On this date in history, local businessman James Lingafelter announced that Newarks Great Circle, then popularly known as the Old Fort, would become one of Ohios premiere amusement parks. Lingafelter named the park Idlewilde. (According to one apocryphal story, he named the park after his children whom he said were both idle and wild.) The attractions eventually would include a Ferris wheel, a “Switchback Railroad” (what we now call a roller coaster), casino, theater, bowling alley, shooting galleries, dancing pavilion, billiard hall, four ponds with boating and swimming, and a “European” hotel and restaurant. The racetrack, built for sulky racing, also was used for horse racing and, after World War I, bicycle, motorcycle, and even automobile racing.
Newark’s Great Circle in 1996
Today we would regard these things as inappropriate intrusions on a magnificent historic landmark, but at the time it was viewed as a way to incorporate the ancient into the modern landscape. Far from being intentionally disrespectful, Lingafelter always declared that the “mysterious ‘Old Fort'” was Idlewilde’s “crowning glory” and principal attraction. Here an excerpt from the Newark Daily Advocate for September 2, 1897: Mr. James F. Lingafelter, the banker and receiver for the Newark Consolidated Electric Street railroad, announced yesterday that he has leased the Old Fort from the Licking County Agricultural Society and will proceed at once to convert it into a park.The new use to which the Old Fort will be put will in no wise interfere with the annual county fairs but will by making the grounds more beautiful and attractive tend to increase the popularity of the county fair.It is too late in the season to accomplish a great deal this year but Mr. Lingafelter proposes to have a lake constructed at once and to leave the more extensive improvements until next spring. The lake, whose dimensions have not been fully determined, will be located on the southwest side of the ground near the Hebron road, and during the coming winter will be used as a skating park.In the spring the ground will be thoroughly overhauled and cleaned, suitable buildings will be erected, a toboggan slide created and all sorts of features added to make the grounds attractive to excursionists and to the people of the city as well. Mr. Lingafelter has not determined upon all the attractions that will be offered but suffice it to say that he will make a first class park out of the Old Fort and will thereby bring many excursion parties to Newark.The park will be run on a high plane, and no objectionable characters or features will be tolerated. In 1933, the Licking County Commissioners deeded the Great Circle to the Ohio History Connection. By then, the fair grounds attractions had become objectionable features and with help from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) we removed the last above-ground remnants of the fairgrounds and restored the earthworks to our best approximation of their original condition. The Licking County Fair Grounds and Idlewilde Park will, however, always be part of the rich history of the Newark Earthworks. Brad Lepper For more information about the history of the Great Cirlce, check out this two-part series of blog posts by Bill Pickard: A View Within the CircleA View Within the Circle, Part II — Inside Looking Out
Licking County Fairground buildings. Civilian Conservation Corps photograph, May 1934. From the ‘Ohio Memory’ website.