Horse Diving Once Wowed the Crowds at Portsmouth’s Island Park

You have likely never seen horse diving outside of a movie screen, but in the early 1900s these shows were all the rage. And it was a big deal that summer tourists could see one performed right in the middle of Island Park in Portsmouth.

Horse diving is pretty much just as it sounds. A horse is ridden up a ramp to a platform and then jumps off with rider still in tow into a large pool of water.

Though to say “jumped” is really being generous. Typically the horses never actually dove toward the water. The platform was collapsible and at the right moment the wood beneath the horses’ hooves would drop out, leaving the horses nowhere to go but down into the water.

It really is no wonder these dives are no longer performed.

Though slightly shocking it took until the 1970s for people to truly be outraged by these shows. By that time, however, Island Park was long gone, having succumbed to the Hurricane of ’38 like so many of our local amusement parks of the past.

The biggest of these horse diving shows was performed each season in Atlantic City, so having one so close to the SouthCoast was kind of like having a Vegas-style show staged just minutes away now. A big deal during tourist season.

And boy did the tourists love Island Park in its heyday. Started as a trolley park in 1898 because the location could draw guests from both Newport and Fall River, Island Park grew over the years to feature roller coasters, a carousel built by the famous Charles ID Looff, a dance hall, shore dining hall, a shooting gallery, and lots of beachfront for soaking up the summer sun.

Right in the middle of all that excitement was the park’s horse-diving platform, with two different diving heights. Locals and tourists alike would crowd around the midway attraction to see the daring dives.

Courtesy of Portsmouth Historical Society

Courtesy of Portsmouth Historical Society

From the looks of this photo from July 1928, some horses dove off platforms higher than the park’s roller coaster “The Bullet.”

Courtesy of Portsmouth Historical Society

Courtesy of Portsmouth Historical Society

Luckily for the horses, the park was essentially washed away from storm surge up the Sakonnet River in 1938. Not great news for the town itself, however, which was devastated by the storm and the lives lost on Island Park.

Today the area still boasts lovely beaches, but the park is now homes and businesses with no horses, diving or otherwise. Clearly, the beachfront property became high-demand for homes in the years after the amusement park’s demise, leaving massive homes like the one you can explore below in its place.

Take a Peek In This Portsmouth Estate So Big It Needs an Elevator

Holy house! This massive estate in Portsmouth is quite the beaut, and could be yours for just under $7.5 million. It’s surrounded by waterfront views and packed with a number of incredible amenities, and even if you can’t afford to buy this house for yourself, there’s no harm in dreaming right?

Historic Haunted Places in Massachusetts and Rhode Island You Can Visit for Little to No Money

While others may be paying big bucks for ghosts and zombies to jump out and scare them this season, you may be in the market for more authentic frights. We’ve found the spots on the SouthCoast and beyond that are sure to give you goosebumps, unsettle your stomach and have you full-on freaked out without breaking the bank.

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