Geneva on the Lake Ohio History Jenny Munger Woody Pera Dance Hall Burlesque
"Back in the Saddle"
- The police department in this lake-side community may be getting two
new recruits, if the 'tale' the two bike patrolmen trotted out convinces
Village Council. Patrolmen John Wilt and Scott Vanderlind have proposed
establishing a mounted patrol in the village. The whole idea started as
a joke proposed by P.J. Macchia of The Cove nightclub, said Wilt.
Macchia said since the bike patrol worked out well, he thought a mounted
patrol might be a good public relations tool, also. The mounted patrol
is not new to the village. Wilt said there was a mounted patrol in the
1960s. Peter Macchia, Lou Cardel and his horse were a big attraction on
the strip at that time, Macchia said. Kids would come up to the horse
and pet him, he said. The mounted patrol was not continued after Cardel
died, he said.
Governor, Robert Taft, and his wife, Hope (both on right) sample donuts
at Madsen's Donut Shop in Geneva-on-the-Lake. Taft is visiting Ashtabula
County summer of 2000 to promote tourism and launch a new
||The New Inn...Yes,
we have it. Meals at all hours is the sign hanging outside this cute
place with cute automobiles parked outside. Also shows back of buggy.
GENEVA ON THE
THE STRIP IN THE
|Left is picture of
"Eddies Grill" and Far left is a
picture of "Buckeye Lodge" circa 1920...click to make bigger..
small town, which began as a farming village during the early 1800s, represents
a true slice of Americana. Unlike other small towns, the Village of
Geneva-on-the-Lake is unique in that it became the state's first summer resort.
Families were attracted to its temperate climate, warmed by Lake Erie in the
fall and cooled by the lake in the summer.
a city, the Village of Geneva-on-the Lake grew slowly. City water came in 1920,
replacing cisterns that collected rainwater, since wells did not work in the
shallow-embedded land. The village was incorporated in 1927, so that a sewer
could be built. A constable was also appointed to oversee the village's 114
residents. The old Indian trail that ambled at the hilltop of Cowles Creek north
to Lake Erie developed into state Route 534. Another east-west trail became
1869, an enterprising businessman, Cullen Spencer, decided to capitalize on his
lakefront holdings by clearing trees from his land to create a park and access
to the lake. He opened his picnic grounds, called Sturgeon Point, to the public
for a fee on July 4, 1869. Shortly thereafter, Cullen added a steam-driven
carousel and a boarding house to his lakefront property, and the town's first
resort was born.
the next fifty years, more boarding houses, summer cottages and a hotel opened.
A new taxi service brought summer visitors from the train station in Geneva
Village, five miles south of Geneva-on-the-Lake. These visitors were a mix of
ethnic and income groups, who stayed at lodging facilities that catered to
different groups. In the pre-air condition era, blue collar visitors, who came
to escape the oppressive steel mill heat of Pittsburgh, Warren, and Youngstown,
comprised the majority of visitors until about 1950. The first dance hall, the
Casino Ballroom opened in 1912. When the 1928 Pier Ballroom was expanded before
World War II, it was the largest ballroom between Buffalo, New York, and
Sandusky, Ohio. During the Depression "marathon dance" contests took
place at the Pergola Garden dance hall. Meanwhile, "park plan"
dancing—named for amusement parks that adopted the system of ten cents per
dance—kept the Pier and Casino alive. During the 1950s as the resort matured
into a nationally known destination with little municipal oversight, bingo
parlors, game arcades, and nightclubs opened on the main street.
pollution and erosion began to attack the town's biggest asset—Lake Erie,
called the "dead lake" by the late 1960s. At the same time,
Pennsylvania teens, attracted to Ohio's lower drinking age, crowded the town,
which caused families to stay away. In 1970, the town's drinking age was raised
to 21. Slowly, the Geneva-on-the-Lake's image began to turn around. Tourists
were attracted because of its quaint nature. Many returning visitors were new
parents who had vacationed there as children. The tastes of the traveling public
have come full circle, and family-oriented activities are back in demand.
Three Gentlemen Campers by -Betty Layport-
In the Early 1900's, three rather distinguished gentlemen
embarked on a series of annual treks into he wilds and wilderness of America's
North Coast. According to onlookers, it was a rare sight, indeed, as servants
scurried about laying campfires and pitching tents so that John D. Rockefeller,
Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford could get down to the business of camping,
fishing, and just having fun in, of all places, Geneva-on the-Lake, Ohio.
There is no question that these three gentlemen possessed great vision and great
wealth. They could easily have chosen a more exotic, more exclusive locale for
their outings. So, perhaps, it was their uncanny genius for taking advantage of
a good thing when they saw it that brought them back, again and again. And,
perhaps that's also why Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio's First Summer Resort,
continues to thrive, filling up each year with vacationers who, too, know a good
deal when they see it.
