The Kiddielands of Chicago

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There was a time when the Chicago area was dotted with several small amusement parks for children, the largest and most fondly remembered being Kiddieland in Melrose Park, at the corner of North and First Avenues. I made my first trip there in 1959 when I was all of four years old.

The miniature train ride, naturally, held out a special fascination, and Kiddieland had a roster of steam and diesel locomotives. Originally, the train went quite a distance around the perimeter of the park, but was unfortunately shortened somewhere along the way as the property got subdivided to create a driving range.

Being a kid in the 1950s and 1960s was a bit simpler than it is today. Kiddileand had a kiddie fire truck, made from a VW pickup, and if your parents arranged for it, it would drive out to your neighborhood to pick up you and your pals and bring you there so you could spend money. There weren’t any seat belts, so presumably if you fell out of the truck along the way to the park, that was your own damn fault and I doubt there was much that anyone would have done about it.

There were once a number of other small children’s amusement parks in the Chicagoland area, including Kiddie Town in Harwood Heights (adjacent to the Harlem Irving Plaza shopping center), Hollywood Kiddieland in Lincolnwood*, Playland Park in Justice, Adventureland in Addison, and Fairyland in Lyons. I’m sure there were others, but these are the ones that I recall. All are long gone.

There was a time after World War II when the US had many small amusement parks and outdoor drive-in movie theaters, but they are a vanishing breed. As cities expanded, developers moved in and purchased their land for strip malls, housing developments, and shopping centers.

The king of all local amusement parks had to be Riverview at Western and Belmont, where you could “laugh your troubles away.” I was fortunate also to have visited Riverview several times as a kid, and even rode on the parachute jump once, a scary but thrilling experience if there ever was one. After the park closed in 1967 it quickly passed into myth and legend.

Kiddieland too has passed into local legend, fondly remembered. It had an admirable safety record, but that was not always the case for its competitors, as this Chicago Tribune article about Playland shows.

There were other difficulties. The owners of Kiddieland sued Hollywood Kiddieland, accusing them of copying their name to trade off their good reputation.

Internet searches turned up some vintage home movies of Playland Park and Fairyland:

I also found some great articles about Hollywood Kiddieland and Kiddie Town. These pictures show that some amusement parks were not all sweetness and light, with uncut grass and dirt trails. But, based on how so many people have fond memories of these places, they made an incredible impression on young minds.

After Kiddieland closed on September 27, 2009, they held an “employee appreciation day” on October 3rd, to give anyone who had worked there over the years a chance to experience the park one last time. Since my brother Bill had worked there in 1971-72, we went there together, and I took the various Kiddieland pictures in this post.

I heard they were going to keep the famous sign, but did not discover where it had ended up until recently. I happened by the Melrose Park Public Library on 19th Avenue, just north of Lake Street, and there it was on the side of the building. Or there part of it was, at any rate, since the pole and many of the lights somehow were lost in the transition.

I’m glad that at least this much of Kiddieland was saved, but the overall effect of the sign (which does light up at night) will never be the same as it was when it was complete, and rotating, with an amusement park behind it, and the smell of popcorn and cotton candy.

Other parts of Kiddieland had an even better fate. The Little Dipper roller coaster is now at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, and at least one of the miniature steam engines is at the Hesston Steam Museum in Indiana. I rode it in September 2010. It’s actually quite a nice ride, and much longer than Kiddieland had in the final years. They have a big to-do every Labor Day weekend, and it’s well worth the trip.

-David Sadowski

PS- Some readers also mention Kiddieville in Niles.

You can also see more local amusement park photos here.

*I am informed that Hollywood Kiddieland was actually located in Chicago, on the border with Lincolnwood, which was to the north.

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@Hesston Steam Museum, September 5, 2010.

@Hesston Steam Museum, September 5, 2010.

@Hesston Steam Museum, September 5, 2010.

@Hesston Steam Museum, September 5, 2010.

@Hesston Steam Museum, September 5, 2010.

@Hesston Steam Museum, September 5, 2010.

Kiddieland plaque at the Melrose Park Public Library.

Kiddieland plaque at the Melrose Park Public Library.

Kiddieland sign at the Melrose Park Public Library.

Kiddieland sign at the Melrose Park Public Library.

Kiddieland sign at the Melrose Park Public Library.

Kiddieland sign at the Melrose Park Public Library.