What In God’s Name? The Chapels of Kiddieland

One of the most unusual things you’ll begin to notice when you visit a lot of kiddie parks is the amount of churches you’ll find. When you think about an amusement park today, it is hard to imagine that something so blatantly religious could be an important part of a family’s vacation. Don’t forget, most of these parks were built in the 1950s at a time when the majority of Americans were practicing Christians that attended church every Sunday. In post-war America, the nation was prosperous, and the culture shifted to a more conservative set of values. Families moved out of small city homes and into large suburban ranches. Boomers saw the church as an important pillar of these newly developed suburban communities. It was a place for families to pray, but also to socialize with their neighbors. For parks, building a church was not just culturally appropriate, but it also made good business sense. At a time when families would spend weekend getaways visiting these new amusements, many still wanted a place to worship. This unique intersection between family fun and faith resulted in many kiddie parks having small chapels on their property.

It is in these small churches that families could gather to quietly pay respect to God and step away from the commotion and excitement outside. It is no surprise that many of these small structures are nestled away in quiet forests away from the park’s sensationalism. As parks grew, many are now surrounded by noisy rides and video games. You might walk right by them today without even realizing that they are churches. In fact, most people seem to do just that! Today we’re going to take a moment to peek inside the pews of these small houses of worship.


At Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, NY, you’ll need to cross a foot bridge in the rolling hills to find this serene chapel with a bright red roof hiding between the trees. This is Saint Nicholas Chapel, and once inside you’ll find a simple rustic church with German influenced design.
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With a mood that differs from most of the whimsical music shows, a group of actors presents a live Nativity Pageant nearby daily.



Story Book Land in NJ welcomes visitors to the “Chapel Of Peace”. This tiny church, The Chapel was built by 18-year-old Andrew Cresci as a gift to his parents Celestine and Augustus Cresci in 1885, and stood at their home in Vineland, NJ. Benediction was held in the chapel on the feast days of each saint until the family property was sold, and the chapel was moved to a cemetery in Union NJ where it fell into disrepair. It was later rescued by Story Book Land, who kept the interior and exterior intact, including the intricate stained glass windows made of sand.


Nearby a ramshackle nativity is set up using mannequins with wigs, false beards and fabric clothing.


At Santa’s Village in New Hampshire, an awe-inspiring church sits between the Sugar and Spice Bake shop and the  SS Peppermint Twist ride. A fantastically ornate interior surprises guests entering the rustic log structure. Contained within is an altar built in 1864 for the Cathedral of Manchester. Seven Bishops were consecrated in front of this impressive structure which was graciously given to Santa’s Village by All Saints’ Parish in Lancaster NH when the church was renovated.


A young elf can be seen worshiping on this late 60s or early 70s postcard of the church.


In what appears to a running theme, A fiberglass nativity is spread out in a wide area of the park, including the Three Wise Men traveling to the manger on camel back.



Down an unassuming path, a short little building with a Queen Anne dome turret stands amongst the landscaping. In Storyland of Glenn, NH, a simple miniaturized church houses two small rows of single seat pews that lead up to fabric draped altar holding just an acrylic encased bible and a vase of fresh flowers. A token sign outside reminds visitors to finish their food and drink before entering the chapel. This is, after all, a house of the lord.



Santa’s Land  inVT features one of the only open air areas of worship I’ve seen, and it happens to be hog sty adjacent. I suppose no other scene more accurately captures the feeling of the nativity stable than one with live pigs running around. A crazy-eyed goat seems tacked on and out-of-place amongst the more detailed figures. There are also pipe organs mounted above the entrance, which seemingly attach to nothing. They do give the whole area a “churchy” vibe though, so its nice to see that they are still being displayed!


At Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, PA a simple Amish church is on the park property. Traditionally, the Amish do not include ornate or decorative elements in their building techniques, and this church is no exception. It resembles many of the larger churches found in the area, but this miniaturized one seats just 8 people!


