Since summer is my favorite time to visit Knott’s Berry Farm, I thought it would be a great time to share my vintage Knott’s Berry Farm postcard collection! In looking at these images, most of which are over 50 years old now, it’s amazing to see just how little has actually changed.
Let’s start with a shot of the couple that started it all, Walter and Cordelia Knott, photographed standing next to their original berry stand.
The Knotts started their farm in 1920, and when the Great Depression arrived, Cordelia decided to try and make some extra cash by selling fried chicken, which evolved into a massive restaurant.
By 1940 people were waiting hours for a table at the Chicken Dinner Restaurant, and Walter decided to build an old west ghost town to entertain people while they waited.
Ghost Town contained multiple western buildings, most of which you couldn’t walk into, but served as “peek ins” – vignettes with mannequins.
The mannequins resided within the Ghost Town buildings until the 75th anniversary of Ghost Town, when Knott’s first introduced Ghost Town Alive, which offered Guests the opportunity to finally enter the buildings that had been closed for so many decades.
In 1941 The Little Chapel by the Lake was built using adobe bricks, and contained The Transfiguration, a massive painting of Jesus, where as the the lights came down it would appear as if Jesus’ closed eyes opened. Recently I found this footage of it on YouTube!
The Transfiguration proved so popular that Knott’s had small, glow in the dark versions as souvenirs. The Little Chapel by the Lake lasted until 2004 when it was removed to make way for the twisting roller coaster, Silver Bullet.
A gold mine was constructed in 1947, giving people a chance to pan for real gold in a sluice box just like the days of the old miner ’49ers.
The attraction was moved from its original location decades later, but recently Knott’s relocated it closer to its original location near the front of the park where you can still pan for real flecks of gold.
In 1949 the Wagon Camp was added, a place to entertain people with live music, and you had the option of sitting inside a covered wagon. Today, the Wagon Camp is home to the Wild West Stunt Show, but during some seasons live bands perform.
In the same year, Knott purchased several authentic 1800s stagecoaches, and had one specially built for the park, and they proved to be a fun experience for Guests. The stagecoaches are still rolling along today.
Like the real history of the west, the train eventually made its way to Ghost Town. In 1951 Knott purchased a real, narrow gauge steam train, and it welcomed Knott’s Berry Farm Guests the following year.
The train still takes Guests around the park, complete with bumbling bandits trying to “rob” Guests.
While Knott didn’t mind constructing new buildings to look old, he loved having the real deal and in 1952 Knott purchased another authentic piece of western history, a real one room school house from Kansas, which was moved to the park with all of its contents.
Knott chose to add the bell tower to give it a more iconic look. Today, the Little Red Schoolhouse still stands, and students of all ages can sit in the small wooden desks.
Gone, but not forgotten by many who experienced it is the Haunted Shack, which arrived in 1954. Here the laws of physics seem to not apply!
An odd departure from the wild west theming was the addition of a seal pool, which was adjacent to a petting zoo called Old MacDonalds Farm.
In 1955 the Farm acquired the old First Baptist Church of Downey, a typical little white steeple church, and called it in The Church of Reflections.
The Church of Reflections still stands, however it has been relocated across the street, and last year it was announced it would be moved yet again, however it still remains near Knott’s Soak City waterpark.
As the new decade of the 60s approached, Knott’s Berry Farm was beginning to face some competition from the newly opened Disneyland a few miles away. So they decided to construct a brand new ride. The Calico Mine Train opened in November of 1960, and was an instant hit with Guests, paying for itself in less than two years.
The Calico Mine Train was the child of Bud Hurlbut, who helped Knott transition the Farm into a true theme park, and the ride has become a classic.
While Ghost Town occupied most of the land on one side of the street, Knott’s sought to expand across the street, and introduced a small steamboat, the Cordelia K (named of course after Walter’s wife) in 1963, which sailed through a small lagoon.
Also across the street, Jungle Land was born in 1964, the idea of Forrest Murrow, who created fanciful “Wood-imals” which were bizarre to say the least.
Jungle Island and the Cordelia K have almost been forgotten, and today the area where they once stood is home to the Farm’s main parking lot, Soak City, and several outdoor venue spaces available for rent, as well as Walter Knott’s full scale replica of Independence Hall. The Cordelia K lives on as an Easter egg within the ride Voyage to the Iron Reef, along with several other relics of Knott’s Berry Farm’s past.
For decades Knott’s Berry Farm remained free to enter, charging individual tickets for certain shows and rides. However, sometimes free comes with a high cost, which by the mid-60s meant sometimes disrespectful teenagers and vandalism. It wasn’t until 1968 when Bud Hurlbut’s secretary and her daughter were harassed by teenagers, a story that supposedly made Knott turn white, did he build a fence surrounding the park, and begin charging admission. By then, Knott’s Berry Farm began to expand rapidly, and eventually became what we know today.
I hope you enjoyed this little walk through the past!