Life after enchantment: Some of this Maryland fairy-tale park was preserved, but some fell into ruin


Selecting themes of nursery rhymes and fairy tales, Ellicott City’s Enchanted Forest was one of the first theme parks to open in the United States, in August 1955. The opening of this Maryland amusement park followed by not quite a month Disneyland launching in California. Admission to enter was $1 for adults and 50 cents for children.

For many, the Enchanted Forest is a treasured site of happy childhood memories. The Ellicott City venue welcomed families for over 30 years before shutting down in 1989.

Initially the park occupied 20 acres, which grew to 52 acres during its peak when reportedly some 300,000 visitors visited the Enchanted Forest each year. In its later years the property shrank to 32 acres.

The Enchanted Forest visitors were able to roam and get lost in a wondrous world that looked as if it had just emerged from a children’s book. That could mean kids playing around Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage and pretending that Prince Charming was about to arrive, or mounting the gigantic purple shoe of the little old lady and then gliding down to the bottom.

Entrance to Enchanted Forest Amusement Park, Ellicott City, Md (1987), By ConneeConehead101, CC BY-SA 3.0

The original owners of the venue, the Harrison family, sold the property to JHP Development in 1988 and by the next year the memorable castle entrance to the park was closed to visitors. After it was sold, the east part of the theme park was cleared to build a shopping mall. The rest of the property remained untouched, and for a while there were some hopes that it could relaunch.

Children playing on Willie the Whale at the Enchanted Forest in 1972, By Jose Behar, CC BY-SA 3.0

Hopes were particularly raised when a Johnny Depp movie, Cry Baby, used the place as a set in 1990. Or during the summer of 1994, when the venue reopened, but it was mostly for children’s birthday celebrations. No effort went into bringing the old spark back to the park, but the castle and the drawbridge entry point, plus its memorable dragon, continued to make heads turn while passing on Route 40.

The Sliding Board at the Enchanted Forest (1987), By ConneeConehead101, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Enchanted Forest was abandoned until 2004, when the new owner of the land, Kimco Realty Group, agreed to relocate most of the fairy tale figurines and edifices to the nearby Clark’s Elioak Farm for display and preservation.

The Gingerbread house at Enchanted Forest damaged by a fallen tree, By Forsaken Fotos, CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

Once the farm opened only a few miles away from the original Enchanted Forest location, it did display some of the amusement park creations.

The abandoned castle at the Enchanted Forest, By Forsaken Fotos, CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

The relocation officially ended in the summer of 2015, on the 60th jubilee of the opening of the Enchanted Forest. Tthe old location is fully dedicated to the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center.

The structures were rotting at the Enchanted Forest after so many years of neglect, By Forsaken Fotos, CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

Not all of the Enchanted Forest structures were relocated and restored at Clark’s Elioak Farm. According to officials, some features like Cinderella’s Castle and the Gingerbread House were impossible to move.

Vandals also left their mark on the deteriorating structures, By Forsaken Fotos, CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

These two structures, made out of wood and concrete, had been neglected for many years. The second floor of the castle became structurally unstable, while the Gingerbread House was damaged by a tree that fell on it.

Nature reclaimed territories at the Enchanted Forest, By Forsaken Fotos, CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

The Storybook Castle was the biggest Enchanted Forest feature to be relocated to Clark’s Elioak. In order to do so, restorers needed to dismantle the entire structure, load all its parts in a big truck, and rebuild.

A sad photo… from the last day, By Forsaken Fotos, CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

Perhaps, relocating and restoring the majority of the park’s features was the best possible outcome, before the entire site disappeared.

Remakes and new versions: Enchanted Forest gingerbread house in the pine tree maze at Clark’s Elioak Farm, Photo by Don Woods, CC BY-SA 3.0

Old King Cole sits atop the shopping center’s sign as a relic, and a plaque stating the park’s history commemorates the original Enchanted Forest.

Related story from us: A wonder of nature “helped” by an earthquake: The Sunken Forest of Lake Kaindy 

As good as new, the castle and dragon were kept as replicas at Clark’s Elioak Farm, thanks to the efforts of Mark Cline, an artist from Virginia who made custom versions of the features. She had been a regular at the original Enchanted Forest theme park when she as a child.