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We have talked a lot about the Magic Forest on this site, and we often chuckle at some of the creepy statues that inhabit their grounds. I have to tell you that when I stepped inside this log building, I was genuinely shocked at what I found inside! Despite the run down exterior typical of this overgrown park, the inside of this rustic log church blew my mind. Log elements intersect with roman catholic elements like stained glass and a stone holy water font. From the woodsy carved altar and colored lightbulb chandeliers the design elements of this Catholic church come together to create an altogether surreal house of worship.


You might think that park chapels are only for the wholesome family focused Santa parks and Fairy Tale Lands that popped up in the middle of the twentieth century, but there’s another kind of park that we’ve yet to scratch the surface on here at Kiddieland, Giddy up- it’s the Wild West Park! Once plentiful, there are only a few of these parks remaining. At Wild West City in Netcong, NJ actors recreate a day in the life of Dodge City, KS in the 1880s and while gunslinging cowboys fall off real horses and stage coaches drive by, there is a quiet escape from the shootouts on main street. Near the back of the park next to Boot Hill, a nondenominational chapel welcomes all. You can take a moment to quietly reflect while you mourn your fallen bandits at this historic house of the lord. Uncle Floyd is purportedly a fan of the chapel, as it features one modern convenience that was not available in the old west-air conditioning!

Although I’m not religious, I grew up in a town that boasted the claim of “America’s smallest chapel” which, as a fan of tourism, always attracted me, and I know this is where my fascination with tiny churches originated. As a small town teen (with no church affiliations), I remember going into the chapel with my brother and just taking in the strangeness of the place. Having grown up in a primarily Catholic area, we were accostomed to seeing ornate churches with giant steeples, and rituals we didn’t understand. This simple little place made no sense. We took rosary beads and signed the registry book even though we weren’t Catholic. My brother used to say that when he got married, he wanted to have his tiny wedding there, and coming from a very large family, we thought that was hilarious. I guess we pictured our 15 aunts and uncles and 50+ cousins crammed in the small pews. Now that I’ve been to some of these small churches, I’m not sure Decker’s Chapel can continue with their draw of “smallest church in America” (though they still claim to be!)Whether you are looking for a quiet escape from a noisy day at the park, or want a unique place to hold an intimate wedding, these small park chapels are another way that vintage attractions are keeping things weird.

Parks like Holiday World have even continued the tradition and recently transported a historic 1880s church to the park in 2012. At Knott’s Berry Farm, you can get married at the Chapel of Reflection and Snoopy can even attend your wedding, and late to the game Walt Disney World built their 300 seat nondenominational Wedding Pavillion  on the Seven Seas Lagoon in 1995 so that guests could have a fairy tale wedding with a “picturesque backdrop of Cinderella Castle”.

There’s something special about these small spaces. Whether they are built by families out of love for each other and their god, or because  that was all that was affordable for a tiny community, these humble churches are a unique testament to a time lost. Regardless of your religious affiliation, there’s something special about that.

Peace be with you.



Santa’s Land USA-Putney, VT

Santaslandbadge2You better watch out…No really, you better watch out, because this one is a doozy. Santa’s Land in Putney, VT has a history dating back to 1957, when Jack Poppele, a radio broadcaster from Newark, N.J. first founded the park. Perhaps by some sort of Christmas miracle, the park has survived through various owners for more than 55 years. However, in recent years it has fallen on hard times. It nearly closed in 2011, until a mystery buyer bought the property.  WWF wrestler,  Mick Foley  (who is a big fan of the Jolly Old Elf, and is even known to don a red suit at the holidays) was considering purchasing the park, but decided against it as he would be unfit to care for the animals that live there.

The park sat dormant for about a year, and reopened in 2013 under the new ownership of Lillian Billewicz. Just as things were looking up, and the park was preparing for its 2013 season, a Sheriff’s office investigation resulted in a grisly discovery of 16 deer carcasses that had died on the property due to neglect. The investigators also found a dead pheasant and a pot bellied pig.  Lillian Billewicz and animal caretaker, Brian Deistler were both cited with animal cruelty, and a strict care plan for the remaining animals was established and mandated by the court. However, the new owners failed to follow the plan and due to worsening conditions, the animals were removed and sent to foster care earlier this year. This recent tragedy is the worst in this Santa’s Land history, and has tarnished the image and the memories made in this once happy land.

