Traveling east on Independence Avenue approaching Hardesty today, it is difficult to comprehend that, at one point in time, the Forest Park amusement park occupied the southwest corner of that intersection between 1903 and 1912.
In those days, the Independence Avenue cable car line terminated at Hardesty Avenue and many families used the car line to travel to the park.
The land Forest Park occupied was originally settled by the Michael Collins family who came to this area from Virginia in 1834. At that time, what is now part of the Lykins neighborhood was all heavily forested government land, and Collins began buying large tracts, assembling an almost 300-acre farm by the late 1800’s.
Upon his death in 1850, his son Ancel inherited the land and began clearing the dense forest, planting fruit trees and vegetables on half the land and building a prominent home at 5117 Independence Avenue in 1887.
In 1903, Colonel John D. Hopkins leased a roughly six-block area bounded by Independence Avenue to the north, 7th Street to the south, Hardesty to the east and Denver to the west, and opened Forest Park amusement park. The park was based on the Forest Park Highlands area in St. Louis, Mo., of which Hopkins was the General Manager.
The park included a scenic railway, a gallery of mirrors that distorted people’s views, a swimming pool, dance hall and an attraction called the Kansas Cyclone, a theatrical spectacle that reproduced what amounted to a Kansas tornado inside a theater while spectators watched from their seats. The park also featured The Old Heidelberg Beer Garden, serving up beer, wine and live German bands.
Times change however and with the increased development of theaters downtown and the moving of Heim’s Electric Park to 46th and The Paseo in 1907, attendance at Forest Park began to wane. In 1912 the park was shuttered for good. Surviving members of the Collins family sold the machinery, metal and buildings to a scrap dealer for $5,000. The land the park sat on was platted as the Forest Park subdivision and shortly thereafter, homes and commercial buildings occupied the site.
The White Front Market at 5367 Independence Avenue, owned by Isidore Glass and Morris Lerner operated until 1942 when Katz Drug Store moved in. Katz operated there until 1959 or 1960 when they built the inverted v-roofed (butterfly roof) building at 5910 Independence Avenue.
To the immediate west, Boyd’s Greenhouse at 5355, owned by Jesse and Arlie Boyd of Independence, Mo., stood. It remained in the Boyd family until April 1, 1959. According to newspaper accounts, an April hail storm knocked out more than 300 panes of glass at the business. Hail stacked up almost three feet deep between the greenhouse buildings.
The eastern portion of the land sat vacant until 1971 when McDonald’s built on part of the site. Pizza Hut followed suit shortly thereafter building what would be one of the busiest stores in the district, often running “$1,000 hours” during their peak times.
The Collins farm house at 5117 Independence Avenue was demolished in 1946 to make way for a grocery store. Since its construction, it’s operated as an A&P, United Super and a Baldwin Super Foods. NAPA Auto Parts moved in in the late 1990’s, painting the building their signature blue and yellow colors. Today, Mercado Fresco, a specialty Mexican market, operates.
No evidence of the amusement park or the old Collins home exists today.