Santa Claus Land, the first theme park, opened 70 years ago

It was Christmas every day at this Indiana amusement park, which opened in 1946.

In 1941, Louis Koch, a retired man living in Evansville, Indiana, took a road trip 50 miles east to the small town of Santa Claus. Having fathered nine children, Koch was disappointed to discover that the tiny enclave offered Santa Claus in name only. There was no Santa Claus, the man, to see there. What would kids think if they traveled there in hunt of the jolly fat man?

Koch dreamt up a place where people could visit Santa Claus at any time of the year. Indiana only had one amusement park at the time, Indiana Beach, up the road a bit in Monticello. Thus, Santa Claus Land was born. The park opened its gates on August 3, 1946. It was the world's first amusement park to have an overriding theme.

Visitors would not find roller coasters on day one. Instead, there was a House of Dolls, a choo choo, a restaurant and Santa Claus, of course. The first ride constructed was the Santa Claus Land Railroad, a one-eighth-scale train modeled after a Baltimore and Ohio locomotive. Eventually, a paddock for deer and peacocks, as well as a Jeep-go-round, were added. The House of Dolls was home to over 2,000 dolls, curated by Koch's sister, Helen Robb. (Take a look at the map below.) Admission was free until 1955. Over the years, the park added the Willie Bartley Water Ski Thrill Show, the Santa Claus Choir and more reindeer-themed rides.

Eventually, the park branched out to include other holidays — Halloween, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. Since 1984, the amusement park has gone by the name of Holiday World. The train was eventually retired in 2012.

Head to Holiday World's Flickr page for dozens of vintage photos and take a trip back in time to Santa Claus Land.

Did you ever visit Santa Claus Land? What was your favorite amusement park as a kid?

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