On the side of Whiteface Mountain, in a Hamlet of Wilmington, New York, sits the North Pole – home to Santa’s Workshop. Santa’s workshop started as the idea to showcase Santa’s summer home. Julian Reiss wanted to please his daughter when she asked to see Santa’s summer home. Reiss worked with local artist Arto Monaco and quickly came up with a design. Monaco drew the buildings he envisioned for the park, even adding some cut-away drawings so you could see what the inside of the buildings would look like. No blueprints were ever created for the park though. When it came time to construct the buildings, the measurements were stepped off and placed wherever they thought it felt right.
Santa’s Workshop opened on July 1, 1949 and was the first of its kind. Reiss and Monaco expected to see around 300 – 400 visitors a day. The popularity of the North Pole and the idea of theme parks quickly spread, and newspapers around the country were talking about Santa’s Workshop. Attendance quickly grew to the thousands, with a record setting attendance of 14,000 on September 2, 1951.
The popularity of the North Pole would lead to the existence of many more theme parks in area including, Land of Makebelieve (1954), Frontier Town (1952 – 1998), Time Town (1970 – 1981), Gaslight Village (1959 –1989), and Enchanted Forest (1956). The North Pole is now among the last of the theme parks in the area. The Land of Makebelieve, also designed by Arto Monaco, closed in 1979 due to a major flood. Enchanted Forest expanded and changed names in the 80’s as amusements parks gained popularity over theme parks.
The North Pole saw some struggle in the early 2000’s, and for a short time, it wasn’t known what the future would hold for the theme park. Thankfully, the park reopened and is holding tight to its history. While many smaller theme parks are going extinct because they can’t keep up with the trends, Santa’s Workshop is relying on nostalgia to keep families coming back. They keep the place updated, but want to keep it looking as much like the original North Pole as they can. This leads to generations of families coming back – grandparents who came as kids now want to bring their grandchildren to this place of magic and reminisce about the past.
In its early days, the North Pole had classic storybook and legendary characters throughout the park. Friendly deer and other animals could be seen walking around; which led to the park being the world’s first petting zoo! Today, you will still see characters like Frosty the Snowman and Chris Moose venturing around the park. You can also visit Santa’s Reindeer at the Reindeer Barn!
Over the past 60 plus years, Santa’s Workshops has had a number of special events. In the early 50’s, Santa’s Operation Toylift began. The program delivered toys and gifts to underprivileged children in northern New York and Vermont. Within six years, Operation Toylift expanded to 13 states, the District of Columbia, and two provinces of Canada. They made 34 stops at major airports, delivering over 10 tons of presents!
Today, Santa’s Workshop hosts events like Breakfast with Santa, Christmas in July, and the Village of Lights.
When you visit Santa’s Workshop, some popular attractions include the Bake Shop, Toy Maker, Hat Maker, Reindeer Barn, and of course Santa’s house! Kids can ride the Christmas Carousel and Candy Cane Express, and have a conversation with Tannenbaum the Talking Tree. Everyone who visits should make a stop by the frosty North Pole in the center of the village – frozen all year round, it’s the best photo op spot!
Santa’s Workshop is open Tuesday – Saturday during the summer and weekends during the fall and winter. The Village of Lights is select days closer to Christmas. The park is transformed into a Winter Wonderland complete with caroling, fire pits, and a Nativity pageant. You can even feed the reindeer!
Santa’s Workshop is a piece of history. A place where kids, and kids at heart, can let their imagination run wild. A place of nostalgia that hopes to keep giving people that feeling of believing.