Historical Marker #2568 marks the site of the Joyland Amusement Park in Lexington, Kentucky.
Joyland was Fayette County’s largest amusement park for nearly 40 years. The park sat on 25 acres of land that housed a kiddie railroad, a midway, arcade games, the first public swimming pool in Fayette County, the Club Joy Dance and Casino, and the park’s most popular attraction, the “Wildcat” rollercoaster which was built in the late 1920s. During the roaring 20s in Lexington, Joyland was the place to be during the summer for white residents.
The park officially opened on May 30, 1923 along Paris Pike on the northside of town. Early on it was owned and operated by Frank Brandt and brothers John W. Sauer and F. Keller Sauer. The Sauer brothers ran the park while Brandt managed everything else. Another partner, A.M. James, ran the Club Joy Dance and Casino. The parking lot was big enough to hold nearly 5,000 cars and admission during the week was free but, the rides, food, and games cost money to enjoy. However, the owners would let the orphans of Lexington come and play games and ride rides for free several times a year. White children could also take free swimming lessons at the pool.
Club Joy Dance and Casino cost 50 cents during the week and 75 cents on the weekend. They hosted many parties that included dancing, which were held Tuesday-Saturday. The Club also hosted the Miss Kentucky Beauty Contest throughout the 1930s. But what made Club Joy stand out was the many acts, singers, and bands, that they hosted. Throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s, the club hosted acts like The Bluegrass Troubadours, Smoke Richardson and his Orchestra, and even Duke Ellington and Arte Shaw. Many of the acts were broadcasted live through the radio with the call letters WLEX beginning in 1933. Those call letters were licensed as an official radio station in 1946.
Despite the word casino in its title, Club Joy did not actually have gambling games or machines in the casino area. Although there were reports of illegal gambling behind the scenes, it was never confirmed, and no one was ever charged.
The Joyland Amusement Park also had a playground for kids to spend time on when attractions got too crowded or parents could not afford to pay for the other rides. There were also baseball and softball fields on the grounds where they hosted many different league games and teams from other communities came to play games and tournaments. There was also a miniature zoo that featured many animals including a bear, monkey, wolf, alligator, and an anteater.
Joyland remained a segregated entertainment venue throughout its era of operation. Black families were welcomed to the park only on “special” reserved days. Black children were not allowed at the Joyland Pool. The Lexington Leader provided free swimming lessons for white children at Joyland’s pool and for Black children at the Douglass Park pool. Though host to many Black entertainers, the casino and Club Joy were segregated as well.
Throughout the 50s, after Joyland had changed owners, the park slowly began to close sections down as people began to lose interest. As more amusement parks, particularly bigger ones, and movies became much more popular, people slowly stopped coming to the park. It wasn’t until August of 1963 when the park shut down fully as loss of business finally stuck its final blow.
After the shutdown, Club Joy caught on fire in 1964 and was damaged beyond repair so it was torn down. Shortly after that, the land was bought by developers and the park was bulldozed. The developers built Mary Todd Elementary School and a bowling alley that was updated and kept running through the early 2000s. A subdivision was built where the park once stood and was given the name Joyland Subdivision.
The marker reads:
Joyland, Paris Pike, 1923-64
Home of the Wildcat rollercoaster,
Joyland Railroad, a midway,
Fayette Co.'s first public swimming
pool & a dance casino featuring
jazz and big bands like Duke
Ellington & Artie Shaw, as well as
local & regional entertainers. The
segregated park provided picnic
areas, July 4th fireworks & fun
for many children.
Joyland Neighborhood Association
This marker was dedicated on April 8, 2019.