WILLIAMSTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — West Virginia has a lot to offer tourism-wise, including amusement parks, but did you know that over 100 years ago it used to have one on its own island?
According to the U.S. Fishing and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Buckley Island—also known as DeVoll’s, Kerr, Marietta and Meigs Island—was once the site of and amusement park built by the Buckeye and Eureka Pipeline Company’s (BEPC), also known as Buckeye-Eureka Park. The island itself is located in the Ohio River and sits between Williamstown, West Virginia and Marietta, Ohio.
Opening on July 15, 1897, the park initially just served local employees of the company and their families, but as word spread, workers from oil fields deeper into Ohio and West Virginia came to see the park. Contrary to modern theme parks that operate seasonally or year-round, Buckeye-Eureka Park was not an everyday attraction and only operated on set days that the BEPC elected to hold a “picnic,” according to local historian Ben Blaine via the USFWS.
Despite having the name “amusement park,” this island didn’t have the thrill rides that modern-era parks like Cedar Point or Kings Island do. Rather, the Buckeye-Eureka Park had more of a local charm featuring simpler forms of entertainment like bowling alleys, horseshoe pits and a dancing pavilion, which the USFWS said was two stories tall and “built in a Victorian style.”
On top of activities for visitors to enjoy, the park also featured less active types of entertainment. Blaine said that upon arrival to the park for its opening day, guests were greeted by music from the Marietta Band & Orchestra, who played at the dance pavilion.
As the park grew, local baseball teams would also come and play games occasionally, including the teams from Marietta and Sistersville, who played on July 27, 1900, the first day that employees from more than just local oil fields were invited.
“The 1900 picnic was apparently the biggest event ever recorded for the Buckeye-Eureka Park. The island peaked in popularity around 1900, when the area was in the middle of its biggest oil boom. Everyone seemed to have money to spend and looked for ways to enjoy leisure hours. Clubs, fraternal orders and individuals brought their picnic baskets for an all-day outing,” Blaine said.
However, much like the oil industry of the Mid-Ohio Valley, the park eventually declined, and rather suddenly. In 1907, the region was hit by a severe and sudden flood that caught its residents by surprise. Blaine reported that the Ohio River crested at 50.6 feet on March 16, the second-highest crest reported at the time. The park was caught right in the middle of the flood and was virtually destroyed by the waters, and a large number of homes and businesses also suffered heavy losses.
The Buckeye-Eureka Park was never rebuilt. Blaine said that two acres at the head of the island that held the park were essentially wiped clean by the waters with only the titled and battered remains of the dance pavilion remaining after the waters receded.
The latest reported structures on the island were a cement house and multiple barns that were believed to be owned by Howard G. Buckley, who grew corn on the island for many years, according to the USFWS. Howard died in 1992 and reportedly willed the island to his nephew, Jerry Buckley, who sold the island and 50 acres on the mainland in 1994 to the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, who have owned it since.