Riverview Amusement Park

From the Des Moines Tribune, July 16, 1927.

Riverview Park opened on Saturday, June 5, 1915, with admission of 5 cents.  The June 6th, 1915, Register and Leader reported live music by T. Fred Henry and his band, as well as The Four Lamys who performed “sensational aerial novelty acts”.   It also called Riverview Park  “Iowa’s Coney Island” just as the later ad above does.

In 1912, local businessmen became interested in creating an amusement park in Des Moines.  The Zoological Gardens were no longer in use and became the chosen property for Riverview Amusement Park.  It consisted of 40 acres almost completely surrounded by East and West Zoo Lakes.  The Riverview Amusement Company was led by Abe Frankel, C.C. Taft, and Frank Walrath. 

News articles document many memories of the park, including the old fun house called Joy Land, the merry-go-round, Tunnel of Love, the Tumble Bug, the steam train, and the roller coaster.  Ella Fitzgerald performed at the Riverview Park ballroom in 1938.  This became a penny arcade in 1940 when the Riviera Ballroom opened.  It eventually hosted numerous rock bands, including Chicago.   Images of the park and its features can be found on the websites listed at the end of this post.

Through the years, the park had its ups and downs.  In 1933, the park suffered fire damage at around $100,000 and in 1944 a flood put it underwater.  Inflation and operating costs went up and competition moved into the area.

In 1979, Adventureland Lands of America purchased Riverview Amusement Park.  At that time, some of Riverview Park’s features were moved to create a theme destination at Adventureland.   It is now Kiwanis Riverview Nature Island and a part of the Des Moines park system.

What are your memories of Riverview Park?


Des Moines:  Facts and Figures Concerning the Remarkable Growth and Progress of the City, Mail and Times, 1891

From the Iowa Vertical File on Riverview Park (Central Library):

City’s Amusement Park Pleases All, Register and Leader, June 6, 1915.

Memories of Growing Up at Riverview Park, Des Moines Register, October 4, 1989.

Old Riverview Park Stirs Memories, Des Moines Register, June 20, 1990.

Riverview Head Estimates Park fire Damage at $100,000, Des Moines Tribune, June 19, 1933.

Riverview Park ad, Des Moines Tribune, June 16, 1927.

River Park Opens Saturday, June 5.  Register and Leader, June 5, 1915.

Riverview Park: Playground of Des Moines, Des Moines Magazine, 1917.

If you want to know more about Riverview Park, in addition to the above, see the following resources:

Riverview Park in Des Moines Revisited

Early Des Moines Riverview, Portal to the Past

Fading Memories of Riverview Park, Des Moines (DVD)

Des Moines Zoological Gardens

It all began when L.M. Mann bought 100 acres of land and created a destination.  He opened the Des Moines Zoological Gardens on July 4, 1889.  The park  included an elephant, lions, panthers, kangaroos, monkeys, elk, numerous birds, and other animals.  Mann ran the zoo for one year and then sold it to numerous business men who made improvements, including a levy on the south side of the park.

In 1912, local businessmen became interested in creating an amusement park in Des Moines.  The Zoological Gardens were no longer in use and became the chosen property for Riverview Amusement Park.  An ice company owned the property and had been harvesting ice from the Zoo Lakes.   Ice makers were now in use, so the lakes were no longer needed for gathering ice.

From 1915-1978 the location was the Riverview Amusement Park, and is now Kiwanis Riverview Nature Island.

Iowa : The Home for Immigrants

In 1870 the Iowa Board of Immigration published

Iowa : The Home for Immigrants being a Treatise on the Resources of Iowa and Giving Useful Information with Regard to the State, for the Benefit of Immigrants and Others (digitized by Google)…pheww, they weren’t afraid of long titles.

This 96 page guide was printed in English, German, Norwegian, Swedish, and Holland (Dutch).

Some interesting tidbits:

From the Climatology data p. 90, “The year 1863 was very cold, not only in Iowa, but throughout the country, and there was a frost in every month of the year.”

From A word to the landless in p. 68, “There is still in Iowa uncultivated land enough for three hundred and sixty thousand farms, of eighty acres each!”

The guide also mentions that there was still a quarter-million acres of government land available for homestead in the northwest portion of Iowa (p. 57).

There are plenty of other fun facts in this book, including sections on agriculture, state institutions, railroads, government lands, and variety of statistical information. A fun book to browse through, and it gives a good impression of what Iowa was like, or at least what we wanted immigrants to think it was like, in the late 1800’s.

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