Joan Bittner Fry
The Enchanted Forest was about an hour away, so it became a nice place to go to entertain the kids and “eat out” in the mid-50’s. Our family of four, at the time, went there, and the kids explored the fairy tale houses and rode the wonderful rides. I wonder if this brings back a memory or two for you.
The Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City, Maryland, officially opened on August 15, 1955, following a preview party the afternoon before—one month after Disneyland Park’s opening. Appealing mostly to families with small children, the park had a nursery-rhyme theme.
The park featured fairy tale buildings and characters, but no mechanical rides, originally. Track rides were added later, including the Alice in Wonderland ride with teacup-shaped cars, a Cinderella’s castle ride with mice for the cars, the “Little Toot” boat that took children to Mount Vesuvius for giant slides, and the Jungleland Safari that was driven by open Land Rover-type vehicles.
Children’s birthday parties were often held in the picnic areas among the attractions; many local teenagers worked as ticket-takers at the park. It was unlike many other attractions of the time.
Admission cost one dollar for adults and fifty cents for children. The park expanded from 20 acres to 52 acres. At its peak, the Enchanted Forest welcomed 300,000 children per summer season. After its original owners, the Harrison family, sold the park for $4.5 million to JHP Development in 1988, the park closed for the first time in 1989. After turning more than half the land (primarily the parking lots) into the Safeway-anchored Enchanted Forest Shopping Center in 1992, JHP Development reopened the park for the 1994 summer season, predominantly for children’s birthday parties.
The park was permanently shuttered from 1995 to 2005, when active preservation began. Much of the theme park sat undisturbed, yet neglected, behind a chain-link fence. In 1999, the Friends of the Enchanted Forest was formed, with the goal of reopening the park. In 2003, the Enchanted Forest Preservation Society was formed, with the long-term goal of reviving the Enchanted Forest. Their work focused on preventing the artifacts from being lost forever.
History of Forest Diner
A trip to the Enchanted Forest Park wasn’t complete without visiting the Forest Diner across the highway. For 66 years, Forest Diner meant great food, good friends, and a real treat, especially for families from more than an hour away.
For 66 years, Forest Diner meant great food, good friends, and a hot cup of Joe. Now, the diner is closing (2012). Customers crowded in for one final meal. “I’m going to miss it. It’s been so nice every time we come here. It’s like family. As soon as you walk in, they know you right away,” said Dorothea Cox of Arbutus.
Waitress Ellen Jackson has been here 19 years. “It’s starting to hit me now. I knew it was going to happen. This is my family. I think I’m gonna make it. I have to. I’m hoping they’ll all come across the street. That’s what I’m waiting for,” Jackson said.
At this beloved Ellicott City landmark, every customer has a story. “It’s a little sad. It’s the end of an institution. I’ve been coming here 25 years. There’s a lot of history and our kids came here,” said Bruce Peen, a customer from Ellicott City.
Forest Diner employees will not lose their jobs. They’ll move across the street to Jilly’s, where the menu will be the same. “I’m trying to be brave,” said Barbara Carroll, an employee for 43 years. “It’s like losing part of the family. This is my second home. I have so many customers that I love, who are like family to me.” That family came out in force Monday for the food and the memories.
“It’s very sad. It’s the end of an era. I’ve been here for 15 years. It’s been great. It’s like a family, and the people who are all grown up now are bringing their children,” said Mary Harrell, Forest Diner employee.
The brothers who own the Forest Diner will create retail space and 38 apartments on the property.
The official notification hanging in the diner:
Dear Loyal Forest Diner Patrons,
After 66 years of serving the finest food in Howard County, the Forest Diner will be opening our doors for the last time on Monday, May 28, 2012. We would like to thank everyone who has allowed us to become part of their lives over the years. It has been our pleasure to serve each and every one of you.
While the Diner will be closing, we have partnered with Jilly’s Bar and Grill, which is right across the street in the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center, to continue the tradition of fine food and service that you have come to expect from us. This means the Forest Diner without the dining car. Starting on May 29, 2012, Jilly’s will be open at 6 am to serve you. You will be able to get the same food as the Forest Diner, prepared and served by the Forest Diner staff for the same price.
Once again, thank you for being part of our family over the years. And while we will miss the dining car, we do hope to see you at our new home at Jilly’s.
~Truly Yours, The Staff of the Forest Diner