Celoron Park’s Phoenix Wheel

Great excitement was building 120 years ago as a new attraction at Celoron Park was being erected. Opening day of the Park for the 1896 season was set for May 30. What was being erected was the 115-125-foot high (depending on what report one reads) Phoenix wheel. Manufactured in Phoenixville, Pa., this large Ferris wheel was manufactured for the Cotton States Exposition held in Atlanta, Ga., in 1895. Dismantled and loaded into box cars, the Ferris wheel was brought to Celoron Park where it stood and revolved every season from 1896 to 1951. Because of the place it was manufactured, it became known as the Phoenix wheel.

It had “carriages” in which the passengers could ride. These were cages with benches and each of the 12 carriages could hold 12-14 passengers. In the first five days that it operated, 1,324 paid passengers experienced the ride. The park offered $25 to a couple that would be married on the first ride but no report was found in the newspaper that indicated that any couple took the offer. The ride did stop during one of the revolutions on the first day, but it soon was started again and continued running smoothly after that. On the first day, some passengers did get to experience riding when a thunderstorm suddenly hit the area.

After the 1951 season, the owner of the park, Harry Ilions, announced that the wheel would be dismantled for refurbishing. But instead, the Phoenix wheel, the airplane swings, the merry-go-round and some of the kiddie rides were packed up and shipped to the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, Calif. In Celoron Park, new rides replaced the old ones, but not with the same excitement. The new carousel/merry-go-round had aluminum horses instead of the beautifully carved wooden animals of the old one. The airplane swings no longer flew over the lake waters. And the Phoenix wheel had been higher than any other Ferris wheel at the park.

The Phoenix wheel continued at the fairgrounds in Pomona. In 1982, it was dismantled and retired to the scrapheap. Located on the southeast side of Celoron Park, the Phoenix wheel is often seen rising up behind the scene in the many pictures of the park. After the relocation to Pomona, there were reports in the local newspapers from former residents of the Jamestown area that were happy to see the Phoenix wheel in California as it reminded them of their childhood in the Jamestown area.

It was the L. H. Ludwig Company that dismantled the Phoenix wheel and the airplane swings in 1951. In a collection donated to the Fenton History Center were some photograph albums from the company. It was in the albums that we found many snapshots of the dismantling of the Phoenix wheel and the airplane swings. We are very happy to have these photographs as it shows up close the parts of the rides. We have many photographs that include the Phoenix wheel in the background but we have none of the erecting of it in 1896.