It Happened on Woodville Road: Remembering the good old days at Forest Park

Lou Hebert

  It wasn't the biggest amusement park in Toledo area history, but it may have been the best. And least that's how many people from the area thought of it. It was known as Forest Park, opening on Woodville Road, near Genoa, sometime in the mid-1920s.
The park, like many of that prohibition era was a promise of good times and fun. One of several such parks around Toledo competing for the attention of those who wanted to a spend a few hours riding the rides, playing the games, dancing to the bands, or maybe lacing up some roller skates to take a few laps around the wooden rink. Forest Park offered a full menu of these features and much more, for several decades, from the 1920s through the 1940s. It was “the place to be” every summer, spring and fall, and even in the winter months. The land for the park, at Woodville and Reaman Roads, also known as Hickory Corners, was purchased by businessman Carl Uthoff in the mid-1920s. Although the exact date of opening day has been lost to time, early Genoa Gazette articles show it was up and running by 1925.

Cedar Point of its day
Within a few years, it was running at full tilt and crowds on some summer days were being counted in the thousands. Pretty impressive for a park that was miles from the big city population of Toledo. One of the reasons it did prosper was because it was easy to get to. Not only was it conveniently located on a busy state highway, in the 1920s and 30s the Lakeshore Electric Interurban train ran several times a day only a few feet away on tracks alongside Woodville Road. Thus, is was a short and easy ride for fun seekers from Toledo, or in the other direction from Fremont or Woodville.
Once they arrived there was a full spectrum of fun things to consume their time and money. The park not only offered a wooden roller coaster - The Speedway as it was called- but a colorful Dentzel carousel merry-go-round - later sold to the city of Burlington North Carolina - where it remains in operation. There were bumper-cars, a mini-train ride, a Ferris wheel, bowling alley, free movies, circus acts, including high wire and trapeze artists, a restaurant, a large covered roller rink and a marble floor dance hall featuring big name bands.
Owner Carl Uthoff and his partner Bill Stanger always booked first rate dance bands and singers to croon for the crowd and young lovers. If that wasn't enough, on many nights Forest Park featured fireworks displays and if park-goers wanted to stay the night, on the other side of Woodville Road (State Route 121 in those years), there were small tourist cottages that could be rented for $1 per night.(Some of the cabins’ time-worn remains are still stubbornly standing).

Owners took pride in operation
Every new season Uthoff and Stanger tried to add new and better offerings for the public to enjoy. On the midway, one could find a penny-pitch stand, a shooting gallery, an archery range. Then there was Madam Farray, the fortune teller who would, for a quarter, tell you what the future held. It's not certain if she ever foretold the future of Forest Park. If she had, she might have envisioned its eventual demise by the end of the late 1940s.
After World War II, Americans were seeking their entertainment in other ways. The thrill of the amusement park was surrendering quickly to the changing times of a new era. The advent of television kept lots of folks at home glued in front of a glowing box at night, while the Lake Shore Electric trains stopped running along Woodville Road, and the big dance bands of the 20's and 30’s were falling out of step.
Toledo area families had other opportunities and options for a family getaway and Forest Park, like many others, saw the end of the road. The once popular wooden roller coaster was aging and had to be condemned. Other buildings were also in need of repair and paint. The crowds dwindled and Uthoff, who had been struggling to make a profit during the war years, reluctantly allowed slot machines and gambling on premises and that stripped him of his license to sell beer.
What he could sell was the park itself, and he did. New owners took it over and had little interest in reviving it as an amusement park. By the 1950's the only remnant of the park still in use was the dance hall building which was turned into an auction house for a number of years and the once busy roller rink stood in silence along the roadway, its interior used for storage.
Eventually it would surrender to a ball of flame in 1957. As the decade wore on, the remains of this Mecca of fun were mostly broken and lifeless. As many baby boomers of the 1950s and 60s will attest, a drive along Woodville Road revealed only a mere wistful glimpse of what once was, obscured by the feral weeds and trees. By 1967, that last remaining building, the dance hall, also bowed to flame and memory.
Today, nature has reclaimed most of the small patch of land along Woodville Road at the corner of Reaman. There is little if anything passersby can see from their cars that would suggest it was once an exciting and storied place where thousands of folks gathered for a good time. But while the buildings may be gone, the memories linger. In a 1975 article in the Suburban Press about the glory days of the park, Russell Yackee of Martin, now deceased, recalled when he was working at the roller rink as a young man, that it was always crowded, “too damned crowded” he said. And Luella Opfer, now deceased, recalled some 50 years ago that her job for 11 years was to manage the roller rink and try to keep people from “sneaking in liquor.”
Growing up in Genoa, I heard from many folks of my parents vintage, how much fun it was and how it was a popular place for young couples. In a recent interview, before her death in 2022, Eunice Chambers of Genoa said she recalled that it was one of the places her future husband, Jerry Chambers, would take her on dates after World War II. The memories were still vivid so many years later as she, like so many others, got to experience this special place where special memories were made on Woodville Road.

Reporter's note: If you have any old photos from days of Forest Park, or memories you'd like to share, please contact me at The Genoa Historical Society is interested in compiling a more complete history of the park and the people who enjoyed it.


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