Where It All Began
In 1971, it was just a dream. A family amusement park north of Richmond, VA and south of Washington, D.C., designed with great rides and attractions, entertainment, live shows and special events with plenty of room to expand. It was new and exciting with something for everyone!
On October 1, 1972, ground broke on this 400-acre amusement park and was developed through a joint venture between Taft Broadcasting Co. and the Kroger Co. (known as Family Leisure Centers, Inc.). Kings Dominion's name is derived from the name of its sister park, Kings Island (which opened in 1972 in Cincinnati, OH), and the nickname for the state of Virginia, "Old Dominion."
In 1974, Kings Dominion's Lion Country Safari opened as a preview attraction to Kings Dominion. Visitors were able to drive through this three mile animal preserve which housed hundreds of different types of birds and animals. From Hippos to Lions and other domestic animals, visitors to Kings Dominion's Lion Country Safari were able to see it all from their own vehicles.
In addition to the opening of Lion Country Safari, a preview center for Kings Dominion and the Scooby-DooTM rollercoaster also opened that year (now known as Woodstock Express).
On May 3, 1975, what was a dream became reality when Kings Dominion officially opened to the general public. That first day, approximately 20,000 guests visited the park. More than 1.5 million guests would follow during Kings Dominion’s inaugural season. Visitors that first year enjoyed five magical lands throughout the park —International Street, Old Virginia, Coney Island, The Happy Land of Hanna-BarberaTM and Safari Village. Families raced down 12 hills on the twin-racing wooden roller coaster, the Rebel Yell, took a spin on the historic Carousel with its 66 original and hand-carved wooden horses, viewed the musical revue “Give My Regards to Broadway” in the Mason Dixon Music Hall and observed the park atop a 332-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower.
In 1976, Lion Country Safari received a new addition when Bengal Tigers arrived at the animal preserve. Also that year, the Coney Island themed area was transformed into Candy Apple Grove with larger than life candy apples now "growing" along the walkways. Guests also were sent spinning high above Candy Apple Grove on the new Apple Turnover ride.
The shuttle-loop roller coaster, King Kobra, slithered into the park in 1977 featuring a 75-foot drop and loop you traveled through going both forward and backwards. In 1978, the Kings Dominion Camp Wilderness campground made its debut. In one of the park’s largest expansions at that time, in 1979 The Lost World was brought to life and invited guests to explore three exciting new attractions. The Lost World, a 17-story manmade mountain actually contained three separate rides – Journey To Atlantis, Journey to the Land of Dooz and The Time Shaft.
Thoughts from Gary Wachs
Kings Dominion's first General Manager
October 1972 - August 1974
"My first thoughts about Kings Dominion occurred to me as a 36 year old young man (now pushing 77) leaving home for the first time and driving without my family to Richmond, Virginia. We had just completed a very successful first year at the sister park, Kings Island, in Cincinnati, Ohio and I would be starting all over heading up our second theme park, buying another construction trailer for a temporary office and once again dawning my construction boots.
My first concern was that I was a “carney” and a yankee moving to a very conservative part of the country. How would I be accepted? As a backup I did purchase a Southern flag at an Army Navy store in Cincinnati (this was 1972) stowed it in the trunk of my car and shortly hung it in my new office trailer. It turned out to be a huge hit and I seemed to be everyone’s new best friend overnight. As far as I was concerned Virginia was love at first sight. The people with whom we dealt were wonderful from the start. There is a whiskey called Virginia Gentleman, and I can understand where it gets its name.
We immediately hired a general contractor, Chelstrom and Lee, a law firm, Hutton Williams, and an advertising agency, Lawler Ballard and Little, the principals of which were absolute gentleman, and became a vital part of our team.
We moved several key people from Cincinnati who were responsible for the successful opening of Kings Island. Two of those people, Jim Figley, Rides Development, and Roy Rector, Director of Landscaping, are retired and live in Doswell to this day. They never came back.
Speaking of Roy Rector, I remember Roy and I hiring a helicopter to survey the property and basically lay out the park from the air; where to put the Eiffel Tower, the big roller coaster, keep the woods in the center of the park, the lake, etc. I was asking a lot of the pilot darting here and there for at least an hour, but not noticing Roy until he turned white. We just got to the ground in time!
As a preview we opened Lion Country Safari in 1974 which had its own set of tales. My first guest complaint involved a little old lady who came into my office stating that the back of her Volkswagen was crushed by a hippopotamus running across the drive from the lake.
Regrettably I was asked to return to the corporate office before Kings Dominion opened in 1975. It was a sad journey driving back to Cincinnati because I loved what I was doing, the friends I’d made and the South! My wife and I and our three young children were very happy in Richmond, but the kids remind me to this day how I dragged them (in Chevy Chase fashion) through all those Civil War battlefields.
I am very proud on this 40th anniversary of being part of Kings Dominion."