Co-op City’s thrilling ‘Freedomland’ history preserved
The Freedomland memorial in Co-op City. Schneps Media/ Alex Mitchell
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BRONX TIMES REPORTER, SEPTEMBER 2 BTR 7-OCTOBER 3, 2019 3
BY ALEX MITCHELL
An unusual roadside attraction
made up of two wooden wheels and a
steam pipe garners inquisitive stares
from those travelling along Bartow
Avenue in Co-op City.
No, it’s not old time farm equipment
but rather three unique pieces
of Bronx history.
Prior to the construction of Coop
City in 1966, those 205 riverfront
acres in northeast Bronx were part
of a theme park coined the ‘Disneyland
of the East,’ better known as
Staying true to its name, Freedomland
served as a miniature, roadside
America along I-95 from its 1959 inception
until 1965, when the park
closed after incurrring serious fi nancial
Old New York occupied what’s currently
Asch Loop while Old Chicago
was situated on the north end of Bartow
Avenue with New Orleans just
south of it, while naturally San Francisco
was at the west end of the park,
with its ‘old southwest’ section just
The park also featured a circular
‘Santa Fe’ railroad, and gave
youngsters the opportunity to douse
the great Chicago fi re and featured
steamboats in an artifi cial pond in
addition to many other American,
Pieces of the decommissioned
steamboat that docked on a water
body that replicated the Mississippi,
‘Totsie,’ have made its way back to
the park’s former grounds in commemoration
of Freedomland’s 50th
Anniversary this year.
Two of its waterwheels and its
stack pipe are now part of a memorial
garden for Co-op City’s predecessor.
The treasures were donated by arguably
the theme park’s biggest living
fan, Rob Friedman, an esteemed
antique collector who hails from
Though he had never had the opportunity
to visit Freedomland, his wife
of almost 40 years, Susan had toured
the grounds during its heyday.
“She wrote an essay about
Freedomland and it was around that
time many years ago that we began
digging up as many relics from the
park as we could fi nd,” he said.
The couple has travelled north to
Lake George in efforts to add to their
Freedomland memorabilia collection
in addition to many garage sales
throughout the state during their
years of searching.
They acquired the steamboat
parts upon learning it was going to be
dismantled from a decommissioned
theme park in Connecticut.
Noting that it was “heavy as hell,”
the Friedmans managed to escort
much of the boat’s pieces back to
Long Island, where it remained as “a
rather odd lawn ornament” for some
Just over a year ago, Friedman
approached Co-op City’s Riverbay
Board history committee chairman
Bernie Cylich to discuss donating
the remains of Totise to Co-op City,
which he graciously accepted.
The mock-boat’s pieces, which
have been slowly deteriorating since
the 1960s have been kept in its authentic,
50-year-old state for the memorial.
The Friedmans both attended the
dedication at Bartow Shopping Center
on Saturday, July 14, marveling over
the preservation of some lesser-known
history of the northeast Bronx.
“I’m very happy to see how it came
out,” Rob said. “It’s very nice to see
these pieces of history be noticed,”
the benefactor mentioned.
She Susan Friedman
wrote an essay about
Freedomland and it was
around that time many
years ago that we began
digging up as many
relics from the park as
we could fi nd.