Ontario Beach Park – #6

In 1889 the NY Central Railroad had some new competition in a electric trolley line that ran up present Lake Avenue (then just called the Boulevard) to Ontario Beach. The line ended just south of the Cottage Hotel.

After the end of the summer season two of the smaller hotels at the beach would be destroyed by fire. On Sept. 2 an oil stove at the Manhattan Hotel would catch fire and destroy that hotel. The fire would spread to the small Rialto Hotel and it too would be destroyed. The bathing pavilion of the Hotel Ontario was also burned down. The Cottage Hotel was badly scorched.

New attractions in 1890 were Eden Musee (see pic.), Mechanical Wonder, Switchback Railroad, Camera Obscura and a popcorn tent. The Eden Musee was probably a copy of the one that opened in New York City in 1884. It had a waxworks collection, magic lantern shows and marionettes. A camera obscura is also a kind of magic lantern that projected images similar to slides so that part of the Eden Musee show may have been in a separate building.

A Switchback Railroad is an early form of roller coaster. The first one was built by LaMarcus A. Thompson at Coney Island in 1884. On the one at Coney Island people sat on benches that faced to one side. They would go up and down inclines to a tower and switch to another track and return to their origin. The one Ontario Beach may also have been built by L. A. Thompson as his name was on a later coaster there.

On the Fourth of July, 1890 estimates are that 12,000 people went to the beach.

In early August there was a balloon ascension. They used a kerosene fire with a pipe running to under the balloon to fill it with hot air. Prof. Leo sat in a trapeze and had a cork life-preserver to help himself stay afloat when he landed in the lake. One of the assistants for Prof. Leo was a waiter named George F. Allen from Charlotte. He thought that he could could do as good as Prof. Leo so he purchased a balloon for himself. He reversed his name for show business to Prof. Nella. He would ascend to 5.000 feet on a bar and then jumped into the lake using a parachute.

I’m not sure if the picture of the balloon at the beach is Prof. Nella or not. I know that it is from the 1890s so I’d would like to think that it is him. He will be back in the next installment.

Tragedy would strike the beach on Aug. 14th. Newspapers said that Kate Denneham and Mrs. John Riley went beyond the guard rope in Lake Ontario. They stepped in a deep hole and got in trouble. Mr. Riley swam out and rescued his wife but Miss Denneham was drowned. A law suit for $500 was brought in July 1892 against the Ontario Beach Improvement Company. The suit said that she was “within the ropes” and the company was negligent in “not providing a safe and proper place for bathers within the ropes.” I couldn’t find any results of this lawsuit.