images of this Property
10 images: Press to view larger or scroll sideways to see more. Postcards from various auction sites and Google Image Search.
About this Property
Reason for Demolition
In direct competition with the nearby Crescent Park, construction begins on a new amusement park to be called Vanity Fair. Developers must have seen how successful Crescent Park was and speculated they could one-up it. Architects and designers Copeland and Dole are hired to design the park. A bit further north in Boston’s Revere Beach, this duo was designing another park with many similarities for the Point of Pines Attraction Company. That park never opened.
Vanity Fair was America’s first theme park designed from scratch and it attracted 40,000 visitors on its first day. Three months later, the stock market crashed in the Great Panic of 1907. In 1910, on the fourth season after opening, attendance flounders and the park is haunted by bankruptcy. A small fire in May 1910 didn’t affect operations but the park did close at the end of that season1. During 1911 and 1912, the park was dismantled and many reusable features were purchased and shipped to Rocky Point and to a wide range of other places.
The site was purchased by Standard Oil as a refinery in 1915. Oil storage tanks remained on the site until the mid-nineties. Silver Spring Golf Course is located near the site now, though most of the former amusement park was oil storage tanks and has now been reclaimed by nature.
Across from a Dunkin’ on Veterans Memorial Parkway, along the shore of the Providence River, used to be another world. Enormous wooden buildings rose like castles over the trees, with spires sparkling in the sun and triangular flags snapping in the breeze. Welcome to Vanity Fair.
Never heard of Vanity Fair Amusement Park? We’re not surprised. While only in operation for 4 seasons, 1907–1910, and it was one of the most grand amusement parks of its time. Providence at the turn of the century was home to manufacturing giants such as Gorham Silver, Brown & Sharpe, Corliss Steam Engine, and Nicholson File Co., and was considered the richest city in America. Amusement parks could flourish with a strong working middle class.
Unlike many early Rhode Island and Massachusetts parks which were developed as picnic areas at the end of trolley lines, Vanity Fair was developed on a centralized plan inspired by the 1902 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N. Y. Its central attraction was the “Shoot the Chutes” boat ride which ended in a large 1,600,000 gallon pool. The entire park encompassed about 40 acres. Other attractions included shops, a “one-cent vaudeville” theatre, a grand ballroom, The Human Laundry, Rocky Road to Dublin, Dippy Daffy House, and a scenic railway called “Over the Rockies.”
One of the most popular shows was called “Fighting the Flames” in which a mock fire was started at various times to be put out by the Vanity Fair “fire company.” Visitors got to jump from the upper floors of the constructed buildings into nets and get “saved.” Trained acrobats performed stunts as well.
Copeland and Dole were designers for the park and its attractions. Point of Pines in Revere Beach could be Vanity Fair’s sister — same designers and many of the same attractions within the same years. Point of Pines had a boardwalk, an immense lagoon, a pony track, a scenic railway over 1000 feet in length, an ocean salt-water bathing pool, a mammoth lighthouse, dancing pavilion, a large open air theater, a carousel, and a show called “Fighting the Flames”. The Revere park never opened.
Fact checking provided by historian Bruce Remick. For years he has been researching the resorts and hotels in Riverside and has compiled a book, ”Rhode Island: Riverside’s Historic Shore Resorts and Hotels”. Sources have been daily newspapers from the late 1840’s through around 1920. Mr. Remick can be contacted for questions or to request a copy of his book at remick [at] cox.net.
- “Rhode Island Amusement Parks”, Rob Lewis and Ryan Young, pp.41-46. Arcadia Publishing, 1998, (Google Books).
- “Point of Pines – Massachusetts: Nearly Built but Never opened in 1907”, Jeffrey Stanton. Captured August 16, 2020. http://lostamusementparks.napha.org/Articles/Massachusetts/PointOFPInes.html
- “East Providence”, William H. Jordy et al. Captured August 16, 2020. https://sah-archipedia.org/essays/RI-01-0007-0001
- “Landmarks Preservation Commission nomination form for Mills Hotel No. 3”, October 28, 2014. Captured August 16, 2020. http://nycnpc.org/db/bb_files/2014-MillsHotelNo.3.pdf
- “Historic Amusement Parks of Baltimore: An Illustrated History”, John P. Coleman, p 107. Captured August 16, 2020. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2014, (Google Books).
- Kathy’s Amusement Park page (Angelfire, now defunct)
- Thanks to people on eBay selling postcards for the scans.
