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From Losantiville to Rivertown

John Keeter

John M. Keeter first attended Kings Island 35 years ago when “The Bat” was originally taking flight.  The awe of that first visit and later rides on “The Beast” (Still his favorite Kings Island attraction) triggered his enduring love of the park.  A picture of a flooded Cincinnati’s Coney Island found in a grade school library book triggered his quest to learn all he could of Kings Island’s beginning.   An avid roller coaster enthusiast, he’s ridden over 400 different coasters.  He resides in Louisville, KY and maintains “Sit on It”, a Facebook Page dedicated to remembering the Kings Island of our past, as well as looking forward to the Kings Island of our future.  It can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/SitonItKI/

Harkening back to pioneer days of the 1800’s, one of Kings Island’s original themed areas is a nod to the Cincinnati’s past as a river city. Originally called Frontiertown and Frontier Land by designers, this section of the park is officially named Rivertown.

The theme was actually born out of the miniature railroad that operated at Cincinnati’s Coney Island. The attraction, which opened in 1964, was wildly popular with guests and was the first themed attraction at Coney Island. There it crossed into a “woods” where mechanical pioneers, Indians and Civil War figures came to life as the train passed by. Kings Island’s developers and designers knew they wanted to expand upon that.

The same mechanical figures and set pieces that operated on the train at Coney Island were relocated to Kings Island and incorporated into the new Kings Island and Miami Valley Railroad attraction. Two brand-new 36-inch gauge trains, designed after the famous 1855 locomotive known as The General, were built by Crown Metal Products in Wyano, Pennsylvania at a cost of $700,000.  The green engine was named “Simon Kenton” (now called the Lew Brown) and the blue engine was named “Tecumseh” (now called the Kenny Van Meter). Both are propane-fueled, but were built as authentic steam trains and contain 400 gallon boilers on each. 

The Simon Kenton was the first engine delivered to the park, and took its inaugural test ride November 10, 1971. The original foreman of the K.I. & M.V.R.R. was Lewis Brown, who led a team of engineers that carried up to 5,000 passengers every hour in 12 carriages (six pulled by each engine). After leaving the Losantiville station (a nod to the original name of Cincinnati) the train traversed a 45-foot ravine trestle, through the wilderness, into a chaotic mechanical figure firearm battle, past a Civil War fort, and finally into a Wild West Town where a live actor staged a train robbery!  In 1989, when the original WaterWorks waterpark opened, a second station was added to the train that is retained today, and the animated figures were phased out of operation.

The Log Flume -- also a huge crowd pleaser at Coney Island -- was relocated to Rivertown. Originally built by Arrow for Coney Island in 1968 at a cost of $500,000, it holds the distinction of being the most expensive attraction ever installed at Coney Island. When it was relocated to Kings Island, the flume was placed adjacent to the train and roamed into the adjacent woods. It featured 23, four-passenger boats and utilized a 30,000-gallon-a-minute circulation system. One of the few remaining original attractions, it was completely overhauled in 2001 by the O.D. Hopkins company operates today as Race for Your Life Charlie Brown.

A popular canoe attraction from Coney Island’s Lake Como was also relocated to Rivertown, and doubled in size. Kenton’s Cove Canoes and Shawnee Landing were placed at the rear of Rivertown. Shawnee operated for five seasons (the pond on which it existed would become the location of the station for The Beast in 1979) while Kenton’s Canoes only lasted one season.  It was removed to make way for the addition of the Kenton’s Cove Keelboat Canal in 1973 -- an Arrow Hyrdoflume --which was a much larger flume attraction that helped regulate crowds away from the ever-popular Kings Mill Log Flume. That attraction would last until 2001 and replaced by Tomb Raider: The Ride (we’ll talk about that one in a later blog).

The “Cloud 9” Trabant spinning ride had also been relocated from Coney Island, but was given a roulette wheel overhaul and called Wheel of Fortune. It operated adjacent to the Kings Mill Log Flume for 13 seasons prior to being removed in 1985. 

Finally, the Ohio Overland Auto Livery -- an antique car ride -- operated from 1972 until 1998 as the Rivertown side of the antique car attraction. 

Rivertown is home to one of the parks largest, and most popular, restaurant options. Originally called the Columbia Palace, it became well known for its fried chicken -- so much so, people would attend the park just to eat there! 

When Paramount took the helm of Kings Island, the establishment was re-themed as Wings (a vintage Paramount film) and featured a menu from Cincinnati favorite Montgomery Inn. The eatery still operates today, receiving a massive overhaul in 2013 and becoming the Reds Hall of Fame Grille offering a wide variety of baseball-themed food and adult beverages.

Rivertown also originally included a hand-made leather shop (fun fact – Woody Harrelson of “Cheers” worked there as a teen), candle makers, old-time photos, a shooting gallery, Native American crafts and even a pan-for-gold attraction. The area also housed the park’s original shooting gallery and offered various country-themed performances at an outdoor stage/amphitheater.

However, sweet little Rivertown was shaken to its core when mysterious noises, inexplicable tremors, and vicious acts of vandalism would suspend the operations of the little Miami Amalgamated Mining & Minerals Co. located at the southwest corner of the park. Subsequent to the disturbances, Kings Island authorities designated these occurrences as the work of The Beast, a legendary creature roaming the woods of Rivertown. In reality, this was the warning the park gave to those that braved a ride on their biggest, baddest, tallest, fastest coaster The Beast in 1979.  When the ride premiered at Kings Island, it sent the park’s popularity into orbit, and remains one of the most legendary roller coasters ever built. 

To appease those that enjoyed a damper experience, Kings Island introduced its most popular water attraction in Rivertown in 1985. After warning guests “You WILL get wet”, White Water Canyon takes its riders via round six-person rafts on a clothes-drenching, rapids-filled journey. A great way to cool off on a hot summer day, White Water Canyon has been drenching guests for 32 years and remains as popular (and as wet) as ever!

In 2009, terror struck Rivertown once again when Diamondback and its towering thrills began slithering its way through the themed area. With its station and lift occupying the former location of Swan Lake (a formerly wooded and tranquil pond in the middle of Rivertown), it towers over and winds narrowly through Rivertown before returning to a splash down finale across the pond. Diamondback has become one of the park’s most popular coaster installations, delivering height, speed, and high-adrenaline thrills!

This year, Kings Island revealed yet another mystery lurking in Rivertown. The park has embarked on a mission like no other, inviting guests to discover “What’s in the Shed?” 

Kings Island’s latest wooden coaster takes riders on a thrilling journey through the woods surrounding the K.I. & Miami Valley Railroad, over sections of White Water Canyon, and culminating with a slow roll through a mysterious abandoned lumber mill shed where they encounter… well, you’ll just have to ride it to find out!

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John Keeter

John M. Keeter first attended Kings Island 35 years ago when “The Bat” was originally taking flight.  The awe of that first visit and later rides on “The Beast” (Still his favorite Kings Island attraction) triggered his enduring love of the park.  A picture of a flooded Cincinnati’s Coney Island found in a grade school library book triggered his quest to learn all he could of Kings Island’s beginning.   An avid roller coaster enthusiast, he’s ridden over 400 different coasters.  He resides in Louisville, KY and maintains “Sit on It”, a Facebook Page dedicated to remembering the Kings Island of our past, as well as looking forward to the Kings Island of our future.  It can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/SitonItKI/

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