Part of the Lake George vacation scene in the Adirondacks, Time Town was a charming family-run theme park that was open between 1970 and 1981.
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In the early 20th century, the rich and famous came to the Adirondacks for their summers, building second homes, mansions, cabins, and camps. As the century progressed, the area became more popular with the lower and middle classes, as well.
Small regional parks were still incredibly popular in the middle of the twentieth century, despite the opening of large parks like Disneyland (1955) and Disneyworld (1971). Why? Because these local, family-owned parks were closer and cheaper than their larger corporate counterparts. Locals saw them as a go-to destination for holidays. And as a result, they flourished throughout the United States along regional highways, and were, for the most part, charming and a little off-beat.
Ted Yund and the Idea for Time Town
Our story this week revolves around Ted Yund, and his theme park, Time Town, in Bolton Landing near Lake George, NY.
Born in 1921, New York native Yund entered the US Marine Corps in 1942 and served until November 1946. As a First Lieutenant, he was wounded during the major World War II battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945, and received several military honors, including the Purple Heart award. After the war, he spent the remainder of his life owning and operating several Albany, NY businesses, including the fondly-remembered Time Town.
Ted Yund’s Celestron Telescope
As Yund was recovering from his injuries after the war, he began studying astronomy. It quickly became a passion of his. He purchased a large, powerful 21” Celestron 22 telescope that needed a dark mountaintop for best results. The telescope cost $20,000, and was reportedly one of the largest in use in the eastern US at the time. He installed his telescope in a small white observatory at the top of Coolidge Hill Road, in Bolton, NY. And, he decided to build the theme park around it. He had fourteen children, so he had “a ready-made workforce”, too. “Storytown and the other parks seemed to be doing well, so I thought an amusement park was probably a good idea”.
Time Town Opens
The park opened in 1970, operating late spring through fall.
The park advertised “space age and yesteryear spectaculars”. A 1971 advertisement proclaimed: “It’s a park where history, past, present and future comes alive. From the exciting space age Dyna Domes, the simulated moon walk and the fully-equipped observatory to the authentic “Iron Horse” railroad, the antique car rides and the many other fascinating attractions. Time Town is a new world of learning and fun.”
As it was situated on a hillside, the park commanded sweeping views of Lake George’s lakes and woods.
As one visitor described it: “you encountered a lot of giant plastic and fiberglass characters that were supposed to represent different eras in time from the prehistoric era to the present era of space travel.”
Scenes from Time Town
The park’s sculptures and attractions were created in conjunction with Gene Mundell, through a company called “Special Effects”. “I got the call to create and install works for a new theme park in upstate New York,” Mundell recalls. “I’d seen mass-produced things. I wanted to make one piece at a time, each specific to its location.” The most commonly-referenced sculpture is the 17-foot statues of a “Neanderthal caveman”, known as “The Giant”. Mundell didn’t make the sculpture himself (that was International Fiberglass). However, Mundell did paint and add details. (A cousin to this giant still lives in Grants Pass, OR.) In photos of the park, children posing by the statue are no taller than his knees or his fiberglass axe.
Dyna Domes and Costumed Folks
As noted in the 1971 ad copy, the park’s buildings were all geodesic domes, the “space age Dyna Domes”. They were certainly unique for the time: a former worker of the park stated: “Almost all the buildings were geodesic domes. That was a far-out thing for the Adirondacks. It had no relationship to anything else.”
Photos from the park’s heyday show a number of costumed characters (“critters of the Adirondacks”, “Adirondack Animal Revue”, and “zany Costumed Characters” per the 1976 ad copy) and indicate that elementary-aged children and younger were the primary audience for the park. Critters included rabbit, bear, moose, fox, and raccoon.
Rides at Time Town
One of the most popular attractions at Time Town was a “Flying Saucer” trip into the “Space Age future”, a collaboration between Yund and Mundell. From a 1973 article about the park: “Visitors enter a ‘teleportation’ room where they are prepared for their planetary trip. After that, it’s on to the planet where eerie landscapes, lighting and weird audio effects accompany such sights as a fallen spaceship still emitting its last flickering light. Strange space creatures, called ‘pre-historic’ by Mundell, abound: space amoeba, jester gassing trees, hypnotic rocks, monsters, space prairie dogs, hooded spider mice and many others. Visitors leave through the Saucer’s ‘Star Exit’ which is a long, three-dimensional tunnel that Mundel claims is a spellbinder.”
