Categories: Middlebury, Popular Culture, Sports and Recreation
Quassy: One of the Last of the Old-Time Trolley Parks
Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury has been a staple in Connecticut entertainment for over 100 years. One of the last of the old-time trolley parks, Quassy fostered success by continually evolving to meet the changing demands of its constituency. Its history details the services and experiences valued by recreation seekers in Connecticut over the past century.
Lake Quassapaug proved popular with indigenous populations and, later, with European settlers for the abundance of fish it provided. By the end of the 19th century, entrepreneurs began erecting businesses around the lake to take advantage of this draw while the well-to-do built summer estates on nearby slopes. In 1901, a writer for Forest and Stream; A Journal of Outdoor Life pronounced, “Lake Quassapaug is the handsomest bit of natural water on the earth,” but the author also foresaw changes to the area. He lamented,
“One feature of the lake that is likely to be destroyed by a projected line of electric cars from Waterbury. Its sequestration has been a taking feature in the estimation of those who enjoy absolute rest and quietude. It is feared the trolley will introduce an objectionable element, but the wheels of progress cannot be stayed….”
“The Wheels of Progress” Arrive—Along with Generations of Amusement Seekers
By 1905, the lake witnessed the arrival of the Wallace Hotel, and three years later, became a stop on the trolley line between Waterbury and Woodbury. The arrival of trolley service helped transform Quassy into a full-fledged summer resort. In 1937, three Waterbury businessmen (John Frantzis, George Terezakis, and Mike Leon) purchased the property and set about adding a picnic area, carousel, and paddleboats. Next came a roller rink, hot dog stand, and tea room.
The era of big band music brought with it dances, and in 1952, the park responded to new demands for family entertainment by developing its own “kiddieland.” Quassy continued to evolve throughout the 20th century by mirroring changes in American culture. For example, the park took advantage of America’s fascination with the space race in the 1960s by building its Saturn Six ride and, in the 1970s, utilized its dance floor to accommodate a growing number of roller skating enthusiasts.
The latter part of the century opened the facility up to corporate events, offered children a petting zoo and magic shows, and prepared the park for the next significant trend in the amusement industry—water attractions. The early 21st century brought about an increase in the popularity of water parks and Quassy spent hundreds of thousands of dollars renovating the park to meet these demands, as well as the public’s growing affinity for rock climbing and bungee jumping. Today, Quassy Amusement Park offers visitors swimming, picnicking, rides, a water park, and an arcade, all meant to satisfy the evolving tastes of Connecticut’s recreational culture.