Delaware Public Media

History Matters: A sample of Brandywine Springs amusement park sites

Oct 28, 2016

Below are descriptions from just a few sites from the Friends of Brandywine Springs group's extensive work excavating the historic Brandywine Springs amusement park for over 20 years with the help of professional archeologists, New Castle County, and other partners.

Gathering of the historical information - displayed on sign posts throughout the park - has been a result of their work.

Ladies Pavilion

The “ladies who lunch” had an earlier life with their own restaurant, the Light Lunch Pavilion at Brandywine Springs. It was re-created from a colorist’s postcard kept from 1912. When the Friends of Brandywine Springs first got together, some people had grandparents with archival photos and they were collected into a scrapbook. Later on, when the archeological digs began, attempts were made to locate the exact sites of each pavilion and ride. 

The Light Lunch Pavilion apparently became a woman’s comfort station and lavatory in 1906, but the idea of a separate space for the ladies in their full-scale Victorian dress remained in fashion. During the 2006 Friends of Brandywine Springs (FOBS) archeology digs, the brick porch footers were rebuilt. In April 2012 Chris Ellis made and erected red corner posts as his Eagle Scout Project.

Exhibit Hall

The Exhibit Hall, built in 1891, had many uses over the years. It was used as a dance pavilion, roller skating rink, and exhibit hall for local merchants to display their wares. Around 1910, the sides of the building were modified to make it into an open-air pavilion to allow people to be out of the weather when they waited for the trolley.

Carousel

Ever hear the saying, “Catch that brass ring?” It was meant to be lucky omen. As a child, you rode the carousel at a carnival or event and a machine tossed out brass round rings. If you caught one, you entered the golden circle and good luck was forecast to come your way. At Brandywine Springs Amusement Park, a small merry go-round was one of the first amusements placed here in the cool wooded grove in 1888. A larger carousel replaced it in 1891. Gustav Dentzel, one of the great wood carousel carvers, built the new steam-powered machine. The carousel, originally called “flying horses,” had many different animal figures. Tigers, lions, giraffes, zebras, and roosters were some of the figures on the Brandywine Springs machine.

The three-row carousel had two inside rows of animals, which moved up and down, but the outside row was stationary. The outside row of riders could play the “brass ring” game. The game was played by catching rings, which were served to the riders by a stationary wooden arm which was placed outside the carousel. Most of the rings were made of steel and had no game value. The rider who caught the brass ring won the game and received a free ride. Steam power was replaced by electric power in 1904. The carousel remained until the early 1920s.

Caterpillar ride

While caterpillars are known for their metamorphoses, re-creating themselves each spring, this eponymous amusement ride at Brandywine Springs Park was notoriously short-lived. It debuted in 1923 and did not make it to the following year, since the park closed after the season and never re-opened in 1924. It may have been moved to Shellpot Park.

The caterpillar ride went round and round, enclosing riders in a dark canopy, while going fast around the track. A steel frame was placed on each of the radial concrete foundations and  tracks were placed between the frames. The cars went round and round, held by track-like spokes attached to a center post placed on the concrete center footing. A similar ride existed as late as the 1960s at the Million-Dollar-Pier in Atlantic City and was adored by youngsters and parents.