FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – As summer fast approaches, you may be planning a trip to Cedar Point, Kings Island, or any other Midwest amusement park. If you were making those plans over 100 years ago, you may not have needed to travel far.
Robison Park was Fort Wayne’s premiere entertainment destination from 1896 to 1919. During that period, those near and far flocked to enjoy a walk in the woods and take in everything the amusement park had to offer.
Casey Drudge, a Fort Wayne resident, likes to call himself the local Robison Park expert. He was first introduced to the park when the Canal Society of Indiana asked him to write about the history of the park in their newsletter. Drudge agreed after he had collected postcards of the park. After writing a successful eight page history, the History Center asked him to write a full history for the Old Fort News. The full edition, published in 2000, is over 30 pages long. Drudge has mapped the entire park using a compass, artifacts, and his own knowledge of where the park once stood.
Robison Park once stood in the North Pointe Woods subdivision along the St. Joseph River. Not much remains from the park and nature has reclaimed much of the area. However, Drudge can still identify where things once stood and if you look close enough, some remnants still stand out. Drudge recalls finding a depression in the woods that wasn’t natural. He was able to determine it was where a bowling alley once stood based on the depth, length, and width. Drudge has also found several old artifacts, including a bottle that used to contain iron glue, which stopped being made in 1876. One of the most viewable remnants is what’s left of a drinking fountain. The other is what’s left of the dam on Swift’s Creek. With nature taking apart the dam, the area where the park once stood is now 35 feet above the river.
The park had many features. The main pavilion was the first building and was the only building when the park first opened. The park then expanded to include a 17,000 gallon water tower. The dance hall was also a big attraction. The park had an orchestrion, which was a mechanical orchestra representing 40 different instruments. It could be heard across the whole park with no additional amplification. The park had a roller coaster that was a double figure eight coaster. Circle Swing Island was also popular. It was a tower with long arms. Riders would go up 60 feet in the air and swing out over the water. Drudge knows someone who was tasked with greasing the bearing at the top of the tower. He would climb up to the top when he was 10 years old. The theatre was popular, as many entertainment acts from outside of the city performed there. Other attractions included a birdcage, a carousel, and Standish photography. Below are some images of the park provided by Drudge and the Fort Wayne History Center.
The park was originally supposed to be named after the farmer who owned the land where the park was built. However, M. Stanley Robison, the park’s developer, ended up changing the name to be named after him. Thus, the Robison Park name was born.
Grand opening day in 1896 was two weeks or so after the initial opening. The first day had a big marriage in the main pavilion (the only building at the time). It is estimated 10,000 people were in attendance to witness the wedding and the opening of the park. The woods were the main attraction at the beginning before more buildings were created.
The park was very successful, as it was free to get in. The only notable fees were to ride the trolley to get there and pay for food. There were no other significant fees. However, this business model proved to be unsustainable. Despite all of the fees associated with bringing in outside entertainment, the park never made a dime of profit for itself. This ultimately led to the demise of the park in 1919. The rise of the automobile also played a role, as riding the trolley to get there became outdated.
Unfortunately for Fort Wayne, no one had the foresight to begin charging entry fees. This is likely why the park never stuck and a park like it was never seen again in the city. If someone had adjusted the park for automobiles and had started requiring fees to at least enter the park, maybe Robison Park would still be alive to be enjoyed this summer.
Drudge still leads tours through the woods and stills sees others out there looking for remnants of the park. He recalls one winter day when someone was out there on a Saturday morning in fresh snow and -8 degree temperatures.
Ultimately, Robison Park was a special place. If you would like to learn much more about the park, contact Drudge for more information and to set up a tour of where the park stood in the North Pointe Woods area. You can reach Drudge at email@example.com. You can also pick up a copy of the Old Fort News edition from the Fort Wayne History Center.