The History of Idlewild
The Beginning: 1878
On May 1, 1878, Idlewild Park came into existence when William Darlington, owner of the property, gave the right and privilege to occupy his land for picnic purposes or pleasure grounds to Judge Thomas Mellon, owner of the Ligonier Valley Railroad. Prior to this time the Ligonier Valley Railroad only accommodated narrow gauge trains and was used solely to move coal 5 miles north from the mines at Fort Palmer to Latrobe where it would then connect with the main Pennsylvania Railroad line.
Under the Darlington-Mellon Agreement, development of the park would include campgrounds, an artificial lake for boating and fishing, picnic tables, and a large hall. To promote the park, Idlewild was advertised in the Pittsburgh and surrounding areas with special focus to draw churches and schools to the site. The park continued its success as an enticing spot for city dwellers to visit the country for a weekend with a convenient station for arrival using the Ligonier Valley Railroad.
Before 1931, attempts to commercialize America's most beautiful recreational park had failed. During that year, C.C. Macdonald and Richard B. Mellon, son of Judge Thomas Mellon, became interested in Idlewild. They pooled their resources to improve the property and developed more attractions. As manager in this new partnership, C.C. Macdonald planned and supervised the construction for the parks improvement which are still part of Idlewild today. Our most famous is the almost century old carousel that was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. in 1931.
1952 saw the end of the Ligonier Valley Railroad. Although it had been a vital factor to the early success of Idlewild Park, its abandonment had little effect on the continued success of the park. Under the new owners, the Macdonald family, who purchased the park from the Mellons in 1951, Idlewild park continued to grow and improve. Story Book Forest was added in 1956.
Few changes were made at Idlewild Park until February, 1983 when Kennywood Park Corporation took ownership. During the first winter, major changes began to occur including the addition of our Jumpin' Jungle children's area. Story Book Forest was no longer run as a separate operation and became, instead, one more attraction in the Idlewild Park entertainment complex. Historic Village, once located on the Ligonier side of Story Book Forest, was relocated to the center of the park for the 1984 season and was renamed Hootin' Holler'.
With the ever-growing popularity across the country in water parks and attractions, 1985 saw the creation of the H20hhh Zone and the addition of Little Squirts eight years later. 1989 provided expansion across the Loyalhanna Creek with the addition of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood of make-believe and a trip on the neighborhood trolley. This area was expanded in 1990 to feature a new kiddieland area, Raccoon Lagoon.
The 1990's began the wildest years yet as the Wild Mouse Coaster made its debut in Olde Idlewild. The 21st century brought additions of state-of-the-art slides and other participatory water activities, doubling the water park's size and leading to a new name: Idlewild & SoakZone!
On October 6, 2012, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission recognized Idlewild Park and its long history with a roadside marker. A fitting tribute to the longest-operating theme park in near Pittsburgh, PA and the state as a whole, and 3rd oldest in the entire country.
The new owners, Palace Entertainment, added 2 new large scale attractions to the SoakZone – the Wowabunga Family Wavepool and Float Away Bay Lazy River. They also added the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood attraction transitions to the all-new Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood in order to appear to the children of today while still keeping the spirit of Fred Rogers alive. The attraction is joined by an all new stage show and character meet-and-greets.