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Book Review: Lake Compounce by Lynda J. Russell

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On my visit to Lake Compounce in 2005, I was impressed by the aura of the park. Boulder Dash, an acclaimed wooden coaster built on a mountain, had brought me to the park. I was pleased to see the park had more to offer than its marquee roller coaster.

While I knew the Bristol, Connecticut park was the oldest in the country, I had no idea how rich its history really was. Lake Compounce, by Lynda J. Russell, chronicles the park's history from its many owners and plethora of attractions over the years. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and Lake Compounce is jam packed with pictures dating all the way back to the 1800s. More than just the story of one amusement park, the book also tells the story of recreation and amusement in America.

Lake Compounce had very interesting beginnings. The first time the land by the lake was opened to the public was for a scientific exhibition in 1846. The experiment with electricity was supposed to result in blowing up the lake! I wonder if the scientist was related to Doc Brown from Back to the Future. The experiment failed, but the owner saw the potential in making the lake a permanent place for events. Gad Norton built picnic tables, extended pathways around the lake, added a ten pin alley and rowboats, and America's first amusement park was born.

Over the years, Lake Compounce has been home to about every type of attraction you can imagine. Paging through the black and white photos of Russell’s book is like a trip through the history of recreation in America. Lake Compounce has had a mini train, trolley, steamboat, bowling alley, casino, concert venue, a large ballroom, and water rides – not to mention the standard amusement park rides and roller coasters you would expect to find at a great regional park. For the coaster geeks out there, the book includes a few rare pictures of Lake Compounce's first roller coaster, the Green Dragon. It operated from 1914 to 1926.

One of the things I was most surprised to learn about the park is that it was a huge concert venue in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Acts like Cher, Jimmy Buffet, and Barry Manilow played to 20,000 fans at this modest little park.

Hershey purchased the park in 1985, and with the new ownership came several new rides and renovations. Then in 1996, the Kennywood Entertainment Group became managing partners and eventually gained ownership over Lake Compounce. Recently, Kennywood and its sister parks, including Lake Compounce, were sold to Parques Reunidos, a Spanish theme park operator. Hopefully, the new owners will continue to allow this gem of an amusement park in Bristol, Connecticutt to continue to flourish.

Lake Compounce by Lynda J. Russell is a great book for anyone who is a fan of Lake Compounce, has visited the park like I have, or is just interested in the history of amusement parks in America.

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