Savin Rock Park ran along the West Haven harbor beachfront and was one of New England’s earliest and largest amusement parks. In its golden era, it was often compared to Coney Island.
Its highlights included a Thunderbolt roller coaster, a Victorian ice cream parlor, and the Laughing Sal who stood near the carousel. It was a place where people came to celebrate promotion day and spend the day riding rides. Read this first!
Thankfully, many of the rides are preserved and housed in the Savin Rock Museum and Learning Center. It is also the site of the annual Savin Rock Festival.
The festival is a reminder of how much fun this town has to offer. It is a chance for locals to relive their youth. And it is a great opportunity for people from other parts of the state to sample what Connecticut has to offer.
In the 1870s, a man named George Kelsey founded the park. He modeled it on Chicago’s White City, which was constructed for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The attraction grew into one of New England’s most famous amusement parks. It drew crowds by land and sea, thanks to Kelsey’s vision of transit. His go-getting spirit led to other improvements, including electricity and more rides. By the time of its close in 1966, Savin Rock was a popular destination for families.
The food was abundant and the music was loud at this party-by-the-sea that included food trucks, vendors, and activities for the whole family. The event was a part of West Haven’s annual Savin Rock Festival.
At its peak, the seaside resort called “Connecticut’s Coney Island” attracted visitors of all ages. In addition to a mile-long midway with roller coasters and funhouses, the White City offered concerts, marathon dances, automobile stunt shows, and bumper cars. People could eat shore dinners, drink frozen custard or milkshakes, and consult a mechanical fortune-teller named the Laughing Lady.
Several restaurants sprang up on the shore, including Jimmy’s, which opened in 1925 and still has photos of the old Savin Rock park inside to this day. The restaurant serves a variety of seafood and has banquet rooms for large parties. Jimmies is a West Haven institution and is known for its fresh seafood and huge prime rib cuts. It is open for lunch and dinner. Discover More about Trumbull here.
The Savin Rock Trail threads past another pleasing beach framed by greenery. Oak Street Beach is a sandy public beach with distant views over Long Island Sound and a scenic boardwalk where you can comb for shells. This area also hosts live music in the summer.
At its peak, the amusement park called “The Rock” occupied land that took in Rock, Campbell, and Thomas avenues as well as a mile-long midway with rides like bumper cars. A tall tower adorned with lights inspired by Chicago’s White City and a small train were among the attractions.
By the time the park closed in 1966, the rides were all gone. But locals still remember the sound of Laughing Sal, the smell of fried food, and the feel of the breeze on their faces. They remember, too, how they savored shore dinners of split hot dogs and frozen custard or snacked on honey-pop corn from Jimmy’s or Turk’s. And they still have their souvenirs from the shoot-and-throw stands.
Named after the savin trees that once stood along the shoreline, the Rock was founded in the 1870s by Civil War veteran Colonel George Kelsey. Kelsey was a go-getter who built a pier that extended 1,500 feet into the harbor and established a ferry service that would make it possible to visit the site year-round.
He also erected Skeele’s Pier Restaurant that could accommodate 1,000 diners, providing great deals on a popular shore meal called a “shore dinner.” The entrepreneur also built a Victorian ice cream parlor, another attraction that made him famous.
Around the turn of the century, when electricity was introduced in West Haven, Kelsey developed what became known as White City, a large amusement park containing carnival rides, theaters, and restaurants that ran along Rock, Campbell, and Beach streets with an entrance arch at Savin Avenue and Thomas Street. It was like a miniature Coney Island and it was the place to see and be seen. Up next is Eisenhower Park.
Driving directions from Spartan Home Services to Savin Rock Park
Driving directions from Savin Rock Park to Eisenhower Park