Last week a Facebook message came in from RocSubway reader, Nate Sengillo. Nate wanted to share photos from his recent trip to Frontier Town. I’ve never been there myself, but I know I’ve heard of this place before as my family has spent more than a few summer vacations at nearby Lake George. But now seeing Nate’s photos, I wish I had…
Frontier Town was a theme park located in North Hudson in the Adirondacks.
Obviously, it had a wild west theme to it. Perhaps less obviously, it was also a very popular stop for travelers for over 40 years. During its opening year in 1952 the park drew 40,000 visitors with almost no advertising. Afterwards, nearly a million would visit the park every year until it closed in 1998.
The local population here depended on the existence of the park. Its demise meant the end of nearly every hotel, restaurant, store and gas station in North Hudson. Today, both the frontier town and the real town are ghost towns.
Frontier Town was built by Art Benson in 1951. He had a long-held dream of building an amusement park that would allow families to experience the Wild West. When he started building the town he had no construction skills, no income, no real business plan, but he managed to turn all of this into a successful business.
At its peak in the 1960s and 70s, Frontier Town was continually improving. In an effort to bring the Wild West to New York, Benson and his partners built a town square area with storefronts, genuine log buildings, and a rodeo arena with pens for steers and buffalo.
The park also included a replica Native American village and a historical industrial section with a grist mill, saw mill, forge, and ice house. A fort with a full cavalry completed the pioneer experience.
Benson wasn’t happy with just allowing families to wander through Frontier Town and absorb the atmosphere of the place. He wanted to them to experience what life on the Western Frontier was like. Frontier Town provided children with opportunities to ride a stagecoach, a steam train, canoes, and horses.
A rodeo was held twice a day, and children were allowed to participate. Other special events occurred throughout the day including an attempted stagecoach robbery, a shootout with the robbers, and a demonstration of how the Pony Express was run.
In 1998, Frontier Town closed its doors for good. But thousands of Frontier Town memories have been captured in family photos, on Facebook , and in a book by Tammy Whitty-Brown and Jennifer Renee St. Pierre who visited Frontier Town on school field trips as a child.
St. Pierre recalls the realistic Iroquois village, the steam locomotive (Old No. 44), Prairie Junction with its music hall and saloon, and the pottery and black-smithing demonstrations. Visitors could even learn how to make bark-covered longhouses and tepees.
Since Frontier Town’s closing, the park has suffered from extreme neglect. The buildings are decaying and some structures have been condemned for leaky roofs and rotting floor boards. Ironically the “frontier” seems to be retaking Frontier Town as the forest gradually creeps back into the property.
Nate told us he had been searching online for abandoned places to explore in the Adirondacks when he learned about Frontier Town. While driving with his girlfriend to Burlington Vermont, they decided to stop and see it for themselves. In his own words…
“After a couple hours of driving we finally got there and pulled into the main parking lot. The rusty old Frontier Town sign and the dilapidated welcome building greeted us. We started walking down the main asphalt road toward the park. The place was enormous and there were abandoned structures scattered everywhere. We walked down this trail and stumbled on the main town. It was so creepy, and so stunning at the same time.”
Some buildings have fallen down but most were still intact. There was a lot of stuff from papers and props to giant coolers and kitchens leftover it looked like they just up and left. Nature has taken back the land and there were even saplings growing on some of the building tops.
“We went inside the buildings that were still accessible. I wanted to go into the log church, but thorn bushes surrounded it entirely. It was getting dark. We had been there for two hours and only explored sixty percent of the park when the darkness forced us to retreat.”
Here’s a great video of the park from the 1950s…
And the following additional images are from this video by Ross Mealey…
Sometime after its closing, Frontier Town was seized by Essex County for nonpayment of property taxes. This past summer the county rejected a bid of $49,500 for the land. They are holding out for a better offer (at least $140,000) to cover the owed taxes.
For now, the future of Frontier Town remains uncertain. Ronald Moore, North Hudson’s town supervisor says the land will either be put back up for auction, sold outright, or divided and sold as separate parcels. Some residents would like to see the 90 acres used for community horseback and snowmobile trails.
To see more photos from the park’s heyday, head over to the Frontier Town Then and Now Facebook page .
Tags: abandoned, abandoned places, abandoned theme park, Art Benson, Frontier Town, Frontier Town Then and Now, Iroquois, Jennifer Renee St. Pierre, movie, Nate Sengillo, North Hudson NY, old photos, photography, Ross Mealey, theme park, upstate New York, urban exploration, video, wild west
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