Adventure Town 1000 Islands Brought The Wild West To Edgewood Resort
Looking to draw tourists to Edgewood Resort, co-owners George L. Clark and George (Bud) H. Hebert would create Adventure Town in 1955. An ode to the wild-wild west of yesteryear, Adventure Town was constructed on the site of the former Edgewood International Speedway and was the area’s first theme park a quarter century before WaterFun Village was constructed at Collins Landing.
The Watertown Daily Times gave a description of the proposed attraction—
As described by Mr. Clark and Mr. Hebert, owners of the Edgewood Resort hotel and the speedway, “Adventure Town,” as the attraction will be known, will be developed on the 60-acre tract of land at the edge of the St. Lawrence as a replica of a segment of the typical old west. An investment of more than $50,000 this year alone in the project is a conservative estimate of the owners who said they expect to have the development ready in June for the coming summer’s tourist business.
The hopes were to add a much-needed shot in the tourist industry’s arm after a decline of 15% the previous year. The concept of an old west town setting had proven to be popular in other areas including the Adirondacks and the owners believed the success could be replicated in the Thousand Islands.
Construction on Adventure Town began mid-March of 1955 with plans for at least 20 buildings. The false-front of each would encompass a different design for old west staples such as the general store, bank, jail, saloon and of course, the town sheriff’s office. Designing the buildings would be Arto Monaco who had previously designed Santa’s Workshop (Whiteface Region), Old MacDonald’s Farm (Lake Placid) and his own Land of Makebelieve (Upper Jay).
With its grand opening planned for June 25th, the promoters would open up Adventure Town to the public for a preview look Memorial Day weekend with rides available on the Davey Crockett Express, Deadwood Stage or the ponies. What happened later that weekend would add to the town’s authenticity. As reported in The Times—
Alexandria Bay, May 28—E. J. Noble, chairman of Life Savers, Inc., Greenwich, Conn., has informed Bud Herbert and George Clark that he will loan his entire collection of carriages and wagons to the Adventure Town project.
Mr. Noble expressed his good wishes for the success of the new venture. He stated that Adventure Town is the type of attraction long needed by the Thousand Islands area and should attract tourists.
With the date drawing closer, work was proceeding along with nearly all of the buildings erected and a half-mile railroad track for the Davey Crockett Express finished for what was now being reported as a “$150,000 tourist attraction.” Other attractions added included a ranch, corrals, and an Indian village with its own Lake Geronimo.
Other touches lending to the authenticity would be a tally-ho, Mexican burros, mules and stores stocked with goods like a 1905 Edison phonograph, lard-maker and coffee-grinder. The west wouldn’t be wild without gun fights, bank and train robberies or Indian raids, either – and with all that shootin’, there’s Boot Hill Cemetery with the remains of Dapper Dan, Light-fingered Taitt, and Cannonball Clark were interred upon.
Before the successful first season closed its run for the year having drawn 65,000 visitors, 85 children of St. Patrick’s Home in Watertown would have an expenses paid tour of Adventure Town sponsored by the city’s Elks Club. The all-day affair would have the party of nearly 100 leaving the children’s home at 10:00am Saturday, September 3 and departing Adventure Town at 5pm. While there, they would have the opportunity to go on all the rides, be treated to a light lunch and given souvenirs.
In the years that followed, new attractions were added in an attempt to continually draw tourists and rope ‘em back for a second time. The Natchez Belle, a miniature 28-foot Mississippi River stern wheeler was added in 1957. The boat would give rides to tourists on Lake Geronimo which was centered in the middle of the former speedway. A large fortress and a rodeo show featuring cowboy Tim Frawley were also added for the season in an effort to bolster Adventure Land as being one of the largest attractions of its kind in the east.
In 1958, over 300 orphans and underprivileged children were treated to the town of Alexandria Lions club wild west round-up benefit show at Adventure Town in early September. Children from St. Patrick’s of Watertown, Jefferson County Home, St. Joseph’s Home in Ogdensburg and a group from Kingston, Ontario, sent by the the Kingston Rod and Gun Club and the Kingston Lions club. The public was also be invited to the show, netting $1,200 for the Alexandria Lions club and it was announced the effort would be an annual affair.
1959 promised to be the biggest year yet with new attractions featuring a water ski show featuring the Cypress Garden Stars, home of “Jasbo,” the skiing mule. The summer’s end in late September would also bring a rumor of Adventure Town being sold and moved to Massena which was called a “myth” by management who stated plans were in development to continue to improve the attractions. Alas, like a seed that’s been planted, all it needed was time to grow.
In August of 1961, the Adventure Town management would announce the closing of the wild west with Labor Day to be its last day open. The town would be dismantled and sold to make way for a 100-unit motel and recreational area for its companion Edgewood Resort. Mr. Clark told The Times, “The decision to close Adventure Town was prompted by the trend of times and the need for expanding facilities at Edgewood Resort.” The expansion was most likely due in part to the anticipated increase in tourist traffic from the completion of Interstate 81 to the area to come within the next couple of years.
The assets from Adventure Town would be sold off and dispersed far and wide across the east and midwest. Some ended up in the Adirondacks at Gas Light Village at Lake George and Enchanted Forest in Old Forge. Others went to Frontier Town in Ocean City, Maryland. The railroad track, locomotive, passenger car and caboose would end up in Silver Dollar City at Marvel Caves, Branson, Missouri.
Below, Alan Godlstein’s 8mm silent film, “Adventure Town,” shot during the last year of operation in 1961. The video has added sound effects and is from Alan’s YouTube channel.