Kennywood Postcards of the Past

Old postcards provide an insightful glimpse into the amusement park's history.

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When walking down the midways at Kennywood, many visitors might notice the “Est. 1898” message emblazoned everywhere from signs to employee t-shirts. However, it is unlikely that park guests actually stop and consider the meaning behind this tagline. Kennywood is more than 120 years old, and it’s survived the Great Depression and two World Wars. And of course, the Kennywood that we know today is nothing like the park of our grandparents… or even our great-grandparents! Luckily, postcards – popular since the turn of the 1900s as a way of sending a greeting cheaply along with an image of a place visited – have often survived long beyond the lives of the people who wrote them. Old Kennywood postcards are fascinating in the look into the past they provide from before many of the park’s signature rides even existed. When possible, I will be attaching the back of the postcards with have messages, as it’s interesting to read these impressions from the era… some are related to the park, but most are not.

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“We have had April, May, March and December all squeezed into the last 24 hours. This surely has been “some winter.” Am en route for Shakespeare, thence to grant, to Mr. Georgis and this evening we take in the (?) Auto show. That ought to fill up my holiday alright. Geo. has the machine torn to peices (sic.) and I am going to give him a lift. The boulevard is not any too good for Mr. P or me, if you please. – E.M.S.” Pretty great stuff! “The machine” – that’s 1912 for you!

This card comes from the very beginning of the park’s history, as it was written in 1912. Given that this card was sent in February, it is unsure if the writer ever visited the park. Miraculously, both of the buildings shown are still in the park today! The Parkside Cafe, then known as the Casino (though it was never a gambling hall) is seen in the foreground. Seen above is the same side of that 1900 building now, although this is facing in the opposite direction compared to the view on the card. Both levels have been enclosed, but it’s otherwise remarkably similar to back then.

In the background of the previous card, you can barely make out the park’s original carousel building. This is the only park structure from Kennywood’s opening year, 1899, still intact today. The first two Kennywood carousels were in this housing, but when the park gained its current, much larger model in 1927, it necessitated a larger building. The original pavilion then became a food stand.  Later, it was enclosed and turned into a Johnny Rocket’s in 2014.

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“Pittsburgh Promotes Progress” “Dear Maryon, When are you going to write me? I was expecting a letter a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, I am sending this postcard with the picture of the swimming pool I go to. It’s at Kennywood Park. I go to our school picnic to another one there (?) times a year

 

 

 

 

 

Next up is the massive Kennywood swimming pool, seen in this card postmarked 1938. From 1925 to 1973, Kennywood had this 350 x 180 ft pool, capable of holding 2.25 million gallons of water and 4,500 swimmers. Its large size led to excessive maintenance costs, causing the pool’s closure after the 1973 season, when it was turned into a parking lot. It remained that way until 1995, which marked the opening of the 6-acre Lost Kennywood, a tribute to closed amusement parks through turn-of-the-century architecture and the largest expansion in Kennywood history. Kennywood even included a rough replica of the old pool fountain when Lost Kennywood was built, forming one of the area’s focal points.

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The spelling of “Pittsburg” with no ‘h’ at the end dates this card of the park’s Old Mill from before 1911, as it was between that year and 1890 that Pittsburgh was spelled that way. It’s a long story, but the basis is that the US Postal Service was attempting to standardize place names, and as most other “Pittsburghs” in the country are spelled without the ‘h,’ Pittsburgh’s name was changed to conform. Of course, though, it is well known that Pittsburghers aren’t fans of change, and the ‘h’ was restored in 1911. The Old Mill is arguably the oldest attraction at Kennywood, undergoing a wide variety of re-themes over 100+ years. It is scheduled to return under its original name for 2020. The ride trough was demolished and rebuilt in 1926, so the image shown here is not the current building.

“Dear Bertha: How are you all? I suppose you think we have forgotten you, but that would be impossible. We have moved now, and want you all to come up. Tell Aunt Mag and Mary to come along. Would like to see you all. Write soon.”

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“Not to visit Kennywood is not to know Pittsburgh” is stated on the back of this card, even though Kennywood isn’t technically in Pittsburgh! It’s actually in West Mifflin, just outside of the city, but I get what they’re trying to say here. This card is my personal favorite, with its bright design and colorized illustrations. I would guess 1940s on its date. Looking clockwise, we have the Tower refreshment stand and the Sportland games building, both of which have been replaced with different structures but still serve the same purpose. You can see the miniature railroad entrance in the far background. Next is the Penny Arcade, which sadly has a newer building and facade now; but once again, it’s still an arcade! The picture at the bottom is of the park’s lagoon, which was once used for circus acts. Today, it’s the loading area for the Skycoaster attraction. You can also glimpse the station of the park’s wooden Racer coaster in the background.

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I purchased this card in one of the park’s gift shops very recently, and it’s a genuine old card. It has to be at least 25 years old, and I’m betting that it might be older. The Enterprise opened at Kennywood in 1978, and you can clearly see that from its decorations! In 2003, the Enterprise became the Volcano when the surrounding area was lightly re-themed into “Volcano Valley.” It was plagued with problems, though, and I only ever saw this model operating once before it was removed in 2016. That season, Kennywood received an identical model from Lake Compounce, one of their “sister parks” (Idlewild is another),  as they were removing theirs to add a coaster. It remains at the park now and is open every day once again.

The new Volcano from Lake Compounce
The original Enterprise

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Moving a little later on in time, we come to a Kennywood’s 1986 Ferris wheel, the Wonder Wheel.

 

In 2001, the Wonder Wheel was replaced by Aero 360, a spinning, upside-down ride. George Ferris, the man who invented the first modern wheel, lived in Pittsburgh for many years, so it’s unfortunate that the park no longer has a Ferris wheel of its own.

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This verdant card shows paddle boats on the park’s lagoon. Boats of some sort have been a fixture at Kennywood since its opening day. In 2019, the bridge and the lagoon area of the park as a whole were changed with the addition of the new Steel Curtain roller coaster.

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“Dear Paul, I am writing you a few lines to let you know that I am well. I am working full power. I am in Ambridge, Pa. I am sending my best regards to the family. My address is 814 – 18th St. Ambridge, Pa.

Last for today is my final antique postcard, although it’s not of Kennywood but of Pittsburgh’s other major amusement park, West View. This view shows a roller coaster, the carousel, a bandstand, and the pony track. West View Park closed in 1977; its story is a fascinating one that I would like to share in the future.

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Postcards have become somewhat obsolete today with the advent of cell phones and other mass communication devices, but they provide fascinating looks at the distant past, especially at locations such as Kennywood, where you can still visit many of the depicted locations today, even if in a slightly different form. No one is sure if we will get to experience our area’s best amusement park this year, but at least we will always have the legendary history of Kennywood to look back on.

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Q: How many Pittsburghers does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: One to change it, and one to reminisce about how good the old one was.