Time Town: Spaced Out In Bolton Landing
By Anthony F. Hall
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
To the casual observer, there’s nothing unusual about this cluster of homes in the hills above Bolton Landing. These so-called uplands, with their startling views of Lake George, have been developed so rapidly, and with so little guidance, that their protection is the ranking priority for environmental organizations.
This subdivision, however, is a bit different. In the woods behind one of the houses looms a 15-foot-tall fiberglass bear. “We call him Bubba,” says Dede Mulligan, on whose property the bear stands. Bubba is the sole survivor of Time Town, a theme park that spanned this land in the 1970s.
Family-owned theme parks like Frontier Town and Arto Monaco’s Land of Makebelieve proliferated along Adirondack highways after World War II. The products of sometimes visionary imagination, all were unique, and slightly off-the-wall.
Time Town was the brainchild of Ted Yund, an Albany man who had acquired a 21-inch telescope and needed a dark mountaintop on which to put it. He found the perfect spot in Bolton Landing. Once the telescope was in place, Yund decided to build a theme park around it. Time Town opened to the public in the spring of 1970.
Wounded on Iwo Jima during World War II, Yund spent his months in recovery studying astronomy until it became a passion, one that never left him even as he started a pre-press business, married and became the father of 14 children. With Time Town, he was able to combine his passion for the galaxies with what he hoped would be a profitable business. And with more than a dozen kids, he had a ready-made workforce.
“Storytown and the other parks seemed to be doing well, so I thought an amusement park was probably a good idea,” Yund told me before he died in 2007.
“Ted was always a creative person,” said his wife, Grace. “I certainly wasn’t going to interfere.”
Time Town’s brochures promised “family fun yesterday, today and tomorrow.” While visitors were invited “to step back in time” and hop a train through the woods (otherwise known as “a natural pioneer setting”), the primary appeal of the park lay in its space-age rides, exhibits and sound-and-light shows. “Enter the 21st century! Board the spaceship for a realistic space journey far beyond our own galaxy!” cried the colorful pamphlets.
“Time Town was very futuristic, very ‘other,’” says Peter Stevens, who spent his college summer vacations working there. “Almost all the buildings were geodesic domes. That was a far-out thing for the Adirondacks. It had no relationship to anything else.”
In addition to the telescope, the rides and exhibits, Time Town had a theater for puppet shows, magicians and ventriloquists, a snack bar and picnic grounds plus an “Adirondack Animal Revue,” which consisted largely of college students costumed as giant rabbits and chickens. Stevens was a rabbit until he could no longer stand being kicked in the shins by children; fortunately, there was an opening for a stage manager in the theater. Other budding scholars wandered the park in bear, moose, fox and raccoon outfits.
To realize his vision, Yund contracted with a Colorado company called Special Effects, which dispatched an artist named Gene Mundell to Bolton. “I got the call to create and install works for a new theme park in upstate New York,” Mundell recalls. “I’d seen mass-produced things. I wanted to make one piece at a time, each specific to its location.” So after completing the railroad, the merry-go-round and the waterslide, Mundell stayed on, building sculptures of animals, prehistoric giants and floating astronauts.
Without much of a marketing budget, the Yunds relied on a publicity agent to generate stories in the media about Time Town. One of his better ideas, or so it seemed at the time, was to invite the founder of America’s space program, Wernher von Braun, to dedicate Mundell’s statue of the Apollo astronauts floating in space.
Von Braun was lured to Bolton under somewhat false pretenses, Mundell says. “He thought the statue was in a public park and that it was a tribute to the astronauts and space exploration. He didn’t know we were a tourist attraction.”
While local dignitaries like state senator Ron Stafford attended, few of the tens of thousands of expected guests showed up, says Ted Yund’s son Peter, who was in charge of the parking lot that day. “The PR guy told us not to advertise because we’d never be able to accommodate the crowds. On that day, we had perhaps 500 cars, only 100 of which were there because of von Braun.”
Nevertheless, von Braun was game, delivering a speech about U.S.-Soviet relations and lunching with the Yunds and Stafford at a lakeside restaurant afterwards. If he was annoyed, he didn’t show it.
Every summer some 60 college and high-school students worked at Time Town. “From the day school closed to when it reopened, we spent our entire summers there, from morning to night,” says the Yunds’ daughter Margaret Demeter. At the end of the working day everyone would head for the beach. “The kids who worked at the park became part of our family, and our friends for life.”
No one thing explains the demise of Time Town, which closed its gates after the summer of 1980. “When we got it going, we were hit by the gas shortage. The heavy influx of visitors dried up. Everything died,” says Mundell.
But as Ted Yund remembered it, “My big problem was the location. The Town of Bolton wouldn’t allow me to put up a sign on the road between Lake George and Bolton Landing—that certainly would have helped.” He said the late Charley Wood, founder of Storytown, in Lake George, agreed that the park’s setting made it difficult to draw in the tourists. “Charley Wood came up and he said, ‘It’s hard enough to get people off the highways, and you’re already off the beaten path.” Moreover, the telescope that had been the inspiration for the park in the first place was stolen and never recovered. That, and the death of the Yunds’ son Michael after a long struggle with leukemia, left the family emotionally depleted, says Grace Yund.
After Time Town was demolished and the 44-acre site was sold, the property was subdivided for second homes, the first—and far from the last—such subdivision in Bolton Landing to be created off the lake.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2007 issue of Adirondack Life magazine and is reprinted here with the permission of the editors.
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