Before Disney there was Kiddieland

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Before Disney there was Kiddieland

A Journey into New Jersey

As we post it is the first week in November. The schools locally are off for Election Day and the Teacher's Convention - leaving many to leave town for a few days vacation.

Today’s families in search of fun and amusements routinely head to Disney or Universal Studios as if it were just around the corner.

It’s quite different from those days when an amusement park was in fact just around the corner here in town.

These days, local amusement parks include the likes of Six Flags, ’s, Seaside Heights, Wildwood, Ocean City, Dorney Park and Hershey Park.

Once upon a time it was Palisades Amusement Park that was a popular local destination. So was Bertrand’s Island along the shores of Lake Hopatcong.

But for some there was little need to venture out of River Edge for River Edge had its own amusement park – Kiddie Wonderland.

Though its reign was brief, it had a profound impact on many, and is still fondly recalled decades later.

Located at the end of Main Street at the place where the Hackensack River intersects Coles Brook just across the (now the site of the Van Steuben Arms garden apartments), Kiddie Land was in operation locally from 1951 to 1958, on the grounds of an old ink factory.

It wasn’t big, nor was it fancy, but to many it was a special place.

Some six decades removed, recollections and memories can become clouded and distorted by time and heart. But a glimpse of a photo from the archives of the Bergen County Historical Society brought memories flooding back.

Sunday night was the time for our family to visit Kiddie Land. A possible trip would be dangled before us throughout the day as a reward for good behavior, so by the time of our early evening visit we were bound up in frenzied excitement and anticipation.

Recollections are of a busy and exciting place.

The rides themselves were pretty basic – “flying animals”, a small roller coaster, a carousel and my personal favorite , a small train ride just next to the river.

One recalls a small food stand selling the likes of soda, popcorn and hot dogs. Our family’s Sunday visits usually came after dinner, so we mainly recall the soft vanilla ice cream.

In just 30 minutes one experienced a full range of emotions - from initial anticipation to exhilaration during the visit and finally a melancholy as our family car slowly made its way back up Main Street towards home, occupants coping with the realization that the weekend and our Kiddie Land excursion was now over, and that it was back to the reality of life in the 1950’s.

Those that know of such things tell us that the land home to Kiddie Land was too valuable for the place to last – a line that we would come to hear invoked again repeatedly over the years as so much of what we liked about town would be destroyed in the name of progress.

Now, decades later, few even know that an amusement park was ever there.

Many around here still fondly recall happy days at Palisades Amusements Park. There are songs, and groups that keep the memory and spirit of that place alive.

Kiddie Land has none of that going for it. But for some of us, our heart remains along the Hackensack at the site of the modern day garden apartments. Beyond the visible non-descript buildings and parking lots, we still can see and feel something else – the sights, sounds, smells and sensations of a Kiddie Wonderland long gone.

My all too quickly growing kids once enjoyed the carousel, train ride and too many sweets over at Van Saun Park. I suppose to them it might hold the feelings that I still have for Kiddie Land, but I somehow doubt it.

It seems that, age and circumstances have perhaps made the place bigger than it ever was, the ice cream sweeter, and the hugs and outstretched arms of loved ones there ever more precious.

CREDIT: VIDBEACH (via YOUTUBE)

Before Disney there was Kiddieland

This piece was first prepared for River Dell Patch - it ran in July, 2011.

A special  acknowledgement to the contributions of the late Kevin Wright for helping secure the vintage photo of Kiddie Wonderland. Kiddie Wonderland, Main Street, River Edge, circa 1956. Courtesy of the Bergen County Historical Society©2011. BCHS is interested in copying old photographs of Bergen County. They can be reached by email at contactBCHS@bergencountyhistory.org or Bergen County Historical Society, PO Box 55, River Edge, NJ 07661.