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New England Memories: Riverside Park, Agawam, MA

When I was a kid growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the most exciting place my brothers and I could think to go was Riverside Park in Agawam, Massachusetts. If we were lucky, we could take a friend to celebrate our birthday or perhaps a friend would invite us along. My brothers even got to go with the Cub Scouts once or twice. For us, it was the most magical of places. We had never seen Disneyland, so there wasn’t much to compare it to. The only other park I had visited in the area was Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut and that was a lot smaller than Riverside.

What I remember most from Riverside are some of my favorite rides, like the umbrella chairs, the Whip, Laff in the Dark and the Round Up. One of the landmark rides at that time was the old wooden rollercoaster, the Thunderbolt. I rode it a few times that I remember, but my younger brother and I couldn’t get enough of the newer coaster, the WildCat. This steel coaster was added to the park in 1974. I remember getting off of it and running back around to the line to get on it again. In 1977, when they added a loop coaster (a single loop) called the Black Widow, it was considered a very big deal, so my mother and I were right there to try it out. Of course, now that I’m older, things have changed, and there’s no way I’d get on a rollercoaster now!

We also went to see the Demolition Derby at the Riverside Park Speedway. The race track was built adjacent to the park in 1948. My youngest brother really enjoyed it, so we’d make time to go. I never really got the point, but we always had a great time comparing those drivers to my mom.

Riverside Park first opened in 1840 as a trolley park and family picnic area called Gallops Grove. Set in an area along the Connecticut River, the park was originally owned by the Springfield Street Railway. Like many power companies and trolley owners of the time, they led their railway line to parks to encourage people to ride their trolleys. A carousel and a few mechanical rides were added by the early 1900’s to entice more people to visit. The name was changed to Riverside Grove and eventually, to Riverside Park.

The first rollercoaster was added in 1910 and was called the Giant Dip. It was removed from the park sometime after 1913. Riverside was unable to attract large crowds during the Great Depression and as a result, it was closed. It opened once again after Edward J. Carroll purchased it in 1940. In 1941 the Thunderbolt, a thrilling wooden rollercoaster, was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the park and to attract visitors to the newly reopened park. This rollercoaster still exists and is in use at the park today. The Riverside Park Speedway was built in 1948, replacing a bandstand, and in 1976 NASCAR began to hold races there. In the late 1950’s a theater and bowling alley were removed from the park to make Riverside a purely seasonal amusement park. More rides and attractions continued to be added and replaced over the years.

In 1997 Premier Parks, Inc. bought Riverside Park and after the 1999 season ended, it was renamed Six Flags New England. The speedway was removed after the 1999 season to allow for park expansion. Today the park covers more than 235 acres, has 46 rides plus a water park. There are a total of 9 different rollercoasters, with a little something for everyone. I’d like to take my kids there, but I’ll have to brace myself to see very little resemblance to the amusement park I grew up with. Maybe I’ll let them get me back on the Thunderbolt…or maybe not.

Last updated: August 18, 2010
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About Ann

Ann is a web assistant and project manager with Retro Planet. After prior stints in the advertising and publishing worlds, she has found her place with the company. She is a serious anglophile and history buff, with a passion for anything from the past, especially retro inspired decor.

  • Mpyne

    It was called Little Dipper

  • Mpyne

    That is correct that rollercoaster was called the Thunderbolt.  the Cyclone was built around 1986 I believe.  It was built before Great Escape bought the park in 1988.  But the rollercoaster that looked over the raceway was the Thunderbolt.  unless in 1939 it was called something else.

  • Mpyne

    My first year working at Riverside was in the food dept.  The rest was rides I’ll tell you that the con cobblets they sold were actually Green Giant and they came 6 in a pack.  Of course Riverside wupld buy cases.  The trick is to take the cob and let it cook in the butter not in the boiling water.  Use real butter not all that other crap.  Because of Riverside I now own my own concession equipment and business.  But there is a givin for ya  Enjoy!!!

