History of Knott’s Berry Farm: See the Southern California amusement park as it used to be

History of Knott's Berry Farm at Click Americana

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Take a look back at vintage Knott’s Berry Farm — the California amusement park known as a Disneyland alternative, but one that boasted 1920s and Wild West themes — and even had its own ghost town.

Logging a few rides at Knott’s Berry Farm (1970)

By Henry P Chapman – The Chicago Tribune (Illinois) September 20, 1970

We’re Jack Benny-aged kids when it comes to amusement parks. My wife is the merry-go-round and choo-choo train type. I’m an old roller coaster character, and currently consider myself a multi-miler on the log rides or log flumes, the newest thrillers in major fun parks.

We were in Los Angeles when we learned that Knott’s Berry Farm and Ghost Town on Beach Boulevard, Buena Park, was opening its $2.5 million Calico Log Ride. Forty-five minutes later, we were there.

But two other flume aficionados beat us to the first trip down the watery speedway — John Wayne and his youngest son, John Ethan. However, I rode the flume more times than the Waynes — 26 times more.

John Wayne on a log flume ride at Knott's Berry Farm in 1970

And, as the unchallenged fluming champion, I consider this log ride the Apollo 11 of the amusement world. It’s also scenic and educational. The passenger logs float free along a flume thru a mountain where the history of logging with animated life-size figures, realistic sounds, and the forest’s four seasons are presented. 

The popularity of flume rides at all amusement parks is fantastic. Last season, 3,150,364 visitors rode the two flumes at Six Flags Over Texas. Basically, the log rides are alike. Specifically, they’re different. All depends on the imagination applied.

For those who haven’t screamed timber-r-r! on one of the flume flings, here’s what they’re all about.

At Knott’s Berry Farm, 450-pound fiberglass logs carry five passengers each. From a 350,000-gallon reservoir, 25,000 gallons of water are pumped every four minutes to rush the logs up and down, zigging and zagging along the flume.

On the speedy journey, it’s easy to imagine “I am a log!” I could have ridden the fast one all day, but my wife discovered diversions which were not here on our last visit.

A Fiesta Village now occupies three acres of the 150-acre farm. It’s gringo old Mexico in atmosphere, with a tiled plaza for dancing to Mariachi music, a free puppet show, and a Mexican seal pond with such flippered occupants as Poncho and Jose.

Vintage Knott's Berry Farm ghost town postcard

Boxy modern versions of Mexico’s traditional Xochimilco flower launches ply a lake for free sightseeing or picnicking aboard. Shops stock Mexicana souvenirs and nicknacks, and the cantina serves south-of-the-border snacks.

No difficulty getting children to school here since it’s the Escuela de Animoles where animals learn tricks. No hands are barred from petting them.

Also among the newer attractions is a brick-by-brick replica of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, complete with a duplicate of the Liberty Bell, cast at Knott’s Berry Farm. Continuous narrated daily tours (35 and 50 cents) view historic documents and attend the Declaration Chamber to hear a reenactment of historic debates.

Read about the remarkable signers of the Declaration of Independence and their triumphs & sacrifices beyond 1776
Why it’s called Knott’s Berry Farm

Knott’s Berry Farm is an odd name for an amusement park, and it probably runs off many unwary visitors. The park began as a 10-acre farm planted with berries in 1920. Here Walter Knott saved the boysenberry (after Rudolph Boysen, its originator) from extinction.

Knott’s berries were sold from a wooden roadside stand in those days. Then Mrs. Knott used her culinary magic to transform them into jellies, jams and pies.

Business boomed from berries to fried chicken to amusement. The latter, a ghost town, was created to entertain the long line of motorists waiting to be served.

Vintage Knott's Berry Farm brochure cover

Today, Knott’s Berry Farm and Ghost Town employs 1,700 people, but it’s still a family affair. The parents with their four children and their spouses and three adult grandchildren run the business. General admission to the park is free. So are 50 acres of parking.

