How Closure of 'Frontier Town' Theme Park Devastated a Tiny New York Town

Frontier Town was the lifeblood of North Hudson, N.Y.'s economy. Now, like much of the town, it's empty.
by | August 4, 2016
Vacationers once witnessed gunfights and other theatrics along the theme park's main street. (Photos by David Kidd)

As mining and logging jobs have disappeared, small towns throughout the Adirondack Park in upstate New York have come to depend on tourism to prop up their local economies. Many have suffered a slow economic decline. But perhaps none have incurred a devastating downturn quite like North Hudson, a town of just 240 residents along the eastern edge of the park.

Frontier Town, a Wild West theme park, once attracted families from all across the country. In its heyday, more than 3,000 cars may have filled the parking lot on a weekend. Patrons filled up the town's motel rooms. When the day ended, they dined at one of several restaurants or taverns. If thrillseekers wanted to make their own food, the town even had a grocery store -- a luxury not many other places in the Adirondacks enjoyed.

That all changed when Frontier Town shut down in 1998.

An empty parking lot and old sign are visible to those driving by the park entrance.

The closure of much of the town’s remaining businesses eventually followed. All the motels and the grocery store are now long gone.

“When [Frontier Town] closed, it had a terrible impact on the economy,” said Ronald Moore, North Hudson’s town supervisor. “They had such a following.”

North Hudson Town Supervisor Ronald Moore seeks an investor for the property.

Even before it lost Frontier Town, North Hudson had started to see its status as a recreation hub diminish over the years. The opening of the Adirondack Northway in the 1960s meant that travelers could drive right through the town without ever stopping.

The remains of what’s left of the theme park have sat dormant for nearly 20 years. A large, decaying A-frame structure still stands near the entrance. A saw mill, jail, church and other old buildings once frequented by children have become overgrown with weeds, and the roofs of a few structures have collapsed.

An overgrown church in Frontier Town. 

Moore remembers visiting the park as a kid, watching actors re-enact cowboy shootouts or bank robberies. Families rode in stagecoaches, and trains shuttled visitors throughout the park.

Some of the top attractions were the horse races and performances held in a rodeo arena, where the grandstands still remain today.

Grandstands along what was once a rodeo arena in the park. 

Since its closure, the Frontier Town property has cycled through a couple different owners. Essex County, N.Y., now owns much of the land, and officials worry that the government could be liable if anyone is hurt while inside the abandoned buildings. A few have been vandalized.

Some Frontier Town buildings have been subject to vandalism. 

While many of the old structures will need to be demolished, Moore remains hopeful that an investor might still find use for the property.

The state recently acquired a highly coveted parcel nearby known as the Boreas Ponds tract, which Moore views as a crucial opportunity for future economic development. He’s formed a coalition with four other town supervisors to develop plans for the land in an attempt to lure more tourists. For the winter, they envision snowmobile trails. For the warmer months, a proposed hut-to-hut trail system would accommodate horseback riders, mountain biking and hikers.

“We have access that a lot of towns don’t to the High Peaks,” Moore said. “We could be a southern approach, which would lend itself pretty well to the hut-to-hut concept.”

The newly acquired Boreas Ponds land tract sits west of North Hudson. 

Driving through the town, Moore points out local businesses that he says are in limbo, waiting to reopen if the local economy starts to turn around.  A few cabins, for instance, were recently restored. A gas station just off the interstate has managed to stay open.

The county also owns a shuttered hotel overlooking a valley that once served Frontier Town guests. Moore wants a structural engineer to assess the building in hopes that, if it can be restored, a developer may one day take interest.

Visitors to Frontier Town once stayed in nearby hotels that have all since closed.

Any development still remains a long way off, though. Local government officials and environmental groups are currently locked in a fight over the future of the recently acquired land that could determine whether the proposed trail system becomes a reality.