beacon or searchlight that streamed a beam of light that circled the area skies. Many area youngsters would bug their parents to take them to the park when the giant searchlight roamed the skies. Although it has not been confirmed, legend is that the searchlight was the beacon from the Galesburg Airport south of Kiddieland on Henderson Street.
Kiddieland was a family endeavor with Saylor’s wife, father and children selling tickets, running the train, repairing rides and selling delicious concession food. Concession fare included hot popcorn, snow cones, cotton candy, Green Rivers and whatever graveyards ingredients included.
Much to both owners’ credit, many middle-aged folks and teenagers were afforded needed jobs at the local amusement park. Jim Spellman and Ralph Plympton were two full-time employees who remained loyal until the very end. Other employees included Tom Hinton, Ted Gregory, Kenny Wixforth, Sharon Bainter, Christine Barton, Mary Louise Hinton, Cindy Dama and the Magnison guys.
Unfortunately, in mid-August 1972 the nearly 20-year reign of Kiddieland came to a screeching halt. Soaring maintenance and rental costs forced Saylor Conard to turn out the lights for the final time. It was estimated that more than a hundred cars, carrying an average three kids, visited the park daily, however, the effort to maintain the low ticket price of 10 to 15 cents made it impossible to cover expenses.
Many attempts were made to move the operation to the Lake Storey area and partnership with the city of Galesburg. Although city officials were sympathetic to the cause, the City Council repeatedly voted down the requested relocation. It was reported that a local bank had agreed to extend a loan if the city agreed to move the rides to Lake Storey. More than 5,000 residents signed petitions urging the council to jump aboard. Members of the local Army Reserve Unit volunteered to disassemble, move and re-construct the rides if the new location was approved.
The soul of Kiddieland is long gone. The voices of joy from area children, the light in the sky and spinning rides are nowhere to be seen, but will long be remembered.