Historical Timeline of Lakeland Amusement Park

The Wonderful Worlds of Fun Poster advertised Lakeland Lake and Amusement Park before either were built.

Grand Plans for Lakeland Lake & Amusement Park

a poster advertising the future amenities of Laklande Lake and Lakeland Amusement Park

Promotional Poster with an Impressive List of “Under-Construction” Attractions

Bumper sticker for the Skyride at Lakeland Amusement Park

Sky Rider Bumper Sticker

Ad with pictures about Lakeland Lake and Lakeland Amusement Park

Lakeland ran large, expensive, and often wordy ads, most of which Garner wrote himself. He often lectured radio and TV announcers on the proper pronunciation of Lake-LAND.

a bumper sticker for Lakeland Campgrounds at Lakeland Amusement Park

Campground Permit with Validation Dates

picture of Louis Garner with Fiberglass Hippo in back of a pickup truck

Garner relocating a hippo. After the amusement park closed in ’76, the large fiberglass animals apparently weren’t conducive to lot sales.

Advertising for the Beach at Lakeland

The beach and campgrounds stayed open four more years after the amusement park closed in ’77.

 

Cafe Lakeland Sign with a picture of a Catfish

All-you-can-eat catfish was the specialty of Cafe Lakeland until they took it off the menu in ’89 due to “professional catfish eaters.”

A rendering of Club Winward planned for Lakeland Lake residents

Club Windward was advertised as “the club that has it all—except golf.”

 

 

 

 

