Walter and Cordelia Knott – Founders of Knott’s Berry Farm The year was 1920 when Walter and Cordelia Knott moved to the then-sleepy community of Buena Park, Calif. to farm 20 acres of rented land. Today, that land is part of 160-acre Knott’s Berry Farm, America’s first theme park and the 12th most-visited amusement park in the country. And, while the Knott Family no longer owns the venerable attraction, the Knott spirit of hard work and down-home hospitality lives on in new owner Cedar Fair, L.P., who acquired Knott’s Berry Farm in December 1997. The Knotts’ first winter on the Farm was unseasonably cold and much of their first crop was ruined by frost. But relying on his ability to make the most of what he had, Walter initiated his practice of selling directly to grocers, thus eliminating costly middlemen, and was able to realize a small profit. Walter’s keen eye for sound enterprise and his dogged determination to succeed were attributes which became evident early in his boyhood years and remained solid through his life and career. His father died when he was six and by the time he was nine, Walter was raising vegetables on vacant lots, selling the produce in the morning before school and delivering newspapers in the evenings to help supplement the family income. In 1927, Knott bought ten acres of land. The Depression hit a year later and land prices dropped. While maintaining the original payments, Walter bought an additional ten acres at the lower price and spent the last of the family’s savings to build an adobe structure that became the Farm’s first permanent building. Ready for occupancy in 1928, the building was 80 feet long and housed a tea-room, berry market and nursery where berry plants were sold. By now, the Knotts had four children – son Russell and daughters Virginia, Toni and Marion – and, working together, they formed a family bond that prevailed throughout the years. It was not until the 1930s that Walter became associated with the “boysenberry” which would became the family trademark. Nearby, Anaheim Parks Superintendent Rudolph Boysen had experimented with a new strain of berry but the plants kept dying on the vine. Walter took the scraggly plants, nurtured them to health and named the new berry – a cross between a loganberry, red raspberry and blackberry – after its originator. Today, all boysenberries in the world can trace their roots to Knott’s Berry Farm. As another means of staving off Depression hardships, Cordelia began selling jams and jellies made from Walter’s berries. These were soon followed by home-baked pies, hot biscuits and sandwiches. Then, on a night in June 1934, Cordelia served eight fried chicken dinners on her wedding china – for the all-inclusive price of 65 cents each – and the world’s largest chicken dinner restaurant was born. Today, the Chicken Dinner Restaurant seats more than 900 guests at a time, serves more than 1. 5 million guests each year, and is the largest full-service restaurant that serves chicken as its main course. The success of the chicken dinners was immediate and by 1940 the restaurant was serving as many as 4,000 dinners on Sunday evenings. To give waiting customers something to do and to pay homage to the pioneering spirit of his grandparents and his love of the Old West, Walter developed Ghost Town, eventually the first of Knott’s Berry Farm’s six themed areas. The first structure was the Gold Trails Hotel, which had originally been constructed in Prescott, Ariz. in 1868. Adhering to authenticity, Walter brought in other buildings from deserted ghost towns and Knott’s Ghost Town as it exists today emerged. Additions were made as the years passed. In the 1960s, the Calico Mine Ride and Timber Mountain Log Ride were added and Knott’s built its second themed area: Fiesta Village, a tribute to California’s early Spanish heritage. The third themed area opened in 1975 – Roaring 20s (rethemed in 1996 into The Boardwalk) – featuring the Corkscrew, the world’s first looping coaster. In 1983, Knott’s debuted a first in the amusement park industry with its six-acre Camp Snoopy, the world’s first theme park “land” designed specifically for kids. Wild Water Wilderness, a four-acre outdoor river wilderness area featuring the whitewater rafting ride Bigfoot Rapids, was added in 1988, followed by Indian Trails in 1993. It was also the Knotts’ decision to build the country’s only brick-by-brick replica of Independence Hall, complete with an exact replica of the Liberty Bell, as a free-admission educational resources for Farm guests and Orange County residents. Cordelia Knott died in 1974 at the age of 84 and Walter Knott continued to live on the Farm he loved until his death in 1981 – a week before his 92nd birthday. The Knott Family maintained operation of Knott’s Berry Farm until its friendly acquisition by Cedar Fair, L.P. in December 1997. In keeping with Walter and Cordelia’s original goals, Knott’s Berry Farm continues to combine quality, wholesome family entertainment with nostalgia and history. Cedar Fair is currently expanding Knott’s Berry Farm with the most new rides, shows and attractions in the park’s history, while maintaining those simpler features that continue to make it “The Theme Park Californians Call Home.”
Knott’s Berry Farm history.