Trimpers Rides Confirmed As Country’s Oldest Family-Owned Amusement Park (Likely Even The World’s)

Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — It should come as no surprise to the generations of visitors to Ocean City, but Trimpers Rides and Amusements at the foot of the Boardwalk is the oldest “family owned and operated” park in the U.S. and technically the world, a noted amusement park historian confirmed this week.

Two years ago, Trimpers was featured on a Fox Business News channel show entitled “Strange Inheritance” and it came to light the iconic park on the foot of the Boardwalk near the Inlet was likely the oldest family-owned amusement park in the U.S.

National Amusement Park Historical Association historian Jim Futrell was interviewed during the show and commented on the family’s ownership longevity. The Trimper family reached out to Futrell following the show’s taping and asked him to research the oldest amusement parks in the nation and across the globe and determine if his statements made during the “Strange Inheritance” show were verifiable.

“It came about when they were filming ‘Strange Inheritance’ and they interviewed Jim Futrell, who is an amusement park historian and has written several books and done extensive research on the subject,” said Trimper family spokesperson Brooks Trimper this week. “We followed up with him after the show and he did some research and confirmed we are the oldest ‘family-operated’ park in the nation and technically in the world.”

Futrell compiled the list and determined Trimpers was certainly the oldest family-owned park in the U.S. and made a strong case for the oldest in the world.

“As you see, Trimper’s ranks as the 24th oldest operating amusement park in the world, but in terms of family ownership, it ranks second to Blackgang Chine in England,” said Futrell. “So, you could safely say that no family in the U.S. has owned an amusement park longer than the Trimpers and still make the argument that it is worldwide because Blackgang Chine was not really an amusement park until well after Trimpers was.”

Trimpers currently ranks 24th on the list of the oldest amusement parks in the world, but first in the U.S. in terms of owned and operated by the same family and technically in the world. The Blackgang Chine Park opened by the Dabell family on the Isle of Wight in the U.K. is the oldest family-owned amusement park in the world on the list, but it began with Victorian gardens for visitors to the island and later a complete whale skeleton that founder Alexander Dabell purchased and bleached and reconstructed in the park as an attraction.

For decades, Blackgang Chine operated with the whale skeleton and other oddities. It wasn’t until after a family trip to the U.S. in the 1960s that the Dabells began adding amusement park rides in the traditional sense, according to Fentrell. Today, Blackgang Chine has evolved into a themed-part with different areas such as Dinosaurland, Frontier Land and Nursery Land, for example.

Again, there are older parks in the U.S. and around the world, but none has had the same family ownership and operation as the Trimpers. For example, the Lake Compounce Park in Connecticut was opened in 1846, but the current ownership group has only operated it since 2008. Iconic Cedar Point opened in Ohio in 1870, but its current owners have operated the park only since 1957. Coney Island opened in 1886, but its current owners have only operated the park since 1996.

There are others on the list in the U.S. that are older than Trimpers and have been operated by the same owner longer, but in each case they are owned and operated by the cities in which they are located. For example, just ahead of Trimpers on the list is the Columbian Park in Lafayette, Ind., which opened in 1892, but it has been owned and operated by the city of Lafayette from the beginning.

Trimper said he was pleased Futrell’s research confirmed Trimper’s as the oldest family-owned park in the U.S. and technically the world.

“We’re very excited to hear it,” he said. “Our family has a long history here and we like to believe our family is part of the reason Ocean City was established, not the only reason obviously, but we’ve been a big part of it for well over a century.”

Brooks and his brother, Chris, are now the fifth generation of Trimpers to operate the iconic Boardwalk park and at least that many generations of visitors have enjoyed the amusement park over the last 120 years or so.

In 2008, the park’s future was threatened when a highest and best use property assessment of the substantial waterfront site threatened to raise the property taxes substantially to the point the family had to consider a different use, but state and local officials worked with the Trimpers to resolve the issue. Brooks Trimper said this week there is no reason to believe the park will not continue to operate just as it has for the last century or so well into the future.

“There is nothing in the plans to change anything anytime soon,” he said. “We’re going to continue this as long as there are generations coming to enjoy the park. We’ve had generations of our family operating it, but more importantly, we’ve had generation after generation coming to enjoy the park.”

Daniel Trimper and his wife, Margaret, opened the park in 1893 with a pair of hotels and a handful of amusements. In 1900, after a severe storm, Daniel Trimper rebuilt the Sea Bright Hotel and modeled it after the Windsor Castle in Great Britain and the two hotels coupled with the growing amusement park became known as the Windsor Resort.

In 1912, Trimper’s purchased the massive carousel that still operates today from the Herschell-Spillman Company in New York. The massive carousel is 50 feet in diameter and was driven by a steam engine in the early days. The unique carousel features 45 animals including, of course, a variety of horses, but also includes a menagerie of other animals such as a cat, dog, frog, rooster, deer, goat, lion, tiger, ostrich, pig and dragon, for example.

Over the years, the Trimpers added numerous rides in the historic indoor portion of the park and several have historical significance, including the smaller carousel and the kiddie Ferris wheel, which date to the 1920s. In the 1950s, the Trimper family began adding outdoor rides and the pace of expansion increased through the 1960s with new rides being added nearly every year. One of the most popular rides in the park, the double-loop Tidal Wave roller coaster, was added in 1985 and has become a fixture on the downtown skyline.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.