Monday, January 16, 2017

Riverview (Amusement) Park, 3300 North Western Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. (1904-1967)

Riverview Park was an amusement park in Chicago, Illinois which operated from 1904 to 1967. 
William Schmidt, owner of Riverview, looks out over the park in 1967, the last season.

Looking north on Western Avenue, June 10, 1956.
It was located on 74 acres in an area bound on the south and east by Belmont and Western Avenues, respectively, on the north by Lane Technical High School and on the west by the north branch of the Chicago River.
It all started with a man named Wilhelm A. Schmidt who, during the late 1800s, wanted nothing more than to open the modest Schützen Park, "Sharpshooters Park." Schützen comes from the German word "protect" and did well until 1903, when Schmidt's son, George, returned from school. 

Upon returning from Europe, George told stories of the parks he had seen, which boasted fantastic Ferris Wheels, Carousels, and more. He argued that these rides would attract people from all over, and with some monetary help from a lawyer named William Johnson and a banker, Joseph McQuade, his vision quickly became reality. 

After that point, the park became known as "Riverview Sharpshooters' Park" and was home to three rides. 
One of Three Original Rides.
Unlike other parks, admission was close to free, and you paid separately for each ride. This approach appealed to the working class of Chicago and kept the park doing well for quite some time. 

In 1906 the park saw a noteworthy increase in space, adding 50 acres and about 500,000 dollars worth of rides. Riverview was growing from a humble family-owned park to the kind of place kids swooned over. 

In 1907 a new front gate was erected, followed by the addition of the Velvet Coaster, the Pikes Peak Scenic Railway, a racetrack, and a whole new section of the park called Fairyland.
Velvet Coaster.
In 1908 they introduced two new attractions, which stunned and amazed park-goers. The first was the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimac, a recreation of the Civil War naval battle. The second was a 70-foot carousel, admired greatly for being hand-carved and painted by a group of Swiss and Italian craftsmen.
The Merry-Go-Round, installed in 1904, was a concession at Riverview Sharpshooters' Park owned by the Eastern group. It was second in popularity to the Figure 8 roller coaster. The "Morris Merry-Go-Round" was described by the owner as having "very handsome figures in an octagon pavilion 100 feet across and 45 feet high." The cost of a ride was 5¢. In the foreground is a glass etching souvenir booth. The larger E. Joy-Morris "Fairyland Carousel" did not arrive until 1908.
Riverview Sharpshooters' Park Merry-Go-Round.
Riverview's original E. Joy-Morris new Carousel was installed in 1908. It was one of the largest ever built, holding five rows of 70 large hand-carved and painted horses by Swiss and Italian woodcarvers from the Philadelphia Toboggan Coaster Company. It was located just inside the main gate.
This wooden carousel horse was hand carved and painted with glass eyes was made by Leo Zoller. Horse is black and white with a sculpted gray mane and tail. Sculpted feathers with red and blue tips are around his neck. A sculpted golden-yellow lion pelt with a head, legs and tail makes the saddle. Brown leather strap/reins attached at the mouth with metal hardware. The horse is in galloping pose with legs bent up towards the body (Height: 51 in; Width: 17.5 in; Depth: 70 in) 1908. The last horse was donated to the Chicago History Museum.
Winter saw the addition of a roller rink and ballroom often filled with jubilant jazz and courting couples. At this point, the park had grown to 102 acres and continued adding eateries, games, shows, and more. 

In 1909 once again, the park's name changed to "Riverview Exposition Park" and became a household name. The addition of new rides continued ever strong, introducing The Tickler, Expo whirl, and Witching Waves in 1910 and the Metrodome in 1911. In 1913 there was yet another name change – and the final one   where the name was simplified to Riverview Park.
The Big Dipper, in the 1920s
The Big Dipper, in the 1920s
During the time of prohibition in the 1920s, Riverview was known as a speak-easy, as you could still find beer and liquor. Throughout the course of the decade, they continued adding more rides, including the most popular "The Bobs," with a nearly 90-foot drop.
That wasn't the only thing breaking records. George Schmidt also invented the famous foot-long hot dog around this time to be filling and inexpensive when things became hard during the depression. During this time period, Riverview adopted the motto "Laugh Your Troubles Away at Riverview!"

