The Rev. J.S. Prescott, a Methodist preacher who had purchased property sites from earlier Gardner, Luce and Wilson claims along West Lake Okoboji’s southern shore, induced Wesley Arnold to the area from his home in Wisconsin.
Arnold bought the Prescott holdings and began to change the course of history at the site.
Large tourist parties from St. Louis, Des Moines and other metropolitan areas began to travel to the Arnold property with large entourages to camp, hunt, fish and enjoy summer holidays as the Milwaukee Railroad expanded north. Arnold, wise with foresight, sensed a golden opportunity and began to open his home as an inn for tenting parties.
Arnold began the construction of the Arnold’s Park Hotel with a dining room and temporary kitchen built first, followed by the rest of the hotel and cottages soon after.
Legend has it that one summer night young Hattie Arnold (Wesley Arnold’s daughter) and her friend Ada Lewis (daughter of a Milwaukee Railroad contractor) were swinging in a hammock lakeside and were struck with a notion. At dinner that night they announced that Wesley Arnold’s property should henceforth be known as Arnolds Park.
A post office was established at the hotel office, and next door a souvenir shop carried post cards, shells and other trinkets. A boathouse was constructed nearby with row boats available to guests.
Wesley Arnold constructed a wooden, 60-foot toboggan-style waterslide on the south shore of West Lake Okoboji, the very first attraction at what would become Arnolds Park Amusement Park
Arnold built a large pavilion, at a cost of $10,000 that would accommodate 1,000 chairs for a wide array of gatherings, foremost dances with live orchestra music. An ice cream parlor and other concession stands sprung up nearby.
The first permanent dock was built at The Park, a 150-ft. long structure of pilings filled with crushed stone.
Wesley Arnold dies, leaving The Park to his three daughters; two of whom, with their husbands, expanded on the property’s amusement park theme.
A merry-go-round was ordered for The Park from Parker Amusement Co. of Leavenworth, Kansas
An advertisement promoting a 4th of July celebration at The Park listed such attractions as dancing at the pavilion, bowling alley, skating rink, giant coaster, toboggan waterslide and steam boating.
The Majestic Roller Rink opened. An advertisement in the spring touted such attractions at The Park as a gypsy fortuneteller, a new 50-ft. by 144-ft. skating rink, a shooting gallery and an airplane swing.
On July 4, The Park hosted its largest crowd to date, with approximately 25,000 guests in attendance.
The Roof Garden opened at The Park. For the next six decades it serves as the site for live music performances, from the swing era of the ‘30s and ‘40s to the memorable rock n’ roll revolution that followed.
A concrete seawall was constructed on the shoreline at The Park.
The Fun House was built and opened at The Park.
A 200-man crew of workers built the Giant Dips Roller Coaster – later dubbed the Speed Hound and Big Coaster, and finally The Legend – lending credibility to the Park as a provider of big thrills.
The Tipsy House was added to the growing midway.
The State Pier was constructed.
The Nutty bar stand, still a staple at The Park today, opened.
The Wild Mouse, one of the most thrilling rides to hit the midway, debuted at The Park.
A 60-passenger lakeshore merry-go-round named Kiddie Town was added to the north end of The Park.
The Empress steamboat debuted on West Lake Okoboji.
The Arnolds Park Riot rocked and shocked the town when an estimated crowd of 700 drunken college students streamed out of the bars at 2 a.m. on July 4th weekend, wreaking havoc along their path to the Park’s beach.
The mayhem was finally quelled – after looting, destructive bonfires and vandalized police cars were left in the wake – when the National Guard was called in to assist in the middle of the night.
A devastating tornado tore through the Iowa Great Lakes region on June 13, leaving behind a path of destruction that included extensive damage to the Roof Garden and other structures at The Park.
The Queen excursion boat left Okoboji.
The Empress excursion boat left Okoboji.
The Queen II excursion boat came to West Lake Okoboji.
Marked the last year of operation for the Majestic Roller Rink.
The Park closed for a year, with doubts about its future. The venerable Roof Garden was burned and the Fun House was demolished.
The Park was purchased by a group of investors.
Longtime lakes area historian and Queen II Captain Steve Kennedy opened the Maritime Museum in a small lakeside building in The Park.
Lakes area philanthropist Chuck Long bought The Park. The Century Ferris Wheel was erected and several retail shops opened in the corridor. The Park experienced a revitalization.
Long sold The Park to a developer who announced plans to raze all the structures and build a condo/resort complex.
Community leaders began the “Save the Park” campaign that miraculously raised $7.25 million in six weeks to rescue the park.
A new non-profit group, Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum (IGLMM) was formed as The Park’s management team.
A spacious new structure was erected in the heart of The Park complex to house theMaritime Museum,n IGL Chamber of Commerce, the U of O Foundation, and the Iowa Welcome Center.
The Log Flume Ride, donated by the amusement park Morey’s Piers in New Jersey, joined the attractions in the midway at The Park.
Okoboji mourned the passing of Steve Kennedy, longtime lakes historian and Queen II captain and founder and first curator of the IGL Maritime Museum.
The “Sustain Our Park” campaign raised enough funds to rid The Park of its long-term debt and allow the operation to finally operate in the black.
The non-profit group Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum (IGLMM) that had governed The Park since the 1999 ‘Save The Park’ campaign, changed its name to Historic Arnolds Park, Inc. and pared its board of directors membership from twenty-eight to nine.
Pirate’s Cove Mini Golf opened in The Park.
The first phase of The Legend roller coaster renovation was completed.
Phase II of The Legend roller coaster renovation was completed.
The exterior renovation of the Majestic Pavilion was completed and big band music returned to the venue.
Future renovations will include new engines for the Queen II and interior upgrades to the Majestic Pavilion.
Restore The Park Campaign.