Island Beach Park

by R. Cohen | Nov 3, 2007
Island Beach Park Don't confuse Island Beach Park, also known as Burlington Island Park, with the Island Beach State Park you are familiar with that is located south of Seaside Heights, on the Barnegat peninsula. Burlington Island Park was an amusement park located on Burlington Island in the Delaware River between Burlington, NJ, and Bristol, PA, about 18 miles northeast of Philadelphia.

Access to the island was limited. The only way to get there in the early days was by boat. Later, one could enter the island by footbridge from New Jersey or ferry from Pennsylvania. The island's popularity began around 1900, when the island was used as a picnic grove. Families would arrive on the island by boat and picnic in a large pavilion and on tables placed among the trees.

Within a few years, in the early 1900s, Burlington Park contained a midway, circle swing, and merry-go-round. The sandy beaches allowed for swimming in the Delaware River. There soon followed a bathhouse for the swimmers and an ice cream stand.

George Bassler and Robert Merkel purchased the park in 1917. The pair put up a giant roller coaster called "The Greyhound," and developed the area into an amusement park. Soon, the island saw the addition of a Ferris wheel, an "ocean wave," boat swings and other amusements. The park attracted thousands of visitors from the neighboring cities. The patrons would travel by steamboat or train, then take a ferry to the island.

There were numerous rides and attractions at Burlington Island Park. There was a merry-go-round, Tunnel of Love, Steeplechase, Tumblebug, airplanes, Dodge-em cars, bumper scooters, caterpillar, a fun house, and a miniature railroad. The park also included a fish pond, a rifle range, air guns, a pony ride, and a ring-a-cane. Rounding out the entertainment options were a baseball field, a dance hall, and a bingo hall.

By the 1920s, Burlington Island Park extended across 100 acres of the 400-acre island. The park's popularity was extremely high, but, unfortunately, the venue's prosperity was short lived.

A fire broke out at the park in 1928. It began at 2 in the morning. As the park was located on an island, all fire fighters and the fire-fighting equipment had to be ferried across the Delaware River from Bristol. The flames engulfed the park and most of the amusements burned to the ground by the time the men and equipment arrived.

Not having the means or desire to rebuild, Robert Merkel sold the property to the VanSciver Sand and Gravel Company after the fire. He also sold off rides and attractions that were damaged, but not destroyed. This included the carousel that had been erected on the island in the early days of the park. That carousel was repaired and the lost and damaged animals were replaced with ones from other machines. Four years later, in 1932, this carousel was erected in Seaside Heights*. The ruins of the park and amusement rides remained on the island until 1934 when a second fire destroyed all that was left.

The VanSciver Sand and Gravel Company developed into the Warner Company. This company retained ownership of the island. In 1955, the company began dredging sand and gravel from the site of the former Burlington Island Park. By 1969, there was nothing left of the amusement park site but a 100-acre pit.

*The carousel is now named the Floyd L Moreland Historic Dentzel/Looff Carousel, and is located at the Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, NJ. The carousel is open daily during the summer, from 10am until midnight, and open most weekends and holidays all year round, from noon to early evening (phone ahead). For more information about the carousel, call 732-793-6488.

11/1/08

For more South Jersey History, visit our History page.

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