Do You Remember Wonderland Amusement Park?
Chances are, probably not. After all, the park’s been closed for 97 years, and the island in Wichita’s Arkansas River that it was located on doesn’t even exist anymore.
That’s right, there used to be an island in the Arkansas River, and it was big enough to hold an entire amusement park. And a baseball field. And a roller coaster called The Giant Thriller. And a swimming pool, theatre, dance pavilion, bowling alley, roller rink, and bandstand.
Okay, “island” is probably too strong a word; Ackerman Island, as the property was known, was actually a sandbar. It ran from the Douglas Street bridge north past Second Street, just south of where Exploration Place sits today. It was accessed via stairways from both the Douglas and Second Street bridges.
The sandbar began forming in the 1870s due to the low river level, and within a few years it grew big enough and stable enough to hold an entire amusement park. But before the park was built, local businessman Joseph Ackerman bought the land in 1890. He lived on the island with his family, and even ran a sand business there. He sold the island in 1905, and Wonderland Amusement Park was built.
Wonderland stayed open until 1918. In the 1930s, flooding concerns prompted the removal of the sandbar/island. The east channel was widened to become the current Arkansas River, and the rest of the island became part of the current west bank. Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was built in 1934 to replace the baseball stadium on the island.
Check out these photos of Wonderland from Historic Preservation Alliance. These images were originally part of a postcard book called "Peerless Princess of the Plains."
Now It's Your Turn!
What other little-known facts about Wichita’s history do you find interesting? Let us know in the comments!