  • Mpyne

    The trach bins were hippo’s and the water fountain was the Lion

  • Mpyne

    Ya me too on the pics

  • Dreamlover50s

    I remember seeing a lot of great stars at Riverside Park. Names like Sky King and Penny, Gabby Hayes, Troy Donahue, Conway Twitty, Michael Cole (Mod Squad) and others.

  • Sean

    I found this thread while searching for pictures of the old Riverside Park.  I just returned from Six Flags today with my two kids.  I was looking all day for things I would remind me of my childhood visits to Riverside Park — it has been about 33 years since my last visit — my parnets took my brother and I at least once every summer.  It wasn’t until I went to the North End that things began to look familiar.  Memories really returned when I got on the Cyclone.  Talk about deja vu — but I really did do this in the past!  What a thrill — not only from the ride — I was excited to tell my 13-year-old that the last time I rode this coaster was when I was about his age.  The coaster seat felt so familiar and when we got going and hit that double drop at the start, the memories came flying back.  I remember when they added the Skyway and what a big deal we all thought that was.  I never did ride the  Black Widow, my brother and I didn’t think the wait was worth it.  However, we would never miss the Rotor.  I’m glad my kids were able to experience the Rotor at Lake Compounce the past few years — it was removed and replaced for the 2011 season.  

  • Palisades_parketeer

    Not anymore. The Rotor has been removed from Lake Compounce and a new ride called Revolution (Vekoma Frisbee I think they are called) has been put in its place. Lake Compounce has the Rotor in storage right now.

  • Brian

    Does anyone know how high the Colossus ferris wheel was?

  • Kmlyons23

    I remember going to Riverside every other weekend…My husband loved the races when Reggie Ruggerio raced…My cousin and I would take the kids to the park for the night…Our daughter now 37 remembers the rotor. We loved pirates cove..Those were the good ole days! Now everyone has season passes to Lake compounce and “Riverside Park”. The races were a huge thing back then….

  • Claudia

    Here a comment from Holland.

    Wow, I remember Riverside!
    I went there with my family (from Holyoke) when I visited in 1992 & 1995.
    Next year we are coming to the USA again, so I was looking if Riverside still existed. Now I see it’s Six Flags. We will definately spend our day out there.

  • Cowboycoffee737

    Wow, so many memories of Riverside Park from the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s.  What an amazing piece of my life; the rides, concerts, races, my dad’s company picnics.  So many good times from my early childhood through my early 20′s. My last visit…..Oct. 3rd 1999.  I raced in the very last race at the speedway and have never been back.  Thanks for this walk down memory lane.

  • Ruddeforthoncape

    I worked at Riverside..63 to 65.  My Aunt , Jennie Cena worked at the park for 50 years. She got the job for me and i was appalled to have to wear those too long, ugly red and white stripe dresses. I remember Mr. McGurn, Mr. Carroll ( “the G.D. park is closing….go home!”), and God Bless  Wes!   If you heard” Wes to the round up”…..you knew he had his sawdust and mop for a clean up. As a little girl I remember the fun house with that hidious laughing clown.  to this day i hate clowns. The wooden slide and the burlap bags you sat on.   What about the guy who rode the motorcycle in a cage???  his wife was the first woman i saw with tattoos.   I can still roll a great cotton candy,   Those were wonderful times.   I worked with Judy R at the concession stand across from a ride that played “locomotion”  all summer long.  guys I went to school with ran the rides…….  thanks for the memories.  My kids loved the place.

