In 1904, Atlantic Highlands baker and real estate investor, William Gehlhaus sought to develop a marshy area within close proximity to New York. Along with five investors, Gehlhaus purchased the marshy area and set out to create a summer resort. The plan was to fill in the marshland with sand from the bay and sell 25 foot wide lots for $100. Each lot would have a bungalow built on it to house the summer visitors. Gehlhaus and investors also built the first boardwalk overlooking the Raritan Bay and what is now Manhattan and the Verazzano Bridge.
In 1906, Gehlhaus and his partners created the New Point Comfort Beach Company and set out to develop the town of Keansburg. The New Point Comfort Beach Company was initially set up to sell the lots within his summer resort. It soon developed into a much more diverse holding company that included a water company, two banks – Keansburg National Bank and Keansburg Building and Loan Company.
In 1909, Gehlhaus founded the Keansburg Steamboat Company as a method of travel from New York City to Keansburg, New Jersey. In 1910, The Keansburg Steamboat Company started out transporting people from Battery Park in Manhattan to the 2000 foot pier that was constructed along the mile-long boardwalk. Steamship service in 1910 cost 50 cents for round trip transportation and by 1920, the Keansburg Steamboat Company had a fleet of over 20 ships often referred to by locals as “Gehlhaus’s Navy.”
In 1910, Gehlhaus continued to focus on developing the boardwalk and surrounding area. He erected the New Point Hotel and a dance hall near the entrance of the pier.
In 1911, the park’s first mechanical ride premiered, a Ferris Wheel.
In 1912 the scenic railway roller coaster opened
In 1914 a man named Nick Droge erected the pavilion to house the carousel.
In 1919, Keansburg opened The Jack Rabbit, the largest ride to date to operate at the park. The Jack Rabbit was later moved to Long Branch as a replacement for the Scenic Railway.
Throughout the roaring 1920’s, Keansburg continued to add rides and attractions throughout the park including a miniature train built on the steamboat pier, and rides such as the whip, airplane swings (both of which are still in operation today) and the fun house.
During the Depression era, Keansburg continued to grow by installing a 60,000 gallon swimming pool and in 1931 the Spook House opened (which still operated prior to Hurricane Sandy and is under construction because of damage incurred from Hurricane Sandy). The Spook House to this day is one of the oldest dark rides in the world. By 1939, Keansburg began to feel the effects of the Depression and the Jack Rabbit was demolished. Even though Keansburg took some hits from the depressed economy, it still played host to musical talents such as Frank Sinatra.
In 1944, Keansburg was hit by a hurricane which destroyed the boardwalk, many of the concessions, rides and several of the steamships. Gehlhaus vowed to rebuild despite many supply shortages because of World War II, the boardwalk was replaced with a paved walkway which is still the heart of the park today.
In 1950, William Gehlhaus passed away and his son, Henry took over the Boardwalk. Another hurricane in 1953 damaging parts of the Boardwalk and rides.
Keansburg was hit again in 1960 with another Hurricane which destroyed the pier which the steamboats operated out of which was an end to the steamboat ferrying visitors to Keansburg. Many rides were added in the 1960’s including the Wild Mouse roller coaster, the Bubble Bounce, Caterpillar (still operates on the boardwalk today), Loop-O-Plane (which still operates on the boardwalk), Rock-O-Plane and Trabant. In 1969 the Army Corps of Engineers pumped sand to widen the beach and built dunes to protect Keansburg from further damage.
In 1972, Henry Gehlhaus sold the amusement park to Grandal Enterprises which was owned by Al Reid and Tony Cantalupo.
By the 1980’s Grandal Enterprises was able to add a few more rides to Keansburg but financial issues forced them to sell many of the newer attractions to third parties. Several of the landmark buildings fell to a series of fires. In 1984, Grandal sold several pieces from the carousel to collectors in order to pay for improvements. One of the improvements from the sale was the building of the Wildcat roller coaster.
In 1989, the announcement was made by a developer who wanted to transform more than 80 acres of beachfront property, including Keansburg Amusement Park, into a large mix use development. The deal eventually died, but that period signified a definite decline in Keansburg Amusement Park.
By early 1990’s, Grandal Enterprises had sold off the remaining parts of the antique carousel to make improvements.
By the mid 1990’s, Henry Gehlhaus who still operated a few concessions on the Boardwalk convinced his brother, William, that it was time to take Keansburg Amusement Park back into the family’s hands. A deal was struck with Grandal, and byt the summer of 1995, the Gehlhaus family was back operating Keansburg Amusement Park. That summer the Gehlhaus brothers spent over $300,000 renovating existing rides and added two new kiddie rides – a train and the Jeep Safari. By the end of the 1995 summer season, William and Henry Gehlhaus were encouraged by the growing summer season that they announced a 5 year plan that included development of a water park (now known as Runaway Rapids).
Runaway Rapids was built in nine months and was open by the summer of 1996. Also in 1996, the Gehlhaus’ spent over $1.5 million in capital improvements on the amusement park. They added six new rides including: Pharaoh’s Fury, the Gravitron, the go karts, and three kiddie rides. They also refurbished the old Caterpillar ride from the 1960’s and that ride can still be ridden by many children today.
In 1998, Keansburg Amusement Park purchased a new merry go round and added 5additional rides including the kiddie log flume, the Sea Serpent kiddie coaster, Frog Hopper, Red Baron airplanes.
In 1999, Keansburg Amusement Park added Chaos, the Tornado and the Double Shot. Runaway Rapids saw an expansion as well with the addition of the Power Tower which housed four new water slides.
By 2000, Keansburg Amusement Park had been restored to one of the Jersey Shore’s great family Amusement Parks.
In October 2012, Keansburg Amusement Park was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Several rides, the arcades, and restaurants were completely destroyed. By the spring of 2013, the Gehlhaus’ had rebuilt most of the Amusement Park. They opted to see off the Wildcat roller coaster and purchase a new coaster, The Looping Star. And added Hallowgraves Haunted Manor a dark walk through attraction that was on the Seaside boardwalk. They also rebuilt many of the attractions as they could to open for the 2013 summer season. Runaway Rapids also received a new tower, replacing the Power Tower, which was an improvement planned long before Hurricane Sandy.
By the summer of 2014, Keansburg Amusement Park is operating at 100% with new games, restaurants and fun!