Knoebel’s: A generational family amusement
ELYSBURG – Knoebels Amusement Resort started in 1926 with its first attractions being the Cyrstal Pool, a merry-go-round and a food stand.
“My grandfather was a farmer and a lumberman. He didn’t care much for the farming,” said Ron “Buddy” Knoebel, Knoebels Amusement Resort co-manager.
He said his grandfather, Henry Knoebel, originally wanted to attract people to the part of the creek where two streams connected by offering a place to swim with a few amenities that were a big deal for the time period, like picnic tables a bath house to change clothes in and some toilets.
“It gave opportunities to enjoy your stay a little more with picnicking by the creek,” Buddy Knoebel said.
People enjoyed the area so much they asked for cottages, and being in the lumber business, his grandfather had lumber available. Once this started growing, his grandfather decided to get serious about it in the 1920s.
“He decided he would have a swimming pool, a merry-go-round and a food stand,” Buddy Knoebel said. “It started from that and now has become the largest free admission, free parking amusement facility in the nation.”
He said the park grew very slowly by adding more rides and more food options up until World War II.
“After World War II ended, there was a growth spurt … The growth spurts were a result of the economy,” he said. “What we could afford, we kept growing.”
He said they kept growing by adding more and more things, and instead of just being a local hangout, things changed in the 1980s.
“In 1985, the Phoenix roller coaster was put in. It really took us from being a local amusement park with a market of 25 minutes to an hour (from the park) to a much larger market,” he said. “We became nationally recognized as an attraction.”
He said the success of the park went deeper than simply adding new rides and attractions.
“People feel they are part of us. They feel it is their park. They just love coming back here. It’s part of their family heritage,” he said. “Grandma remembers when she came here … so she brought her kids who brought their kids.”
He said people recognize the family atmosphere of the place, which also reflects that the park is run by himself and his brother, Dick Knoebel, as co-managers. Even their sister, Leanna Muscato, works seasonally at the park.
“We are third generation, and currently, the fourth generation is in their 40s. They’re taking on more and more duties and responsibilities,” he said. “In family business, you’re lucky if you get to a third generation. It’s almost unheard of to go to a fourth. We’re an exception, I guess … We’re very blessed.”
The family atmosphere also shows in their work and the environment of the park.
“We have certainly done a lot of our food with the fact in mind is that our family are the people who come here,” he said. “We want to feed our family something they can eat and enjoy.”
They also share a respect for the land.
“Many theme parks … They cut all the trees, build the park and make some shrubbery. Here, people walk amongst trees that are older than themselves,” he said. “They enjoy the shades of trees and the ambiance. It’s an environmentally delightful place.”