FARMINGTON, Utah (ABC4) — Every year, visitors from around the nation make their way to Lagoon amusement park here in Utah. It’s been a go-to destination for fun times going on 137 years now, but many park-goers likely don’t know the history of how Lagoon came to be.
It all started in the summer of 1886, when it first opened on the shores of the Great Salt Lake with the name “Lake Park.”
Upon opening, local newspapers told of the wondrous entertainment there for visitors, including an open-air dance pavilion, roller-skating rink, bowling alley, water sports, and mule-drawn merry-go-round.
As water levels in the Great Salt Lake were receding dramatically around 1899, railroad tycoon and owner Simon Bamberger decided to move the resort further inland to where it now sits in Farmington. Along with the move, it was given the name “Lagoon” — inspired by the nine-acre pond by which it was constructed.
This move would bring visitors from all corners of the state, with an estimated 6,000 guests showing up at Lagoon on Labor Day in 1901.
As its popularity grew, so too did the attractions. The famed Carousel arrived in the park by 1906, featuring 45 hand-carved, hand-painted horses, among other characters — still there for visitors to enjoy today as Lagoon’s oldest attraction. Its Roller Coaster was introduced during the 1920s, now one of the oldest operating wooden coasters in the world.
After the park closed for four years during World War II, it was purchased by Robert E. Freed, whose family still owns the park to this day.
Much of the park was destroyed by a massive fire in 1953 — an incident that reportedly took the work of 500 firefighters to put out. Following this, Lagoon was quickly rebuilt and reopened under the management of Freed, with new attractions added for visitors young and old.
By the 1960s, the park had entered its “Golden Age,” hosting renowned entertainers such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, The Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix, among many others.
Up to 1965, Jim Crow laws banned African-Americans from certain areas of the park. In response, Robert E. Freed successfully fought these ordinances to allow all races to enter Lagoon without restriction.
The Freed family would become the sole owners of Lagoon by the 1980s, making it the United States’ largest family-owned amusement park.
Through the 1990s into the 2000s, a series of other thrill-seeking attractions came to the park, including Wild Mouse, Wicked, Rattlesnake Rapids, and Cannibal — the steepest rollercoaster in the country.
Today, after 137 years as Utah’s most cherished amusement park, Lagoon is seeing new generations of visitors making memories as they reminisce on its long history of entertainment.