The Zoo and Amusement Park in Williamsville That Will Take You Back in Time
There are parts of Western New York that you never knew existed, but there is one park in Williamsville you should know some of the history behind.
Ron Urban grew up in WNY and his first home in 1946 was in the Glen Amusement Park and Casino complex, along the banks of Ellicott Creek and located below the falls. If you can’t remember an amusement park at this location in Williamsville, that may be because Harry Altman’s Glen Amusement Park and Casino, a center of attractions for western NYers, was destroyed by a massive fire September 1968.
This was an amusement park with concessions, rides, entertainment, games and refreshment stands, and Urban was born and raised in a house inside the park for 7+ years.
“It wasn’t really a big amusement park,” Urban said. “But it was like a gathering point that had seesaws and sand boxes and places for people to picnic -- swings, and things like that for people to come and enjoy the day in its beginnings.”
However, the amusement park also had a zoo, which was added into the park around the mid-50s, “and it was probably there until the late 50s,” Urban said.
It was more than just a zoo that operated for approximately four or five years -- it was an amusement park and a casino, at which time Harry Altman, the park’s owner, decided that he wanted to add a rollercoaster and that would be added in the area that the zoo occupied.
“The zoo was part of the amusement park,” Urban said. “If you’re looking at the park from the bridge on Glen Avenue, on the right side was Spring Street. The casino was there below the Williamsville Mill, the concessions were there, and the zoo was actually a little bit to the left front of the Williamsville Mill.”
You may think that a place like this would have a costly admission rate, but “there was never any charge to get in the park,” Urban said. The casino though did have a cover charge on Friday and Saturday evenings for the floor shows.
However, the amusement rides within the park required tickets in order to ride, including the “small roller coaster” that was eventually added to the park.
“It was 10 cents (2 tickets) to ride the rollercoaster,” Urban said. “Tickets were a nickel a piece, or you could get a strip of 22 tickets for a dollar.”
“The most expensive part of the amusement park was the merry-go-round, the rollercoaster, the self-propelled cages and a little German car ride they had in the park — all of those attractions costing two tickets or 10 cents,” Urban said.
Although it may be unbelievable to think that the current small space where Glen Park is located in Williamsville used to feature a zoo, it should be noted that there were a variety of animals at the old Glen Park Zoo.
In the enclosed area, there were white tailed deer, mountain goats, mountain sheep with big horns, llamas, a big ram, and at one time -- there were even peacocks in the park.
“We also had sheep and lambs,” Urban said. “They were kept in a little pen on the outside of the main zoo which was like about 36 inches high, where families could bring the kids, buy crackers,” he said. “They would feed them and pet the lambs and the sheep there -- in that little portion outside or feed the enclosed animals through the chain linked fences.”
There was also a monkey cage, which was separate from the other enclosures. If you were looking at the falls, the monkey cage was positioned to the left going up the walkway entrance from Main Street.
“It was a cage that had three chambers in it and we had rhesus monkeys in there,” Urban said.
“Of course one was my dad’s favorite. He was named after my dad — Clyde.” Urban said that he and his father would put a leash on Clyde the Monkey, and he would sit on their shoulders as they frequently walked throughout the park.
Urban’s father, Clyde, played a major role in the success of the Glen Amusement Park and Casino, which is another reason why Ron was so heavily involved in the park throughout his childhood from birth.
“My dad was hand-picked by Mr. Altman (the owner) in the early 40s,” Urban said.
After Mr. Altman bought the property now known as Glen Park; he selected Clyde, Ron’s father, to help keep things running smoothly as they continued to grow making additions and changes. Altman’s “vision was to make an amusement park, a kiddie land, for people to enjoy,” Urban said.
Mr. Harry Altman and Clyde Urban did exactly that making things and ideas become reality.
“Lots of people say they don’t remember [the zoo and the amusement park],” Urban said.
“Still, it bewilders me and many people how everything fit into that park, and that was a lot of my dad’s thoughts and how he could configure and work things out.”
Ron continues to share his memories of the amusement park and casino as well as other memorable landmarks in WNY. If you’re interested in seeing more posts from Ron about his time at the Glen Amusement Park & Casino, he requests that you join the Facebook group called “I Grew Up In Amherst.”
The Inferno (formerly “The Barn”) a popular nightspot, burned on Sept. 23, 1968. Another nightclub, the Glen Casino, was destroyed on Sept. 8, 1973.
Share this piece of WNY history with a friend and keep the memory of the Glen Amusement Park and Casino alive.
Ron talked with Clay and Company this morning about the amusement park and casino, and you can see more of Ron's pictures of the Glen Amusement Park and Casino below.