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Frontier Town

Frontier Town

Frontier Town Postcard
What is the 'American Dream'? Idealistically one may tell you that it's the driving strength behind our nation, that the 'American Dream' is what inspires one to follow their heart and create a life for themselves. Others may argue that the dream was quietly suffocated over the decades, as an increasingly corporate America gradually eroded our aspirations, extinguished our yearning for betterment, and replaced it with a listless perpetuation of the status quo.

In truth, there is no answer to the question. The term 'American Dream' holds infinitely diverse meanings, with its definition changing dramatically from one mind to the next. To one man in particular it was interpreted as leaving his career job in the city and venturing into the wilds of the Hudson Valley. His name was Arthur Bensen, and buried deep in the woods of Upsate New York can be found the remains of his dream.

Mr. Bensen is quite likely the only man in contemporary history to have founded a pioneer village in the Adirondack Mountains. After many years in his career as a telephone technician in Staten Island, Benson pined for grander things. Of all the prospects available to him, he ultimately decided upon founding his own theme park. A rather unusual pursuit for a city phone tech with no experience in the entertainment business, but there is much to admire in those who dare to take enormous leaps of faith.

So it was that Arthur Bunsen set out, likely against the advice of many, and most absolutely against the odds. He traveled from state to state looking for the right spot to settle down, eventually taking a liking to New York's Hudson Valley, and finally arriving upon the town of North Hudson to break ground on what was to become his life-defining venture. He called it 'Frontier Town'. Opening in the summer of 1952, the park was originally meant to be a history-focused settlement village. Quickly though, his concept evolved to be that of a wild west town, much like New Jersey's own Wild West City which opened 5 years later. There were stagecoach robberies, shootouts, concessions, musical numbers, and a large outdoor rodeo arena, all connected by walking paths and dirt riding trails that cross-crossed through the fields and forest. The park entertained thousands of visitors and was by all accounts a great success through the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Though business slowed in the 1980's Arthur Bensen always managed to keep his dream alive, and did so until he retired in 1983, selling off his creation to new ownership. 

Frontier Town Postcard
Five years later Bensen passed away, his absence leaving a void in the local community which he very much helped to shape. Within a decade Frontier Town too passed from this earth, shuttered by the county in 1998 after amassing more than $300,000 in unpaid taxes. Not long after that an auction was held, selling off the most valuable of Frontier Town's relics. Stagecoaches, railway cars and tracks, signage, vending machines, most everything that wasn't bolted down, and even some things that were. Dismantled and abandoned, Arthur Bensen's life's work was left to deteriorate in the mountainside forest, a forest that was all too eager to reclaim the 250+ acres that were once a theme park. Many of the structures slowly being devoured by overgrowth were built by Arthur Bensen's own hands. Coming from a background with limited carpentry skills, Bensen's understanding of construction was learned by necessity. His building material was the true definition of 'locally sourced', as it was not unusual for Bensen to cut and move logs from the adjacent forest himself. In this way, these buildings were shaped not just by wood and nails, but by an extraordinary and unshaking fortitude.

Our own visit to Frontier Town took place some two decades after its closure. By this time the trees had already encroached to the outer walls of most every building, the parking lot had regressed to a muddy field, and walking paths had been long lost to the forest floor. It all gave the grounds a mournful atmosphere but mixed with that of a peace and solitude one can only find in nature. The world all around us was undoubtedly alive and thriving, but the theme park which lay scattered throughout it was long dead.

Within the old saloon remains an upright piano, through listing severely and partly sunken into the decayed wooden floor, it had endured. A symbol of sorts for the property as a whole. Behind the old main street of 'Prairie Junction' can be found a large field of wild grass dotted with young trees, in a previous time this unassuming parcel of land was the heart of Frontier Town - The rodeo corral. Here families would gather to watch not just rodeos, but live performances of all kinds which were scheduled throughout the day. That was long ago though, today all that remains to hint of the past crowds are rows of disintegrating wooden bleachers. Some still frame the overgrown rink, though most have fallen, and those which do endure are nearly strangled from view by foliage.

