Take any car for Wildwood at Wabasha and 7th Streets. Fare to Wildwood, each way, 15 cents; time, 40 minutes; distance, 12 miles. Past North St. Paul and Silver Lake, with pretty farms and ever-changing verdant pictures on all sides, the line sweeps into Wildwood, the beautiful, where one may find rest, comfort, coolness, and kindred delights of the good old summertime.
– Twin City Rapid Transit Company Advertising
What’s your favorite summertime memory? Swimming? Roller coasters? Fishing? Dancing? For many young people in St. Paul, a trip to Wildwood Amusement Park on the shores of White Bear Lake included all of those things and would have been worth boasting about to friends and neighbors.
In 1899, the Twin City Rapid Transit Company extended its reach of their streetcars to the southeastern shore of White Bear Lake. The rail line ran to and from St. Paul along present-day Lincolntown and Old Wildwood Roads. To encourage city-dwellers to ride the streetcars out of the city, they built a large amusement park near Mahtomedi. From Memorial Day until Labor Day, you could travel from St. Paul to the end of the line where you would exit the streetcar, descend several steps, and enter Wildwood Amusement Park through a low tunnel under the rails. Admission to the amusement park was always free.
Wildwood featured a wide selection of carnival amusements such as a Pippin roller coaster, a “giant” airplane ride that sent riders soaring out over the lake, diving ponies, a Ferris wheel, ornate carousels, a bowling alley, traveling shows, and a lovely picnic area along the water’s edge.
Wildwood was the first amusement park in the world to feature a Tilt-a-Whirl, which was added in 1927. Invented by Herbert Sellner of Fairbault, a woodworker and water slide maker by trade, the spinning ride was constructed out of wood and featured nine cars powered by a gas motor.
To the west of the rides was the lake’s finest swimming beach and a bathhouse. Adventurous visitors could climb to the top of a tall toboggan chute and ride a plank of wood down and out into the water. Fishing boats were available to rent, and two steamboats–the Wildwood and the Saint Paul–made regular tours around the picturesque lake.
A brick dance pavilion provided a restaurant with fine dining and a promenade that looked out over the water. It also hosted many dances with famous orchestra acts such as Guy Lombardo and Fats Weller.
On average, 700 to 1,000 people passed through the gates daily.
By 1914, summer cottages started popping up along the shore and around Wildwood. That meant that St. Paulites could ride the streetcar out to the lake, enjoy a full day of summer fun at Wildwood and nearby White Bear Lake without having to cut the festivities short in order to make the last streetcar back to the city.
As the popularity of the automobile grew, many more people had the ability to venture to places further away from the city for summertime fun. By the late 1920s, admission numbers at Wildwood had dwindled greatly. By the time the Great Depression hit, Wildwood was feeling the effects of time. Meager earnings in the early 1930s forced the park to close at the end of the 1932 season. The dance pavilion hosted dances sporadically up until 1937. The entire park was dismantled in 1938.
Today, houses stand where the wooden roller coaster once rumbled. Private beaches and docks now pepper the shoreline where children with enough courage could ride the toboggan chute out into the lake and swim with friends. The only sign that it ever existed is a plaque at a small park in Willernie near the place that visitors would enter the wondrous world of Wildwood Amusement Park.