We visited the park in 2010, and despite being a bit run down and barren, we had a great day.


The park has a lot of the things that readers of this site have come to expect. We were advised by the cashier that there were no rides for adults in the park, which we knew going in. We told her we just wanted to walk around and take some photos, and she seemed pleased to see two paying customers. We entered the gates, and saw familiar fiberglass statues of Frosty, Rudolph, and of course Santa! There was the Candy Cane Cupboard snack bar, and Iceberg Slide for kids. A dusty little arcade dubbed “Santa’s Arcade” housed a few games and some strangely juxtaposed Christmas ornaments between the cabinets of shooters and fighting games. The park was mostly empty, save for a few other local families with small children.

It is not unusual for a Santa Park to have a reindeer and a few other animals, but unlike many Santa parks, this one was primarily a petting zoo with peacocks, pigs, and donkeys. There were Emu,  camel, and the visiting “Goat Girls”. The most fascinating aspect, though, was the deer enclosure. On our self guided tour, we found a sign for “Santa’s Deer Park”.  Unmanned dual fence doors opened into several acres of forested land, and inside, deer roamed free; some so used to people that they would eat right out of your hand! We were some of the only calm and slow-moving adults that were not chasing the deer, so the less skittish ones came right up to us and licked our hands or cautiously allowed us to touch their flocked antlers.  Even though I grew up in rural Western Pennsylvania, I had never been this close to a deer in the wild, and Some stood so still that I was able to take Polaroid portraits of them.  Sadly, my memory of this is now somewhat unsettling, as many of these deer are the ones that were found dead on the property two years later.
We never did find Santa, but the Mrs. was waiting to greet us, in her Birkenstocks and white socks…It is Vermont, afterall!

Although it should have been a merry place, there was a strange sadness to the whole park. Paths were a bit overgrown, paint was chipped, and children seemed bored looking for rides.  Some of the run down buildings were no longer in use, and a satellite dish sat atop the now abandoned “Igloo Pancake House“. Inside the dirty windows, you could still see tables and chairs along with dusty books and stored park items. Apparently the park’s former owners have lived in the igloo house in the past, and perhaps they do again. I would have loved enjoying some real Vermont maple syrup on my pancakes with Santa, but alas…it was not to be. You could sense that it used to be an exciting place filled with laughter. Now the only sounds were our shoes cracking the branches beneath our feet, and the noises made by the caged animals. An occasional parent could be heard warning children”Don’t touch that, its dirty!” Vintage souvenirs in a glass case reminded us of the past glory days of Santa’s Land.

Before leaving, we rode the small train. When the operator called “All Aboard” we realized that other than his two grandchildren, we were the only paying passengers on board. We exited through the gift shop, and as usual, bought one of everything bearing a “Santa’s Land” logo. Everything was inexpensive and cheaply made, but we cherished each piece, and felt good putting some money back into the park. It would not surprise me if some of this merchandise was sitting quietly in this shop since 1957’s opening season. The cashier again, thought us peculiar with our armloads of souvenirs, but seemed happy to be making a large $23 sale while parents dragged their kids toward the exit  in lieu of taking out their wallets.

Santa’s Land almost did not open for its annual Christmas visits with Santa as they encountered issues having proper electrical permits. Despite its tragedies, near closures, and investigations, the park remains open, with today marking the final day of the 2014 season. Without the animals, we sincerely hope to see it revitalized; but I’m not sure how they plan to progress from here. Although bittersweet, naturally we agree with the seizure of those remaining animals due to continued neglect, but it is heartbreaking to see the memories of this once beloved place tarnish in light of this tragic story. Though the current owners do appear to have their hearts in the right place, I am not sure that they have the resources or information needed to maintain an animal themed attraction like Santa’s Land. The loss of the animals is yet another blow to an already struggling park.

