Part of the history of the north-east Bronx, but more recently, was the short lived amusement park, Freedomland.
It was a theme park built in 1960 in the northeast Bronx where Coop City now stands. My parents moved from a walk up in the South Bronx to a small house just off Bartow Avenue, very close to the site and I have memories of the park. Of course, my most vivid memories are playing in the ruins after it closed and went bankrupt in 1964. While almost all the rides were either sold off or junked, the concrete channels where the boats moved about were still there along with other remnants.
The park was developed by C.V. Wood who had been in on the construction of Disneyland in California, which opened in 1955.
On the surface it seemed like a good idea. A theme park in the largest city in the country.
However, one has to question the wisdom of the location. The area was marshland and used as a city landfill. It was also, nice bit of information, fed by Rattlesnake Creek. Apparently, there was a large population of rattlesnakes around this creek which flowed across the northeast Bronx and emptied into the Hutchinson River. By this time, however, most of the creek had been paved over and it was underground. You can see an above surface stretch in Seton Hall Park.
But, don’t worry, they held weekly meetings back in the old days to deal with the rattlesnakes and got ‘em all. So, they say.
I always wondered about building Coop City, the largest housing development on former marshland, but what do I know.
The park, based on a map of the United States, was built in just 300 days, at a cost, for land and construction of $65 million.
Interestingly, none of the park’s attractions were traditional rides such as roller coasters. Going with the U.S.A. theme. There was Little Old New York (which seems weird to put in actual present New York), Old Chicago (fire), the Great Plains (Indian attack), San Francisco (Earthquake), the Old Southwest (gunfight), New Orleans (pirates) and Satellite City. Are you picking up a motif?
Gay Talese reviewed the park as built on vacant wasteland. Which was true.
Several accidents and lawsuits sapped the park’s revenue. There was also Rye Playland just north of it where we went more often, even though we were blocks away from Freedomland.
There is a theory the park was built as a placeholder to get the land for future development, which happened when Coop City was built.
A Newsday review said “They came. They saw. They left. And most never came back.” Not much different than the Staten Island Peace Conference.
Excerpted from: New York City Little Black Book 1: Secrets, History, and Trivia of the World’s Greatest City.