Riverview saw prosperity throughout the 1950s, becoming a favorite to the returning servicemen of WWII. The late 50s also brought a new slogan, "Riverview Park - Just for Fun.
Riverview Park hosted a live radio show with Buddy Black called "Riverview Funtime" that aired on WGN-AM 720 in the 1950s.
The early 1960s were good years for the baby boomer generation. 
The intersection of  Belmont, Western, and Claybourn Avenues, looking west on Belmont. Note the Riverview sign. 1960
At the end of the 1967 season, Riverview Park advertised its opening date for 1968. Shortly after the end of the season, the park announced on October 3, 1967, that it would not reopen. There was much speculation about why. The park had been profitable until it closed. It was rumored that escalating racial tensions and de facto segregation in Chicago in the 1960s made the owners uncomfortable and less willing to keep the park open. 

In truth, however, Riverview Park likely closed for economic reasons. While it was profitable, the $6.5 million sales price was too good to pass up, and within a few months, Riverview Park was no more.

What became of Riverview’s rides and attractions?
Unfortunately, most were smashed into oblivion shortly after Riverview Park in Chicago closed its doors for the final time. Although the park’s owners held an auction just after closing, none of the 50 bidders wanted attractions such as the Pair-O-Chute Jump, the Space Ride, the flash High Ride, or even the world-famous Bobs roller coaster.
1967 Riverview Park Ride Auction Advertisement.
In its day, the Bobs was billed as the world’s faster roller coaster, attaining a top speed of more than 60 miles per hour.  According to a 1953 article in the Chicago American, the Bobs was the most thrilling ride in America.

The Chicago Sun-Times recalled the Bobs in a feature article not long ago: “It was a mind-numbing, body-bruising, 120-second dash through twisted metal and rickety white wood; when it was over, you’d be battered and breathless.”

Nonetheless, it was unwanted at the auction, and shortly thereafter, it was demolished and sold for scrap, along with Riverview’s five other roller coasters — the Fireball, the Wild Mouse, the Silver Streak, the Comet, and the Greyhound.  Shoot-the-Chutes was also demolished, as was the giant genie’s head that grimaced above the entrance to Aladdin’s Castle.

Many of the smaller rides, like the Ferris wheel and miniature train, were sold to carnivals in different parts of the country.  A Chicagoan bought four children’s rides — The Whip, Kiddy Merry-Go-Round, Kiddy Bug, and Kiddy Boat — for $2,800.

The only Riverview Park ride that survives today is the Carousel. Six Flags over Georgia restored it just west of Atlanta and listed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

Amusement Park Name History:
● Schützen (also: Schüetzen) Park aka Sharpshooters' Park, Chicago, IL. (1879-1903)              [Schützenverein (German: Shooting Club)]
● Riverview Sharpshooters' Park, Chicago, IL. (1904-1908)
● Riverview Exposition Park, Chicago, IL. (1909-1912)
● Riverview Park, Chicago, IL. (1913-1967)

Riverview Roller Coaster History:
NOTE: Riverview was known to rename a roller coaster after an accident occurred. 
">" = "Renamed to"

Aerial Coaster (1908-1910)
Big Dipper (1920) > Zepher (1936) > Comet (1940-1967)
Blue Streak [The Original] (1911-1923)
Bobs (1924-1967)
Cannon Ball (1919-1925)
Derby Racer (1909-1932)
Fireball (1959-1967)
Flying Turns (1935-1967) [purchased after the 1933-34 World's Fair closed]
Gee Wiz (1912) > Greyhound (1913-1965) > Jetstream (1965-1967)
Jack Rabbit (1915-1919)
Kiddie Bobs (1926-1934)
Pikes Peak Scenic Railway (1907-1911)
Pippin (1921) > Silver Streak (1938) > Silver Flash (19??) {Shortened to} Flash (1961-1967)
Royal Gorge Scenic Railway (1908-1920)
Skyrocket (1923) > Blue Streak (1936-1958)
Tickler (1906-????)
Top (1907-1916)
Velvet Coaster (1909-1919)
White Flyer (1904-1920s)
Wild Mouse (1958-1967)

