By Jacqueline Grant
(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. SUMMER 2006
Though Lake Quassapaug Amusement Park has been entertaining families for nearly 100 years, its roots as a place for fun and relaxation go back nearly two centuries. The area around Lake Quassapaug was inhabited by Native Americans until the early 18th century, when King George granted Abel Wheeler control of the lake, and the area became a gathering spot for fishermen. The fishermen were able to leave their horses in a stall, rent a boat, and spend the day on the water enjoying the lake and its abundance of fish.
In 1888, the Lake Grove House, specializing in clambakes, opened on the lakefront. In 1908, “Quassy,” as the park is called today, was transformed by a phenomenon that swept through the country at the turn of the century: trolley companies began to build scenic parks and picnic groves at the ends of their routes as a way to promote travel along their lines on weekends. This innovation brought throngs of people paying 25 cents to ride trolleys to these “trolley parks” for a day of rest and relaxation away from the grit and grime of the city. The Connecticut Trolley Company completed the line connecting Waterbury to Quassy that year, and Quassy became a summer destination where people would gather to swim, dance, and picnic. Though there were more than 1,000 trolley parks in the United States before the Great Depression, Quassy is one of only 11 in existence today.
In 1910 a dance pavilion was built near the lakefront; it was replaced in 1915 by a larger, more impressive dance hall that remains the oldest building in the park. Today the structure houses a massive arcade, though the original wood floors where people once danced and roller skated, and bumper cars once zoomed around, have been retained.
Quassy waltzed easily through the “Roaring Twenties”, as the popularity of dancing resulted in the park’s hosting bands seven nights a week in the summer months. Boat and canoe rides on the lake were offered, and concession stands were added. As roads improved, however, people increasingly reached the park by car and bus, and by 1930 trolleys stopped running to the park.
In the years during and after the Great Depression, Quassy struggled to remain in existence. In 1937 three businessmen from Waterbury, John Frantzis, George Terezakis, and Mike Leon, purchased the property and revamped Quassy, adding more attractions including a roller rink, carousel, tea room, and paddle boats.
World War II proved another difficult time for Quassy, but the park was able to remain open, and even helped boost the local economy by allowing the Town of Middlebury to harvest thick chunks of ice from the lake to be sold to hotels and businesses in the area. Quassy was even flush enough to donate the piece of property where the Quassy trolley station once stood to the town for a baseball field.
It wasn’t until after World War II that Quassy became an amusement park by today’s standards. Each year more rides were added, including a Kiddyland in 1952 that featured boats, a Pony Kart ride, Sky Fighter Jets, and a Little Dipper roller coaster. Today Quassy features more than two dozen rides and attractions, including the Monster coaster, a small steel roller coaster that has been around for more than 40 years and is one of only a few of its kind still in existence, the Tilt-A-Whirl, and Saturation Station, a giant water-drenched playground complete with water cannons, fountains, slides, and a huge dumping bucket. Though Quassy has had to adapt as times and tastes have changed, the 20-acre park remains a traditional and popular place for people of all ages to relax and enjoy a hot summer day.
Lake Quassapaug Amusement Park, Route 64, Middlebury, is open April to October. Opening days vary by season. For more information, call (203) 758-2913 or visit www.quassy.com.