By Leah Koch

Today is our 76th Birthday! 

In finding the words to share about today, I started diving into all the things I’ve learned since we began working on our commemorative book: “Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari: 75 Years of America’s First Theme Park.” Shameless plug: buy your copy of our book here


The world was changing in 1946, and while we were the first theme park, we were barely the first. Many similar attractions were opening around the country, yet we were just shy of a decade before the opening of Disneyland. Coming out of the war, people just wanted to have fun, and amusement parks and the entertainment industry were booming. But I’m still amazed that my great-grandfather, Louis J. Koch, had the vision and drive to build Santa Claus Land. After all, his family business, George Koch & Sons had found great success making tin horns at his family’s tin shop during World War II, when toys couldn’t be imported.

Tin Smith sign reads Geo. Koch 1873

Boulder Canyon includes a tribute to my great-great grandfather, who started the tin shop. Louis J. Koch and his brothers named the business after their father passed.

And then I started thinking about the early 1980s, when my grandfather, Bill Koch, decided that Santa Claus Land was too limiting a concept. He decided we should become Holiday World. He smartly started easing the name in, adding “It’s a Holiday World of Fun!” to marketing materials for a few years before the name changed. 

And it hit me. The name change happened 38 years ago. And that name change occurred 38 years into Santa Claus Land’s story. 

We’ve been Holiday World as long as we were Santa Claus Land. 

And yet, there are so many people out there who tell me this place will always be Santa Claus Land to them. 

I love that. 

I’m forever grateful that my grandfather had the vision to expand our park beyond just one holiday. It opened up a world of theming for Frightful Falls, Raging Rapids, The Raven, The Legend, and so many more attractions. 

It’s also incredible to think about the way the industry started to explode in the late 80s and early 90s. 

In 1984, we built Frightful Falls. We added Banshee in 1986. And it was another four years until we added Raging Rapids. In 1993, we began Splashin’ Safari, added the Wave in 1994, and of course, added The Raven in 1995. From there, it kicked off years of new attractions every year. And the rest of the industry was doing the same. 

In 1993, our water park looked like this: 

By 2000, my dad was introducing Free Unlimited Soft Drinks, and building The Legend. Meanwhile, I was playing Roller Coaster Tycoon. And telling my dad about how free soft drinks flopped in “my parks.” He responded that a simple computer game, “doesn’t get what we’re doing here.” Of course, he was right. 


And here we are in 2022, and the original water park is now the plaza for our existing water park. 

It’s incredible to think that our footprint has increased faster in the last three decades than it did in the first four, but it couldn’t have happened without each generation moving the park forward. My great-grandfather had the vision. My grandfather lobbied to move Interstate 64 closer to us to drive traffic and expanded us beyond Christmas. It all set my dad up to grow the park with the best attractions in the world, but he still had the vision to build a specialty in wooden coasters, and build the best water park attraction in the world, Wildebeest. And that all set us up so that my siblings, my mom, and I can tell stories with our attractions. We can even complete the theming my dad wanted all along but had to cut from the budget to keep us competitive in the mega-park generation of the 1990s and 2000s. 

I love to take August 3 each year to remember the three generations who so wonderfully shaped the history of this park and appreciate how far we’ve come. As we move into a time where we’ve been Holiday World longer than Santa Claus Land, I hope people appreciate the way Santa Claus Land shaped who we are today. 

We believe in Santa Claus. And we always will. 

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8 Responses to “Equal Parts Holiday World and Santa Claus Land”

  1. Rene' Merkle

    What a wonderful place to build special memories! My mother went to Santa Clause Land on her senior trip in 1958. My family went to Holiday World for my kids birthday every year along with all our relatives from northern IL. You can’t have a better time anywhere in the US and get your money’s worth. My family also was privileged to get to attend company picnics several years. The meal was amazing along with rides, water park, and shows and unlimited drinks. We never passed up the gift shops, games, dip ‘n dots, and of course picture with Santa. I have told so many friends all over the US about Holiday World, they couldn’t wait to experience it themselves. Now my own kids can’t wait to get a season pass to bring their kids for an amazing summer of fun and even the special Holiday events. Thank you for another wonderful year!!
    Southern IL mom

  2. Nancy Beachler

    Leah, I enjoyed reading your history. We have a family picture of John and 3 of his siblings sitting with Santa Claus over 50 years ago. I think his name was James Yeilig (sp). I think that was your Great-Grandpa too. Lots of fond memories ….Keep up the good work. You’re a great writer.

  3. sandra collignon

    Love your story. I can say I have lived most of it, through my husband’s family. and been a part of answering the letters since high school

  4. Cheryl

    My parents started the tradition of Santa Claus land with my son, every year as the number of grandkids started to grow they came to a place they needed help. So started a family tradition going to holiday world! Started with three grew to 25. Thank you from our family to yours. My parents have gone to heaven now but I think of them everytime we go.

  5. Hope Lytle

    Hi. My family started coming there in 1970. I do remember some of the rides. I was only8 yrs old. And as the yr went on I brought my kids there starting in the 2000. My family saw it go from Santa Claus land to Holiday world. My mom enjoyed later taking the grand kids and camping at yr camping grounds. One year before my mom passed away we went and stayed several night. We all remembered the firier works. Free Pepsi. And tanning lotion so we didn’t burn. Thanks for those many yrs.
    Back in 2009 I donated a item to yr museum . I found a comb mirror set that had Santa clause land on it. I hope it’s still there because my mom would of wanted that. Only thing is 5hst we didn’t get a thank u.from anyone. But that’s ok…. Memories will always be there. Oh I remember yr pizza and Scooby Doo ride. ……Happy anniversary

  6. Jackie Brown

    I just turned 84 years old recently and my fond memories of Santa Claus Land are still very clear. As a small child back in the 1940’s, we always made a trip to Santa Claus just to mail our Christmas Cards so they would have the Santa Claus, IN stamp on them. I remember the large Santa statue out front (I hope that statue is still there somewhere) and the store that had toys in it. Very fond memories. You have come so far but the memories I have will always be special.