Ask Hamilton – Lake Winnepesaukah

Dear Hamilton,
Our family has been going to Lake Winnepesaukah every summer as far back as we can remember, and we heard that this summer, it will celebrate 90 years of operation. Could you tell us a little about the park’s history?
We Love Winnie

winnieDear We Love Winnie,

Certainly! Lake Winnepesaukah has been a summer hot spot since 1925, the year entrepreneurial couple Carl and Minette Dixon first opened the lake property to the public. Originally, it was primarily a swimming and picnicking park – a place to boat, canoe, swim, and sunbathe on the beach. On warm days, Chattanoogans flocked to the lake and its adjacent swimming pool, which at the time was considered one of the largest and finest in the South.

But as you know, Lake Winnie would become much more than this. Seeking to capitalize on the thriving amusement park industry, the Dixons began expanding the attraction’s footprint by hosting balloonists, auto, boat, and motorcycle races, swim meets, and stunt exhibitions (Carl himself was a famed race car driver and sportsman). Then, in 1927, Lake Winnie opened its very first ride – the Boat Chute, designed and built by Carl himself. The ride is still in operation today and is the oldest one of its kind in the U.S.

After Carl’s untimely death in 1933, Minette took over the ownership of the park, becoming the first in Lake Winnie’s long tradition of all-women management. During the next few decades she spearheaded numerous developments including a year-round skating rink, more than 13 rides (including a Ferris Wheel, auto scooters, and Fly-O-Plane, revived in 2000), a Kiddie Park, concessions, a penny arcade, a Cake Pavilion for birthday parties, and the Show Boat (whose original structure now serves as an ice cream stand).

When Minette passed in 1958, full management of the park transferred to the Dixons’ only daughter, Evelyn. Committed to her parents’ legacy, she initiated an expansion of the attraction in the ‘60s that nearly doubled its size. The revival saw the addition of some of the park’s most iconic rides, including the Mad Mouse in 1960 (predecessor of the current Wild Lightnin’), the wooden Cannonball roller coaster in 1967, and the famed antique carousel in 1968.

Beginning in the late ‘70s, while the next generation of Dixon women was busy raising children and pursuing other interests, the park was turned over to an outside company who oversaw the attraction for the next 20 years. But when the lease was up, the women of the family rallied to once again assume leadership. In 1998, Evelyn’s daughters, Adrienne Rhodes and Tootsie Harless, along with Adrienne’s daughters, Talley Green and Tennyson Dickinson, joined forces as the next generation of park management.

Spurred by a shared commitment to restore Lake Winnie to its former glory, these granddaughters and great-granddaughters ushered in a new era of growth. Under their leadership, the park added the 140-foot “Oh-Zone” freefall ride in 2006 and the reversing “Fire Ball” roller coaster in 2012. Then in 2013, Lake Winnie had its biggest expansion since the 1960s with the opening of the five-acre, multi-million dollar SoakYa Water Park, which fittingly harkens back to the attraction’s earliest days as a summer retreat.

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