  • Paulsharm

    Hello everyone!  I did a commercial for Riverside Park when I was a little girl.  I think the year was 1983 or 1984.  They aired that commercial from the time that I was 8 or 9 until I was 13 or 14.  This was a time that Recording with a VCR was not commonplace and I am so sad that I never had a copy of this.  I was not an actress at all, but my mom was friends with a man named Dominque and he owned Dominques costume shop and this is where the Riverside commercial auditions were being held.  We went with no expectations.  Many children applied, many of them with their stagemoms.  I wasn’t nervous because I was too young to appreciate what it was all about.  We were floored when they called to say I got the part.  The commercial began with me in bed writing, “Dear Diary, Today was the greatest day of my whole life, Mom and Dad surprised me and took me to Riversde park.  Riverside has one of the greatest rollercoasters in the whole world, fun games, great food, and funny shows!  Even mom and Dad had a great time!”  It then went to dreamy clips of me and my “pretend” family playing games and riding rides and eating food.  The commercial ended with me back in my bed…ending my diary entry by saying,
    ” I hope mom and Dad take me back to Riverside park Real soon.”  I remember it all like yesterday.  As an 8 or  9year old was excited and proud, but then I grew embarrased that it continued to play as i got older because I did not want to be different than my friends.  I am now a 37 year old mother of three beautiful little girls age 9, 7 and 3 and have looked endlessly to find a copy of this to share with my husband and daughters.  Such a piece of our family history lost.  I am praying and begging you that if you happen to have a copy of this to please email me at paulsharm@charter.net.  I can’t tell you how infinitely grateful i would be to anyone restoring this lost piece of history in our lives.  i remember that the commercial was shot by Harvest Moon Productions. Thank you so much!!!

  • Sue

    I’m so glad that someone remembers that laughing clown…is that the one in the glass case just outside of the House of Mirrors?  That taped laugh really got to me when I was young.

  • Jameesacco

    Think it was 150ft.

  • Punbug654

    I worked there from 1974-1978, I actually met my husband there (he was the foreman of one of the roller coasters)  Like you I also have no pictures.  If anyone has any I too would like to see them.  My e-mail is punbug654@hotmai.com

  • janet

    I used to work at Abdows in Enfield in the 70s and Reggie Ruggerios crew would come in everyday for coffee.

  • Jen Brenckman

    My name is Jen, I’m 41.  When I was a kid my grandmother would take me to Riverside Park.  She would sit under a pavilion and listen to music with her girlfriends and drink beer.  We had to purchase tickets for the rides back then.  I also remember there was a petting zoo.  There were haunted houses that you could ride through and so many great rides that I no longer see anywhere.  I miss the small train and everything about Riverside.  I would trade the water park anyday to get the racetrack back.  The concerts were great too!  I was sad to see it go and sad when Mountain park closed as well. Great memories! 

  • Cyabern@gmail.com

    Riverside park was great place to go in the 60 will never forget :))

  • sean from hyde park 40 yrs old

    i loved riverside…………my family took me and my brother there several times, one time we were on our way when over the radio an accident happened on the round-up….i guess it blew apart or something, someone got decapitated i think……….and they only shut down half the park, needles to say we still went…….

  • Divinetm

    My parents took me to Riverside Park on my birthdays until we moved to California in 1957. I have photos going back to 1954.  Still makes me smile thinking of the fun it was.

  • Aglee

    Hello all.  The latest post from Divine says she (he?) has photos going back to 1954.  It would be great if she could post those to this website so we can see!  Albert L.

  • http://www.retroplanet.com/ Retro Planet

    Hi! If you’re willing to share, we’d love to post your pics and your comments about them. If this is okay, I can provide our email address.

  • Cherinorman61

    I didnt go to riverside until the 60′s and 70′s . I didnt know they had freak shows there…what made you sick?

  • Cherinorman61

    I grew up in the 1960′s and 1970′s, my sister and I would stay up late the night before we went to Riverside and talk about our favorite rides and what we were going to ride on.  When we got home that night after going to the park, we would talk about what rides we went on. It was a once a year treat, and boy what a treat it was.  I will never forget being old enough to ride the “ROTOR” and my step-father volunteering to go on with me.  He walked into the “room” with me behind him, then I turned around and walked out.  He didnt realize I had left and ran up to the viewing area until too late and the ride started going.  I still remember the look on his face looking up at me with that “what the heck are you doing up there” look on his face.  He didnt go on anymore rides that day as he wasnt feeling very good after that.  He didnt puke, but he was pretty green.  I do remember getting to bring a friend one time, and we ran to the Round Up for our first ride, she got sick when she got off the ride, but she kept on going after that.  I loved the demolition derby, and saw evil Kneivel there.  Good times!

  • Thom

    I am 55 years of age………. I have MANY fond memories of Riverside Park……..between the speedway, amusement park & the rollerskating rink,  I have nothing but GREAT experences to think back on.

