Lakeland Amusement Park

Lakeland Lake and Lakeland Amusement Park Plans

Park Plans
courtesy of Terre Hensley Cook

Click to enlarge

Lakeland Amusement Park Sky ride & Bridge Over the Lake

View of the Park from the Sky ride

picture of Lakeland Amusement Park taken from Lakeland Lake

Roberta E Lee Paddle Wheeler and Sky Ride Terminal

Lakeland Amusement Park Sky Ride & Huff n Puff Station at South End of Lake

Huff’n Puff and Sky Ride Station at South End of Lake

Huff n Puff Railroad, Roberta E Lee Paddlewheeler, and Sky Ride

Huff’n Puff Railroad, Roberta E Lee Paddle Wheeler, and Sky Ride
-University of Memphis Special Collections

picture of the Lakeland International Raceway Starting Line

Lakeland International Raceway

An aerial map of Lakeland Lake Taken in 1963

1961 Aerial Showing Park, Bridges, Pavilion

Louis Garner standing in Lakeland Amusement Park after it closed

Louis Garner in the amusement after closing it

Remnants of Huff n Puff Railroad Tracks in the woods

Huff’n Puff Tracks and Station Foundation Still Visible

2016 Aerial Photo with Lakeland Amusement Park Features

2016 Aerial Photo with Lakeland Amusement Park Features

 

It was to be the “the world’s largest playground,” “the Disneyland of the Mid-South.” There would be a 250 acre lake, an amusement park, 10,000 seat amphitheater, 4 swimming pools, 3 golf courses, a lighted par-3 golf course, a 300 ft observation tower with restaurant midway, gardens “as outstanding as the ones at Bellingrath,” “hundreds of cabins,” “vast numbers of water rides,” fishing boats, a skeet range, riding stables, tennis courts, a private country club, campsites, 1000 picnic tables, …and much more.

The promoter/developer was Louis Garner, Louis-Garnera Memphis insurance agent who conceived the idea on a visit to Ruby Falls in the late ‘50s. He drew up plans, promoted, sold stock, and bought 1150 acres of farmland 11 miles east of Memphis, off Highway 70 at Canada Road. (I-40 was planned but not yet built.)  A dam was raised to retain runoff and spring water from Scotts Creek and artesian wells helped fill the lake and maintain it in drier summer months.

Lakeland Amusement Park opened to great fanfare on June 3, 1961. Among its attractions were a mile-long sky ride, purchased from the 1958 Brussels World Fair, traversing the length of the lake; a 75-passenger paddle-wheeler christened the Roberta E. Lee; 10 amusement rides including the Helicopter, the Paratrooper, the Mad Mouse, the Twister, a miniature train, bumper cars, a Ferris wheel, and a carousel; the Pepsi Pavilion, an outdoor bandstand/dance venue; a large (“largest in the county”) swimming pool; trampoline pits; and an assortment of swings, picnic tables, and slides. Lakeland Speed Bowl (north of the lake on Canada Rd) and Lakeland International Raceway (south of I-40 on Canada Rd) followed. The Huff’n Puff railroad with its coal-burning steam locomotive began service in 1966 and traveled a circle at the south shore, robbed en route by moonshiners Rancid Butterball and Filthy McNasty, aka The Band of Uglies.

Much of the big plans didn’t materialize including the observation tower, botanical gardens, golf courses, cabins, and country club. But the amusement park operated and advertised heavily throughout the ‘60s and early ‘70s and provided excitement and memories for thousands of Mid-Southerners.

The park came on hard times in the late ‘70s, some say due to the 1976 opening of Memphis’ Libertyland, and it closed in 1977. The rides and equipment were sold off and the amusement park land was converted to residential lots. Louis Garner built his home, one of the first in East Shores subdivision, on the site of the amusement park. But the bank soon foreclosed on the development, leaving nothing for Garner and the stockholders. Louis and his wife, Jan, eventually retired to Punta Gorda, Florida; upon his death Jan fulfilled his wish and spread his ashes on his beloved Garner Lake.

Lakeland survives today as an up-scale lake community as well as a growing city. A few remnants of its history remain including the base of the sky ride terminal and railroad tracks in the woods at the south end. Namesakes include the lake (Garner), the road over the dam (Lou-Jan Causeway), Huff’n Puff Road, and the city of Lakeland itself.

More pictures and a historical timeline of Lakeland Amusement Park. And a website about Lakeland Raceway.

Many thanks to Walt Drissel, Dave Brown, Nancy Harrell, Terre Hensley Cook, Steph Lefler, Susie Richardson, Gail Moore Howell & her mom, University of Memphis Special Collections, and Memphis Public Library for providing pictures, documents, memories, and research. Additions, corrections, and historical images are much appreciated. Please email Chip Averwater at chipav(at)aol.com.

A drawing of the plans for Lakeland Amusement Park

Artist Rendering of Lakeland with 300′ Tower and Restaurant

Click to enlarge

Lakeland Amusement Park Brochure

Brochure of Lakeland’s Amenities

A picture of a sky ride tower

Sky Ride Structure Shipped Here from the Brussels Word’s Fair

Picture of Lakeland Lake with the paddle wheeler and sky ride

Roberta E Lee Paddle Wheeler and Sky Ride

Lakeland Amusement Park's Huff'n Puff Railroad

Huff’n Puff Steam Engine

Lakeland Amusement Park's Huff n Puff Railroad on its route

Huff’n Puff Railroad Making the Circuit

picture of Lakeland Amusement Park's bridge

Pedestrian and Fishing Bridge

picture of little Huff'n Puff Railroad crossing the railroad bridge

Little Huff’n Puff Railroad and Paratrooper Ride

picture of the band stand at the Pepsi Pavilion

Pepsi Pavilion Band Stand

One of the Huff'n Puff Bandits

Huff’n Puff Robber/Moonshiner Rancid Butterball

picture of the whisky still used by the Huff'n Puff Bandits

Moonshiners’ Camp on Huff’n Puff Circuit

picture of an original gondola from the the Lakeland sky ride

Restored Sky Ride Gondola