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Entries in Edaville (1)

Sunday
May312015

The Evolution of Edaville: From For-Sale to Sodor

Edaville USA will be home to the only Thomas the Tank Engine-themed park, Thomas Land, in North America

 

Just five years ago, Edaville USA — more popularly known to generations as “Edaville Railroad” — was up for sale, its future uncertain.

  Yet this summer the nearly 70-year-old Carver attraction is ready to not only open once more but also celebrate its new role as home to the only Thomas the Tank Engine-themed park, Thomas Land, in North America.

  Edaville founder Ellis D. Atwood (whose initials EDA form the beginning of the attraction’s name) might not recognize his creation today given its transformation over the years. The train was originally installed to service an 1,800-acre cranberry plantation. Free rides gave way to nickel rides, and Edaville began evolving into a tourist attraction, adding kiddie rides and its famous Christmas Festival of Lights. The Edaville USAname was adopted in 2000.

  The 1990s where not kind to Edaville, with the operation floundering through three different ownerships and trains only sporadically operating.  

  One of the challenges to running it was fragmented ownership of the railroad and the land. In 2005, developer Jon Delli Priscolli emerged as the sole owner. While he had previously developed housing on a portion of the Edaville property, in late 2010 Priscolli put the remaining property up for sale for $10 million.

  “The person with the right vision never came along and Jon has a true love for Edaville,” says Samantha Johnson, Edaville USA communications director. “Truthfully, getting personal, Jon and his general manager looked at each other one day and both said, ‘We cannot let this magical New England tradition die. Let’s do it, all or nothing!’”

  Since then, the park has been undergoing a reconstruction effort, including adding new attractions and a new main gate.

  “One of the things Priscolli noticed was the popularity of the Thomas events,” says Savery Moore, an Edaville Railroad fan since 1956, when he rode his bike there regularly. “Thomas the Tank Engine visited Edaville for special ‘Day Out with Thomas’ events and was well received by families familiar with the Thomas books and Thomas and Friends television shows.”

  “Mattel, owner of Thomas the Tank Engine, loves New England and saw similarities between Edaville and Sodor [a fictional island in the Irish Sea used as a setting for the television series],”  Johnson adds. “Edaville is preparing to celebrate our 70th anniversary, and Thomas is celebrating his 70th. We just saw so many similarities.”

  Opening Aug. 7, Thomas Land at Edaville USA will feature a 20-minute, scenic train ride on a life-sized Thomas, roller coaster, drop tower, Ferris wheel, soft-play area and more. Favorite characters such as Thomas, Diesel, Toby, Cranky the Crane, Harold the Helicopter, and Sir Topham Hatt will be represented, and families can visit familiar destinations around the Island of Sodor such as Tidmouth Sheds, Knapford Station, and Brendam Docks. (The rest of Edaville will open weekends starting June 20.)

  There are only two other Thomas Lands worldwide, the first opened in 1998 at Japan’s Fujikyu Highland amusement park, 90 minutes from Tokyo.  The second, and Europe’s first, opened in 2008 at Drayton Manor Theme Park in the UK. 

  Priscolli intends to preserve Edaville’s retro feeling until guests reach the Thomas Land gate or the Dinoland gate (where animatronic dinosaurs roam), providing two entirely different areas. A retro arcade has been added and vintage rides will continue to be placed throughout the park. The Christmas Festival of Lights and Polar Express events will continue, as well.

“A new period section will be opening this year, called Dickens’ Village, with shops and other period pieces,” Johnson adds. “There are 235 acres here, and after Thomas Land’s 12-acre footprint is established, there are 50 acres remaining for growth.”

  “It’s been interesting to watch all the construction underway at Edaville this winter. Crews had to plow snow to build things, and as we New Englanders know there was a lot of plowing this winter,” Moore notes. “The crews are working hard at Edaville.”

  “Edaville has been here forever, and as a cranberry grower myself, we still look at them as a part of the cranberry industry. The Edaville train still goes through active cranberry bogs,” says Dick Ward, chairman of the Town of Carver Board of Selectmen. “Edaville is trying to go big and maintain the local connection. This is beneficial to the town, and we have many residents employed at Edaville. I’m looking forward to taking my granddaughters to see the improvements!”

 

Article originally published in baystateparent magazine - June 2015