What Happened to Geauga Lake, Six Flags Ohio, and SeaWorld Ohio?

Geauga lake
What remains of Geauga lake. Mike / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

For many years, startind in 1887, folks in the Cleveland area were able to ride roller coasters and enjoy other amusements and attractions at a lovely lakeside setting called Geauga Lake. By the late 1900s, the park's attractions and rides evolved and it was eventually acquired by Six Flags, and later by Cedar Fair, the company behind Cedar Point and Knott's Berry Farm. For more than 100 years, there were exciting developments that held great promise. Then, in the 2000s all of the grand plans started unraveling and today, all of the amusements are gone and the park is abandoned. What happened? Let’s explore the coaster-like rise and fall of the Geauga Lake area.

First, There Was Geauga Lake

Located in Aurora, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland and Akron), Geauga Lake entertained generations of folks in the Midwest. First used as a lakeside recreation area starting in 1872, Geauga Lake Park dates back to 1887 and it go its first ride, a carousel, in 1889. Like many turn-of-the-century lakeside parks and trolley parks, Geauga Lake added started adding roller coasters and other amusement rides in the early 1900s. The park thrived throughout the decades and eventually owners expanded the park to make more room for ride. One of its earliest attractions was the Big Dipper wooden coaster, added in 1925 at the same time as an Olympic swimming pool that remained in use until the mid-1960s.

Through the first half of the 20th century, Geauga Lake added attractions like a race track, theater, bowling alleys, and new rides. Despite tornadoes and fires destroying the park more than once, the owners always rebuilt.

Many other older parks had an extremely difficult time competing for customers' attention after the advent of the automobile and modern theme parks. But Geauga Lake managed to hang in there and continued to thrive well into the latter part of the 20th century, thanks in part to new ownership in 1969. The park was purchased by Funtime Incorporated, a company created by former Cedar Point managers.

Under this new direction the focus was more on rides and swimming with Geauga Lake getting several new rides and roller coasters. Starting in the mid-1990s, however, it began a tumultuous phase that ultimately ended in its demise.

A company called Premier Parks acquired the classic amusement park in 1995. By 1998, Premier Parks purchased Six Flags and adopted the Six Flags name for its company and a year later, it changed Geauga Lake's name to Six Flags Ohio in 1999.

Then There Was SeaWorld Ohio

After a $40 million investment that expanded the park and added 20 rides, Busch Entertainment and Six Flags started conversations about merging Sea World and Six Flags Ohio. The idea was to compete against two other formidable Ohio parks, King's Island and Cedar Point. After some discussion, Six Flags purchased the neighboring SeaWorld Ohio, which was located across the lake from the amusement park, for $110 million. In addition to SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego, and SeaWorld San Antonio, the Ohio park was the fourth location where visitors used to be able to see Shamu perform. After the acquisition, Six Flags continued the marine life shows and exhibits but dropped the SeaWorld branding and references to Shamu instead calling the SeaWorld portion the Wild Life Area.

Then There Was Six Flags World of Adventure

In addition to acquiring SeaWorld, Six Flags also built a water park. In 2001, after purchasing SeaWorld, the owners dropped the Six Flags Ohio name and called the combination of the three parks, "Six Flags World of Adventure." A single admission allowed entry into the marine life park, water park, and the amusement park, which was a big part of the park's marketing strategy.

But despite the significant investment and changes made to Geauga Lake, the mega-park never quite generated the revenue numbers that Six Flags had anticipated. At the time, Six Flags/Premier Parks—which had rapidly acquired parks both in the U.S. and abroad—had accumulated a mountain of debt and was a troubled company. In an attempt to reduce some of its debt, it sold the entire Ohio property to its rival chain, Cedar Fair for $145 million in 2004.

And Then, There Was Nothing

After the purchase, Cedar Fair promptly closed the marine life exhibits and sold the animals, relocated the water park slides and attractions to the former SeaWorld site, and rebranded the park with its original name, Geauga Lake. To avoid any copyright or trademark issues, many of the rides and park areas got new names and costumed characters were replaced with Peanuts characters.

However, the updates didn't bring in more visitors. After four disappointing seasons, Cedar Fair (which purchased Kings Island and the rest of Paramount Parks in 2006 and faced its own debt issues) announced that it would permanently close the amusement park in 2007. It's last event was the annual Oktoberfest celebration.

With the coasters and other dry amusement rides gone, Cedar Fair retired the Geauga Lake name in 2007. It continued operating the water park, however, and renamed it Wildwater Kingdom. The water park remained open through the end of the 2016 season.

Cedar Fair put the final nail in the coffin of the property by announcing that the 2016 season would be the last one for Wildwater Kingdom. The water park was all that remained of the once-thriving amusement area. There are no longer any amusements at the property and the land will be redeveloped for housing, dining, and retail.