My Fascination With Abandoned Parks
By: Chris Darkes - January 29, 2015
Category : Hauntings
Every now and then you’ll look back at a photo, drive to a location, or hear a name that takes you back to a specific memory. A certain time and place no matter where you are. You could be on a crowded subway, and depending on if you were alive in the 60’s and someone mentions the Kennedy assassination, you know exactly where you were standing when you heard the news. Likewise if you lived through the Challenger explosion. Everytime I drive past a certain spot on the highway I’m reminded of the days of my younger self. There’s a spot that I pass by on the way to my girlfriend’s house that jogs my memory. That spot is (or, was) a place called Shireland Amusement Park. It’s now defunct and has been for quite some time. I had been there long ago, but couldn’t remember where the place was located. That is until I stumbled across it on the drive. The history of the park is a fun little story.
Located about 60 miles west of Chicago, in a town called Hampshire. The area where Shireland originated was owned by an eclectic man named Thomas J. Smrt. He spent most of his career developing and patenting products. His most famous being an aerosol spray can that can be used while upside-down. This is impossible to do with the standard one. With this money, he used his funds to began taking a liking to breeding rare Shire horses. At the time he did this, there were only around 50 left in the world. And finally, the Shireland Amusement Park.
Smrt wanted to build an attraction aimed at entertaining little children as well as the whole family. He thought the typical attractions that were gaining popularity (like Six Flags and Cedar Point) were not made for little children, but rather thrill seekers and adult crowds. So with this idea he opened the Shireland Amusement Park on May 28th, 1988. The medieval themed park sat on 111 acres and featured a circus tent equivalent to 2 football fields, a kiddie coaster where dragons flew from the sky, and knights in full armor. The place was more like an enchanted forest. It was unlike anything else out there.
The place was packed day in and day out, but for some reason it tapered off quickly and Smrt closed the doors to the castle at the end of 1988. After a brief renovation, he again reopened the doors in 1991. That’s the year my aunt took my sister and I. The images are still extremely vivid in my mind. The smell of the food cooking in the refreshment centers, the 10 ft. Shire horses walking around. The larger than life atmosphere. It was a sight to behold. It would be interesting to find out why the park wasn’t opened in 1989 and 1990. Some speculate the drop off in sales made Smrt rethink his plan. It’s possible due to the extreme nature of Smrt, maybe he just took on too many projects to focus his attention on his park. Either way, the park closed for good at the end of ‘91. I felt I was lucky enough to experience the magic.
The odd thing about the park is, after Smrt shut down the place, he didn’t return to it to auction off the property. The original shelves lined with t-shirts, souvenirs, hats, and swords remained untouched for nearly 15 years. It’s as if he locked the door and just walked away never to return. That is until groups of urban exploration broke in and began to graffiti, tear down shelves, and rip off anything they could get their hands on. Up until about a year ago, everytime I would drive past all that would was the original Shireland sign and a few turrets scattered around the property. I wish I was able to see the place before it was looted.
I recently heard Smrt sold the property to a developer who’s currently taking all the remaining parts of the park down to clear for whatever lies ahead. It’s a great memory for me, and honestly regret not being able to sneak in there and snap a few photos myself. The parts of the park I recall will pop up in places for Shoe Factory Road.
Sidenote: If you want an in depth explanation of Shireland, I highly recommend this guy’s website. His page looks like it hasnt been updated since the 90’s, but has so many photos and story.http://shireland.tripod.com/