December 8, 2013

Revisiting the wild frontier

Locals, employees recall former North Hudson theme park

Arthur Benson opened Frontier Town in North Hudson on July 4, 1952, as a Wild West theme park filled with exciting cowboys, Indians, Cavalry charges, train robberies and rodeos.

For 46 years, it not only attracted thousands of visitors who got off the Adirondack Northway at Exit 29, but provided summer employment for many in the surrounding area.

Then, losing money in an era that saw fewer and fewer Western movies and books produced amid declining interest in the genre, it closed in 1998.

Nothing much has happened there since, except that most of its 267 acres are now owned by Essex County after forfeitures for unpaid back taxes, and may soon be offered for sale at the county’s scheduled April 30, 2014, tax auction.

Its contents — costumes, stagecoaches, saddles and so on — were already sold in a 2004 auction down the road at Gokey’s Auctions in North Hudson.

Frontier Town’s last animals, two black bears named Dolly and Molly, went to a Florida wildlife sanctuary in 2004.

The entrance building is owned by George Moore of Keeseville, and those taxes are fully paid, but taxes have gone unpaid on sections owned by the previous operator, Panther Mountain Water Park, and a company, Sunrise Land Development of Westchester, that bought parcels in a 2007 tax sale.

The Town of North Hudson has asked the Essex County Board of Supervisors for the parcels that are due to be placed in the sale, but no decision has been made on whether to do that. The sections for the sale include the Frontier Town motel, restaurant and gas station.

Benson, who died in 1988, has been remembered fondly as a kind man who treated his employees well.

Doug Benson of Schroon is Arthur Benson’s nephew and spent his childhood at Frontier Town.

“I grew up about a mile and a half north of Frontier Town, and starting at about age 6, I was at Frontier Town any day I wasn’t in school. I would dress Western, in jeans, hat and boots, and try to blend in with the staff.”

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