Sprawling across forty acres along the west bank of the Monongahela River on the periphery of what was once a thriving mill town, Kennywood Park survived the Great Depression, two world wars, and several financial panics to become one of the leading trolley parks from late-nineteenth-century America.
In 1818, the site was the farm and coalfield of Charles F. Kenny. As early as the Civil War, its groves of oak and maple were a popular picnic area. By the time the Monongahela Street Railway Company extended out from Pittsburgh to reach the farm in the 1890s, the site was widely and popularly known as “Kenny's Grove.” Soon after, the railway leased part of the land for a trolley park named Kennywood. George Davidson, chief engineer of the railway, was appointed the park's first manager, and he provided the first layout.
When the park opened to the public its only built attractions were a cafeteria, dance pavilion, and small bandstand surrounding a shallow lake. Kennywood's distinction among enthusiasts as “Roller Coaster Capital of the World” came only later, with the creation of the Racer, the Thunderbolt, the Jack Rabbit, and the Steel Phantom—once clocked as the world's fastest roller coaster. Today, the park maintains a good deal of its original landscape, including a lake and such early buildings as the Casino and Pagoda.
Historic preservation has long been a concern at the park, illustrated by Lost Kennywood, a re-creation of amusement parks of the past whose decorative arched entrance reproduces the arch of Pittsburgh's Luna Park of 1905, now demolished.