The Salem Fair, America’s largest free gate fair, makes history after Lakeside Amusement Park closes

Roanoke Valley News

SALEM, Va. (WFXR) — More than a quarter-million people are expected to attend the Salem Fair between June 30 and July 11. That number could be even higher this year as people are ready to get out after missing the fair last year when it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Salem Fair also owes its existence to people missing another Salem attraction, Lakeside Amusement Park.

Fair Manager Carey Harveycutter says the fair came about when organizers wanted to give people something to do in the summer after Lakeside closed down in October 1986.

The fair is a two-week blast-from-the-past reminder of what valley residents once had in Salem.

Lakeside opened in 1920 as a large two million-gallon swimming pool. As the years went by, the owners added more and more attractions. Its best-known attraction was the Shooting Star rollercoaster.

Opened on May 3, 1968, the Shooting Star was billed as the World’s Fastest and America’s Highest Roller Coaster. It was designed by John Allen of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. According to the Salem Museum, the Shooting Star cost a reported $225,000 in 1967. That’s more than $1.8 million in today’s dollars

However, it wasn’t the only popular ride; others included the Cloud 9, the Trabant, Flight Through Space dark ride, the Sky Train, and several kiddie rides complete with buzzers and flashing lights.

The park also had two trains that gave riders a quick trip around the park.

For people who didn’t enjoy the rides, Lakeside was also well known for attracting the best country music acts of the day. Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, Jr., and the Statler Brothers were frequent visitors.

Unfortunately, Lakeside is just a memory for the Roanoke Valley.

Many people blamed the devastating flood of 1985 for closing Lakeside, but that wasn’t the case. While the flood did massive damage to the park, it did reopen at the start of the 1986 season.

The accidental death of a worker and the resulting lawsuit proved costly, though. A decline in business also spelled the end for Lakeside and it closed for good on Oct. 19, 1986.

This is a promotional video of Lakeside from YouTube.

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