  • Mark Bousquet

    My father and I were on the WildCat back in the 70s the day one of the cars went off the track and came to a sudden screeching halt…  about 50+ feet in the air.  We were in it…  stuck up there for 3-4 maybe more hours.  fun fun!  Love that park though and was upset when I found out that the fun house burned down.  That was my favorite place…  It seemed like magic how I entered on the ground level then came out on the second floor balcony next to the animatronics…

  • Judy

    What fun – great memories.  Was just asking a friend what happened to the bowling alley at Riverside – now I know.  I too met my husband at Riverside.  He drove a race car for many years until the track closed.  After the races we’d get a dark beer and corn-on-the-cob dripping with butter.  I went a lot when I was little (early 50′s).  It didn’t cost anything to get in.  Only bought a ticket if you wanted to go on a ride.  Very affordable for  families.  I remember my mom going on a ride that looked like a big round cage.  2 people sat across from each other and as the cage went around on a track it also spun the riders upside down.  Remember bands on Sundays in the beer garden but you couldn’t dance?  Not sure…was it because of the Blue Laws?

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.mueller.731 David Mueller

    I am 62 and started going to Riverside when I was three. My father was in a pit crew at the races and we got to go a lot. We would enter the race gate get stamped and run back out to the bathroom and transfer the stamp to a friend. That would give us some money for rides. I spent many hours at the arcade, fun house, house of mirrors, and freak show. I remember the expansion that never seemed to take hold that included the monrail. Many memories and would love to see pictures. I can find pics of the races but few of the park.

  • Sadlsor

    I just came home from a trip to “6 flags”… (it wil always be Riverside to me.)  I stumbled across several sight pertaining to history of RIVERSIDE PARK.  most of the rides mentioned I remember,  BUT I can not remember what “Laff in the Dark” was/is?   was it part of the Fun House? or something else??  

    I will have to dig through my parent sold pictures and see if they kept any of the ones from my childhood.  one of my best memories growing up was the one big treat each summer and that was going to Riverside.  

  • Palisades_parketeer

    The Laff in the Dark ride was a seperate ride. As you walk along the path that leads to the Rockville Gym building. There is a small place on the left that was at one time and maybe still is a small food court. This is slightly above you because it is elevated slightly. And on your right is a gift shop I believe now. Where this gift shop is located was where the Laff in the Dark ride was for years.

    If you google the Whacky Shack ride on you tube from Waldameer theme park you will get a good idea of the ride.

    I always loved the huge Colosus ferris wheel and the Jungleland cruise rides. What memories!

  • Palisades_parketeer

    Actually Jen, the Superman roller coaster is what took the place of the Racetrack. But either way, would trade both for the races at the track any day! Miss the old Riverside park. Not so fond of Six Flags.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=522442402 Sheri Kendall

    I was just going through my old shot glass collection and found one for Riverside. Brought back lots of memories

  • Carolyn

    FEB 2013

  • Tina

    Does anyone remember the rotorama?..that was a wicked ride to..or the slingshot…miss those days..good times good times

  • Brian T

    Just stumbled across this site. I’m 63 now but grew up at Riverside. Around the age of 10 or 11, my dad crewed for King Carpenter in the midget races and I got to hang out in parts of the track you’d never be allowed in at a NASCAR sanctioned event today. Once I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, Riverside was the go to place for that special date. You only fall in love for the first time once and I’ll remember forever kissing my first girlfriend on the Ferris wheel (Pat D where are you now) as well as class picnics and spending a small fortune to win the stuffed animal. I went to Six Flags once but it’s far too antiseptic for my tastes. Thanks for the memories…

  • Reggie33

    I am another that grew up at Riverside. My best memory is, I was 8 or 9, my brother 13 or 14, we were on the Thunderbolt. I was so excited and loving every minute of it while he was screaming like a school girl and turning ash gray!

    I brought my nephew to 6 Flags this summer, it is not the same anymore. I miss the old park!

    I not only spent every summer at the park but every Saturday night during the off season at The Roll Away!