In 1885 there are two big hotels competing on Ontario Beach; Cottage Hotel on the west and Hotel Ontario on the east. The Hotel Ontario had an advantage as the NY Central Railroad line ended at a loop between the hotel and the lake. The ad from a 1885 issue of the Troy Daily Times shows that the Hotel was already trying to get people to come from far away.
It was announced in spring 1885 that a roller coaster would be constructed just south of Hotel Ontario. There aren’t any pictures of that early coaster but the March 12th issue of the Democrat & Chronicle described it as 500 feet long and would start at 24 feet above the ground. It would have four cars, each capable of holding 18 people. It was supposed to be finished by June.
A carousel would also open in 1885. Not the one that is still there today. That came in 1905. This was probably much smaller. Linda M. Bartash author of “Horses in Motion” (2001) says that a second carousel would replace the original carousel by 1892.
Adding those two rides added enticements to come to the beach. So much so that the Democrat & Chronicle of June 15th was the first to call the beach the “Coney Island of Western New York.”
Music was always an attraction. There were benches out in front of Hotel Ontario where a band played every afternoon and evening. But what if it rained? They decided to build a pavilion next to the Hotel Ontario. It would have opening festivities on Thursday Aug 13th. They held a concert and ball with Prof. Theodore Hoch, of New York, Prof. Henry Greiner (a local choir director), and the 54th Regt. Full Band of 25 pieces. There was more dancing after the concert. Even though this was a Thursday, newspapers say that trains would return from the beach at 11:15 p.m. and 1:30 a.m.
The weekend after the pavilion opened there was a huge crowd at the beach. About 10,000 people went to the beach on Sunday the 16th. The newspaper said that the 3:00 train had 20 coaches filled with people. It also mentioned that “the carousel and roller coaster were well patronized.”
The new Hotel Ontario pavilion was so popular that to compete the Cottage Hotel would build a pavilion in 1886. There aren’t any pictures of the Hotel Ontario pavilion. It would burn down on Oct. 31, 1894. It would be replaced by a bigger pavilion for which there are many pictures.
The last day of the 1885 season was on Sunday, Sept. 20th. It was a good year at the beach. Lake Ontario was have a surprise in store before the opening of the 1886 season. On April 6th there was a great storm at the beach. Cottage Hotel was surrounded by water. Boardwalks were floating. Grounds in front of Hotel Ontario were covered with logs, stumps and rocks. Even a breakwall failed in front of the railroad loop, undermining the tracks. Lake Ontario is always unpredictable.
Next: More varied amusements