We hope that Santa can pull out another Christmas miracle and that Santa’s Land will open for the 2015 season.
Have you ever visited the park?

Christmas in July! Santa’s Workshop-North Pole, NY

When times were simpler, and kids still believed in Santa Claus, a magical new type of theme park began to pop up around the United States. In the 1950s and 1960s, Santa set up little sub-stations all over America. Once inside, kids could see Santa’s Reindeer, meet his elves, and touch a real “north pole” (or for unimaginative grown ups-a pipe covered in frozen water). The real treat usually came in a visit to see the man himself, Santa Claus! Little parks everywhere popped up to honor the Jolly Old Elf, and celebrate the non-secular Christmas traditions  that most American families were beginning to partake in after WWII. Santa'sWorkshop

Today we’re paying tribute to one of the many wonderful Santa Claus parks that still dot the American landscape. This one is in…well, North Pole, NY! Santa’s Workshop is one of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the United States, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. This well maintained treasure looks like it could have been built within the last 10 years, but it actually opened in 1949. The park was designed by Arto Monaco between 1947 and 1949, and if you are paying attention out there in Kiddieland, Monaco’s is a name to know-He worked on over a dozen parks primarily in and around the Adirondack Mountains, including the Enchanted Forest in Old Forge, Storyland in NH, and his own Land of Make Believe which eventually closed in 1979 after repeated flooding.


Santa's WorkshopSanta’s Workshop’s primary draw is its shows, featuring familiar characters like Little Bo Peep, Alice in Wonderland and two red-haired rag dolls named Sam & Sandy (Not to be confused with Raggedy Ann & Andy©®); as well as homegrown Characters like “Rowdy The Rascal  Reindeer”, “Miranda Mouse” and  “Chris Moose”!  The high point of my day was seeing Miranda Mouse perform over a 1971 track of Lynn Anderson’s Ding A Ling the Christmas Bell. (with Rowdy’s rendition of  the 1968 Buck Owens’ hit “Christmas Shopping”  a close second!) The park currently features 8 different shows daily.

Check out this 1988 commercial featuring some earlier incarnations  of these characters.

In addition to the shows, the park has a reindeer barn where you can feed Santa’s real reindeer; along with a variety of appropriately themed rides, like the Candy Cane Express, The Peppermint Swing, and the Christmas Tree Ride (where you get to sit inside a giant Christmas ornament and spin around a huge tree!) The most breathtaking is the Christmas Carousel, with gorgeous original 1940s deer that have flirty eyelashes and jingle bell saddles place of the usual boring horses.  Naturally the carousel plays Calliope Christmas tunes in place of the usual carousel music.  We’ve seen a few other Reindeer carousels in our travel, but non as sweet as this one.


You can see the Christmas Carousel running around the 3:00 mark in this 1970 8mm family film:

One of our favorite things is that this park doesn’t hide its history. Although everything is modern and clean enough for even the most germ-phobic modern parents, the park houses a small history museum called “Santa Claus Memory Lane”. Inside you will find 65 years worth of vintage park merchandise, signage, and costumes. I could have spent hours in here looking around the cases! I’m lucky it was not a gift shop or I’d have come home broke and needing a second room!

Regardless of your religious affiliations, or feelings on the Holiday season, there is no denying that these parks are just good old fashioned fun. They’re a part of our cultural history and we’re thrilled that a few of them still exist in the modern world. Have you ever visited Santa’s Workshop? If not, we highly recommend that you get yourself to the North Pole (New York, that is!) and take in this treasure!


Hump-Day Dumpty Week 8



Happy Hump Day! What? What’s the matter?

Ok, You caught me, This is not really a Humpty Dumpty…or is it? Regular readers might notice some similarities in this weird purple face. Why yes-He’s got the same sculpt as last week’s Humpty at Santa’s Land in Putney, VT! And this guy lives just down the lane in the same park! It looks to me like someone had a fit of inspiration and realized that instead of having 2 identical Humpty statues, they could re-paint one into some kind of nightmarish blueberry man! What appears to have started his life as an egg is now a work boot and scarf wearing berry monster, perched atop a cinched sack! I can only assume the gloves cover an his equally horrific missing hands.

