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Knott’s Berry Farm

The History of Knott’s Berry Farm

The History of Knott’s Berry Farm
Knott’s Berry Farm is an iconic theme park in Orange County, California. It was begun as a restaurant in the 1930s, owned and operated by the Knott family to raise extra money to support their berry farm during the Great Depression. Here’s how it became a beloved theme park attraction.

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Knott’s Berry Farm is a popular theme park in Buena Park, California. It is currently owned by the Cedar Fair company. The park sits on fifty-seven acres of land, features forty rides, attracts around four million visitors each year, and is the twelfth most visited theme park in North America. Needless to say, Knott’s Berry Farm is a popular place.

The park originated with Walter Knott’s berry farm in Orange County, California. Born in 1889, Walter Knott and his wife Cordelia were berry farmers. They sold not only berries, but berry preserves and berry pies from a roadside stand near their farm beside State Road 39, which was close to the town of Buena Park.

Walter Knott Tending Boysenberry in 1948

During the Great Depression, Cordelia Knott began (albeit reluctantly) serving fried chicken dinners to guests on the Knott’s wedding china, charging a small fee for each meal. The dessert was always Boysenberry Pie, which became Cordelia’s signature dessert. A small tea room was added to the roadside stand to accommodate these dinners. Eventually, it became a restaurant.


After the Depression ended, Highway 39 became a well-traveled north-south connection between Los Angeles County and the popular Orange County beaches. The Knott’s restaurant became a popular stopping point for people looking to take a break from driving and get something to eat on this road trip. Between the excellent location and the good value the Knott’s had with their restaurant, it was soon an attraction of its own, bringing in enough visitors that, on the days the restaurant was open, formed long lines waiting to be seated inside.

Music Hall and The Bottle House in Ghost Town (Postcard)

As the restaurant became more popular, the Knotts added shops and interactive displays to help entertain people who were waiting to get a table inside the restaurant, which was now called the Chicken Dinner Restaurant. They also expanded their berry market south from the restaurant and built wishing wells, water wheels with grindstones, rock gardens with miniature waterfalls, and a replica of the fireplace at George Washington’s Mount Vernon home along the path from the restaurant to the berry market.

Other additions soon came as the Knotts became even more enterprising. Looking to make photo opportunities for their visitors, they added things like a gift shop, a petrified log, a thirteen-foot cross-section of 750-year-old coastal redwood, an oxcart, a beehive, and several wagons. Along with the existing shops, administrative offices, the nursery, the lost and found building, and the preserving kitchen, the whole business was eventually renamed to Knott’s Berry Place.

Old Borax Mine Engine Used by Borax Smith in Death Valley (Postcard)

Walter Knott build a replica ghost town on the property in 1940, and added a summer-long county fair to the place in the 1950s. Admission to the park was first charged in 1968, with the admission price being twenty-five cents. The first ride at the park, which was the Timber Mountain Log Ride, opened in 1969.

After Cordelia Knott crossed to the other side in April of 1974, Walter became more interested in political causes, which was reflected in additions and refurbishments to the park. These new projects were focused on American nostalgia. A Roaring Twenties area was added to the park, and an old-time traditional amusement park was added to the already-existing Gypsy Camp area. The new rides in the Gypsy Camp included the Wheeler Dealer Bumper Cars and Knott’s Bear-y Tales. A 1920-s era Knott’s Airfield themed area was added with a northward expansion of the park. This area featured the Cloud 9 Dance Hall, the Sky Cabin/Sky Jump and Motorcycle Chase, and the steeplechase roller coaster located above the electric guided rail Gasoline Alley car ride.

Interior of Blacksmith Shop in Ghost Town (Postcard)

By now Knott’s Berry Place was a full-fledged theme park based in people’s love of Americana. It was quite popular among the conservative crowd, and several conservative college and university groups met there. It also appealed to anyone who was enamored of the idea of a simpler, more family-friendly past. While rides have come and gone over the years, based on changing times and technologies, the basic nostalgic appeal of the park has stayed the same, and it continues to be a beloved part of the Orange County, California theme park scene. Most visitors to Orange County consider a visit to the park to be a must while they are in town.

Walter Knott crossed to the other side in December of 1981, and his surviving children continued to own and operate the park as a family business until 1995. At that time, the Knott children decided to sell the business. The Cedar Fair Entertainment Company seemed like a good choice for a buyer, as it had recently acquired several nearby hotels that could easily be incorporated into the park as places for visitors to stay.

Negotiations between the Knott children and Cedar Fair Entertainment went on until 1997 when the Knotts sold the amusement park portion of the business to Cedar Fair. While negotiations were going on with Cedar Fair, the Knotts sold the food specialty part of the business to ConAgra, Inc. in 1995. ConAgra later sold this business to the J.M. Smucker Company in 2008.

Ghost Town Barber Shop (Postcard)

The Knott children were given the chance to sell the amusement park part of the business to the Walt Disney Company, as Disney was quite interested in acquiring this popular attraction. The Knott’s park would have been absorbed into the Disneyland resort, and the whole thing re-named Disney’s America (which the Disney Company had wanted to build near Washington, D.C., though this plan never materialized). The Knott children decided against selling the park to Disney because they were concerned that most of what their father and mother had built would be discarded by the company.

When Cedar Fair acquired the amusement park part of the Knott family’s business, it renamed the nearby Radisson hotel they had purchased as the Knott’s Berry Farm Resort Hotel. This was done in 2004. The park itself was called Knott’s Berry Farm after the Cedar Fair acquisition, instead of Knott’s Berry Place. People still love the park.

About the author

Will

I enjoy collecting postcards as a way to inspire my own adventures. Over the years, I’ve found them incredibly valuable in sharing memories — places I've been and places my loved ones have sent cards from.