The original Ghost Town has grown like a wild berry patch. It used to be free also, but because of its casual Old West ambiance, it was invaded by hippies. A $1 admission recently was installed. That includes western entertainment around a campfire, ringed by covered wagons.

Many of the nearly 100 attractions at the farm are free. Many families bring picnic lunches and can enjoy themselves without spending a dime.

But what kid 6 or 60 can resist the rides, the shops or Mrs. Knott’s chicken dinner with hot biscuits and boysenberry jam?

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Vintage Knott’s Berry Farm and Ghost Town (1958)

A must when visiting Southern California. Enjoy hours of fun reliving the Gold Rush Days of 1849. From our neighbors, Disneyland — Knott’s Berry Farm is 6 miles.

Knott’s Berry Farm owned and operated by the founders, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Knott and family

Vintage Knott's Berry Farm and Ghost Town - 1958

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Knott’s Gold Rush (1966)

You owe it to yourself and your family, pardner, to step back into history… a hundred years or more. Relive the days of the 49ers! You’ll enjoy every minute of it.

As you pan for gold from the old sluice box in the authentic 1849 mining community, you’ll know the thrill of a ”find” of real gold. As you meet the tanned and grizzled faces of the old-timers, you’ll sense the true spirit of the West that built an empire out of the wilds.

Make a day of it at Knott’s. Ride ore cars through the Calico Mine, ride the horse-drawn stage and the Narrow Gauge Railroad that once served gold mining camps. You’ll always remember your visit to Knott’s Berry Farm. Come as you are.

Vintage Knott's Berry Farm and Ghost Town - Gold Rush 1966

Vintage Knott’s Independence Hall (1967)

See this exact brick-by-brick reproduction of Independence Hall at Knott’s Berry Farm & Ghost Town. 200 acres of dining, shopping and entertainment. 

Vintage Vintage Knott's Berry Farm and Ghost Town - 1967

Knott’s is more than a Berry Farm. (1972)

It is 150 acres of fun for everyone! 22 fun-packed rides and attractions . Over 50 unique specialty shops and 3 fine restaurants. Acres of free parking. Enjoy Ghost Town, Independence Hall / West, Fiesta Village, Gypsy Camp and the fabulous John Wayne Theatre.

Old seventies Knott's Berry Farm 1972

ALSO SEE: Vintage Disneyland, from when Walt Disney’s magical new theme park in Southern California first opened in 1955

Step into yesteryear at Knott’s (1973)

An authentic Old West Ghost Town is brought to life! Our proud American heritage is at Independence Hall/West! South-of-the-Border Mexican atmosphere is in colorful Fiesta Village! A European gypsy settlement is depicted in romantic Gypsy Camp! Step into yesteryear at Knott’s and enjoy a day of family fun, adventure and entertainment!

Over 22 rides and attractions. Plus! Knott’s fabulous John Wayne Theatre featuring star entertainment — 7 fine snack shops and 4 famous restaurants, including Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant and Knott’s Steak House. And over 50 unique specialty shops, including Virginia’s Gift Shop.

What Knott's Berry Farm looked like in 1973

Knott’s Berry Farm history: Marion Knott has been at the park all her life (1976)

By Joy Stilley in the Hattiesburg American (Mississippi) March 14, 1976

Marion Knott is still working on the farm where, at age 12, she served chicken dinners to help her sharecropper parents out during the Depression.

But now the farm is a 150-acre entertainment complex, and Marion Knott, at age 53, is the director of design and planning for Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif. “I was born right on that farm, and I’ve been there all my life,” the attractive blue-eyed blonde said during a visit to New York to publicize Bicentennial events in the West.

Marion Knott on the history of Knott's Berry Farm in the mid-1970s

“When I was a little girl, I picked berries that my parents sold at a roadside stand.” Raising and selling berries didn’t quite feed the four kids of Cordelia and Walter Knott. Their daughter recalls that her mother started serving sandwiches, pie, and coffee at the stand, an enterprise that grew into the chicken dinners.