Visitors certainly did find it memorable, remembering: “You entered the park by going inside a “spaceship” (a room that moved and had flashing lights to simulate space travel). Then you went through a tunnel or underground room that would take you to another planet.”
Slides and Trains, Oh My
The 9-lane blue and yellow “Meteor Slide” was another new addition in 1973. It was popular with visitors as the 165-ft slide could hold up to 9 children at once.
The park featured a train ride through the surrounded woods: up to 40 people at once could ride the wilderness train through forest, tunnels, and ravine bridges over the half-mile trail. The train was a classic C. P. Huntington crafted by Chance Rides, and was a gleaming cherry red with a shiny black steam engine in front. The train was called the “Pioneer Valley Scenic Railroad”.
In the second year of the park’s tenure, Mundell and Yund added a new sculpture: “Astronauts”, which was dedicated by Wernher von Braun. von Braun had apparently been enticed to the area under somewhat false pretenses, having been under the impression the sculpture was going to reside in a public park. Mundell said: “He thought the statue was in a public park and that it was a tribute to the astronauts and space exploration. He didn’t know we were a tourist attraction.” A crowd of about 500 showed up for the dedication, less than expected, but von Braun reportedly still gave a rousing speech on the topic of US-Soviet relations. The sculpture was stunning – over 20-ft tall, showing two Apollo-era astronauts floating in zero-gravity. The fiberglass sculpture was beautifully painted and showed incredible details.
Other Time Town Attractions
Other park features included a helicopter attraction that could move up and down. Imported antique cars were available for guests to drive over roughly-paved “highways”. The park also feature a carousel, space-themed bumper cars, magic shows from the “Amazing Monticup”, a movie theater, and ventriloquist acts. The 1973 article describes walking trails that featured animated and lighted “creatures” designed by Mundell. One of the Dyna Domes apparently functioned as an exhibit hall, showing dioramas with models of the first steamboat, the De Witt Clinton Railway, the “Indian Pony Drag” and more, all originally from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
The park is widely remembered for being fun to visit and fun to work at. Every summer some 60 college and high-school students worked at Time Town, including most of Yund’s children. “From the day school closed to when it reopened, we spent our entire summers there, from morning to night,” says the Yunds’ daughter Margaret Demeter. At the end of the working day everyone would head for the beach. “The kids who worked at the park became part of our family, and our friends for life.”
Closure of Time Town
The park closed after the 1980 summer season. “When we got it going, we were hit by the gas shortage. The heavy influx of visitors dried up. Everything died,” says Mundell.
Causes for the parks demise are many, with many attributing the main reason to low park attendance. Why did the crowds never come? Too far from the beaten path, away from the main tourist attractions in the area. Yund remembers it, saying: “My big problem was the location. The Town of Bolton wouldn’t allow me to put up a sign on the road between Lake George and Bolton Landing—that certainly would have helped.” The 1979 gas crisis likely played a part, as Mundell said, with families staying even closer to home and avoiding travel. In 2004 communications with a fan site, Yund also attributed the closure to the high cost of insurance for the property.
Yund and others also attributed the closure to the death of Yund’s son, Michael, at the age of 25, after a long struggle with leukemia. The park’s famous telescope, Yund’s prize Celestron was also stolen around the same time (1978-1979), and never replaced. All told, it was an emotionally draining time for the family and their family theme park business.
Remnants of Time Town
The park officially closed in 1981. Dustin at the now defunct Remembering Time Town website visited the park with his brother in 1989 or 1990. They described the property as “untouched”, with brochures scattered on the floors of the buildings they entered. Dustin also described the park as seeming much smaller than he’d remembered, likely due to the new perspective of viewing the park as an adult.
Sometime in the early 90s, the former Time Town property was sold to a developer, and the 44-acre lot was subdivided into a housing development. The development was the first of its kind in the Lake George area.
Yund died in 2007 at the age of 86, and Mundell died in 2016 at the age of 85.
In the woods behind the Bolton Landing housing development, there reportedly stands a 15-foot tall fiberglass bear, one of the few remaining pieces of the park in the area.
Time Town at the Magic Forest
The “Astronauts” sculpture and many of the rides were moved to the nearby “Magic Forest” park (which we’ll cover later). Other sculptures from Mundell can be found at the current Six Flags Great Escape Park, as well as the local Goony Golf park, .
In 2018, Gene Mundell’s “Astronauts” sculpture from Time Town was put up for sale as part of the sale of Magic Forest paraphernalia. It sold for $4,000.
Vintage ad copy once read: “Time Town, where tomorrow greets you and yesterday is just around the bend.”
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