 1948 WW II vet and former POW Louis Garner sells life insurance for Equitable Life Insurance.
 1951 Garner opens an Occidental Life Insurance agency in Memphis.
 1958 Garner visits Ruby Falls, the underground waterfall outside Chattanooga, is inspired, formulates plans for an amusement park with lake, scouts potential sites east of Memphis, and advertises for future stockholders.
 2/13/59 Lakeland Development Corporation is formed with Garner as president and 13 stockholders including some prominent Memphis businessmen.
 3/24/59 LDC applies for a zoning variance for “750 acres lying in a wooded valley” east of Memphis to build a lake and to place “Disneyland-like educational-amusement devices.”
 3/26/59 Garner announces to the press a $10 million amusement park with a 250 acre lake, country club, golf course, 4 swimming pools, 200-unit hotel, 265 cottages, a 180 ft observation tower with restaurant, and space for a convention center. “About $3 million worth of stock will be sold to pay for land acquisition and to get development under way.”
 5/12/59 Stock sale gets legal approvals and stock promotion and sales to the public begin. Price/share is $6.
 6/21/59 First salesman is hired to sell LDC stock.
 7/1/59 A total of 800 acres have been acquired from 24 individual property owners.
 7/4/59 The public is invited to picnic and see the land (to promote stock sales and build interest in the future amusement park). There is no lake yet—only farmland and woods.
 9/4/59 LDC holds a Labor Day party for the public with rides on a mini-train. “8,000 people” attend.
 9/15/59 Construction of the lake begins with 11 bulldozers scraping dirt to form a 1/2-mile-long, 62-foot-high dam.
 10/15/59 LDC contracts rides and concessions with private operators including the owner of Rock City & Memphis businessman Ned Cook. The agreement calls for LDC to get 25% of the ride income.
 10/16/59 Garner announces a plan to build 300 1- & 2-bedroom concrete-block cottages on over half the lake’s shoreline. Fifty will be for year-round rental, the rest weekly rental. (Only a few cottages were built and only in the amusement park area.)
 11/15/59 The Brussel’s World’s Fair Skyride is purchased to be installed in the summer of 1960 over a now-empty but hopefully then-filling lake. Garner says it will be “the longest cable car ride in the US.”
 11/20/59 The dam and floodgate are finished and water from Scotts Creek, springs, and rain run-off begins to form “the largest lake in Shelby County.”
 12/1/59 A total of 1120 acres have been accumulated from 28 individual property owners.
 12/31/59 $1 million of stock has been sold to fund land purchases, skyride purchase ($250k), dam construction ($250k), and a growing list of improvements.
 1960 A promotional poster shows the skyride meeting a “majestic tower” with an “elevair” to a restaurant on top. Promised park activities include “golfing, swimming, skating, bowling, riding (horses, buggies, surreys, antique cars, etc.), archery, skeet shooting, etc., as well as novel land and water rides and games.”
 2/2/60 The first 18″ Artesian well begins pumping water into the lake. Eventually 4 wells pump 6 million gallons a day—but it still requires 14 months to fill the lake.
 4/3/60 Lakeland Amusement Park takes in its first amusement revenue from a Little “T” Model car ride and “1-mile” train ride during its “informal, informal, informal opening.”
 4/10/60 Lakeland says it’s now “a going concern,” apologizes for disorganization the preceding week, and promises 4 additional rides, a large swimming pool, a golf driving range, a miniature golf course, and a trampoline hop by July 4. “We’ll admit our facilities are rather crude, but you can have fun while we build the showplace.”
 5/15/60 10 amusement rides are operating in a temporary location until the skyride terminal and other construction is completed. A swimming pool, the paddle-wheeler, the skyride, a golf range, and horse and pony rides are expected shortly.
 5/15/60 A total of over $1,500,000 of stock has been sold to 1800 stockholders, funding a seemingly infinite stream of additions and improvements.
 7/4/60 full-page newspaper ad says the “informal opening” of the park had “15,000” attend four water-ski shows by the Memphis Ski Club. “Facilities were crude, but progress is being made.”
 7/30/60 LDC opens “the nicest swimming pool in Shelby County.”
 8/19/60 The Brussels Worlds Fair Skyride opens and a crowd comes to Lakeland to see and ride it over farmland and a half-empty lake.
 9/3-9/5/60 Labor Day weekend “over 60,000 visitors” enjoy Lakeland’s “12 amusement rides, horseback riding, 5 water rides, picnic area, and acres of unpaved parking.”
 2/21/61 Garner announces construction of a 3500 ft drag strip to be leased to Dragways Inc for operation. A sports car racing track and motorcycle racing track are planned, and a go-cart track is already operational.
 4/61 The lake is finally filled. The wells remain active to maintain the water level.
 6/2/61 The Pepsi Dance Pavilion opens with an almost nightly schedule of renowned big bands, some costing $10,000 a week. Performers include Sammy Kaye, Les Brown, Jan Garber, Shep Fields, Smiley Burnette, Roy Acuff, Skitch Henderson, Connie Boswell, Snooky Lanson, Billy Butterfield, Ted Weems, and Clyde McCoy. Performances and dancing are “under the stars” and many are rained out.
 6/3/61 Lakeland Amusement Park formally opens and now includes a 40 ft wide, paved, carnival-style midway along a cove of the lake. Twelve rides and a variety of food stands and concessions combine with the skyride and the Roberta E Lee paddle-wheeler to entertain visitors.
 7/25/61 A roller skating rink is added to a long list of amenities that includes bingo, an indoor and an outdoor movie theater, dance lessons, tennis courts, trampoline pits, pinball pavilion, golf driving range, miniature golf course, archery, horse and pony riding, fishing pier, paddle-boat rental—virtually every attraction Garner can think of.
 9/2/61 Garner announces plans for developing a “$2.5 million residential city” (Lakeland Estates subdivision), initially designed for weekend houses.
 1962 The Highway Department acquires the right-of-way to build the planned I-40.
1/10/62 Garner announces a new roofed pavilion adjoining the open-air Pepsi Dance Pavilion for use in case of rain.
5/9/62 LDC pays its first stock dividend—a 5% all stock dividend, no cash. (All-stock dividends are not spendable and convey no added value to stockholders but allow the company to say it has begun paying dividends.)
 5/11/62 Les Brown’s big band opens a more moderate summer concert series; Clyde McCoy & the Sugar Blues orchestra play Tues-Sat nights through Labor Day. Garner says a 150-ft tower is being erected to broadcast Saturday night performances.
