|The Land of Makebelieve was a place built just for kids. A place where they could explore without being told "do not touch." A place where they could expend their energy without their parents worrying about them damaging anything. A place where they could enthusiastically enjoy the objects and rides in the park without having to worry about spending too much time at one place or not moving on to the next thing too quickly, or too slowly. A place where they could let their imaginations run free.
When my parents took me there, I did all this and more. I loved running around in the castle, riding the ferry boats, the fire trucks, and the horse drawn carriages. I ate porridge in the 3 bears house, and I let my older sister drive around the loop while I rode in the passenger seat. I even locked my sister up in the jail! (I may have locked her up because she was driving too fast!) It doesn't look like I enjoyed the goat too much though. My favorite, of course, was the train. I loved that train! I remember that at the end of the day, if we had any tickets left, I would make sure we used them all up, going around and around on the train till the tickets were gone.
That's my dad's straw hat he's holding in the balcony of the castle. I'm standing next to him, but I'm too small to see. I loved the castle, running up and down the stairs, looking out from the balcony, and sitting on the King's seat, imagining for just a minute that Land of Makebelieve was my kingdom.
Dad always wore that straw hat whenever we went to Land of Makebelieve. For me, it became a symbol of the park. When at home, whenever he would put on that hat, I would think of the Land of Makebelieve. And on the mornings we prepared to go to Land of Makebelieve, he would always be wearing that hat.
The ferry boat was an old time river steamer complete with paddlewheel. I used to admire the little ripples it made as it plied the water. I believe the second boat is a pirate ship. There's my dad again with his straw hat. That's my sister in the boat, and I'm sure that's me in my dad's arms, but I'm too small to see.
There's my sister again in the fire truck, me in my dad's arms, and the straw hat on his head!
The horse drawn carriage seems to have been more fun for me when I was older. I don't look as excited in the second horse drawn carriage picture.
There were many little houses, indeed, a whole miniature western style town at Land of Makebelieve, in 75% scale. This town was made up of a row of buildings common in any western town. Some of this row is visible on one of the horse drawn carriage pictures. There was a church, a bank, a saloon, a jail, and many other buildings. I always enjoyed the rides more than the town, but the town was a lot of fun too. One fun place was the 3 bears house, where my sister and I "ate" the porridge.
I always envied my sister getting to drive the car around the loop, but I think I got a chance to drive these cars when I was older. I believe the covered bridge in the background was part of the "roadway."
Locking my sister in the jail was always fun. It was my one chance each year to get back at her without being scolded. She was and still is a truly wonderful sister. She took it quite well.
Land of Makebelieve had a petting zoo. I remember it smelled like a petting zoo. In this picture, the goat seems more curious about me than the other way around.
There's me in my mom's lap with my sister in the same train car making the round. I'm not sure who that is in the caboose.
It was the end of another fun day at Land of Makebelieve. I think I had been around on the train at least 2 or 3 times, perhaps 4 or 5 times. Everyone else had left. Someone on staff was getting the engine ready to be parked for the night. They were probably wishing I'd hurry up and leave. But of course, as always, mom had to get a picture. And for once, I was more than happy to have her take the time to do so. As much time as she wanted!
We went to Land of Makebelieve every year for several years, but didn't go in 1979 because of a death in the family during our vacation. The following year, 1980, when I was almost 8 years old, we again prepared to make the trip to Land of Makebelieve. Everything was ready. We had a good breakfast, my dad put on his straw hat, and we were on our way. As in years past, as we approached Upper Jay, we would always play the "I see it" game. The first one to see the sign for the park would win!
I forget who won that day, but we quickly realized it didn't matter. Instead, we noticed that something wasn't right. The parking lot was empty. The place looked closed. Our hearts sank. Dad drove slowly into the parking lot, and as we took a closer look, it didn't look like it was just closed for the day. We peeked through the fence from the outside, and things didn't look very good at all. I think we found someone who happened to be walking by, and they confirmed the news: the park had been closed all season. Eventually, we realized it was no use sticking around. I remember crying most of the way home.
We found out later that the worst in a series of floods had done more damage than could be repaired in any reasonable way, and the park had closed permanently.
I don't remember if it was at that time or another time when we happened to be passing by, but I do remember someone telling us about another fun place for kids called StoryTown, which was in Lake George Village. Not long after that, my dad and I went to StoryTown, and had a wonderful time. StoryTown was a full fledged amusement park, not just for little kids, but older kids as well, which by this time I was rapidly becoming. Soon after, StoryTown changed its name to the Great Escape. We enjoyed going to the Great Escape for many years, and we still go there from time to time, as it is a place for kids of all ages, up through and including older adults. It's a wonderful place, but it's just not the same as Land of Makebelieve.
Many years later, on the evening of Wednesday, September 10, 1997, I was casually flipping through the TV channels looking for something to watch. On the public television station, I happened to see a small train moving slowly and loaded with children. Being a train lover, I had to watch it. Almost immediately, the train looked strangely familiar, and as it continued around a few curves, other familiar scenes came into view. Could it be? Was it possibly the Land of Makebelieve?! They then turned to other scenes, which included the castle, the paddle wheel boat, all those little houses, and the entrance building. Sure enough, that's what it was! The show included extensive views of the way it was, and the way it is now. They showed some video of the flood that wiped them out of business, and they talked with Arto Monaco, who owned the park. I was captivated. At the end of the show, PBS was doing one of those otherwise annoying pledge drives, but they couldn't have timed it more perfectly for me. They were offering the video of this show if you called in with your donation. This was a no-brainer for me! I sent in my check, which included a letter which I asked to have forwarded to Arto.
