Ontario Beach Park – #36

Nineteen hundred-nineteen would be the last year for the amusement park on the beach. There are many theories as to why the Park closed. Some say that there was lower attendance because of World War I. Others say that cheaper automobiles let people go to other locations. Then there is the theory that the coming of Prohibition helped the demise of the Park.

It is probable that the Park had lower attendance during the War. World War I would end Nov. 11, 1918 and the Park management would have been happy to see more people returning in 1919.

It had only been briefly mentioned in newspaper articles on the Park but they had starting using the land south of Beach Ave. for parking of cars. The City of Rochester was opening new parks but the only drawing card that they had was band concerts. None had  anywhere the number of amusements that were at Ontario Beach Park.

Prohibition hadn’t started in 1919. A movement against alcohol had been growing over the years but the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was passed on Jan. 16, 1920. The manager of Hotel Ontario in 1917 and 1918 had stopped selling alcohol and and most likely was a bad idea that left them not to lease the Hotel again in 1919.

In mid May 1919 the City of Rochester announced that they were buying the land at the beach that had formerly housed the Bartholomay Cottage Hotel and also had some cottages. The City also said that they intended to buy the Park and would condemn the property if they couldn’t buy it. The City said the Park had “unsightly structures” that would be removed or demolished. The buildings were not in bad shape and every year the Park was known to spruce up before opening. The Park land was still owned by the New York Central Railroad with the buildings owned by Ontario Beach Park Amusement Co. The City was determined to own the whole beach no matter what.

With the threat of the end coming, the Park opened for the season on Saturday, May 24th. There were no noticeable changes from the previous season with circus style acts on the open air stage from Monday to Saturday. Monk’s Band again played twice daily at the bandstand. All the rides were in full use. The only change was that the Hotel Ontario wasn’t open as they couldn’t find anyone to lease it. It would be the first week of July when the Park announced that the Hotel would again be opened for business under the management of Vahan G. Kuimjian, who also ran a candy shop in the city.

The Park continued events from previous years. They had a trap shooting contest in mid June but this one was hosted by the Riverside Gun Club instead of the NY State Association. Dare-Devil Oliver, the high diver that had appeared in 1918 came back again for a week. He was the one that also had a dog, Uno, that did a high dive.

The City opened their park on the beach for bathing on July 19th. They had 6 acres with 15 cottages still remaining that would be used as bathhouses for the remainder of the year. They planned on knocking those cottages down the next year and building a new bathhouse the next year.

By mid August the City was installing lockers in the old cottages. They undercut the price in the Park. The price for use of the bathhouse at the Park is 25 cents. That price gives a person the use of a locker and the toboggan slide. There are only 202 lockers and if busy they put 4 people in one locker. Use of a locker is only 10 cents at the City beach park and children under 12 are free. The City had 2,000 lockers. Also the City had the Park Band under direction of Theodore Dossenbach play from the porch of one of the cottages. The City was doing everything it could to undermine the business at the Park.

The ad on right is from Aug. 3rd. As part of the Sunday concert at the Park were the Smylie Sisters, two vaudeville singers and also Mr. George Riley, a ragtime singer. The next week, the Demarest Horse Show starred Miss Jessie Lee Nichols and Miss Dixie Nell Raynorn. They brought 4 Liberty horses, 2 high-school and dancing horses and 2 jumpers. They ended up being held over for another week. but had new horses for the second week. One was named Dude and is blind. Another horse named Alamonso was a Belgian horse that did a tap dance.

Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties from Hollywood who were appearing in person at the Family Theater in Rochester were also coming to the Park on August 31st. They were supposed to swim in the lake and give exhibitions of fancy diving from a float. It didn’t exactly happen that way. Because of low temperature of the lake and also that the ladies’ bathing costumes had not arrived they did not dive. Instead, Miss Lillian Garrett, champion diver of Rochester, gave some fancy dives and appeased the crowd.

On Labor Day night, Monday, Sept. 3, 1919 they closed the gates to Ontario Beach Park, forever.

The City of Rochester in late October said that more than 100,000 people attended the band concerts and bathing at the new small park next to the amusement park.

If the City made an offer to the NY Central Railroad for the Park, it must have not been enough money as an article in the Democrat & Chronicle of Nov. 14th says that “Within the next ten days condemnation proceedings to enable the city to acquire the … properties in the Twenty-third ward (Charlotte) probably will be started. Condemnation commissioners will be appointed and a series of hearings will be held. The city is anxious to get possession of the property in the spring.” The City acquiring the beach land would get very complicated in 1920.



  1. Hi Dick!
    Great blog as always. I’m fascinated by the event you mentioned — Theo Dossenbach playing on the porch of one of the cottages at Ontario Beach Park, presumably in the summer.
    I don’t have any info on that. I have the Park Band playing for Orphans Day, and for a bunch of other events that summer, mostly in the other city parks, but nothing about the one you referenced.
    Could you send it to me? Is that possible? I’m fascinated.

    • That reference was from the D&C of Sunday, Aug. 17, 1919. I found that on Fulton History. I went to the website to find the page and was going to send you a clipping but the search part of Fulton History isn’t working properly. So I send you the clipping when Tom gets his website working again.

  2. Thanks so much, Dick — the date is very helpful. I’ll be able to find it now. In fact, I plan on doing a whole bunch more article-getting on fultonhistory in a few weeks, when I finish my current set of lectures at Oasis.

    So happy to have read about Theo in your blog! Enjoying your blog — will be sad when the Ontario Beach Park comes to an end.

    By the way, I think there was another dynamic which played into the changes in Ontario Beach Park when the city took over. I think at that time (I’ve read it, but haven’t specifically researched it to verify it) the city had a no-alcohol law for city parks. This is why some parks were private — Shuetzen Park, Corbett’s Glen — so they could allow their users to have alcohol (very important to the Germans and their beer!). I think the city wanted to take over Ontario Beach Park to enact that law, and this might be why the hotel stopped selling alcohol? Not 100% sure about this, of course, but thought it was interesting.

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