In an attempt to lure riders to their streetcar line, the Virginia Manchester Railway opened a combination terminal and amusement park just south of the James in 1890. Accessible with a 5-cent trolley ticket, Forest Hill Park was built on an old 1836 estate known as Boscobel. To preserve the estate’s residence, called the Old Stone House, the railway company converted its rooms into a house of mirrors and penny arcade. A lake on the property offered boating, swimming, and ice-skating.
Over the years, the park’s attractions multiplied to include bowling alleys, a merry-go-round, bicycle track, toboggan slide, a moving picture screen, dance pavilion, shooting gallery, a bear-wrestling venue, fireworks displays, and vaudeville performances.
There was even a roller coaster (called a switchback at the time), which was completed in 1917. Named the Dip-the-Dips, the roller coaster became a main attraction until it was closed by the building inspector in 1931 for safety concerns. Shortly after the final run of Dip-the-Dips, the park closed. The rise of the automobile and the deterioration of the facilities prompted the company to turn the land over to the city. With that, New Deal workers went to work transforming the ninety-seven acres into a safe public park. They paved the walkways with cobblestone and built a gazebo and warming hut for ice skaters. In February 1935, the park reopened to the public and it’s still open today.
Photos: Early 20th Century, Cook Collection 4821 (top) and 0032, The Valentine