Ontario Beach Park – #38

New picnic tables.

The amusement park at Ontario Beach is being dismantled in 1920. At the same time the City of Rochester is adding new picnic tables in the area where the Bartholomay’s Cottage Hotel used to be (see picture).

Hotel Ontario was remodeled, slightly, as the cupola was removed and by August it was being used as a refectory and office for the City of Rochester. You can see by the picture, that all the other things that used to be in front of the Hotel have been removed.

Another building that was spared was Hilarity Hall (formerly the Auditorium). It appears to have sat empty in 1920 but it will find a new use in 1921.

Refectory (formerly Hotel Ontario) and an empty beach.

The carousel was also spared from being wrecked. It sits in the same building today but the top of the building has changed over time.

Trolley fare decreased in late August from 10 cents to 7 cents. The fare decrease and warm weather helped bring somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 to the beach on Aug. 29th. More than 3,000 used the city bath houses at the beach.

Legal trouble came earlier in 1920 when in June Massachusetts made a claim of ownership for the beach properties. The original colonial charters for both Massachusetts and New York said that they owned all the way west to the Pacific. That meant that both states owned all of western New York. Those claims were settled by the 1786 Treaty of Hartford. That treaty says that Massachusetts would be able to sell western New York lands and thereafter New York would control the land. Just two years later Massachusetts sold all of western New York to a syndicate formed by Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham (known as the Phelps and Gorham Purchase). Phelps and Gorham did have to clear their title with the Six Nations of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) after which they could start selling the land.

In 1920 Massachusetts  was claiming ownership of the beach properties because the acreage was under Lake Ontario at the time of the Treaty of Hartford in 1786. As evidence they submitted a map dated 1811 by David Finley showing that the shore line at that time was at the present day line of Beach Avenue.

By October 1920 both the Bartholomay Brewing Company and NY Central Railroad hadn’t been paid for their former lands. Mayor Edgerton said that they would be paid full value but Bartholomay said that their 7 acres were worth $150,000 and the NY Central said their 15 acres were worth $250,000.

Another claim to the beach properties also showed up in October. Oliver Phelps, of Detroit, and Elizabeth Phelps, of Cananadaigua, along with Nathaniel Gorham, of Buffalo, claimed ownership as heirs of Phelps and Gorham.

Massachusetts in December is asking the US Supreme Court to settle the claims of ownership. It wasn’t until 1922 that all parties were in Washington arguing their case of ownership of the properties. By that time time two members of the Seneca Nations were also claiming ownership.

The claims of ownership dragged on. In early 1926 New York State also got involved as they knew if they lost out to Massachusetts, it would lead to more claims in the future. Just before it was finally settled, it was found out that Rochester had encouraged Massachusetts to claim to the land so they would get a cheaper price. A decision was issued by the US Supreme Court on April 12, 1926 that the rightful owners were NY Central Railroad and Bartholomay Company. That means that Rochester ended up paying a high price for the lands plus all the legals fees over the years.

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