Flying Cars 1954

The Flying Cars was a German-made ride built for Chicago's great Riverview Park in 1954. Riders were strapped into a small car inside a large rotating barrel. The barrel had a track inside for the cars to ride freewheeling. A rail and floating clamp system held the cars onto the drum. As the drum spins, the 1 person's car follows the track and eventually begins to go upside down. 
The drum steadily increases its speed, and the cars let it roll beneath their wheels as they follow the track. The cars' brakes are then applied to cause them to quickly accelerate up to the speed of the drum's surface, which is around 30 mph, causing the cars to go 360°. The operator of Flying Cars would spin the drum for two minutes and then release the brakes, causing the cars to come to a complete stop while the drum also slows to a halt. It sounds like fun! Unfortunately, someone failed to fasten their safety belt properly and was killed after falling out. That was the end of the Flying Cars.

Riverview Remembered by WGN
The Bobs Roller Coaster at Riverview 
Riverview Amusement Park (circa 1952)
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


On the left: The tower ride was called "Expo-Whirl," which was installed in 1909 as a large swing ride.
The "Expo-Whirl," Cars of the large tower swing ride.

Deirdre Capone personally sent me this photograph of herself at Riverview in 1956. She is Al Capone's Grand Neice. The twin Ferris wheels, the Dodgem station, and the Flash roller coaster tracks are in the background. Deirdre personally told me how much she loved going to Riverview.
ARTICLE: Removal of the "African Dip" Dunk Tank Game from Riverview Park in Chicago, Illinois.

In the Foreground is the Grebe & Co. Inc. Shipyard.
Riverview Park Clowns - Circa 1925
In the Foreground is the Grebe & Co. Inc. Shipyard.
On the left is the Henry C. Grebe & Co. Inc. Shipyard on the Chicago River at Belmont Avenue. They built U.S. Navy Ships and pleasure cruisers.

In the Foreground is the Grebe & Co. Inc. Shipyard.
Riverview and Bally MFG Co. at 2640 W Belmont Ave, Chicago in the foreground.
Photo by Walter Rieger

Photo by Walter Rieger
Photo by Walter Rieger

Advertisement for Riverview Amusement Park, c.1930s
Visit our Souvenir Shop on your way out.


  1. One of the only original natural amusement parks in America. Grew up in the area and visited several times. How sad to let it go!!! I will never forget the fun and happiness it brought to me and so many others...

  2. Thanks for a great article, Neil! Howard (Kaplan) and I lived just a few blocks from its location for the past 20 years (but moved a few miles west two years ago), and have always been fascinated by the park. We didn't move to Chicago until the '80s, so we never saw it. But these pictures bring it to life! Laurie Vassallo

  3. Thanks for recapturing the memories of a fantastic time in Chicago.

  4. Superb Post,
    Excellent pictures recapture my experiences.
    Spent many hours there in my youth almost all of the rides bring back memories.
    The scenes post demolition are sad though.

  5. The article concerning Riverviews closing mentioned Two Ton Baker. I haven't thought about that character since 1967. What a nice memory.

  6. It broke our hearts when Riverview closed! We always went with our Gramma on the Belmont bus, with a picnic lunch! At night for a couple weeks in the summer they'd have Mardi Gras! I just regret being too young to go on the big coasters-I loved the big grinning lighted fireball on The Fireball-Riverview at night was even better-though a little creepy towards the end...

  7. Really enjoyed seeing all the photos. I’ve always found Riverview very appealing. There is something homespun and intimate about it that you’ll never experience at the new sleek, modern amusement parks. Glad I was able to ‘laugh my troubles away’ there in the 50’s and 60’s.

  8. Wow! Memories co.efloodkng. back. I was one of the luckiest kids to go there because my mother was the director of a nursery school. In the summer months, the school ran a day camp for 2 months of summer so every 2 weeks was a trip to Riverview with the day camp kids. It was awesome. Thank you Neil, for wonderful memories.

  9. Riverview was a fantastic park. I went there in the late 1950s and early 60s. No place like it. We drove there from my home in Hammond, IN.

