Frontier Town, located in North Hudson, NY, was well known both near and far. Any kid growing up in the 1950’s through the 70’s would have known about it and most certainly, hounded their parents until they got a chance to visit. Most likely some of the parents were equally excited to visit and join in the fun as well.
Update 2024: Sadly, as depressing a site that the long dead Frontier Town once was, now a visit to the location is virtually unrecognizable. It is now a Campground, Equestrian and Day Use Area and looks very little to what it did in it’s glory days. The iconic A-Frame at Frontier Town, Exit 29 off the Northway, has been reopened as a convenience store. The latest news as of 2024 is available here.
Frontier Town opened in 1952 and was designed to look like an old west town
It was truly a fantastic replica of an old west “frontier town” with buildings, rides, and cowboy/cowgirl performers. It was founded by Art Bensen, who got the idea after visiting ghost towns in the western United States. Bensen was a businessman who also owned a chain of motels in the Adirondacks.
Frontier Town “The Wild West in the East”
Major attractions included staged gunfights, can-can dancers, wagon rides, a rodeo area, and rides like a log flume and a steam train that took visitors around the park. In its heyday in the 1960s-1970s, Frontier Town attracted over 300,000 visitors per year. It advertised itself as “The Wild West in the East.”
Back in those early decades, TV and movie westerns were very popular for both young and old alike. It would only make sense that a theme park based on the genre, would attract families from miles around. In 1951, Art Bensen had a dream to build a western theme amusement park in the Adirondacks region of New York. With the added enticement of the nearby Schroon Lake, such a destination would easily entice vacationers of all ages. So it did, as it flourished and became extremely popular in the 60’s and 70’s. The video below is a great flashback to the glory days of Frontier Town.
Back in those times, every kid who watched Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Rifleman and all the other TV westerns also played “cowboys and Indians”, in just about every back yard in the USA. The chance to visit a western theme park would have been the dream of most any kid…especially if you were a young boy.
The park started declining in the 1980s as people lost interest in the cowboys and Indians theme. Bensen retired in 1985 and the park went through several ownership changes. Frontier Town closed for good in 1998 after years of dwindling attendance. Most of the buildings were auctioned off and removed.
Frontier Town, a childhood dream, is now a long forgotten ghost town
Unfortunately, I never did get to visit Frontier Town when I was a kid. We may have driven by it though and certainly would have known about it. You couldn’t miss the ads on local TV. Any kid who did get to visit the theme park definitely had bragging rights.
On a cool day in April 2015, I did get the chance to visit Frontier Town. Though I completely missed it during it’s heyday and even into the 1980’s and 90’s when it was sold and later revived (unsuccessfully), Frontier Town retained a certain fascination. I had discussed it with a friend of mine, Chad Abramovich (of the simply fantastic blog, Obscure Vermont).
Chad had visited the abandoned property before, albeit during winter months when it was not quite so easy to get around and see everything. Needless to say, Chad was chomping at the bit for a chance to return and take some more photos of the long dead theme park. With me trudging along with a video camera, we managed to thoroughly document most of what remains of Frontier Town, before it entirely decays into obscurity (pun intended Chad!).
Although I placed a teaser video on YouTube rather quickly after the trip last year, I finally had a chance to edit the footage correctly and can now present the full 40 minute version. After spending the day adding visual effects, sound bites and music snippets from old TV westerns and movies, I decided to scrap the overly produced video and just upload the basics, so here it is in glorious 1080p resolution. We tried to do as thorough of a trip as possible. Hope you enjoy it!
We actually picked the perfect day to hike around Frontier Town. It was a cool, Spring day and easy to walk around prior to any overgrown grass and pesky bugs. The only precautions to take would be to carefully consider the delicate condition of some of the buildings. Floors were rotten and many structures were caving in. A missed step or lack of attention could have resulted in a serious injury. Definitely no longer a “kid friendly” place to wander around in anymore. Those days are long gone indeed!
Exploring a long dead, theme park grounds, was an eerie experience
When entering some of the buildings you would constantly remain on guard for squatters or wild animals hiding in dark corners. You just never knew what you might encounter next. Chad was an unofficial expert at this sort of thing with his many “urban explorations” experience behind him. On the trip by car to North Hudson, NY he had shared many of his fascinating tales of just what can (and does) happen when you’re stomping around places that are generally off limits to the public. His stories of encounters with vicious dogs, unstable people with guns, wild animals and police, while conducting his “urban postmortems” would discourage even the most hardy, would-be explorers.
This was my first and most likely my last “urban exploration” (also known as “urbexing”)
As you would walk around the long forgotten remains of Frontier Town, your mind conjures up images of what the place would have been like, back in a time when it was full of happy families and excitement. I could only imagine just how magical and wondrous this place might have been, when I was 8 or 9 years old.
You could easily sense the ghost of it’s glorious past, lingering in the shadows and moss, with birds singing a bittersweet song of times gone by. Perhaps a wake up call to most people have as they grow older. Time moves on but not always for the better. When dreams of a child or beautiful memories die, it should not be like this.
The Frontier Town rodeo has been over for years. Time to go home…
Strolling around former boardwalks, arcades, snack bars and ice cream stands trying to imagine what they may have all looked like “back in the day”, was quite a challenge. A walk around the former rodeo area with it’s overgrown grass and decrepit grandstand were a bit depressing. All of the energy and happiness that had thrived here, now lay dormant and cold. Dead as a black hat villain on Boot Hill.
A final walk through the main parking area yielded only one “souvenir”, a worn out and ragged bumper sticker that proudly announced “The New Frontier Town Theme Park“. How ironic.
Today the former Frontier Town site is largely abandoned and overgrown. Some foundations, stairs, and pathways still exist as remnants of the old amusement park. There have been efforts to revitalize the area into a new tourist attraction, but they have not yet materialized.
2019 Update: In 2019, much of the beloved Frontier Town theme park, was opened as a campground, changing the grounds of the old Frontier Town theme park into a western themed campground, with equestrian riding areas, playgrounds, camping sites for tents and RVs and trails along the Schroon River.
The Frontier Town A-Frame Building That Greeted Visitors
After sitting vacant for decades, the former Frontier Town A-Frame in North Hudson, New York has been revived. The 20,000 square foot building was part of the Wild West-themed Frontier Town amusement park that operated from 1952 to 1998.
In 2018, Muhammad “Mo” Ahmad purchased the property. Despite no government funding, he has financed a $1.5 million renovation himself. The project has enthusiastic local support, as many residents fondly remember Frontier Town.
The structurally sound A-Frame has been restored by small crews, who even hand-skinned logs for decorative railings. The first phase includes a restaurant, coffee bar, gift shop, New York food products, and hiking/camping gear. There is also a conference hall for events.
Ahmad hopes the state will eventually fund a front-country steward position at the A-Frame to recommend hikes and provide trail information. This would link the building to the new Paradox Brewery, another private development in the area aimed at attracting tourists and hikers.
After sitting vacant for 20 years, the iconic Frontier Town A-Frame in North Hudson has been revived through private investment into a hub for dining, shopping and recreation. It aims to boost tourism in the region.
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