Thursday, January 2, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Storyland Amusement Park, Hyannis

     Today on Cape Cod Hyannis is the hub of business. Route 132, Route 28, Main Street, these roads in Hyannis are lined virtually end to end with shops, restaurants, and other attractions. However there was a time before the endless array of businesses, it was a time before the Cape Cod Mall. In the middle of the 20th century Route 132 was a rural road, in place of stores there were thousands of trees. In the time between Hyannis being a rural village and it being the center of activity on Cape Cod there was an attraction that enthralled children and although it was short-lived it seemed to be a catalyst for the modernization of Cape Cod’s center. It was Storyland and this is its story and its impact.
     The idea for a children’s amusement park in the center of Cape Cod came from the mind of George G. Spalt, a Cape summer resident. Formerly from Loudonville, New York and working as a contractor in Albany Spalt saw several small children’s amusement parks during vacations to the Adirondack Mountains during the early 1950’s specifically Storytown USA which opened in 1954. George Spalt was inspired to create his own amusement park and found a perfect location along Route 132 in Hyannis only a half-mile from the airport.
Courtesy of The Imaginary

     Plans were put in motion in March 1955 when Spalt, only thirty-four at the time, purchased a nine-acre lot on a heavily wooded section of Route 132. The park was based around the Mother Goose nursery rhymes. There were thirty structures scattered around the property along trails leading from the parking lot which had room for up to 400 vehicles. All in all the design of Storyland took three months and cost Spalt $40,000 to build ($384,000 in 2020). The park opened in June 1955 situated between a Sunoco gas station and the Top O’ the Morn Motel.
Courtesy of Imaginary

     From the get go Storyland was a huge hit for its target audience. The trail leading to the park was like an entrance to a fairy tale world with attendants dressed as clowns. Nursery rhyme characters like the Big Bad Wolf, the Three Bears, Old Woman Who Lived In a Shoe, House That Jack Built, and many more were there to be seen. Many of them had large colorful buildings and figures. These were the work of Matthew Cobb, a talented artist whose great-great grandfather Daniel Cobb had run a general store in Barnstable at the turn of the 19th century. There were actors playing characters like Little Red Riding Hood, other figures were mechanical like the Big Bad Wolf who was voiced by an unseen actor including Cotuit Kettleer baseball player Frank Burleson in 1955. There were booths for candy and gifts and to top it all off there was a barnyard with farm animals, ponies, and even a duck pond.
     Spalt’s take on the children’s amusement park was a success. Children came for birthdays, on field trips, or just on a whim with their families. During its first few years not much changed in the surrounding area. Route 132 remained wooded and rural, so much so that when the locusts returned in 1957 you could hear their hum as you drove along the road. Hyannis though was always destined to become the hub of Cape Cod it seems.
Courtesy of The Imaginary

     In 1961 plans began for the All-Cape Shopping Center located on forty-acres of land between Route 132 and Route 28 to the west of the Airport Rotary. Centered around Picture Pond the property would be Cape Cod’s largest shopping center, the land east of Storyland was bulldozed. The first business to be erected on the property was Abercrombie & Fitch going up in April 1963. Although the plaza never fully materialized it set plans in motion for the development of the area in the future. Miniature golf courses, restaurants, and hotels began to spring up in the area around Storyland during the early 1960’s. Despite its relative success the land Spalt’s property sat on was highly coveted.
     Based on Storyland’s success Spalt developed Adventureland in Newburyport, MA as well as Cowboy Town in Plainville, MA as he expanded his amusement park collection. A big change in Hyannis was in the works though. Over a period of two years negotiations were going on for the Storyland property and surrounding area with the desire to create Cape Cod’s largest shopping center and actually have it open this time. In July 1968 the negotiations were completed and signed off on at the Neptune Room restaurant. Anchored by Sears, Filene’s, and Woolworth the Cape Cod Mall was announced with an estimated price tag of $6 million ($44 million in 2020).
     Storyland was on borrowed time during the 1968 season and George Spalt looked for alternative locations for his beloved amusement park. As luck would have it Spalt found a new home for his amusement park in Orleans. In January 1969 the process began of moving all of the structures from the Hyannis property to a filled in cranberry bog near the Orleans Rotary. It was moved and ready to reopen in time for the summer.
     As for the Cape Cod Mall the skeleton structure began to rise from the ground during the summer of 1969 with the first section of the complex opening to the public on Tuesday August 4, 1970. Twenty-eight stores would open that day bringing a culmination of the four and a half years from planning to completion. Today the mall is a Cape Cod staple, checking in at over 800,000 square feet and currently undergoing yet another expansion with Target opening this past fall and Dick’s Sporting Goods in the spring of 2020.
     Storyland’s second chapter in Orleans was not quite as successful as its tenure in Hyannis. By 1974 the park was closed and sat abandoned for several years. The property eventually became home to Stop & Shop. For those of a certain age that grew up on Cape Cod the short-lived little amusement park known as Storyland will live forever in their memories.

View my previous blog posts: In My Footsteps: My Cape Cod Roots


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Unknown said...

We have home movies of our trip to Storyland in the early 1960's.

misspops said...

Does anyone remember a music venue at Storyland, Hyannis, that was called The Carousel? I don't think I am dreaming this, but I seem to remember a small, dark, smoky, place, where "underground" live music was played.
Thanks so much.