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Researching a Riot, an Amusement Park, and the Hudson River Valley

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Between 1927 and 1941 Woodcliff Pleasure Park occupied the northern section of the Marist College Campus in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. At the time of its operation, it hosted one of the largest outdoor public pools, and the fastest roller coaster in the United States. It was a large and well-functioning amusement park that held attendance of many thousands of people each weekend during its years of operation.

            However in the 1940s, Woodcliff faced many struggles. After being hit by effects from the Great Depression it also faced a large riot on August 10th, 1941. Following the riot, the park closed to make repair to damages that were incurred at the park. However, due to safety concerns from the Poughkeepsie public, the park was never reopened.

I began researching the details of the Woodcliff closure earlier this January. Ultimately, the riot was the reason for Woodcliff’s demise, and I began to question how any why the riot occurred. There is a clear indication that the issues of race acted as a catalyst for the ensuing riot. It is cited in the August 11th, 1941 Poughkeepsie Eagle issue that the riot was sparked after an African-American was denied a beer at the park’s main inn.

Collecting information and gathering research from an event that occurred almost seventy years ago is challenging. My initial collection of information brought me to the Poughkeepsie Public Library where I found several articles that reported the events that occurred at the Woodcliff Pleasure Park riot on August 10th, 1941. By finding information from these articles, I hope to try and uncover other records that may exist from governmental sources. There should be historical police records that reference the Woodcliff Incident, and at this point, my focus will now be to dig a little further to find such records.

-Dan McHale

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3 Comments

  1. wes says:

    Check out “Lost Amusement Parks of the Hudson Valley” by Wesley and Barbara Gottlock for a definitive look at Woodcliff Pleasure Park in Poughkeepsie.

  2. Kwamya10 says:

    Have you found much information since you began your research. I’m from Poughkeepsie and I’d be interested in what you found.

    • hrvi says:

      Unfortunately, we have not been able to find much more than a few newspaper accounts. Our intern was unable to discover or access any records from the County Court system; he was told that they required a name and social security number of individuals in order to check their records for any related court cases. You can find information and sources in the title mentioned below by the Gottlocks, as well as Hidden History of the Mid-Hudson Valley: Stories from the Albany Post Road, by Carney and Tatiana Rhinevault. If you ask around town, you might also find some residents who remember the incident and would be willing to talk about it. And if you do, please tell us about it!

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