Sharpshooter Park began in 1879. German veterans from the Franco-Prussian War, who served in Fredrich the Great's "Jaeger Rifle Corps." held target practice there every Sunday afternoon using paper targets and toasting the winners with steins of beer.
Legend has it that the wives complained about being left behind with the children in the scorching heat of the summer. Soon, families pack picnic baskets and went to the park with their husband. To occupy the families time, a shaded area had benches and tables set-up, and free band concerts were played. Rifle practice was soon discontinued, though rifle ranges and shooting galleries (with real bullets) later became a permanent part of Riverview Park.
George Goldman and William Schmidt purchased the 22 acres of land after Schmidt sold his Sedgewick Street Bakery and his invention of the soda cracker to the National Biscuit Company in 1903. By 1903, there were 500 miles of streetcar tracks crisscrossing the city, making public access to the park possible from every point in Chicago for 5¢. A beer garden and some small food concession stands were soon added. Music, parades, band compositions, political rallies, games and shows kept the park a lively center for cultural entertainment.
The children complained that there was nothing for them to do. So the owners opened a free playground. There were now many things to do - a slide, a teeter-totter, and a wading pool. Soon they added one large restaurant, a large band stand, a Rhine wine bar, five other taverns, a large 100-foot by 50-foot dance hall, an ice house, more chairs, tables and benches.
In 1904, there were 25 major picnics held at Sharpshooter Park ranging in attendance from 5,000 to 35,000 people. Riverview opened that year with the Sharpshooters name. Ponies and goat carts were added to the park for the enjoyment of picnickers children. The need for speed eventually made them obsolete. They were originally in the main area but later moved to an area they called “Kiddy Land”. Many concession and games became a part of the park such as a soda pop and ice cream stand, a shooting gallery, ball-throwing and cane games, and pony rides.
Riverview's competition was White City Amusement Park and San Souci Amusement Park, both located on the south side of the city. Rides and attractions were being introduced at Luna Park, Coney Island, and other East Coast locations with great success. George convinced his father to lease six acres of land fronting on Western Avenue to two Eastern amusement park representatives for $7,600 a year for a ten year contract.
The park opened on July 3, 1904 to the public with only three rides (owned by the Eastern representatives) plus some other concessions, all under tents. The use of electricity in illumination and spectacular shows attracted 32,000 people on opening day. The park closed the 1904 season with a profit of $63,000 with only 70 days of operation. All of the concessionaire's made a nice profit.
The Riverview Sharpshooter Park Company ("Sharpshooter Park" part of the name was dropped in 1905) was formed but competition became fierce when a fence between the two areas was removed. (The park had expanded to 140 acres and blossomed with 100 attraction by 1910.) When the 10-year lease expired, the Schmidt family gained full control of the park. The family kept Riverview Park one of the most successful in the industry despite economic trials and through tough times like the great depression.
The "Figure 8" was the first roller coaster at Riverview Sharpshooter Park. The ride has 12 cars on a trough-like track on a timber frame. A steam engine carried the cars up an incline and gravity brought riders back to the starting point. The cars were guided by side-friction wheels and propelled on four swivel casters. The coaster has a few mild four-foot drops on a short track and went six miles an hour it cost $16,000 to build.
The Merry-Go-Round was second in popularity to the Figure 8 roller coaster. It was a concession at Riverview Sharpshooters Park owned by the Eastern group. The "Morris Carousel" was described by the owner as having "very handsome figures in an octagon pavilion 100 feet across and 45 feet feet high." The cost of a ride was 5 cents. (The larger "Fairyland Carousel" did not arrive until 1908) In the foreground is a glass etching souvenir booth.
The "Thousand Islands" was the third ride in the park when it opened as Riverview Sharpshooter Park. It was composed of 1,000 feet of canals with a 28 foot high chute. The boats passed through the canals at a slow speed, then were brought to the top of the incline where they rapidly descended into a pool of water. The boats returned to the starting point. A large outdoor water wheel operated by a motor, concealed behind scenery, kept the water flowing in the canals. Dark tunnels and scenes to startle the riders were added. The ride was nicknamed Old Mill, Mill on the Floss, Tunnel of Love. and The Mill. For 10¢, riders could steal a kiss.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.