In 1896, two Brooklyn entrepreneurs, Thomas Adams, Jr. and Percy Williams bought the Jamaica Bay side of Bergen Island, off the coast of Flatlands and Canarsie. The island had belonged to the Bergen family for centuries, and was part of an isolated community of small farms in this rural part of Brooklyn which still supplied the markets of Wallabout and Manhattan with produce, dairy and meat. The men wanted to cash in on the lucrative resort and amusement park success of Coney Island. They were counting on the cooling ocean breezes, the sunlit open spaces, and their amusement park to be more popular than an ever-increasingly crowded, and common, Coney. A short history of Bergen Island and the park appears in Part One.
They weren’t amusement park men, or hoteliers. Adams had made a fortune with the manufacture of Chiclets chewing gum. They were men with The Big Idea, but no real experience in making it happen. They started out with a classy hotel and beachfront resort, but in order to be financially viable, soon were just as tawdry as anything Coney Island had going on. It was called Bergen Beach. Many of their attractions were just burlesque girly acts, or played to the ethnic and racial stereotypes of the day. They had all of the requisite rides and amusements; a Ferris wheel, carousel, house of horrors, a dance hall and later, a swimming pool, but they just never really resonated with their audience. They even had Medieval jousts. A great deal of the reason for that was in getting there. (more…)