In the News
My Turn: Daniel F. Harrington: America’s original Magic Kingdom
by Daniel F. Harrington
Providence Journal | May 1, 2018.
The buildings were engulfed in flames. A young woman, high upon a ledge, cried out for help. Finally, the firefighters arrived. They hastily spread a net as the blaze moved to consume her. The damsel then leapt through the smoke and landed safely in the net! Two thousand onlookers burst into cheers.
Meanwhile, across the way, a room full of glass structures housed a dozen premature babies. Nurses tended to their every need.
The babes would soon get used to the shrieks that surrounded them, non-stop, day and night. You see, just outside their habitat, boats full of human beings fell from the sky and landed in a man-made lagoon surrounded by 100,000 electric lights.
It was opening day, May 25, 1907, at America’s original Magic Kingdom. All over New England, people dreamed of coming to the magnificent new amusement park called Vanity Fair in Riverside, Rhode Island.
Located on 40 acres of what is now the Silver Spring Golf Course2, America’s first theme park designed from scratch attracted 40,000 visitors on its first day — yet closed forever just five years later3.
Billed as “the park triumphant,” it didn’t disappoint.
The fire rescue reenactment was a “masterpiece of realism.” Dubbed “Fighting the Flames,” it included a cast of 200 and a life-size town square designed to burn. Acrobatic actors ascended and descended ladders to rescue their many victims, including children. (Think Cirque du Soleil.)
The falling boat ride was called “Shooting the Chutes,” and its impressive edifice served as the park’s centerpiece. All around it attractions abounded: An open air circus featuring Adgie the Lion Tamer, a Wild West show, a Rocky Mountain roller-coaster and a ride simulating an earthquake. A grand ballroom hosted the finest musical acts and guests dined at the exquisite College Inn.
That summer, aviation pioneer A. Roy Knabenshue flew his airship “Imperial” from Vanity Fair to the State House and back, dazzling hundreds of thousands of Rhode islanders.
But Vanity was doomed from the start. Three months after opening, the stock market crashed in the Great Panic of 1907, sealing the fate of the upscale park that dared charge a 10-cent admission fee. Standard Oil purchased the bankrupt property in 1915 and Vanity was forgotten.
But not before Joshua Daigneault changed the world.
Born in Providence in July 1907, Joshua was appallingly small at birth, weighing just one pound. Newspapers noted the hand of the world’s smallest human being “could slide through his mother’s wedding ring.”
Shocked to see the baby breathing, an intrepid doctor named Crocker immediately summoned the Providence police to speed Joshua — in an open air motorcar — to the peculiar “Infant Incubators” exhibit at Vanity Fair. There, they hoped, the “tiny mite” might survive.
“Infant Incubators” was the brainchild of Dr. Martin Couney, a German-Jewish immigrant who specialized in caring for premature infants but couldn’t secure funding for his endeavors from traditional hospitals. So he turned to the amusement industry, establishing functioning neonatal facilities in select parks like Vanity Fair. (Which means, of course, thousands of Rhode Islanders can credibly claim a grandparent who began life as a circus exhibit!)
At first Joshua rallied, moving from a diet of diluted brandy to mother’s milk and nearly doubling his weight. The press cheered his progress, but after a few weeks, Joshua succumbed to the impossible odds.
Still, he captured the imagination of the world.
A British newspaper lovingly compared “Poor Little Joshua” to the biblical Joshua who made the sun stand still. Today, “Providence Joshua” is still worth a pause of reflection. More than 1,000 premature babies per year are cared for at Providence’s exemplary Women and Infants Hospital. Each one owes a tip of his or her tiny cap to the pioneering boy who, long ago, perished at an enchanting place called Vanity Fair.
Article as part of the promotion for “Midway Memories,” hosted by the Rhode Island Historical Society, on May 10, 2018.
Many sources mention a fire in 1912 as one that happened at Vanity Fair. In fact, it was at the Boyden Heights park, just down the coast a bit, which had closed two years earlier in 1910. ↩
Correction: The golf course was there almost ten years before the Vanity Fair land was acquired and continued to be there while the park operated. Vanity Fair was built on land adjacent to the golf course. When Standard Oil bought the Vanity Fair property from Halsey Farms, it kept and expanded the course footprint to the south over the newly acquired land to about how it looks today. ↩
Correction/clarification: The park operated for four seasons over the course of three years — 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910. It closed in 1910 and any remaining attractions were sold and removed over the course of the next two years. ↩