Nearly 200 years ago, a man of faith took a leap of faith and left his home to touch souls. For six generations, the family that followed him, in their own way, has also followed that calling. But instead of preaching the doctrine of the Christian Reformation, they evangelized through the communion of dreams and memories, and created a salvation of sorts—a place where, for a while, there is peace on earth. That place is Knoebels.
The film blends an extraordinary range of archival materials from the Knoebels Museum with original cinematography shot on-location at the park throughout the 2014 season to visually document the evolution of the family homestead from its roots as a wilderness haven for immigrant coal miners at the start of the 20th century to its current status as a preeminent amusement resort destination.
Viewers are introduced to an idiosyncratic cast of characters that have comprised the Knoebel family through four generations of direct stewardship of “Knoebels Grove”, the original name given to the property by H.H. Knoebel, or as he is best remembered, “Ole Hen”. Ole Hen was the grandson of the Reverend Hartman Henry Knoebel, a German immigrant circuit preacher who, in 1820, acquired 200 acres originally deeded by William Penn’s son as “Peggy’s Farm”. Knoebel farmed the land with his family for 40 years, but by the arrival of Ole Hen and the third generation, the desire to farm had diminished. It became replaced by an entrepreneurial energy rooted in a logging operation and a uniquely personal vision inspired by the farm’s prodigious shade trees and two mountain streams.
The documentary connects Knoebels beginnings with the end of the Golden Age of amusement parks in the United States. Since that time, the Knoebel family and Peggy’s Farm have endured an almost epic course of history. They have survived devastating floods, endured financial downturns, witnessed the change in family recreational habits, and urban migration to the suburbs. Today the park houses 3 of the most renowned restored wooden roller coasters in the world, as well as almost 60 pristinely preserved classic rides, many old enough to have been ridden by the grandparents who bring their grandchildren to the park to experience the same excitement they felt when they were young.
For many families in many places, Knoebels has become a touchstone. Like the rides residing under the emerald canopy of Peggy’s Farm, they return, generation after generation, to remember and to renew.