Christina McElfresh, a Monroe City Council member and president of the Monroe Historical Society, said Tuesday’s tour was the first time she had been in the park since the 1980s.
“My first impression, coming through the gate was it was just sad. It was just sad,” McElfresh said. “I remember this place as a place where you would come for fun…. I have a very different memory than what you see today.”
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She remembered coming to the park and her sister would go to the Fantasy Farm park next door to have fun.
McElfresh, and many others, were shocked by the amount of vandalism at the property and how little there was to salvage.
“I was hoping there would be more salvageable buildings, more salvageable parts of this park and I really didn’t see that today,” she said. “Moving forward, my hope, is that this place can once again come back to life. I have faith that’s exactly what’s going to happen… It’s going to take a lot a work and a lot of effort, but it’s definitely doable and I can see people bringing their families here and enjoying this park.”
McElfresh said her favorite memory of the amusement park was the log flume ride.
“… That was how you cooled off. …. and the Screechin Eagle was always a great part of the thing… I miss those,” she said.
She believes the city is going to do a great job in bringing the park back to life.
“I think that was what today was about — it was to see where we are and where we are going to be in the end,” McElfresh said.
Future plans ‘exciting'
Middletown historian Sam Ashworth agreed with McElfresh about the state of vandalism throughout the park.
“It was sad to see the park in that kind of shape but I’m excited about the plans for future renovation and development,” he said.
He said it was commendable for former owner Jerry Couch to donate the property to the city and for Monroe to begin developing future plans as a recreation area.
“They could have done a lot of other things,” he said.
Ashworth, who grew up in Eaton, said he remembers his family coming to LeSourdsville Lake every so often. He said Armco Steel would have company outings and picnics there for its employees and their families.
“A lot of Middletown people grew up in that park,” he said. “We all know the (former amusement) park is long gone, but I think a lot of people will be very happy with the future plans.”
Ashworth suggested the installation of historical signs around the park so people would know where former rides and buildings were once located.
“It was quite a place,” Ashworth said.
‘Bittersweet’ memories for a former employee
Walking through the front gate was “bittersweet” for Scott Fowler, who has collected and maintained a lot of memorabilia from the park that is now at the Monroe Historical Society.
Fowler said he was last in the park in 2002, the park’s last operating year. He said a lot of rides were closed and was haphazardly open throughout the season, adding that the park had 30 to 40 rides when it closed.
“I’m so glad that the the city of Monroe is taking action and going to make something of this area,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s too bad we can’t have a park like Americana or LeSourdsville Lake because it was one of kind in its day and was a great alternative to Kings Island.”
Fowler said he spent several summers working at the park and said it was very interesting going back to some of the places he used to work at. He said he worked at the restaurant near the front entrance and in Tombstone at an ice cream parlor, a building that is no longer there.
“As as an employee, we got to play volleyball on Friday nights. I got to mix around with girls, and meet new people,” he said. “I would say work hard, but none of us really worked that hard, it was just fun.”
As for future plans, Fowler said they sounded “fantastic.”
He described the park as “traditional.”
“It was one of the few traditional amusement parks left besides Coney Island in Cincinnati and Stricker’s Grove down in Ross,” Fowler said. “This one was really one of the premier traditional parks in the Midwest.
He wasn’t alive when the park was open, but has become a fan
Thomas van Horn, a 15-year-old Badin High School freshman, wasn’t born when the park was open but he has developed a strong interest in its history.
Tuesday was the first time he’d step on the property. “It was a lot more vandalized than I thought it would be …. there’s so much glass everywhere,” he said.
“I’m so interested in this park because its piece of my local history because my dad used to live right over there in that neighborhood,” van Horn said. “When I was little, I always thought it was open and I thought he just wouldn’t take us over there.”
The Liberty Twp. youth said he lost interest in the park for some time but his interest piqued when he found a You Tube video of someone exploring the park and looked up more information on Wikipedia.
“I thought ‘wow, this is really cool.’” van Horn said. “I found out the name of the ‘Screechin Eagle’ over there and ever since then I’ve been really interested in it.”
Of the proposed amenities, van Horn said the lake was “a great idea.” While he said it might not be feasible, he would like to see the lake put in closer to where it was before.
After Monroe City Council changed the name of the park to Monroe Bicentennial Commons to honor the city’s bicentennial last year, van Horn spoke up at some public input meetings and organized an online petition drive to restore the original name of the park. However, he still prefers that it be named LeSourdsville or Americana to honor the park’s history.