 1/16/63 After two years of operation Dragways Inc doesn’t renew their lease on the drag strip. LDC leases it to 5 local race enthusiasts.
 5/63 Ads announce new amusement park pricing: a $2 all-inclusive ticket with free re-rides—down from $8 the previous summer. “Never before has so much been offered for so little.”
 12/31/63 LDC reports an annual profit of $13,620 before depreciation. (Income after depreciation is presumably a large loss.)
 6/28/64 Lakeland changes from a public amusement park to the private Lakeland Fun and Recreation Club to avoid integration.  Family memberships are $5/yr and entry is now $1.25/person with unlimited re-rides.
 1/31/64 A total of 83 lots have sold in Lakeland Estates subdivision at an average price of $5,500. Garner says “1500 more lots are available.”
 11/1/64 large membership ad for Lakeland Fun and Recreation Club promises a “100 unit luxury motel complete with country club facilities on top exclusively for members,” “a swinging social club,” “a top flight golf course,” “a huge beach with Florida sand,” and more rides and park facilities.
 12/64 I-40 opens for traffic with an exit at Canada Road, making Lakeland more accessible from Memphis as well as to through-traffic. Garner adds large fiberglass animals along the highway for visibility.
 1/15/65 In a letter to Lakeland Fun and Recreation Club members Garner offers to sell reacquired shares of LDC for $4.25/share, indicating a 29% decline in the stock’s value.
 1/31/66 LDC reports its first profit after depreciation of $11,316 for 1965.  Real estate sales are half of the year’s volume.
7/16/66 Huff’n Puff Railroad begins service, traveling a circuit at the south end of the lake along I-40. (Contrary to a common misconception, Huff’n Puff never traveled around the lake.)
10/66 Garner submits plans for “a modern mobile home park” south of I-40—Canada Trace Mobile Home Park.
6/-8/67 Lakeland hosts teen dances (“stag or drag”), dance contests, go-go girls, and battles of the bands. The winning band plays the two-hour dance that follows. The Lakeland Cuties, Miss Lakeland, and Miss Dance are regular performers.
7/26/67 Train robber, Rancid Butterball, is wounded by a Huff’n Puff passenger. As Rancid holds up the train’s conductor, a lady passenger grabs the conductor’s rifle and fires at close range. The cartridges were blanks but still powerful enough to hospitalize the 18-yr-old, apparently-convincing actor.
 5/1968 Rides in the amusement park include the Brussels World’s Fair Sky Ride, Old Huff’n Puff, the Roberta Lee riverboat, the Mad Mouse, the Twister, the Ferris Wheel, the Paratrooper, the Merry-Go-Round, the Helicopter, and Little Huff’n Puff. A promotional coupon advertises “ride all day for $2.”
 1968 LDC builds a small strip center at the south end of the lake and opens Cafe Lakeland and offices for Lakeland Development Corporation. Cafe Lakeland becomes known for all-you-can-eat catfish.
 5/26/68 The skyride cable jumps its track in strong winds, stranding 80 people aged 10-22 over the lake in rain and wind for up to 9 hours. Firemen execute dangerous rescues with ladders, boats, and ropes, retrieving the last tired and cold riders after midnight.
 1/30/70 Garner launches a campaign to legalize horse racing in Tennessee and offers facilities at Lakeland for the first track.  Money is raised and officers are recruited for the Turf Club and Lakeland Jockey Club.
 6/72 A 400 ft white sand beach is added on the east shore of the lake.
 11/1/72 LDC announces plans to build a 100 unit luxury motel, the Lakeland Inn, originally to be operated by LDC but soon contracted to Best Western.
 6/76 Garner proposes to build a 3,000-seat horse racing track. If the horse track is approved, Garner says he will move the amusement park to another area of Lakeland to make room for horse track parking.
 6/10/76 Garner initiates a drive to incorporate Lakeland and wages a political battle with several outspoken opponents. Meanwhile Arlington threatens to annex the Lakeland area. Garner vows to visit every citizen to answer questions and solicit support.
 9/6/76 Lakeland Amusement Park operates for what is unknowingly its finale.
 1/6/77 LDC announces it is scaling down the amusement park, eliminating the midway and rides and leaving only the beach, sky ride, riverboat, and campgrounds. “The attractions that will continue to operate will be used mainly to attract people who want to buy lots to build homes in the area.”
 6/14/77 Lakeland residents vote 131 to 50 to incorporate as a city. A vacant building in the now unused amusement park will house the new town hall.
 7/79 Advertisements promote Lakeland’s white sand beach and sparkling clear, clean water (1.2 million gallons/day flowing from the Artesian wells).  Swim, sail, fish, picnic for $2.50pp. “Beautiful Homesites” also available.
 4/28/81 LDC says it is “land poor” and auctions 266 acres north of the lake at Memphis-Arlington and Seed Tick Rd (purchased in 1977) to raise money for operations. The auction flyer announces, “The entire lake will be closed to the public in September of 1981. Only home owners and their guests will be allowed inside.”
 9/1981 The campground and beach is closed, relegating Lakeland Amusement Park to memories. Lakeland Development Corporation continues to develop and sell real estate (despite challenging interest rates of prime plus 3 (25%) on heavy debt).
 2/3/83 The city of Lakeland approves rezoning the amusement park land to residential for a private gated subdivision.
 7/5/83 Garner’s focus shifts entirely to subdivision development and building “one of the finest subdivisions in the Mid-South,” East Shores, on the site of Lakeland Amusement Park. He buys one of the lots on the former midway for himself and builds a home there.
 11/30/85 1985 Stockholders Annual Report shows $104,238 profit mostly from real estate sales.  LDC’s accumulated losses are now $1,516,332.
 11/30/86 1986 Stockholders Annual Report shows $272,125 profit with “exciting prospects for real estate sales.”
 11/30/87 1987 Stockholders Annual Report shows $100,859 profit. Garner says he believes “profits before taxes should be about $4 million over 3 years.”
 11/30/88 1988 Stockholders Annual Report shows $91,553 profit with 16 lots sold. “Rising interest rates slowed real estate sales.”
 8/31/89 LDC pays its first and only cash dividend. In the accompanying letter Garner says LDC’s real estate has become very valuable and “future prospects for increased dividends look good.” “Like the Phoenix bird, we have risen from the ashes!”
 11/30/89 1989 Stockholders Annual Report shows $180,925 loss.  “All operations were off substantially.” Real estate sold only 2 lots and cafe profits “were the lowest in history.”  Yet, “Our time is finally arriving! Multi-millions of lots can be developed and sold.”

