Orlando may have Disney World, but we had Kiddieland

Kiddieland Park (photo compliments of Tim Hollis)
Kiddieland Park (photo compliments of Tim Hollis)

By David Sher

I’m having the best time writing about my early memories of Birmingham.

I’ve written about Joy Young, the Terminal Station, Parisian–even my early days at the Downtown YMCA.

But as a child, the place I wanted to go was Kiddieland, a small amusement park opened in 1948 at the Alabama Fairgrounds near Five Points West.

This proves how few fun options we had as children.

In fact, most families, including ours, didn’t own a television until a few years after the park opened.

And at that time it opened there were no big fancy theme or water parks.

Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California in 1955, seven years after Kiddieland. Walt Disney, himself, told us about his new imaginative theme park every Sunday night on his television show The Wonderful World of Disney. But we had no hope that our parents would fly us to California.

Believe me, Kiddieland was no Disneyland—but it was all we had—and we loved it.

According to Bhamwiki, “the $100,000 Kiddieland Park opened to the public on June 15, 1948, as an effort to combat juvenile delinquency.

The park’s bandstand featured “hillbilly shows” and concerts on Sundays. The entertainments were broadcast live on WSGN. Admission and parking were free, with most rides costing 9¢ for children and 10-20¢ for adults. Free rides were given to “underprivileged groups” during special events sponsored by the park and local civic clubs.”

Kiddieland was so much fun!

There was a merry-go-round, a shooting gallery, and a Ferris wheel.

I loved the bumper cars and the speed boats, but my best friend liked the Tilt-a-whirl and the pony ride.

I asked my son what he remembers most about Kiddieland and he says it was the “Laugh Land fun house. He claims he still has nightmares from riding the jerky cars into the creepy dark rooms with scary clowns.

One time I was brave enough to try the Caterpillar ride. The cars spun around an oblong track at great speeds, when suddenly a canvas covered us, thrusting us into complete darkness. I left the ride dizzy and nauseated. I never rode the Caterpillar again.

Previously open only to white patrons, Kiddieland was closed on January 1, 1962, along with all of Birmingham’s city parks, in defiance of a court order to end segregation. The parks were reopened to all comers by the newly-installed Birmingham City Council in July 1963.”

Tim Hollis, a local author and historian, wrote lovingly about Kiddieland, “One of the amazing things was that Kiddieland changed very little as the decades wore on. In the mid-1980s it looked basically the same as it had on opening day, with some of the same rides in operation.

“While this was terrific from a nostalgia standpoint, the fact was that amusement parks are not intended to be museums, so the worn-out rides and shattered neon signs did tend to give the place a somewhat shabby look. Later that decade, virtually everything in the park was either bulldozed or sold off. (Pieces of former rides have occasionally turned up in private collections.)”

Our children have so many options today.

Theme parks with mind numbing roller coasters seem to be everywhere. Water parks with towering slides and giant wave pools abound.

Today my grandchildren are not much interested in watching television—they have TikTok, Nintendo, Xbox, and PS4—whatever that is.

When I was a child I couldn’t wait to drive a car—that’s why I was so attracted to the bumper cars. Today many 16 year old boys are in no hurry to get a driver’s license.

My sister told me that one time our mom dropped her and her girlfriends off alone at Kiddieland Park for an afternoon of fun and then came back to pick them up later. No parent would consider doing that today.

I realize many people won’t read this column because they have no remembrance of this small, but loveable amusement park—and that’s a shame.

Because the story of Kiddieland Park gives us great insight into how Birmingham and our world has changed.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Tim Hollis who helped with this column. View his many books which feature Birmingham icons like Loveman’s, Pizitz, and Cousin Cliff.

David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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17 thoughts on “Orlando may have Disney World, but we had Kiddieland”

  1. I’m guessing Kiddieland may have still been in operation when I first moved to Birmingham in 1974, but this is the first I’ve heard of it. During my 5 years living in the Birmingham area, I never heard mention of Kiddieland, but there was no reason to know of it, as I either did not have kids or did not have them old enough to take there. But from description, it is somewhat sad that it no longer exists. If it had been maintained or rides updated, kids of today could and, likely, would enjoy and have fun. Although it was not Disneyland of Disney World, kids will find fun with just a bit of imagination.

