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.


WDYTYA – Molly Shannon

You know Molly Shannon from Saturday Night Live (1995 – 2001). Since then she has been in a bunch of movies. She also wrote a children’s book that was published in 2011.

With a name like Molly Shannon you would know that she has deep roots in Ireland. She finds an ancestor that is a story teller. There are also ancestors who were forced to change their religion in the face of impending starvation. Molly also gets to meet many cousins.

This episode of Who Do You Think You Are? air Monday, June 11th, on the TLC channel at 9 p.m. (eastern and western times). Look for older episodes before and after Molly’s episode.

Ontario Beach Park – #5

In 1886 the east part of Ontario Beach is owned by NY Central Railroad who lease the land to the Ontario Beach Improvement Company. There is a carousel and roller coaster but those are run by someone else, not the “Company.” For the 1886 season there would be a new billiard room, bowling alley and shooting range under the management of Phillips & Hurst of New York. That same company would open the Vienna Bakery and restaurant.

Another new building has a photographer. That is near the Stutson Hotel. That was a small hotel that was located next to the Genesee River at the eastern end of Beach Ave. That is also where the ferry landing was located.

Bands had been the primary entertainment but I see the first reference to a tight-rope walker as being on view in front of the Hotel Ontario on Aug. 20, 1886.

In 1887 picnic grounds and baseball fields were added. They were south of Beach Avenue in what is now the big parking lot at the beach.

Moving ahead to 1888, a new hotel was built by Mrs. Seibel with a barroom, large & small dining room, lunch counter and six bedrooms. It will be next to the Manhattan Hotel (another small hotel) and not to far from the Stutson pavilion.

In 1888 both the Cottage Hotel and Hotel Ontario added what they called toboggans but were really water slides.  They were free to bathers but I am fairly sure that you had to pay for a changing room and bathing suit rental.

The Livingston Democrat of July 25, 1888 says of Ontario Beach: “In one large building is bowling alleys, rifle ranges, billiards and all kinds of games, and here the young men congregate, play games, drink beer, get drunk, quarrel, fight, and have a big time generally. Many games of chance are carried on, where you have a chance to tumble in your cash and get nothing in return. We saw some eight or ten fights the day that we were there.” They also noted that about 3000 to 4000 people were watching a baseball game.

Drawing of Blondin

The Hotel Ontario also added peddle swan boats that ran on the lake. There are only 8 of them. Then in August a storm threw the swan boat dock on the beach and destroyed one of the boats.

The biggest thing to happen at the beach in 1888 was the appearance of Blondin, a famous tight-rope walker. He had appeared at least twice before in Rochester but that was in 1859 and 1860. He had crossed the gorge near Niagara Falls numerous times to great aclaim. He had retired for a while but was back at Ontario Beach on a return tour. The Democrat & Chronicle said he would “positively make his last appearance in this country at Ontario Beach on Saturday, August 4th, 7th, 9th, 9th and 11th.” “Blondin will dance on the rope, promenade, stand on his head, turn somersault, cross blindfolded, cross in a sack, balance wonderfully on a chair, carry his son across on his back, ride a bicycle and indulge in many daring tricks.”  One thing that he did that was not mentioned was he crossed the 200 foot long rope (80 feet high high) with a backpack. At the center of the rope he sat down, pulled out a small stove out of his backpack, cooked an egg and then ate it before continuing.