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The Vault: Fontaine Ferry Park's checkered past

The park, which was segregated for many years, prided and promoted itself as a million-dollar playground.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It was a hidden gem for some families found at the end of West Market Street where Shawnee Park has expanded in modern times.

Fontaine Ferry Park welcomed white children and their parents from 1909 to 1969 and promoted itself as Kentuckiana’s million-dollar playground.

The park was filled with unique attractions that appealed to people of all ages and even thought of ways luring you to come.

From their special promotions of county or company days, to quirky contests like the oldest set of twins or the fattest man (or woman), park leaders said there was something for everyone.

There were about 50 attractions including Hilarity Hall, Gypsy Village and wooden roller coasters.

Credit: WHAS-TV
The Fontaine Ferry carousel

The amusement park found its name in the fountain, in the pool at the heart of the facility.

Many were obsessed with the history of Fontaine Ferry Park, demonstrated by antique dealer Joe Ley who collected pieces from the park like fun house mirrors, a card reader, carousel horse and the original doors to the hurricane.

That fun was not experienced by all for the facility did have a checkered past.

“I think the disappointing thing was I couldn’t go and enjoy the roller coaster, the pool, the skating rink – those kind of things,” Rudy Davidson said then.

Fontaine Ferry Park was segregated until 1964 and after integration, there were issues.

Credit: WHAS-TV
An integrated Fontaine Ferry Park in Louisville's west end in the late 1960s.

On May 4, 1969, the park's opening day, a riot broke out and left the park heavily vandalized. It never reopened following the incident.

By 1972, it was sold and renamed ‘Ghost Town on the River’ and then River Glen Park.

A year later, it burned down which led to the city to take ownership of the land in 1981.

In 2021, the Portland Museum had tracked down the famed carousel from Fontaine Ferry. It had been in a storage facility after Great America Chicago purchased it from Louisville in 1976. 

The museum had been working to bring the piece of history back to Louisville.

The Shawnee Park Sports Complex now sits on the former Fontaine Ferry site.

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