Accumulated losses: $-925,429.

$3,070,540 in notes and mortgages due within twelve months and banks are tightening lending due to the S&L crisis.

  12/89 Cafe Lakeland, long famous for its catfish, takes all-you-can-eat catfish off the menu due to “professional catfish eaters.”
  1990 LDC begins construction of Club Windward, “the club that has it all—except golf.” An 8,000 sq ft clubhouse, swimming pool, 2 tennis courts, basketball court, fitness room, putting green, aerobic room, meeting rooms, restaurant/bar, and billiard room. Membership is available to property owners in Windward Slopes, Lakeland Estates, and East Shores for “only modest monthly dues.”
  4/12/92 140 acres on the northeast side of lake are put up for auction in two parcels but neither sells.  Shortly thereafter Garner mortgages 44 acres of this property to his East Shores neighbor, and 14 months later voluntarily forfeits it.
 1993 Windward Slopes lot owners sue LDC for improvements promised but not made and LDC’s financial pressures come to a head.
 1993 Real estate attorney and investor Terry Edwards buys Windward Slopes subdivision from LDC.
 1994 Garner offers to sell the lake to the home owners associations but they decline, not wanting the responsibility or expense.
 5/19/94 Garner sells the lake to Terry Edwards for $236,000. Lake residents are alarmed and seek legal advice.
 1993-95 A leak in an emergency water relief pipe gradually grows to 3 million gallons/day and engineers indicate emptying the lake might be the only viable option for repair. Refilling the lake would take as much as five years.
 12/18/95 A Missouri diving crew solves the lake leak by stuffing used hotel mattresses, rags, and ash into the cracked pipe to stop the leak, then pouring concrete.  Total cost to the new lake owner: ~$100,000.
 1996 Garner moves to Punta Gorda, FL.
 3/7/03 Louis Garner dies at 83. His wife, Jan, spreads his ashes on the lake.
12/29/17 Terry Edwards sells Garner Lake to the residents of the lake.

More pictures of Lakeland Amusement Park

Corrections and additions are appreciated.

If you have pictures, documents, or videos not on this website I will digitize them, return the originals and digitized files to you, and gratefully acknowledge your contribution on this site.

Contact Chip Averwater at chipav(at)aol.com.

Lakeland Playland Color Logo

The Lakeland Playland logo, featuring the tower that was never built.

Stock Certificate for Lakeland Development Corp

Stock in Lakeland Development Corp originally sold for $6/share but soon was being resold for less.

picture of Louis Garner & Paul Stillions watching as the dam for Lakeland Lake is built

Louis Garner & Paul Stillions watch as a dam is built. The newspaper’s caption was “They bet their savings.”

picture of Huff n' Puff RR and Roberta E Lee Paddle-wheeler at Lakeland Amusement Park

Huff’n Puff RR, Skyride, and Roberta E Lee Paddle Wheeler

Ad: Your First, Last, And Only Chance to invest in Lakeland Amusement Park Family Membership

Lakeland Amusement Park became the private Lakeland Fun & Recreation Club in 1964 to circumvent integration.

Louis Garner on the Midway after Closing Lakeland Amusement Park

Louis Garner on the Midway shortly after he announced the amusement park would close. The Commercial Appeal’s subtitle was “His Broken Dreams.”

Sketch of the proposed Lakeland Racetrack

Despite Garner’s persistent lobbying the proposed Lakeland Racetrack never got out of the gate.

a color poster showing the subdivisions around Lakeland Lake

When the amusement park failed to generate profits LDC’s focus turned to developing “The Communities of Lakeland.”

Color Brochure with pictures of Lakeland Lake activities

An ’80s brochure promoting Lakeland Lake. In the end the Wonderful Worlds of Fun for Happy People came down to lot sales.