Henley Aerodrome: A Landing Strip Turned Silverwood Theme Park

Henley Aerodrome was a small landing strip in Athol, Idaho which was built in 1973. (Location on our Abandoned Airports Map)

Henely Autodrome Sign. Undated photo via Airfields-Freeman.

In 1981, the land was sold, and the landing strip would eventually become part of Silverwood Theme Park, which it remains to this day. The story of conversion from airport to theme park is one of tragedy and unforeseen circumstances, but also a resolution to rebound from those circumstances, and become bigger and better.

It was founded by Clay Henley in 1973, who would pass away just four years later in 1977. During his time, one could ride in an airplane and receive pilot's lessons. Despite, Henley's death, the airport was saved, as it was then purchased by an aviation history enthusiast named Gary Norton, who was looking to build an aviation museum out of the property, similar to the Illinois Aviation Museum on the site of Clow International Airport. 

A c.1970's photo by of several biplanes inside a Henley Aerodrome hangar. Montgomery Stewart photo via Airfields-Freeman.

But in 1981, these plans would also be ended abruptly as one of the hangars housing many historic planes caught fire. While Norton rebuilt the hangar and continued to collect planes, it was clear the collection was never going to be the same. 

With the tragedy behind him, Norton sought to expand the museum into more than just planes, and in doing so, built a miniature railway around the Henley Aerodrome Property, which he named the Silverwood Central Railroad

To power the line, a 1915 Porter Steam Engine, originally no.7 of the Eureka-Palisade Railway, was purchased, and it continues to service the ride today. (Steam Locomotive Info)

1915 Steam Train photo. (Silverwood Blog)

But a railroad needs a town to serve, right? And so further development occurred, with Norton creating a "Main Street" area, and now the area began to resemble a theme park more than an aviation museum. 

Silverwood sign advertising the future. Did they miss a golden opportunity by not saying "Planes, Trains & Automobiles", as opposed to the reverse?

In 1988, Silverwood was born, and got its first coaster in 1990, the relocated Corkscrew, which was the first modern inverting coaster when it first began operating at Knott's Berry Farm. and while it had clearly overtaken the land's initial purpose as a landing strip, air shows continued at the site until 1996.

Likely as a nod to the park's history, in May 2021, an RMC Single-Rail Roller Coaster was built at the park named Stunt Pilot. Silverwood Theme Park released a YouTube video of the ride and footage of some of the history of air shows, shown below.

Today, the landing strip is partially used for parking spaces, but is still easily recognizable on the property. 

The area's history as an airport is quite easily visible even today on Google Maps satellite imagery.

Thanks as always for reading! Silverwood Theme Park's unique history has always intrigued me, and I hope to visit it someday, especially since it's where Déjà Vu at Six Flags Great America was relocated to as Aftershock in 2008.


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