Several weeks later, I received a reply from Arto, in which he sent me several keepsakes from the Land of Makebelieve, as well as an invitation to visit him sometime. Then an idea popped into my head. Wouldn't my sister and parents love to join me for this? I turned all this into a Christmas present. They unwrapped the video first, and we began watching it before they even knew what the video was about. I had them guessing right through all the introductions to PBS and the show's intros with hosts and theme music. Finally, they showed the entrance sign to Land of Makebelieve. The video would have been gift enough had Arto not included an invitation for me to visit. But how could I leave them out? Only after watching the video did they open the second part of the gift, which at the time was only a piece of paper explaining the idea and how we would have to organize such a trip. Of course, the idea was a big hit.
During the spring of 1998, I made contact with Arto, and also made arrangements for getting my sister and her husband up from Philadelphia. The weekend was planned almost down to the minute. On Saturday, July 4, 1998, we relived our childhood experiences of preparing for another exciting day at Land of Makebelieve, right down to my dad's straw hat!
When we got there, we found Arto repairing an old car that may have been part of Land of Makebelieve, but certainly had some antique value. We spent the afternoon with him, and he showed us many things that he had worked on, including a model castle, small houses and many toys. The bottom picture clearly shows me, my sister's husband, Arto, and my dad. We're holding some of Arto's collection. And of course my dad is wearing his straw hat!
Arto even let us see some of what remains of Land of Makebelieve. It was a sad sight, knowing what it once was, but it was also a great comfort to know that the park closed not because the owners didn't care or because it wasn't managed well, or because people weren't going there anymore or any other "business" reason. It closed simply because, being on a flood plain, there were just too many floods. It closed because the last of these floods was too devastating to recover from. It closed because the river that flooded could have been, but wasn't properly dredged to allow the flood waters to go elsewhere.
Despite the devistation of the floods long ago (to say nothing of his age!), Arto demonstrated hope for the future. He talked about fixing up some of the things that had been destroyed. Not necessarily to rebuild Land of Makebelieve to what it once was, but at least to make things look better. He also told us about other projects he has worked on and hopes to work on. And this is not just talk. He's done a lot of work for the Great Escape since his park closed, as well as numerous community oriented projects as well. In fact, some of the houses from Land of Makebelieve now reside at the Great Escape.
At the end of our visit, with hearts once again full of memories, we thanked Arto for his generosity both in time that day and for providing such a wonderful place years before.
The story isn't over. On November 21, 2003, Arto Monaco passed away, just 6 days after his 90th birthday. Arto was a very kind man with a lot of love for life. Right up to the end, Arto hadn't given up, and we need not give up either. Though Arto is gone, his spirit will live on. Though both people and nature are constantly destroying our work, we can either give up trying, or realize that this is just the way things are, and work around these problems or work to prevent them. If we give up, we have lost everything, but this web page is a testimony to what can happen if we don't give up. So let's carry on. Continue always to build memories so that future generations of kids of all ages can have memories that they can cherish as much, if not more so than what we have experienced. Other areas of my web site talk about the context in which I believe this can best be done.
Since our visit, (and since this web page went online) I have received numerous responses from people who remember visiting Land of Makebelieve as children. Many have expressed fond memories of their time at the park, and some of the stories are very touching. If you would like to share your thoughts, please send me e-mail.
Anyone who contacts me by e-mail will be added to a list that I will use solely for distributing information regarding Arto Monaco and Land of Makebelieve as I hear about such things. (I rarely use this list, but let me know if you don't want to be on this list.)
The book is 128 pages and has dozens of pictures.
To order the book, please go to
Click on "Book Store"
Click on "Catalog Search"
Search for "Kiddie Parks"
The book's title is "Kiddie Parks of the Adirondacks."
50th Anniversary of the opening of the Land of Makebelieve:
The summer of 2004 marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Land of Makebelieve. To commemorate the anniversary, a number of special events had been talked about, and at least one actually happened. Though the 50th anniversary has passed, some of the talked about events may still happen. Some of these include restoring the castle, fixing up a portion of Land of Makebelieve so it might give our current generation a small taste of what Land of Makebelieve once was, and Arto Monaco appreciation days at Santa's Workshop. The success of these things will depend on how many people are involved and the effort they put into it. If you would like to help out in some way, please contact me at Bill222E@ensingers.com.
A non-profit organization has been set up and a trust fund has been created to promote the vision of Arto Monaco and to accomplish some of the goals listed above.
The web site for the Arto Monaco Historical Society is
The first picture I have is already online, and is unfortunately a sad thing to report.
In late August 2011, Hurricane Irene destroyed the castle at Land of Makebelieve in the most massive of any flood that affected the park.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens...
You can see the picture here: Castle Destroyed.
Facebook page for Arto Monaco Historical Society:https://www.facebook.com/groups/artomonaco/
Roadside America web site cataloging interesting things along the roads of America. Here is their listing for Land of Makebelieve: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/766
Wikipedia also has a listing at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_of_Makebelieve
This page has a picture of the castle at Land of Makebelieve. This web site contains a listing of castles in many places: http://www.dupontcastle.com/castles/makebeli.htm
The Great Escape web site is: http://www.sixflags.com/parks/greatescape