When you think of Rocky Point’s roller coasters, the Corkscrew, Cyclone, and even the Wildcat immediately come to mind. But did you know that the park once had several smaller, shorter, and milder wooden coasters that thrilled riders centuries ago?
Rocky Point’s very first coaster was installed in the spring of 1872 by the American Inclined Railroad Company. According to the Monday, May 20, 1872 Providence Evening Press:
“Mr. J. G. Taylor, President of the American Inclined Railroad Company, arrived at the City Hotel yesterday morning. We understand that he has concluded arrangements with the American Steamboat Company for the erection of one of these popular institutions at Rocky Point, and will commence operations with a large force of workmen at once. The public will be anxious to know what Mr. Humphreys intends to do with an inclined railway.”
Here’s the only known photo of this ride at Rocky Point just after its installation.
Here’s how the Providence Evening Press described the experience of riding it on
Tuesday, June 18, 1872:
“Of all the other novelties at Rocky Point this season, the elevated railway will doubtless be the most popular. It is located just west of the buildings just described, between that and the Rock House. Two tracks are laid, each upwards of four hundred feet in length, and a person can make the round trip for the low price of ten cents, the cars running every few minutes. The modus operandi is as follows. You walk up to the passenger station, purchase your ticket, enter the station and take a seat in the handsome car with nine others, if there are that number waiting for a ride. The car is started off by a gentle push, and down it goes the inclined plane, four hundred feet, where it is switched off and comes back upon another track to the other side of the building, where the passengers alight. The ride is one of the most agreeable that can possibly be imagined, and perfectly safe, there being not the least possible chance for an accident. There is not only no unpleasant sensation, but in a hot summer day, one would find it exceedingly refreshing. A picket fence runs on each side of the track to keep outsiders from getting in. One of these railways was run at Holly Grove in Baltimore last summer by Mr. J. G. Taylor, the patentee, and over 100,000 people rode on it.”
And the following year, a Saturday, June 21 edition of the Providence Evening Press made this proclamation, giving us a clue as to where the Inclined Railway was located. The “Rock House” was the Rock Cottage, which would be nicknamed the Big House centuries later.
“The Inclined Railway.
The elevated railway, which is located between the building just mentioned and the Rock House, proved last season to be one of the most popular of the many popular institutions upon the ground, and it will be just as popular this season. Two tracks are laid, each upwards of four hundred feet in length, and a person can make the round trip for the low price of ten cents. The ride is one of the most agreeable that can be imagined, and perfectly safe, as was fully illustrated last year, when thousands rode upon the cars without a single accident.”
At some point the Inclined Railway was completely overhaled to become a Figure 8 coaster and was renamed the Toboggan, as seen in the photo above. And later the Russian Toboggan.
Many have regaled LaMarcus Adna Thompson as the father of the roller coaster in 1884. Not so fast says historian Jeffrey Stanton.
“While there is no doubt that he built the first switchback railway in 1884 at Coney Island, the world’s most famous beach resort, it doesn’t mean he invented the roller coaster, just that he was the best at promoting and improving it,” Stanton writes.
Here’s Stanton’s list of early coaster patents.
LaMarcus A. Thompson eventually arrived at Rocky Point in 1911 to install his then-patented Scenic Railway coaster, and here’s one of the few known photos of it, in the 1920s.
See the bottom left-hand corner of this July 2, 1911 ad.
At some point later, a more advanced Scenic Railway was installed on the Rocky Point midway at the approximate future site of the Roto-Jet. This rendition featured faux mountains and grottos.
This Scenic Railway was renamed twice; once to “A Ride Through The Clouds”…
…and later to “Over the Rockies”.
In the 1920s, much of the coaster’s artificial mountain layers were removed, as seen here.
And ultimately, the coaster was replaced by the Bluebeard’s Palace haunted walkthrough, with some of its lower tunnels utilized for this new attraction.
Despite its prominence in aerial photos of the 1920s and 1930s, the facts surrounding Rocky Point’s Over The Treetops coaster remain a mystery.
You can see it in this early 1930s photo below. Clearly its a much higher coaster than those I cited earlier in this blog post.
Here’s another look from a different angle.
The Treetops can be seen in the background of several postcards.
Circled in yellow below, the Tree Tops coaster was standing at least as late as 1932, but it’s not known at this time if it was still in operation then. I’ll update this blog post if and when I find out. If the coaster was still standing in 1938, it was surely demolished by that year’s September hurricane.
So if you have any information on these early Rocky Point coasters, please post them in the comment section below, and I’ll update my blog text. In the meantime, here’s your ticket to ride!
Want to know what it was like to ride one of Rocky Point’s not-so-high rollers? Experience a ride on the world’s oldest operating coaster, Leap The Dips (circa 1902) at Lakemont Park, near Altoona, PA, below.
Photo credits and research:
Alice Pickering Pallandi
Tales of Rocky Point Park
Anita Cerri Ferla
You Must Be Tall movie collection
Providence Public Library
Rhode Island Historical Society