The Spencer's & The Sturgeon
It wasn't too long after Moses Cleveland began mapping
out the Western Reserve that industry started up on the shoreline of Lake Erie
between Geneva-on-the-Lake's Cowles Creek and Indian Creek. Lumber mills, ships
works and limestone ovens were bustling with activity by the Early 1800's and,
perhaps, would have expanded further had The Spencer family not settled in the
area. At the turn of the Century, they opened "Sturgeon Point House, "
a lakefront lodging for tradesmen and travelers. Fifty years later, Cullen
Spencer and another young man, Edwin Pratt, took a look around at the sunny
beaches, the abundant fish, the glorious Lake sunsets and refreshing clean air
and decided that the area could serve as more than just a way-station for
So, four years after the close of the American Civil War, Spencer & Pratt
cleared a bluff overlooking Lake Erie and, on July 4th, 1869, opened a public
picnic grounds. As the Spencer's had a true appreciation of the monsters who
thrashed, fought & spawned just off their beaches, The named this park
"Sturgeon Point." A few years later, Spencer & Pratt added a
jerry-built, horse-powered carousel to the picnic grounds and
Geneva-on-the-Lake's colorful tradition as Lake Erie's "Playground."
It did not take long for the parks' picnic grounds to turn into campgrounds, and
then, for the tents to give way to primitive cottages as more and more people
sought relief from the smoke-congested cities of America's Industrial
Revolution. Recognizing great potential when they saw it, the Spencer clan was
again in the forefront with innovations as L.C. Spencer erected the area 's
first dance hall and. Spencer took the initiative to open the area's first
tourist home, "The Rose Cottage", naming it not after the abundant
fish but, instead, after the equally abundant and more pleasingly fragrant wild
vines that grew on hillsides.
The rest they say, is history. A history created by the industrious,
hard-working people who built up "The Lake" and the hundreds of
thousands of families who since 1869 have enjoyed the clean air, the sunny
beaches, the fishing, the camping and, most of all each other in Ohio's premier
The Gentry Come A packin'
By 1905, over fifty cottages and twenty-some boarding
houses filled to the rafters each summer as the well-to-do in Cleveland,
Youngstown and Pittsburgh sent their families packing to Geneva-on-the-Lake.
They came for the healthful environment and the curative powers of taking to the
waters, but, they stayed on for the fun. By the 20's, these genteel vacationers
enjoyed daily sightseeing and fishing excursions aboard modern motor launches
such as the "Red Wing". They enjoyed sets of tennis on the clay courts
at Ramsey's "Idle-A-While". They picnicked and partied on the beaches
of Chestnut Grove Park, they played whist and bridge on the lawn of the Colonial
Hotel, they dined on succulent dinners of "milk-fed" chicken at the
New Inn and, in the evenings, after they strolled along the Shady Beach hillside
enjoying a dazzling sunset they dashed off for an evening full of roller
skating, miniature golf, carousel rides or dancing at the Casino, Pergola or the
newly constructed Pier Dance hall.
The Working Class Arrives
By the 1930's, the boarding houses had evolved into
full-service hotels providing for the needs of their wealthy and prominent
clientele. New boat docks, horse stables and a state-of-the-art nine-hole
municipal golf course were added. Geneva-on-the-Lake would have remained a
private enclave for the rich had those three gentlemen campers, Rockefeller,
Firestone and Ford, not dabbled in a thing called the automobile.
When Ford developed the first affordable motor car and Firestone and Rockefeller
began marketing the tires, gasoline and additives that would make the motor car
reliable, America's working class was able to take to the road. For many, the
road ended in Geneva-on-the-Lake.
Big Bands, Big Beaches &
The advent of the 40's saw Geneva-on-the-Lake's mile long
entertainment "Strip" lined with the Fords, Oldsmobiles & Packards
of clerks and shopkeepers, bakers and firemen. With wheels, young men and women
from throughout the Tri-State region would flock to the area's beaches by day
and stay on to dance to the music of Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey or Duke Ellington
by night. This was the heyday of Big Bands, Big Beaches & for those who were
there, beautiful women.
The Pier Dance Hall became a Mecca for all the great bandleaders. Jimmy Dorsey,
Ozzie & Harriet Nelson, Lawrence Welk & Cab Calloway all stopped to play
at the Pier. Kay Kyser's stop was almost permanent. It seems that prior to
reaching national radio acclaim, Kay Kyser was marooned, penniless, in
Geneva-on-the-Lake by his mutineering band of musicians. Without resources, Mr.
Kyser ended up spending the remainder of the season living in the attic rooms of
the Shady Beach Hotel and off the generous hospitality of its proprietors, Helen
& Durwood Bowers.
When World War Two broke out, Geneva-on-the-Lake supported the war effort, and
catered to ever increasing numbers of local soldiers, sailors and Coast
Guardsmen. Even with rationing, foods and beverages were provided to those young
men who would soon be on far away and less-welcoming beaches. While gasoline
rationing prohibited certainly curtailed extensive road trips during the War
Years, it seemed that more and more families were finding a bit a peace at
"The Lake." On V-J Day, the streets of Geneva-on-the-Lake filled with
pot-bangin' and pan-pounding noise as residents and visitors celebrated the
War's victorious conclusion.
