A strip mall is now in East Salem. It bears the name, Lakeside, in memory of the amusement park that for much of the 20th Century delighted the young and their elders for several states around.
And though it’s been closed for more than 30 years, the delightful memories of the roller coaster rides, country music singers and the train that circled the acres near Mason Creek live on in innumerable aging adults.
As if I didn’t know it from my years as a volunteer docent at The Salem Museum, just the thought of Lakeside in its glory required two-rooms in the museum on a May evening to seat everyone who came out to view a locally-produced documentary film about the wondrous place.
Over the years, the museum has acquired memorabilia of the amusement park and its early big swimming pool. Some of these treasures were used by Carol A. Jennings, producer of the hour-long documentary. She filled in a few family facts about Lakeside which closed in 1986 for a variety of reasons, only one being the memorable Flood of 1985 which heavily damaged the property.
Jennings is a staff member of Blue Ridge Public Television on which the film was shown earlier.
The Lakeside Room upstairs in the museum remains its most visited place when even out-of-state travelers drop by on the Saturday afternoons when I’m at the desk. No one who was ever there appears to have forgotten it.
I’m not a lot of help to those who want to reminisce. Though I lived in the valley as an adult for many of the years the museum was open, I remember only driving a few miles to it on several Fourth of July nights to see the spectacular fireworks display. Today, those displays have found their way to the Salem Civic Center grounds almost in sight of my home.
In some ways, the amusement park has lived on in the annual mid-summer Salem Fair which generally attracts around 300,000 visitors over a 10-day period. Some of the same festive atmosphere prevails although a Florida carnival supplier brings in such popular attractions as the Ferris wheel, bumping cars, sticky food and sideshows. The fair also includes displays inside the center of all manner of home crafts, locally produced foods and original art which old Lakeside lacked.
The documentary also features several members of the H.L. Roberts family whose father and grandfather owned the park for many of the years from 1920 to 1986. In addition, several well-known Roanoke Valley citizens recall their association with Lakeside.
Why is the attraction no longer in East Salem? The film covers the well-known flood damage which was followed by the accidental death of a worker but emphasizes that after the November 1985 catastrophe repairs got the main attractions going again for one more summer.
But amusement styles were changing and the huge nationally promoted parks in Florida, North Carolina and California could offer more. In racial segregation days, black citizens were kept out of the early swimming pool when whites were using it. They were offered three days for themselves at the end of summer instead. Then the pool was closed down and thrill rides like the nationally famous Shooting Star took its place and made more money, family members narrated.
In its heyday in the 1930s through 1960s, the goal was family entertainment with a major prohibition of no alcohol on the premises. It was hugely popular for church and company picnics as well as reunions. Many recall seeing major country music stars as featured attractions.