So, you got me, He’s not really a Humpty Dumpty, but I think he fits the mold-don’t you?

Hump-day Dumpty – Week 7


What are nightmares made of, kids? One Egg, and this face. That’s ok, I’ll pass on that hug, Humpty. This Humpty Dumpty joins us from Santa’s Land in Putney, Vermont. Santa’s Land opened in 1957, and though most of the park has a Christmas theme, this little egghead has snuck in to the property to make us smile, (or shriek, depending on your outlook).

Sadly, this park has been in turmoil for the past few years, spending the last  few closed. And although the park has been purchased this year and is opening again, the new owners have been in court for  charges of animal abuse.  The owners have plead not guilty and been forthcoming about the issue, assuring the public on their facebook page that the animals are all well cared for.

I was lucky enough to visit in 2010 during an open spell, where I snapped countless photos, and bought one of everything in the gift shop! I hope things get sorted out and this park can get back on its feet. We wish the best of luck to the park and to all involved (including the animals). I just hope Santa isn’t watching.

Hump-Day Dumpty-Week 6


This week’s humpty joins us from Holiday World, where he hopes you like his fancy his prince costume, and asks that you please not bring up his pock marks.

Holiday World’s Humpty is part of the scenery on the park’s Freedom Train ride, and he’s been teetering on his wall since the 1950s when Fairy tale Goose statutes were added and the train was renamed the “Mother Goose Land Train”. Until 2012, you could still ride the original “Freedom Train” which was the last remaining ride operating continuously since the park’s 1946 opening. The original train has been retired and replaced with the Holidog Express Train, which still tours Mother Goose Land daily.

All Aboard for a Happy Hump-Day!


Memory Lane-Santa’s Village-Scotts Valley, CA


In the redwoods of Northern California, the first franchised theme park was born. The first Santa’s Village opened in 1955 in San Bernadino, where it operated until 1988.  The park was so successful that Santa’s Village opened it’s second location in Scott’s Valley in 1957. Franchising was a relatively new concept, and something that had never been done before in the theme park industry. Using his formula for successful franchises, Glenn Holland opened a third location in Dundee IL in 1959. This location still operates today, and is on my shortlist of parks to visit!

Sadly, in 1979, Santa’s Village in Scott’s Valley closed its doors forever. ACE Norcal visited and filmed the remnants of the park, and found some amazing history there, including some buildings that are standing, and amazingly tickets and maps from 1979 that are still on the property but have since been reclaimed by nature!

K. Gordon Murray Fans will recognize the parks as the inexpensive backdrops for new scenes he had shot and inserted into Mexican films before turning them into cheap kiddie matinees for American children in the 196s. Santa and his Helpers, Santa’s Enchanted Village, and Santa’s Magic Kingdom all include new Santa’s Village footage cut into the original Mexican films to make for a schlocky record of the parks (and the awkward acting abilities of the park employees).


You can watch Santa and His Helpers here to see some of the park elves making toys, the Easter Bunny riding the train, and some great shots of the park.

If you want to experience a bit of this park’s magical history yourself, hope is not lost. Macdorsa park is home to 2 original mushroom statues from Santa’s Village! But in order to fully immerse yourself in the memories, Sorensen’s All Seasons Resort now owns 2 of the original buildings which have been converted to cabins. You can actually stay in Santa’s House and the Chapel overnight, and they are working on construction on the Elves Workshop! I sense a trip to Northern California in my future!

Although Santa’s Village is gone in CA, it is nice to see Californians saving a bit of their history. For a walk down memory lane, don’t miss santasvillage.net where a rich history of the parks can be found; or you can always join up with the Santa’s Village Memories facebook group to share some of your own photos and help keep the park alive!

Definitely don’t miss the opportunity to visit the still operational Santa’s Village near Chicago, where you can step back in time and still enjoy the park today and make new memories.

Do you have any memories of Santa’s Village? Tell us about them in the comments!