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.
Save the Park1999
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.
A donation through the Iowa National Heritage Foundation for Sustain the Park, allowed the Park to secure a conservation easement for Preservation Plaza. The area is now the last un-developable area along West Lake Okoboji. The Plaza is used for weekly outdoor concerts throughout the summer, car shows and numerous other events.
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.
Arnolds Park Amusement Park gets a new look with a new logo. After conducting research with community members and middle school students, the Park learned that their attraction and draw was The Legend Roller Coaster, the Ferris Wheel and the fact that the Park resides on Lake Okoboji. Much consideration was given to these findings and the new logo was designed with exactly that in mind.
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.
Historic Arnolds Park, Inc. celebrated 125 years of operation in 2015, with 125 special events scheduled throughout the summer. Notable events include a parade on Sunday, June 14th, a High Tea on Monday, June 15th as well as a black-tie celebration on Saturday, August 1st.
A private donor contributes funds to build Harmony Park. Located in Queens Court, it is an outdoor playground of musical instruments for people of all ages. During the day and even at night, you will hear the sounds of Harmony Park.
Restore the Park Begins2017-present
In January, The Queen II Excursion Boat was drydocked for the winter for maintenance and repairs. The Queen II returned to the water later that Spring.
In May, a new professional fundraising campaign was kicked off, called “Restore The Park.” Fundraising would focus on restoring various structures around the Park, some of which included: construction of new ticket booths, the pavilion, new restrooms and raceway parking lot.
Phase I of Restore the Park is completed with new restrooms in the Park and a ribbon cutting of the new Raceway Parking Lot.
The Park receives an Enhance Iowa Community Action and Tourism (CAT) grant award approval from the state in the amount of $935,000. Pictured are members of the Restore the Park Campaign committee.
Original FunHouse rides (the Barrell, the Slide and the Sugar Bowl) are gifted back to the Park and placed in the Arnolds Park Musuem. Thanks to the generous donations of Tim & Joren Kinnetz, Dan Wells, Jacqui Wells, Mackenzie Wells and Carley Wells Family
Phase II of Restore the Park is accomplished with the completion of the Majestic Pavilion renovation, new office spaces, new ticket booth and a newly expanded Arnolds Park Museum, which now houses the original Funhouse Slide, Barrel and Sugar Bowl.
A VIP Grand Opening of the Arnolds Park Museum was held and special recognition was given to the Arnolds Park Ambassador donor group, the HAPI (Historic Arnolds Park Inc.) board, the staff and various community members.
In July, a ribbon cutting was held to commemorate the addition of a NEW and GRAND carousel in the Park, funded by private donations. The new carousel is 36 foot 2018 carousel made by Chance Rides in Wichita, KS, still owned by the Chance family. The new ride is 8 feet larger than the old carousel that the Park had and is now housed in a gazebo that can be closed in the winter to protect the ride from the elements.
On labor day, Phase III of Restore The Park begins and they break ground for the construction of what will become the new Roof Garden.
After the 2018 season, the Park’s train was refurbished from the ground up. This restoration included a new Model A motor, a new transmission, a new paint job, new wheels, and part of the track was rerouted. The original train was donated to the Park by Chuck Long, who was the last private owner of the Park. He donated it, along with many other rides, when the Park was purchased in 1999 during the “Save the Park” fundraising campaign led by the local community. It ran as “Long Lines Ltd” for many years prior and after the Save The Park campaign. The train’s new identity from the 2019 remodel celebrates the Great Lakes Area history as a tribute to The Milwaukee Road Train Company.
Early in the year, when the ground was still frozen, construction of the new Arnolds Park Promenade begins. This project kicks off a series of projects completed in partnership with Imagine Iowa Great Lakes, a non-profit organization, which was established to enhance and beautify the community and corridor along highway 71 through the lakes area.
On July 12, the Wild Mouse ride makes its long-awaited return back to Arnolds Park Amusement Park. Over the years, many guests would comment on this particular ride as they conjured up memories of the past. The ride was purchased from Joyland Park in Lubbock, Texas.
After the completion of the New Arnolds Park museum, it was realized that it was necessary to expand the parking. A new parking lot was expanded to the east of Arnolds Park Museum. With this expansion, also came a new walking/biking trail that allows locals and tourists access to the boardwalk and beach.
A grand opening and ribbon cutting is held for the new Iowa Rock & Roll Museum and a new partnership is formed with the Park.
In July, Imagine Iowa Great Lakes and Arnolds Park host a ribbon cutting of the new Arnolds Park Promenade at Preservation Plaza. The new walking and biking path is lined by native plants, grasses and trees. The nine arches along the path are lit at night to provide light for visitors.
Farmers Market in the Park debuts Saturday mornings on Lake Street.
On August 2nd, 2019, the Park hosts the Grand Re-Opening of the Roof Garden with the original Tommy James & The Shondells, who also played in the original Roof Garden, as did others like Glenn Miller Orchestra, The Rumbles, The Romantics and Head East who also played at the new venue later that month.
COVID-19 pandemic hits the U.S. and drastically affects Park operations. Social distancing restrictions on group gatherings hault events, weddings and concerts and travel restrictions largely affect summer staffing. The Park opens in June but shuts down after only a few weeks due to high positivity rates in the area. The Park re-opens 2 weeks later with face covering and sanitation guidelines for all workers and guests. Live at the Lake concerts are canceled and later revived with social distancing circles and required face coverings to enter.
Shooting Star ride is added to the Park
The Arnolds Park Boardwalk is completed with the help of Imagine Iowa Great Lakes along with the new State Pier, transforming the Arnold Parks Amusement Park Lakeshore.
The State Pier is formally dedicated and renamed the Berkley Bedell State Pier, in honor of the late Berkley Bedell, a successful local entreprenuer, state senator, conservationist and fisherman.