“We had such long lines waiting for the dinners,” the former waitress explains, “that my father thought there should be something for the people to do, and he started a ghost town that eventually grew into the present theme park.”

Vintage 70s Knott's Berry Farm brochure

The elder Knott continued to live right in the midst of the bustling park until Mrs Knott died a year and a half ago. Since then, the old farmhouse where Miss Knott was born has been used as an office.

“Where we have a freeway and all that traffic now, it was just a dirt road. It was strictly country back in the early days,” she says. “Where our Roaring ’20s area is now was a dairy farm where I used to play as a child.”

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“We deal in the history of our country,” she says of her choice of the ’20s period as the latest in the nostalgia theme started by her father, and includes Fiesta Village, which she created as “a tribute to the Spanish-American heritage in California.”

The 1920s was a great period between the wars, full of excitement and happiness, appealing to people of all ages,” she says. “That’s what amusement parks are for — to take people out of their problems of the present and put them in a different era.”

In her role as designer and planner, Miss Knott picks a theme, makes sure that everything, including music and costumes, is in keeping, and plans the area in detail.

Knott's Berry Farm attractions, restaurants and rides (1977)
Knott’s Berry Farm attractions, restaurants and rides (1977)

“From the design to the day we open, it’s my project. I’ve had a lot to learn about construction,” she admits. “I couldn’t design the actual plan, but I can read blueprints, draw to scale, that sort of thing. I’m out there every day supervising and coordinating the work. They can’t put much past me I don’t catch,” adds Miss Knott, who studied merchandising at the University of Southern California.

As part of her job, she travels, seeking unusual rides. She recently went to Zurich, Switzerland, to test a parachute ride and personally checked out the Corkscrew now in the Roaring ’20s area, a roller coaster that whirls passengers upside down twice — at speeds reaching 45 miles an hour.

“People want thrills, want to be scared pea-green as long as they know they’re safe,” she points out, adding with a laugh that she found the experience “not as bad as riding in a New York taxicab.”

Now there are three generations of family involved in running the farm, including her 31-year-old son, Darrel Anderson, who is responsible for entertainment and merchandising. Miss Knott, who is divorced, also has a daughter, Mrs Diane Anderson Smith, who raises horses.

Miss Knott is already planning the next addition to the park, but won’t reveal what form it will take. “There’s a lot of competition in the amusement park business,” she says.

1970s Knott's Berry Farm theme park map
1970s Knott’s Berry Farm theme park map

Celebrate the Centennial out West (1976)

Yes, Centennial. Because at Knott’s you’ll find the West the way it was 100 years ago. Take yourself back in time to the liveliest Old West Ghost Town. Where anything can happen.

Holdups. Fun fights. Eureka, even panning for real gold. You can ride the authentic Butterfield Stagecoach, the Rio Grande Train. Make a splash on the Timber Mountain Log Ride.

Kick up your heels with the Calico Cancan Saloon girls. And plenty more. While you’re out West, enjoy the flavor of Early California in Fiesta Village. And the excitement, with a ride like the Spinning Sombreros.

Another era you won’t want to miss is the Roaring 20s Area, with the Whirlwind, the Wheeler Dealer Bumper Cars, the Penny Arcade.

And if you’ve never been 70 feet up, over and around in two complete 360-degree loops, experience the Corkscrew. Plus, Knott’s is adding a new area to the Roaring 20s the summer of ’76. That means more rides and thrills and thrills and rides than ever before.

So shoot on out to Knott’s Old Time Adventures. Life was very exciting 100 years ago.

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Knott's Berry Farm - Celebrate the Centennial 1976

Don’t just stop at Disneyland (1980)

Sure, Disneyland is a great place to start. But just because you’ve been there doesn’t mean your visit to Southern California is complete. Because, only minutes away from Disneyland is California’s second greatest attraction: Knott’s Berry Farm.

Here at Knott’s, you and your family will share experiences that will last a lifetime. In the Old West Ghost Town, you can ride a stagecoach, watch a wild west show, and even pan for real gold.

