Started in 1952, Frontier Town in the Adirondacks was a theme park built for kids, and for their folks who use to be kids. For more than four decades, with trick riders, bucking broncos, horses and buggies and stagecoach bandits, this rural entertainment destination scratched their cowboy itch.
Founded by Arthur Bensen, an enterprising phone technician from Staten Island, the park had a Pioneer Village (lots of calico dresses and butter churning), Prairie Junction (modeled after a Wild West main street), an Indian Village, a rodeo arena, and even a narrow gauge railroad. It drew steady crowds to the decidedly un-Western part of the world that is upstate New York, until a combination of factors led to financial troubles in the mid-1980s, including a waning interest in Westerns and easier access to bigger and grander theme parks in sunnier climates.
After a couple of dark years the park rebounded, refinanced and eventually reopened, managing to stay in business until 1998, but by then the crowds had thinned to a trickle. Frontier Town shut down for good, with the property eventually taken over by the county for unpaid taxes.
Since then it has sat dormant, overgrown and rotting under the burden of almost 20 years of decline and neglect. Recently the state has been removing the buildings and fencing off the land for health and safety reasons (with old buildings falling apart like this, there is always the question of asbestos and other hazardous materials). Or, if the county can find a buyer, simply selling the property with hopes of redevelopment. Any solution–other than the status quo–could mark the end of the end for Frontier Town.
Update May 2018: The town is restricted while it is under construction. There are signs at the entry points and the state has started work on the camp grounds that they are adding. Caution if you hike in: Stay on the beaten trails and out of buildings. Some are caving in and the board walks are giving out. The roof of the junction is collapsing. There are boards in the arena in the underbrush with nails in them. The Gristmill ladder is cracked and there are boards with nails under it.
As of May 2018, the town is restricted while it is under construction. New York State has purchased the site with Governor Andrew Cuomo proposing to redevelop the site into a “Gateway to the Adirondacks,” complete with a visitor center, state campground, event center, and even brewery. The proposed $32 million dollar plan is still in progress, but many locals are optimistic about the benefits it could bring the region.
You can read stories from the old owners, employees and volunteers in the Frontier Town Then And Now books. They are still available at local stores near Frontier Town and on Ebay. The book’s Facebook page has links to old video and photos.