Families, Families, Families
With Peace came a new prosperity. So, veterans and their
young wives returned to the Lake. Many with children in tow. In 1946,
"Pop" Pera, the forever young-at-heart entrepreneur who with his young
wife Martha had in 1921 purchased the New Inn from the Swan Family, made a
rather nifty purchase: "The Flying Scooters". This, first-in-the-area,
aerial ride was an immediate hit with kids of all ages as it provided an
exciting bird's eye view of both the Lake and the "Strip."
Strategically placed just behind the Inn, the "Scooters" were soon
joined by other fun attractions as "Pop" added Dodge'ems, kidde cars
and, ride-by-ride, developed the present day 18-ride Erieview Amusement Park.
(It is said that of all the jobs "Pop" performed at the Lake-- from
volunteer fireman to hotelkeeper-- his most favorite pastime was working the
rides at Erieview Park. Many a Baby Boomer who may now reading this Guide will
fondly remember the white-haired & bearded gentleman who took the ticket
from their hand and, gently set them soaring on the Flying Jets.)
Why A Duck?
During the Postwar Years families flocked to the Lake.
They were everywhere. Riding the waves. Riding the rides. Sharing hot dogs and
donuts on the street or picnic baskets in the Township Park. On Saturday
evenings, families lined up on the "Strip" as the "Duck," an
amphibious unit from World War II led a battalion of beauties who vied for the
coveted title of Miss Geneva-on-the-Lake. And, on July 4th, the families would
converge onto the beaches to cluster on blankets as fireworks, launched from
"The Duck", exploded into the night sky.
For two solid decades the resort grew with a new vitality. Chestnut Grove Park
became crowded with plywood summer palaces. A few hundred yards from the site of
Rockefeller, Firestone & Ford's encampment, Indian
Creek, a mammoth and modern campground was hewn from the woods by Ed and
Dottie Andrus to become the summer home for thousands campers.
There was, indeed, something for everyone at Geneva-on-the-Lake. Toddlers rode
on the self-propelled land cars, while their older siblings soared above on the
"Scooters" whose name was modernized after the War to" The Flying
Jets". While teenagers sipped sodas at Pete's Grill or danced to the Big
Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" on the Front Porch, college students (who
weren't waiting the tables at restaurants, or running the rides at the amusement
parks) cruised the Strip as "Night Train" blared from the organ in The
Barn. The Swallows and the Cocktail Lounge served as the cabaret for the
Shops lined the streets, featuring Jantzen bathing suits and souvenir stuffed
crocodiles, who unlike the sturgeon, thankfully, did not spawn in the local
waters. Charter captains however, did find other "Big Ones" for
boatloads of sport fishermen. Speed boaters & sail boaters took to the water
along with slews of inner tubing bathers. The arcades and the midways offered
challenging games of ski-ball and pin-ball and Shoot-Til-You-Win. But, perhaps
the biggest challenge for most youth were the claw machines which held the
ultimate prize: naughty playing cards.
Geneva-on-the-Lake was a place of priceless moments and very affordable
pleasures. It's continued growth is a testament to those vacationers who stuck
with a good deal when they had it.
Mega Parks, Mega Prices
The 70's and 80's saw the advent of mammoth fantasy parks
and exotic vacation destinations. And, families, compelled by advertising,
scrimped and saved for years so they could afford to be flown on a plane,
shuttled on a bus and transported on a tram to worlds where lions roared, mice
wore shoes, and dinosaurs again walked. For many, the terrifying thrill of a
high-speed, twisting, turning roller coaster ride eventually wore off while the
equally terrifying reality of the price of a hot dog at the mega parks sank in.
These folks began to weigh the value of a "once-in-a-lifetime"
vacation versus "a lifetime" of vacations, and headed back to the
simple, affordable pleasures of Geneva-on-the-Lake with a new and intense
The New Lake
When the families came back to Geneva-on-the-Lake, they
came back with a vengeance. Old cottages were torn down or renovated. Condo's
went up. Hotels and motels expanded. And, bed & breakfasts opened their
lace-curtained doors to many new, first-time ever vacationers to
The State of Ohio got into the action in the mid-80's and created new camping,
hiking and bathing facilities west of the "Strip" in the Geneva State
Park. By the Early '90's, a full, 385 slip marina & small boat harbor with 6
public boat ramps were added and opened to the public. Now, as boaters, jet
skiers and wave runners make their way in and out of the protected harbor,
thousands of bathers soak up the sunshine on the mammoth State Park Beach.
And, the fun isn't just on the water as duffers find excitement on the greens of
our challenging and championship 18-hole golf courses and shoppers delight in
the unique selections available in our storefronts. "Milk Fed" chicken
isn't served any more. Instead, hand-cut steaks, General Tso's Chicken &
Chimi-Changa's sate the appetites and local wineries and niteries sate the soul
with soft guitar or New Wave vibrations.
Priceless moments and affordable pleasures. That's what Geneva-on-the-Lake is
about and has always been about. From Rockefeller, Firestone & Ford ,
through generations of value-conscious vacationers, Geneva-on-the-Lake has
proved to be a good deal for 128 years.