Thursday, January 2, 2020

Kiddieland Park, Rockford, Illinois. (1950-1962) - Sherwood Park Kiddieland, Loves Park, IL. (1962-1967) - Sherwood Park, Loves Park, IL. (1967-1977)

Kiddieland Park was founded by Ernest W Gutzmer, Leslie E Gutzmer and Ernest R Gutzmer in the late 1940s. It was located northeast of Rockford on Illinois Highway 173 adjacent to Loves Park and the River Lane Outdoor Theater. Illinois Highway 173 was later renamed to Forest Hills Road, and the park's new address became 5810 Forest Hills Road. 
Kiddieland Park opened in 1950 and was billed as "fun for the whole family." Kiddieland Park was the first local area amusement park since the demise of Harlem Park in 1928, and Central Park's closure eight years earlier in 1942.
Amusements included children's auto rides, boat rides, and pony rides, and the featured attraction; the "Rockford Limited", one of the largest and most modern small gauge trains to be built in recent years. The train which was highly detailed was equipped with sway action springs and air brakes on each wheel which was powered by a 22-hp engine. The engine and train were completed after nearly two years of building in the shops of the “Miniature Train Company” of Rensselaer, Indiana. The train offered young and old a real thrill as it pulled in and out of the station, the engineer would blow the train's whistle. The train which was 76 feet in length traveled over 31,000 feet of track. They would also add a large merry-go-round to the park in September 1950 just north of the refreshment stand.
In 1951 Kiddieland Park featured seven rides, along with concession stands and other attractions, enlarging the park that could accommodate thousands of visitors nightly. The sound of carnival music and the smell of popcorn, cotton candy, and other foods were in the air. The park was open daily from 4 PM to 10 PM and Saturdays and Sundays from 2 PM to 10 PM during the summer months. The park would remain open on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays during the school year until weather forced it to close for the season. Ticket prices at the time were 15¢ each or 2 tickets for 25¢.
There were several contests at Kiddieland over the years. In 1953 during the month of June, Kiddieland Park ran the ‘Name Me’ contest where you could win prizes naming the parks new arrivals, a pet Deer, Skunk, and two Raccoons, or you could bring a box top from Wheaties (a General Mills breakfast cereal) which entitled you to a free ticket on any ride.
The park would eventually grow even larger and add more rides including; Tubs of Fun, Tilt a Whirl, a Boat Ride, a children's Roller Coaster with an oval layout, Rock-O-Plane, Scrambler, a Haunted House, a Merry-go-Round, Bumper Cars, live Pony Rides and of course the miniature train and other attractions like food and novelty stands. Two performing chimps, owned by the Kling family of animal trainers, named KoKo and Tico were added into the park for side-shows.
In 1957 the newest addition to the Rockford area's entertainment facilities, Sherwood Lodge, which was a part of Kiddieland Park, located just south of the park on Forest Hills Road. The spacious 5000 square foot lodge was functionally beautiful, featuring a modern kitchen, plumbing, heating, electricity and a public address system that made it ideal for social or business purposes. The lodge was available on a rental basis for parties, banquets, balls, weddings, dances, and fundraising events, it was ideal for both small and large gatherings. Because of its design, combining log walls and an arched roof with sound cushioning tile, the building had perfect acoustics, excellent lighting, a dance floor, and stage. Many family reunions, Christmas parties, business shows, wedding receptions, and other social functions were held here. During the 1960s and '70s, there were many "battle of the bands" contests held at the lodge. 
Controversy arose in January 1962 when the city of Loves Park annexed the rural property on which Kiddieland was situated. Kiddieland Park owner Leslie Gutzmer stated that he would prefer not to be annexed to either Loves Park or Rockford. In addition to Kiddieland Park, the annexation also included Woodward Governor, Rockford Blacktop Construction Company, the Seven-Up Company Warehouse, and the American Chicle Company, who all opposed being annexed to Loves Park. 

In February 1962 papers were filed in court for the dissolution of Kiddieland Park. The park would continue to operate. In October of 1962, the park underwent a change in ownership and the new owners were Milton W. Kling Sr., president, Ronnie L. Kling, vice president, and Milton Kling Jr., as secretary-treasurer. They renamed Kiddieland Park to “Sherwood Park Kiddieland”. The Klings family were animal trainers; they owned several chimps who would entertain at Kiddieland Park and at other affairs. The Klings would obtain the chimps when only months old and raise them as one would a child, with diapers and baby clothes and kept in a playpen until they were old enough to climb out on their own. The ride ticket prices increased for adults and children - 15¢ each ticket or 7 tickets for a $1.00. You could buy a Budget Book of 30 tickets for $4.00.
When long-time owner Milton Kling Sr. turned the park over to his sons, the Sherwood Park Kiddieland name changed yet again by dropping the “Kiddieland” from the name to make it “Sherwood Park” for the continuation of its final years. 

In December 1967 with a major expansion planned, Sherwood Park planned to purchase the giant wooden racing roller coaster, the "Jetstream," including its colorful lighted sign, from the just-closed Riverview (Amusement) Park in Chicago. Because of insurance concerns, the roller coaster was never rebuilt. But... the Carowinds Amusement Park in Charlotte, North Carolina, opened a new coaster in 1968, the "Thunder Road," a racing wooden coaster, with two trains (one for each side) from Riverview's Jetstream Roller Coaster. 

In 1977 the Warner-Lambert Company would purchase Sherwood Park and Sherwood Lodge for an expansion project. Sherwood Lodge and the wooden buildings at Sherwood Park were donated to the Black Hawk Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts with the help of many volunteers dismantled the buildings and moved them to another location. The rides were sold. And then... Kiddieland Park, Sherwood Park, and Sherwood Lodge were gone forever.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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