Silverwood - From Airport to Theme Park

Regionally known as the largest amusement park in the Inland Northwest, Silverwood has a long and varied history as an airport, an air museum, and finally a place of roller coasters and waterslides. The story begins with a man named Clayton Henley.

Clayton "Clay" Henley was the founder of the Henley Aerodrome, a private airport and antique plane museum just south of Athol in Northern Idaho. Henley opened the airport in July 1973, it became known as the black sheep of local airfields and the local Spokane flying schools forbade their students from using it. When Henley died in 1977 there were many small parcel owners of the airfield, in order to save the airfield they ended up selling all of it to Gary Norton.

Norton was an entrepreneur who made a fortune with his company ISC (International Systems Corporation), one of IBM's early competitors. Norton had the time and the space to focus more on his passion of collecting and flying antique aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang. Tragically, on July 28th 1981 the museum hangar storing many of his prized collectible airplanes caught fire. Norton rebuilt the hangar and began collecting again, but the air museum never recovered.

Norton began to shift the focus of his attraction with a new addition to the museum. A 1915 steam train and over three miles of track were added to the property. He then decided that any train needs a town to run through. This prompted the building of a Victorian style town, Main Street and the beginning of Silverwood.

Silverwood officially opened as an amusement park in June 20, 1988. The first year of operation brought in 110,000 visitors. Norton slowly began adding a variety of attractions to the park, such as the corkscrew roller coaster, purchased from Knotts Berry Farm in California.

There are other attractions that are no longer featured at the park, but drew many excited park guests. An early feature of Silverwood was their daily half-hour air shows performed at 7:00pm each evening, air shows were performed from the time the park opened until 1996. A full grown African lion named Leonard was purchased, along with a variety of other wild cats and animals. After some problems with the wild nature of the animals and some escape antics, it was decided that the large cats must go. The now vacant aircraft museum housed a Silverwood on Ice show briefly, produced and directed by Norton. It attracted top talent from across the globe, including Olympic medalists and a Russian world championship skater.