  2. Thank you for sharing this nostalgic story. I too remember how much fun Kiddieland was. The last time I was there, my 48 year old was 3 years old. The fair, the smell of hotdogs and popcorn!!!

  3. This article states that no parent would consider dropping their kids off at an amusement theme park by themselves today. This is because the news media, especially the local news media, has made the problem of crime seem much bigger than it actually is. It is the same effect as shining a flashlight beside a small person to cast a big shadow to make that person look huge.

    1. I remember Kiddieland but we always called it Fairpark an yes I went thru the Scaryhouse I guess I was 5,6 an cried it really scared me aww but I rode it again around 13 an laughed got my revenge lol

  4. Omg! Yes, kiddieland was it for us. I do oh so remember the scary house 🙂 We had a field day when we would go. It was our little Six Flags. This article has me smiling so big and bringing all the memories back. We need kiddieland back. Amazing to see the costs. Hey, I was little and just new we were paid for. Had no idea how much it was. Thanks for this article!!!

  5. Kiddie Land was open from the time I was born (1950) until I left Bham in 1971. Spent many hours there on dates and during the Alabama Fair. I remember the two local papers (Bham News and the Post Herald) would have coupons for the summer that you could clip and along with 5 cents you could ride that specific ride.I was with my first my girlfriend (first wife) and made a metal medallion in the machine that you could print anything you wanted on it. I put my future sons’ name on it and carried it for over 50 years when it wore through!

  6. I enjoyed the article. I hadn’t thought about Kiddieland in decades, so thank you for stirring up a big pot of nostalgia. But, David, how could you overlook The Mad Mouse?

  7. I loved going to Kiddieland as a child in the 50’s. My two favorites were the rollercoaster, with the Edsel grill front car and the boats that were small replicas of the classic ChrisCraft speed boat. It was such a treat and even more of a treat when you could go there during the Alabama State Fair, but munch on a fair Pronto Pup corn dog too.

  8. I grew up two blocks up from Marsh’s bakery. My parents would allow us to walk to kiddie land and the fairgrounds.

    1. How neat. We bought our wedding cake at Marsh’s. So many good memories from that side of town from way back when. All gone now, though.

      Nothing lasts forever!

  9. I went to Kiddieland so often. There were 2 ferris wheels, though the second one was different somehow and I never rode it. Laugh in the Dark scared the crap out of me the first time. I remember the boycott and it’s shutting down. I didn’t understand then, and like so many others, I shudder at all the things white people did/do to stay separate from black people. Thanks David!

  10. I remember Kiddiland vividly because we’d drive past often and wondered why we couldn’t enjoy the park. The article states it was to combat juvenile delinquency… ? or was it to exclude certain races. We had our “ special reach out days”. “WE” could come in once a year, I think “ they “ would give us an Easter Egg “ good samitan” hunt. Of course our mother wouldn’t let us take the handouts. The Park probably closed because integration was not embraced so attendance and funds stopped.
    I never went to the park because of being excluded so many years of my childhood. Reading this article and the one about closing the train terminal bring back unpleasant memories.

  11. I grew up in the 70s and also remember Kiddieland and the State Fair fondly, or at least I did at one point. Then I read a Birmingham black writer (can’t remember who at the moment) describing growing up in the 50s, passing by Kiddieland, and not understanding why her parents wouldn’t take her there.
    It’s a strange thing to grow up in the infancy of integration, seeing the world with such innocence and only understanding in retrospect all those walking around me with fresh wounds.
    I was sad when Kiddieland closed, but how much better is it to have a facility like the Crossplex in that space, drawing competitors from all over the region?
    A few years ago, my son (who swam in meets at the Crossplex) was part of combined choirs from Hoover, Ramsay and Carver, singing together at the annual MLK track meet. Right around the same spot I rode bumper cars and begged my parents for cotton candy.

  12. I never played on anything I went for the state fair, and the race track. I always wanted that huge train though.

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