  10. as a student of lane in the 50's classroom faced the parachutes and watched as people got stuck at the top several times

  11. We took our 8th grade trip in 1965 from Westville (IL) Jr High School to Riverview.

  12. I went there Thanksgiving day 1969. Just home from the Marines, brought my motocross motorcycle, slid it under a gate and rode around. Now 74 years old one of the saddest times of my life. The wreckage of the rides was awful but the worst was Aladins castle. It was faded and in shambles. I went to Land Tech HS, and used to see it through the windows. What great memories.

  13. Riverview Park was an absolutely amazing place and a tragic loss like so many other things from the past. The post war years of 1945 to about 1975 were probably the greatest time ever to be alive. So many wonderful things and places to see and do and mostly gone now except for the great memories for those of us that were there. Life was so much nicer and easygoing before we got into this crazy, boring and over-populated, electronic dominated world we have now. Most of the people in the newer generations have no idea what life is really all about. If there were a time machine, I would volunteer in a second to go back to about 1946. The only thing is that once I got there I would not want to come back here. Thanks to all the Museums, Libraries, Etc. that at least try to document and preserve as much history as possible.

    1. Everybody believes that going back to the past would be all rosie. Not so in Chicago. Lots of race riots throughout the 1940s to the 1970s. There were financial depressions and lots of unemployemnt issues. There were a lot of Chicago fires, including the "Our Lady of the Angels" School Fire on December 1, 1958 which killed 92 children and 3 Nuns. Sorry to break your "greatest time ever to be alive" bubble.

    2. People were more connected via face to face conversation, and didn’t have hundreds of digital friends. Ironic isn’t it, that the more digitally connected we’ve become, in some ways we are more distant than ever.

    3. Geez, everybody commenting on the positives of those days, and you need to point out the negatives? Why do that here?

    4. Illinois history is full of good stories and many negative ones. This blog presents both, even when in the same story. We don't sweep the bad under the rug.

  14. I remember going with my parents when I was a child. The thing that stuck with me all these years was the parachute ride. I found it fascinating, but was not allowed to go on it.

  15. Excellent! We went every summer. I was always too chicken to go on the Bobs, now I see from the video it wasn't that bad. My grfather who was a carpenter did some maintenance work on it.

  16. Thanks for the info and photos. I think the roller coasters had name changes. I recall the Comet, looked like the one labeled Big Dipper. And was there not a Zephyr? The Greyhound had more than one name also IIRC. The Beer garden. My father 7 my Uncle Mickey could be found there whenever my cousins and I needed a few quarters and dimes for re rides. And thanks Dr. Gale for your useless dump of melancholy.

    1. Try reading the article again. There is a list of all roller coasters and their name changes.

  17. I worked at Riverview 3 summers 57,58,59 up in the cashier's office for Art Steuben, a good boss. At lunch I would ride on the Bobs, sometimes 10x in a row, and other great rides. Thanks Dr. Gale for the good historical memories.

  18. I lived in the western burbs and would go to the park often during the '50's.
    Loved the Bobs.
    I remember watching people hanging from the chutes while it was
    The park led me to be a "coaster nut".
    I still love them.
    I'd like to get to some of the parks around the US to ride some of the super coasters.
    Maybe next year<<how many of us have said that about whatever?LOL
    Great article.

  19. Riverview started as a German Beer Garden in my Great Grand Fathers brick yard ( Bach Brick Company) To entertain the children they started a small playground
    for them while the adults drank there bear, It involved into Riverview Park

  20. Stumbled across this site by happenstance. Pure nostalgia! I spent many an hour at Riverview during the last ten years of the park’s existence. I never got tired of riding the Bobs, seeing the miniature trains being pulled by a steam locomotive, and the general noise and hub-bub of the place. It truly was a sad day when the Bobs ran for the last time.

  21. My fascination with Wild Mouse rides started with a 1960 visit to Riverview while visiting my uncle and aunt.

  22. It’s great that so many people, including myself can connect with “Riverview” and such wonderful memories!!!
    Each generation will have their special memories of many places they made their family memories! With my children and grandchildren we have so many happy and wonderful memories from Disneyland and Disney World that I cherish as much as the Riverview with past family members!!
    Happy memories to everyone, keep making them for your future generations ❣️


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