A History of Pleasure Island

An eighty-acre multi-million dollar theme park, Pleasure Island operated in Wakefield between the years 1959 and 1969. At its inception, it was the largest man-made tourist attraction in New England, expected to host over 1,200,00 visitors each summer season. The family-entertainment center was the third of the nation’s big family park developments (Disneyland and Pacific Ocean Park, Santa Monica, were the first). More than 5,000 people attended its opening day in 1959.

The entrance to the park (named Pleasure Island Road) travelled one mile through the Reedy Meadow swampland and ended in a parking lot for 3,000 cars.

Construction began in February, 1959. Four feet of frozen ground had to be blasted to lay foundations for the park -- 250 craftsmen and twelve subcontractors worked for four months to complete the park, which included 100,000 yards of paving, one mile of water pipe, ten thousand feet of railroad tracks, seven thousand feet of fence, three thousand trees and one hundred acres of landscape. Prior to construction, several man made ponds existed -- land had been taken from this area to fill Logan Airport runways in the ‘50’s. Engineers removed and relocated 200,000 cubic yards of earth to create village roads and parks -- 1000 cubic yards of white sand created a beach. Two hundred master carpenters erected the buildings using Victorian, Colonial and Western architecture. One actual antique building, the B&M station from Greenwood (80 years old at the time) was carefully lifed from its foundation and shuttled through town to its new location at Pleasure Island. (This station building would ultimately burn down in a disastrous fire.)

Begun by William Hawkes of Gloucester, publisher of Child Life magazine, Pleasure Island pioneered a new concept: entertainment blended with education. Among the attractions were a Moby Dick Ride (featuring an authentic Maine-made whaleboat), the Old Smoky Line (featuring a 18-ton narrow gauge steam locomotive), a Pirate Ride (featuring bamboo-thatched pirate boats), Horseless Carriage Rides (featuring four-seater models of the 1911 Cadillac), gold panning, stage coaches, and burro rides. Education attractions included “Breck’s Old Country Store,” the Wayside Grist Mill (featuring Pepperidge Farm products), Friend’s Baked Beanery, Cap’n Snow’s Chowder House, the H.P. Hood & Sons Gay Nineties Ice Cream parlor and the Pepsi-Cola-sponsored Goldspan Gulch soft drink emporium.

Ultimately, it was the New England weather that killed the park in 1969. A season of particularly cold summer weather kept tourists away. An attempt to remain open only on weekends was not an economically viable solution. On April Fool's Day, April 1, 1971, one of the final death knells for the park was sounded with a fire alarm received at the Fire Station at 10:14 P.M. 'Two separate fires were in progress. Of the two building destroyed on that day, one was a local landmark -- the old Greenwood railroad depot, which had been moved to park ten years before. (A duplicate of this building was erected in Lomita, California, as part of its railroad museum.)

At present, the site is occupied by the Edgewater Park office complex and Reedy Meadow Conservation Land.


Learn much more about the Park, and the group that is trying to preserve memorabilia and memories from the park and see many more images at the new Pleasure Island Website developed by Kory Hellmer.