On the western edge of Huntington, just a mile or two before the floodwalls surrounding Ceredo-Kenova on U.S. 60 stands a West Virginian icon.
Being a state known for more outdoor thrills like white water rafting and whitetail hunting, Camden Park stands proudly as West Virginia’s only operating amusement park.
Offering carousels and tilt-a-whirls, Camden Park certainly isn’t like modern-day amusement parks—it has a timeless, vintage quality that appeals to young and old.
As the dog days of summer turn into the catnaps of fall, here are five things you should know about this state treasure:
1. You’re literally riding on antiques
And not just any antiques—some of the last of its kind.
National Amusement Device, an Ohio-based outfit, in 1958 built the Big Dipper—the park’s famous figure-eight wooden coaster. Today, only three of the company’s roller coasters are still in operation.
The Lil’Dipper, the Big’s kid-friendly companion, still runs at Camden as well.
As the singer Meatloaf famously said, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”
But that ain’t the only relic at Camden—its haunted house attraction is one of two made by the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company still in operation.
Its carousel is now 110 years old—a great-great-grandmother could take her youngest to the park, and point at the horse she rode on as a child.
2. It wasn’t the only amusement park in West Virginia
Remember folks, Camden Park is the state’s only amusement in operation.
In fact, back in the heyday of wooden amusement rides—when carousels still had rings to catch on the outer circle—plenty of amusement parks sprang up around the Mountain State.
Until a fire destroyed it in the early 1920s, Charlestonians could enjoy a Luna Park—an international chain of amusement parks back in the day.
Wheeling had its own Coney Island briefly in 1905, built on the Sister Islands.
Complete with a ferris wheel and other amusements, it drew 10,000 people out for an Independence Day Celebration.
Sadly, the Ohio River claimed it with a massive flood in 1908. Efforts to rebuild were abandoned in 1913 following a flood that destroyed the remaining structures.
Then there’s the infamous Lake Shawnee Amusement Park in Mercer County. Legend states it was built on the site of an Indian massacre and cursed. Built in 1926 for the children of coal miners, it was shut down 40 years later after two accidental deaths.
3. It all started as a picnic spot
Along a few streets in Huntington and Ashland, Kentucky, you can still find remnants of the old streetcar days, when the Ohio Valley Electric Railway hooked the two cities together.
Camden Park just happens to be one of those relics.
In 1902, the Camden Interstate Railway Company set aside the land for passengers to picnic when they changed cars between Huntington and Ashland. When a carousel was built in 1903, the amusement park grew beyond everyone’s wildest dreams.
Huntington furniture dealer James Boylin bought the park in 1947, repairing its damage from the 1937 flood and growing it over the years. When the park was briefly sold to out-of-state owners in 1980, it fell into disrepair.
The Boylins, who still owned the land beneath the park, rescued the park from closure in 1995. They have maintained the park ever since.
4. Its history goes back farther than that
Everyone knows about the Indian burial mound in South Charleston, affectionately called The Mound.
But what you probably didn’t know is one of the largest indian mounds in the state is smack dab in the center of Camden Park!
The Adena peoples of the Ohio River Valley were known for burying their loved ones inside the large earth structures all over the southern portion of the state. Most of the mounds were sadly destroyed due to development or looted by artifact hunters.
However, as far as anyone knows, the 2,000-to-3,000 year old mound at the center of Camden Park is believed to be untouched. In its earlier days, the mound was used as a bandstand.
3. It’s named after a West Virginia success
So just how did Camden get its name?
Obviously, it can’t be named after Camden, New Jersey.
The name comes from 2 term senator Johnson N. Camden, a turn of the century tycoon from the Mountain State. Although his name isn’t as well-known as John D. Rockefeller or Andrew Carnegie, Camden was quite the Gilded Age industrialist.
Born in then Lewis County, Virginia, Camden came of age under the Commonwealth’s rule in the mid-1800s. He became the prosecuting attorney for Braxton and Nicholas counties. When the Civil War broke out, he stayed out of the war, but is said to have sided with the Union.
Before and after the Civil War, Camden also invested in oil and coal across the state, as well as helping develop various rail lines. When he died in 1908, he was worth $25 million, about $730 million in today’s money.