Mid-Atlantic Amusement Parks of the Past: Buckroe Beach and Ocean View Amusement Parks
by Billy Tyson
Growing up in Newport News, my siblings and I were fortunate to have two quaint little amusement parks not very far from us on opposite sides of the Chesapeake Bay, one in Hampton and the other in Norfolk. True to form, they were a source of great amusement with their rides, games, attractions, novelties, and oddities. Although these parks are now just a distant memory, I have fond memories of my parents loading us up in the station wagon and heading to either Buckroe Beach or Ocean View Amusement park. I especially enjoyed the Dips and the Rocket roller coasters but also enjoyed the Dodgem Bumper Cars with that unique smell of the crackling electricity. I remember the laid-back atmosphere and the sights and sounds of a wonderful carnival. I heard that at Buckroe Beach some people would try and bribe the operator of the Cascades and the Old Mill Stream (or what it was more commonly referred to, the “Tunnel of Love”) to have it break down at the opportune moment. Popcorn, cotton candy, candied apples, and all sorts of goodies were available.
I can remember in 1977 when the movie RollerCoaster came out showcasing Ocean View and the Rocket. I so enjoyed watching those opening scenes as they panned the park and the coaster. As you saw Timothy Bottoms’ character scaling the Rocket checking the track, it was surely a site to see. I can also remember in 1978 when Ocean View was closing, and they were filming the Death of Ocean View Park. The opening scenes of that movie showed the park and the Rocket. This movie is where they would blow up the park along with the Rocket rollercoaster. Well, the Rocket was stubborn and refuse to go down. I read that a demolition team rigged the coaster with plenty of explosives and that the explosion was so loud that it shattered windows in nearby buildings, but that the Rocket was still standing and would not come down easily. They tried it again but to no avail, as the Rocket once again remained standing. The third attempt finally took down the Rocket as the demolition team sawed through the Rocket’s supporting wood structure and pulled them out with a tractor as the explosion took place. With all its faults the movie had many good views of the park and the Rocket. I sometimes think of these parks as I travel down Interstate 64 and cross through the Hampton Roads Bridge tunnel.
Both parks date back to the 1890s, when Virginia Electric and Power Company (VEPCO) would develop its street car line and the railroad would add tracks that would make it feasible to bring throngs of people from all around to the beaches of the Chesapeake Bay and to the amusement parks for decades of fun well into the later part of the 20th century. These old-fashioned parks were called trolley parks since they were at the ends of the trolley or streetcar line. Buckroe Beach was always known for being more of a family park, whereas Ocean View during World War II was more of what they called a sailor’s park due to the volumes of sailors that would visit from nearby bases. This was a mixed blessing to the park as it led to the games and other entertainment vendors offering a seedier class of attraction to draw in the sailors and their money. Dudley Cooper, the owner of Ocean View park at the time, was able to get rid of the concessionaires, who effectively acted as independent contractors, and their seedy operations. The post-war years brought a more friendly park.
Buckroe Beach’s first coaster was a small one called the Jack Rabbit, which was replaced by the Dips roller coaster designed by Miller/Baker and built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1920. Buckroe Beach had an elaborate Kiddy Land with rides such as a boat ride, a car ride, a small Ferris wheel, and a train ride to name a few. Buckroe Beach had other rides such as the Scrambler, the Octopus, the Paratrooper, an adult Ferris wheel that provided a spectacular view, and other rides. There were many games of chance and skill including the popular Pull A String. Along with the coaster, another great ride Buckroe Beach was known for was its 1920-vintage Carousel, this antique merry-go-round features 48 intricately carved horses and two stately chariots. It was at the park for nearly 65 years, and after the park closed the park owners had an offer to sell it to a group in Portland, Oregon, but the city of Hampton convinced them to sell it to Hampton to keep it in the area. It is now housed at the city’s downtown waterfront and was restored to its original beauty back in 1991. Perhaps the only thing left in Buckroe Beach of the amusement park (except for the memories) is the Miniature Lighthouse.
Ocean View was known for the Rocket and other coasters like Serpentine and Leap the Dips that had graced its shores along with other rides such as the Carousel, the Ferris Wheel (which gave you a wonderful view of the Chesapeake Bay), a Tunnel of Fun, and a Sky Ride with a nice view of the park. Not to mention Ocean View’s unique collection of sideshow-type attractions. Performers came in all varieties — human and animal, legitimate and bizarre. Ocean View also had a wonderful Kiddy Land with several rides for the children. Ocean View grew piecemeal over many years into a collection of fun rides and silly diversions. Ocean View also had its share of carnival games and the trinkets they had.
Due to factors such as the high cost of rides and their maintenance along with insurance, the profitability of the parks eventually declined because they were not the go-to destination anymore. Then in the mid-1970s, newer, larger theme parks opened in the region, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg and Kings Dominion in Doswell near Richmond, and the people were going there. So, in 1978, Ocean View Amusement Park received visitors for the last time, as did the Buckroe Beach Amusement Park in 1985.
It is sad that these parks were lost to the bulldozer, but with the technology of today we can revisit those days at the park and remember the fun times they provided.
Here are just a few links to the past of Buckroe and Ocean View.