Approximately five million guests visit Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California each year, putting it behind only Disneyland and Universal Studios amongst California theme parks. The man primarily responsible for the creation and development of Knott’s Berry Farm was farmer Walter Knott.
Today Buena Park is a totally urbanized, developed city of over 84,000 people, in Orange County. But when Knott rented his 20 acres of land there in 1920, the area was still primarily rural.
Knott grew mostly berries, and sold some of what he produced at a roadside fruit stand. He did well enough, but then his fortunes skyrocketed due to at least three significant factors.
One, his fruit stand was right on what was then the main route between Los Angeles County and the beaches of Orange County-Highway 39.
Two, during the Depression he prevailed upon his wife Cordelia to open a small tea room next door to the stand, specializing in her fried chicken, and it turned out to be phenomenally popular.
Three, he took to selling a new berry developed by fellow farmer Rudolph Boysen, a combination raspberry, blackberry, and loganberry that they dubbed the “boysenberry,” and this too turned out to be a big hit, in pies especially.
Soon people were lined up literally for hours at the fruit stand and tea room. Cordelia was serving as many as four thousand chicken dinners on a Sunday evening.
Knott decided that if the people were going to have all this idle time anyway while they waited, why not entertain them and give them something to do (and give them additional opportunities to spend their money)? So he gradually expanded into a whole complex of buildings and attractions, adding to what had started as a fruit stand, and then a fruit stand and little restaurant.
Over time, Knott constructed and brought in such items as:
* 12 foot imitation volcano
* Additional food booths and restaurants
* Administrative offices
* Assorted shops (books, candy, guns, etc.)
* Burro rides
* Calico Square-buildings transported from the real Calico, California, including a saloon with live entertainment (where Steve Martin got his start as a banjo player)
* Covered Wagon Show inside a western hotel
* Functioning blacksmith shop
* Gag western photo studio
* Ghost town made up of real buildings moved from western towns like Prescott, Arizona
* Gift shop
* Greatly expanded Chicken Dinner Restaurant
* Haunted Shack
* Jungle Island
* Knott’s Lagoon
* Live western and country music
* Mine shaft where visitors could mine for real gold
* Miniature El Camino Real, lined with twenty-one adobe buildings
* Organ grinder with monkey
* Petting zoo
* Picnic grounds
* Replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon fireplace
* Replica of Judge Roy Bean’s Saloon from Langtry, Texas
* Replica of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall
* Rock gardens
* San Francisco cable car
* Seal pond
* Stagecoach rides
* Train rides
* Water wheels
* Wishing wells
In 1968, a fence was put around the bulk of the attractions and admission was charged for the first time (25 cents). Expansion continued, with Knott bringing in more and more attractions and rides, including roller coasters and a white water raft ride. By now Knott’s Berry Farm was established as a major California theme park.
Cordelia Knott died in 1974, and Walter in 1981. The Knott family sold Knott’s Berry Farm to Cedar Fair in 1997. They had been in negotiation to sell to the Disney Corporation, but were concerned that Disney would too drastically change the character of the park in a corporate direction.
The current Knott’s Berry Farm retains some of the eclectic and western-themed attractions Walter Knott accumulated, but the new ownership has also added considerably to the park, mostly emphasizing thrill rides such as additional roller coasters and a Shoot-the-Chutes ride.
“Historic Knott’s Berry Farm.” So Cal Historyland.
“Historical Background.” Knott’s Berry Farm.
“Knott’s Berry Farm.” LA Tourist.