Consider it pure luck or good karma for chatting with strangers. Traveling up and down Route 9 in New York State, we were intrigued by the sad end of the roadside motels. This one had a small play area out front, so we stopped. (I have a documented interest in playgrounds.)
Normally when photographing abandoned roadside anything, it’s more comfortable when no one else is around to either a) get in your photo or b) ask what you’re doing. However, an older couple was strolling around the front of the motel. They seemed nice (and not like people who would be annoyed that I was taking photographs), so I put on my good preservationist smile and went over to say hello. And what a good idea to be friendly that day! This couple shared their memories of this area – formerly known as Frontier Town.
Frontier Town was a wild-west theme amusement park of the 1950s era variety. Think trains & robbers, shooting showdowns on the “Main Street”, sheriff badges, horse shows, kid-friendly, small park activities “cowboy and Indian” style. Art Benson opened the park in 1952 and it operated until 1998, except for a few years in the 1980s. Frontier Town’s prime was the 1960s/1970s. Being located next to I-87 certainly helped its prosperity, and it’s location in the Adirondacks where there are few theme parks.
Back to the couple who started talking about Frontier Town. We chatted for a bit and then they said, Want to see it? Follow us. You can still get there on the access road. But it’s easier to follow.
Follow us. Hmm. I wouldn’t follow any random stranger into the woods, but since they were in their own car and we were in our car, and they seemed like normal people, this was okay. Such is the life of a curious preservationist. Down this access road we went, dodging potholes, and closing the windows because mosquitoes were starting to swarm into the car.
True to their word, they lead us into abandoned Frontier Town.
A flash storm had just rolled through the area, hence the hazy air and cloudy skies. And as soon as we got out of the car, mosquitoes swarmed. Intensely. Then again, I’m mosquito bait. Always bring me along if you don’t want to be the one attacked by bugs. The couple walked with us on Main Street for a bit. The woman was especially sweet, warning us of unstable floors and dangerous places to step. I wanted to say, We’re preservationists; we do this all of the time – step on the joists! But I restrained myself, lest she think we’re crazy.
While the four of us were walking along the Main Street stores, the couple told us some of their memories and how their kids like to come walk around Frontier Town when they are home visiting. And, apparently it’s a very popular thing to do. Other folks were strolling around, too. People seemed curious, not destructive.
Frontier Town closed in 1998. Eventually the property was seized due to back taxes. Everything was sold off at auction. And over the years, the property has been vandalized, and anything remaining has been stolen. Various groups over the years have attempted to save Frontier Town, without luck. All that remains is a collection of decaying buildings among the overgrown vegetation, with curious and nostalgic visitors. It holds a special place in the hearts and lives of many. As of July 2015, the land was owned by Essex County and the town of North Hudson was trying to buy it.
And such is the fate of the majority of 1950s era amusement parks. Have any near you? Have you been to Frontier Town, or have you heard of it? Please share in the comments!
Interested in more photos and info?
- NY Times article, 2004.
- Frontier Town – Then and Now (Facebook)
- Frontier Town – Project Absurd (includes videos, too)
- Photos from June 2012
- April 2015 video