The Founding of Knott’s Berry Farm and Our Tour of This First Ever California Amusement Park
By Elizabeth Tsai and Jessica Chan (SMHS ‘21)
In our summer school U.S. History class, we learned about the concept of the “urbanization of the United States.” Specifically, we learned that:
- The term “urbanization” refers to a population shift from rural areas to urban areas, the gradual increase in the proportion of people living in urban areas, and the ways in which each society adapts to this change.
- “In 1790, only about one out of every twenty Americans (on average) lived in urban areas (cities), but this ratio had dramatically changed to one out of four by 1870, one out of two by 1920, two out of three in the 1960s, and four out of five in 2000.”
- “By 1920, a majority of the U.S. population lived in urban centers, which offered new economic opportunities for women, international migrants, and internal migrants.”
In the course of learning about this, our teacher encouraged us to search the internet for evidence of rest and relaxation spaces made by humans as various cities in the Los Angeles basin became increasingly urbanized. He then encouraged us to visit one such location, where an amusement park was built, and describe our findings in a 750–1000 word Local History Blog Post.
In the Local History Blog Post appearing below, we describe the history of Knott’s Berry Farm, the very first amusement park in California, and our visit there.
Knott’s Berry Farm is located thirty miles from our school, in Buena Park, California.
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In the mid-1920s, Walter and Cordelia Knott and their three children moved to a ten-acre plot of land in Buena Park, California. The land’s original purpose was agriculture; one of the crops the Knotts grew was the boysenberry, which would later become a cornerstone of the amusement park. The Knotts sold these berries from a small stand along Highway 39 to the locals and the drivers who would occasionally pass by.
In 1928, the Knotts opened up a berry market as well as a tearoom that later would become known as Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant. During the 1940s, the farm gained attention, and from it stemmed several shops, a replica ghost town, and other attractions to entertain the visitors. By the 1960s, the land had become urbanized; it was no longer a simple berry farm. In its place stood a thriving amusement park. In 1968, an admission charge was instituted, adding to the park’s profits.
The plot of land was sold to Cedar Fair Amusement Parks chain in the late 1990s, ending the Knotts’ ownership of the amusement park. The Knott’s food products brand was also acquired, first by ConAgra and then by the J. M. Smucker Company.
From Berry Farm to Amusement Park
In order to understand how this small family farm grew into a large, widely known amusement park, we must go back to its origins. In 1932, Walter Knott had heard of a person, Rudolph Boysen, who crossed loganberries, blackberries, and raspberries to produce a new type of fruit. Boysen was a city parks superintendent in Anaheim, California, who had been attempting to create a type of hybrid berry for many years. Boysen had already stopped his experiments, but he showed Knott six dying plants growing near a ditch. Knott planted them on his farm and they flourished. A few years later, Knott began selling one-pound baskets of these berries along Highway 39. As a tribute to Rudolph Boysen, Knott named these oversized berries “boysenberries.” These berries were what started Knott’s Berry Farm’s growth from a simple small berry stand on the side of the road, to a popular amusement park.
Today’s Knotts Berry Farm
To this day, there is only one Knott’s Berry Farm, located in the original Buena Park, California, area. The amusement park has expanded to fifty-seven acres and is the most-visited park in the Cedar Fair chain. President and CEO of Cedar Fair Richard Zimmerman has said, “Knott’s has grown, as we’ve said, to over six million people a year, probably the most attended regional amusement park in the world now.” There are approximately ten thousand people employed throughout the year at the amusement park.
Knott’s Berry Farm features forty rides and thirty-two dining locations, the best-known restaurant being Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, which was started by Cordelia Knott, Walter’s wife. The best-selling dish is the “chicken dinner,” including three pieces of fried chicken, handmade biscuits, a side salad, choice of cabbage or cherry rhubarb, mashed potatoes and gravy, and for dessert, choice of boysenberry pie or sherbert.
Our Visit to Knott’s Berry Farm
On the fourth of July in 2019, we visited the amusement park. Having arrived as soon as the park opened its doors, we explored the park grounds, searching for any evidence of its interesting past
We found many places where the park’s designers had created scenes depicting everyday life of the past.
There were also multiple plaques throughout the park that contained information about the wild west, the California Gold Rush, and even Spanish missions in California. One plaque in particular piqued our interest, and it was the one informing visitors about the origins of the boysenberry.
In the park, there was a Knott’s Berry Farm Museum. The museum was not that big, and most of the information it contained was on the old west and Native American tribes. The information on the actual Knott family and farm, we had already found online. One display that interested us was the picture of the Knott family children — there were four of them: Toni, Marion, Russel, and Virginia.
We also rode some of the amusement park’s roller coasters. The most memorable roller coaster was the GhostRider, one of the most intense wooden roller coasters in the park.
The ride included multiple drops and even went over fifty miles per hour. We also visited the funnel cake shop and ordered one with ice cream and preserved strawberries as toppings.
The cake was very good, but the two of us could not finish the whole thing; it was so big!
We also went on an attraction called the “Sky Cabin.” On this ride, we had a wonderful view of the entire park, including the surrounding Buena Park area.
We ended our trip by watching the Knotts annual July 4th Fireworks from the building of the GhostRider.
We had an amazing time at Knott’s Berry Farm and highly encourage anyone with an interest in old west history — or thrill rides — to visit.
“Company-Histories.com.” Knott’s Berry Farm — Company History, www.company-histories.com/Knotts-Berry-Farm-Company-History.html.
k, Miki. “Knott’s Berry Farm Timeline.” Knott’s Berry Farm Timeline, inangeling.net/knottsberryfarm/timeline.html.
“Knott’s Berry Farm Deaths.” Multiverse Unearthed, multiverseunearthed.weebly.com/knotts-berry-farm-deaths.html.
“Knott’s Berry Farm.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 June 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knott%27s_Berry_Farm.
ACADEMIC HONESTY POLICY STATEMENT
We declare that this work is our work and that we have correctly acknowledged the work of others. This work is in accordance with SMHS Academic Honesty Policy and its guidance on good academic conduct and how to avoid plagiarism and other assessment irregularities.
- Jessica Chan
- Elizabeth Tsai