In our Roaring ’20s Airfield, you can drop from a parachute jump 20 stories high, compete in the great motorcycle race, or ride the Corkscrew rollercoaster through 2 complete upside down loops.

In all, Knott’s has 135 rides, attractions and places to eat. The shopping is terrific, and the live entertainment never seems to stop. A visit to Knott’s Berry Farms a nostalgic trip into the past, filled with fun and excitement for the whole family.

Knott's Berry Farm - Don't just stop at Disneyland 1980

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Old West Ghost Town & more at Knott’s Berry Farm (1980)

Sure Disneyland is a great place to visit. But just because you’ve been there doesn’t mean your tour of Southern California is complete. Because, only minutes away from Disneyland is California’s second greatest attraction, Knott’s Berry Farm, where you and your family will share experiences that will last a lifetime.

In the Old West Ghost Town, you can ride an authentic stagecoach and watch a Wild West show. In our Roaring 20s Airfield, you can drop from a 20-story parachute jump or ride the double loop Corkscrew rollercoaster. Then, in Fiesta Village, you can shop and eat Early California style, or brave the backwards upside-down ride of Montezoomass Revenge.

In all, Knott’s has 135 rides, adventures and places to eat. The shopping is terrific and the live entertainment never seems to stop. Come… visit Knott’s Berry Farm. It’s a trip into the past filled with fun and excitement for the whole family. 

Knott's Berry Farm - Southern California amusement park in 1980

Knott’s Berry Farm – Best of the West (1982)

When you take your family on a Western vacation, make sure you include the best of the West… Knott’s Berry Farm.

It’s the oldest themed amusement park in the whole world! And Knott’s is one of the few places where you can still ride an authentic stage-coach, come face to face with gun-slingin’ desperadoes, and pan for real gold dust.

And that’s just for starters. There’s more than 150 acres of wild ‘n woolly fun and excitement, with over 135 wild rides, shows, and adventures to tame.

And that includes the double loop Corkscrew and a backwards upside down roller coaster called Montezooma’s Revenge! The shows, we might add, are some of the best in Southern California. And with 32 specialty shops and Mrs. Knott’s world-famous chicken dinners, the fun just never seems to stop.

So, come on! We’re right here in Buena Park, just 10 minutes from Disneyland. If you’re coming all the way out West, you sure don’t want to miss the best of the West while you’re here.

Knott's Berry Farm - Best of the West (1982)

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Snoopy at Knott’s Berry Farm (1983)

When your family’s vacation includes California, make sure you visit Knott’s Berry Farm. It’s the best in the West in family entertainment.

And now, Knott’s is even better! That’s because Snoopy’s roaming the park, posing for pictures and bringing an instant smile to just about every child’s face.

And that’s not all! There’s more than 150 acres of wild ‘n woolly fun and excitement with almost as many wild rides, shows and adventures to tame! And 4 that includes the double loop Corkscrew and a terrorizing roller coaster called Montezooma’s Revenge!

What’s more, the shows are spectacular. And there’s plenty of Mrs. Knott’s famous chicken dinners and home-made preserves to tickle your tastebuds.

So come on over! We’re right here in Buena Park, just 10 short minutes from Disneyland. And remember, now the best in the West is even better: Snoopy’s at Knott’s Berry Farm.

Vintage Knott's Berry Farm (1983)

Peanuts: Charlie Brown & Snoopy say you belong in the Funny Farm (1987)

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Peanuts Charlie Brown and Snoopy say you belong in the Funny Farm (1987)

Old Knott’s Berry Farm guest pass – Rides Aplenty (1980s)

Old Knott's Berry Farm guest pass - Rides Aplenty (1980s)

So long, folks – sure glad you came… Be seein’ you again!

Vintage Knott's Berry Farm brochure

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. I remember Knott’s when the carousel was the big draw. Watched it change over the years. I have a photo of a family member on the mules. That was a great ride and always a long line. We used to put pennies on the train track while we waited and retrieved them flat after the engine passed. Panning for gold was fun because you always “found” some! Thanks for putting up the great memories here.

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