Many have cited shifting cultural interests, the advent of modern entertainment, or affordable travel to far more extravagant destination parks as driving factors for why Frontier Town went from a thriving institution to a bankrupt ruin. But maybe the explanation is much simpler than all that - Perhaps a dream simply cannot exist for long without the dreamer.

 



 
 
Frontier Town Postcard

Frontier Town - Prarie Junction in Decay

Frontier Town - Fallen Porches

Frontier Town - Caved In Shop
Most of the shops are in states of severe collapse.
 
 
Frontier Town Postcard
 
 Frontier Town - Overgrown Chapel

Frontier Town - A Mossy Fence in the Woods

Frontier Town - Covered Bridge

Frontier Town Postcard

Frontier Town - Within the Bridge

Frontier Town - Filthy Piano Detail

Frontier Town - Piano in the Saloon
An old upright piano somehow remains standing as the saloon falls around it.
 
 
Frontier Town - Jail Building
 
Frontier Town 8mm

Frontier Town - Jail Cell Window
 
Frontier Town Postcard
 
Frontier Town - Counting the Days
Decorative tally marks on the wall of the jail. 
Shootouts and the arrest of bandits were a daily event at Frontier Town.
 

Frontier Town - Old Slide Film

Frontier Town - Decaying Diner

Frontier Town - Concession Window

Frontier Town - Diner is Closed

Frontier Town - Weatherworn Diner Exterior

Frontier Town - Horse Stables

Frontier Town - Stalls Ajar

Frontier Town - Hay Rots on a Stall Floor
A small pile of hay remains on the dirt floor of a horse stall.
 

Frontier Town - Rodeo Announcer Stand

Frontier Town Postcard
 
Frontier Town - Rodeo Bleachers
The rodeo rink was the beating heart of Frontier Town, now it's barely visible beyond the summer foliage.
 

Frontier Town - Overgrown Rodeo Rink
 
Frontier Town 8mm

Frontier Town - Collapsing Rodeo Fence

Frontier Town Postcard

Frontier Town - The Old Mill

Frontier Town - Mill Grinding Stones 
Grinding stones remain within the old mill building.


Frontier Town - Mill Lost in the Forest

Frontier Town - The Old Amusement Hall

Frontier Town - Toy Gun Packing from Long Ago
 
Frontier Town 8mm

Frontier Town - Prarie Junction Rear Porch
 
Frontier Town - A Pavilion in the Mist

Frontier Town Postcard
 
Frontier Town - Open Door into a Log Cabin
Many of the buildings were constructed from the trees which grew right on the Frontier Town property.
 

Frontier Town - Cabin Overrun by Forest

Frontier Town Postcard

Frontier Town - The Remains of the Frontier Town Train Tracks
Today only faint clues remain of the train which once ran throughout the park property.
 

Frontier Town - Old Train Tracks Stacked in the Woods

Frontier Town 8mm
The old Frontier Town train lives on today, restored and in working order at the UV&SC Route
 
 
Frontier Town - Mill Building

 
Frontier Town 8mm
 
Frontier Town - Disused Furnaces

Frontier Town - Dead Engine

Frontier Town - Mill Wheel

Frontier Town - Rough Lumber Detail

Frontier Town - Workshop in Ruin

Frontier Town - Overgrown Cabin

Frontier Town - A Forest Grows on a Cabin Roof

Frontier Town - Lost to the Woods
 
Frontier Town Postcard

Frontier Town - The Sad Remians of Prairie Junction
The sad remains of 'Prairie Junction'.
 

Frontier Town - Covered Bridge Bathed in Sun
 
Frontier Town 8mm

Frontier Town - Crumbled Cabin

Frontier Town - Pavilion in the Trees

Frontier Town - Inside the Pavilion
 
Frontier Town Postcard

Frontier Town - The Chapel Rests in the Forest

Frontier Town - Washed Out Signage


Frontier Town Flier

Frontier Town Postcard

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Frontier Town Postcard

Frontier Town Postcard

Frontier Town Postcard

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Frontier Town Postcard

Frontier Town Postcard

Frontier Town Flier