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Wonderland Amusement Park

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Wonderland Amusement Park, Lake Street and Thirty-First Avenue, Minneapolis.

Wonderland at night. Note the 120-foot electric tower at the center of the postcard.

Only open for seven seasons, Wonderland Amusement Park brought thrills and sights from Coney Island to Minneapolis. With a roller coaster, fun house, shoot-the-chutes, miniature railroads for kids, a 120-foot lighted tower, and a display of premature babies in incubators, Wonderland drew crowds from all over Minnesota.

Wonderland Amusement Park opened on May 27, 1905. Founded by Richard Kann and H.A. Dorsey, Wonderland was located on twenty acres of land at Lake Street and 31st Avenue in Minneapolis. Kann and Dorsey also owned amusement parks in Connecticut and Wisconsin and brought that experience to Minnesota. When Kann and Dorsey were planning Wonderland, Kann traveled to New York's Coney Island for inspiration. He brought many ideas back to the Minneapolis park.

During the first few seasons, it looked as if the park was going to be a success. Visitors regularly filled the park and enjoyed its amusements. At Wonderland, visitors rode the "scenic railway", which was actually a roller coaster that reached speeds of forty-five miles per hour. They also would "Shoot the Chutes" by taking a boat that was drawn up a large hill and then sped down a large ramp into a constructed lagoon. Children could travel on a miniature railroad or visit a petting zoo. Another ride was an old mill building that the owners turned into a subterranean boat ride that took visitors through various exotically themed scenes.

At the center of the park was a 120-foot lighted Beacon Tower that people could climb. According to contemporary reports, the tower was lighted by more than five thousand bulbs, which was a tremendous extravagance at the time. It was reputed to be visible from miles away. At least two couples married at the top of the tower in 1908 and 1909 in promotional stunts put on by the park. Crowds below witnessed their vows, and Wonderland gave them each one hundred dollars as a wedding present.

One key attraction was the place known as the Infant Incubator Institute or Infantorium, where, for a small fee, the public could see premature babies in incubators. At the time, incubators were a new technology and most premature babies died within a few days of birth. The exhibit worked both to promote incubator technology and save lives. The price of admission paid for the staff, and parents owed the park nothing for the care of their baby. The incubators kept the babies warm, and nurses made sure that the newborns received regular feedings from wet-nurses. The babies remained anonymous during their time at Wonderland, though local newspapers covered their progress at the unit by giving them nicknames. Nearly all of the babies sent to the Incubator Institute survived. While such displays would seem strange today, at the time, incubator displays had been a part of the recent World's Fair in Paris in 1900 and at Coney Island.

Despite its early success, Wonderland would remain open for only seven seasons. In 1910, the summer was colder and wetter than usual in Minnesota, and another cold summer in 1911 caused the park to lose $10,000. The next year, Minneapolis planned to pave Lake Street, and the construction would have made it more difficult for guests to come and go from the amusement park. Additionally, some of the rides, notably the shoot-the-chute and scenic railway, needed extensive repairs. Just as importantly, the area around the park had continued to be developed and the land on which the park sat had quadrupled in value since it opened. With all of these factors in mind, Dorsey decided to close the park after the 1911 season. In 1912, real estate developers bought the land, tore down the park, and built housing. Many of the rides were rebuilt as part of the Excelsior Amusement park, which opened in 1925. The only part of Wonderland left is the former Infantorium, which is still an apartment building in the Longfellow neighborhood.

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"Babies are Unknowns." Minneapolis Tribune, July 15, 1905.

"Incubator Babies are Wonderfully Cared For." Minneapolis Tribune, June 18, 1905.

Lee, Betty. "Wonderland Didn't Last Long." Longfellow Messenger, September, 1984: 4.

Marling, Karal Ann. "Thrills and Nostalgia: the Amusement Parks of Hennepin County." Hennepin History 49, no. 4 (Fall 1990):13–22.

"Old Wonderland becoming Commonplace Vacant Lots." Minneapolis Tribune, August 11, 1912.

"Wonderland Opens May 27." Minneapolis Tribune, May 21, 1905.

"Wonderland Park Will Accommodate more than Fifty Thousand People." Minneapolis Tribune, May 14, 1905.

"Wonderland Romance Fittingly Closed by Wedding on Tower." Minneapolis Tribune, August 5, 1908

"Wonderland to be Razed."Minneapolis Tribune, February 27, 1912.

Related Images

Wonderland Amusement Park, Lake Street and Thirty-First Avenue, Minneapolis.
Wonderland Amusement Park, Lake Street and Thirty-First Avenue, Minneapolis.
Night scene, Wonderland Park, Minneapolis.
Night scene, Wonderland Park, Minneapolis.
Longfellow's Wonderland Park, Minneapolis
Longfellow's Wonderland Park, Minneapolis
Shoot the Chutes, Wonderland Park, East Lake Street, Minneapolis
Shoot the Chutes, Wonderland Park, East Lake Street, Minneapolis
Premature infants who were kept in incubators at Wonderland Park, Minneapolis.
Premature infants who were kept in incubators at Wonderland Park, Minneapolis.
Roller coaster, Wonderland Amusement Park, Minneapolis.
Roller coaster, Wonderland Amusement Park, Minneapolis.
Roller coaster crew at Wonderland Park, Minneapolis; Robert Mauritz Swenson is second from left.
Roller coaster crew at Wonderland Park, Minneapolis; Robert Mauritz Swenson is second from left.
Miniature train at Wonderland Amusement Park, Minneapolis.
Miniature train at Wonderland Amusement Park, Minneapolis.

Turning Point

Wonderland Amusement Park is forced to close in 1911 after just seven seasons due to financial loss and the development of the surrounding neighborhood.

Chronology

1904
Manager Richard Kann travels to New York's Coney Island seeking ideas and rides for his new park.
1905
On May 27, Wonderland Amusement Park officially opens to the public.
1908
Nina Hoke and A. Krall wed at the top of Beacon Tower in Wonderland.
1911
After two disappointing summers, Wonderland Amusement Park closes.
1912
Wonderland is sold to a real estate developer. The only building that remains is the Infant Incubator Institute, which is turned into an apartment building.