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Weekly bathing beauty contests were held free of charge from the 1940s-1970s
Weekly bathing beauty contests were held free of charge from the 1940s through the 1970s Photo from the postcard collection of Don Woodward

Village of Geneva-on-the-Lake

This small town, which began as a farming village during the early 1800s, represents a true slice of Americana. Unlike other small towns, the Village of Geneva-on-the-Lake is unique in that it became the state's first summer resort. Families were attracted to its temperate climate, warmed by Lake Erie in the fall and cooled by the lake in the summer.

As a city, the Village of Geneva-on-the Lake grew slowly. City water came in 1920, replacing cisterns that collected rainwater, since wells did not work in the shallow-embedded land. The village was incorporated in 1927, so that a sewer could be built. A constable was also appointed to oversee the village's 114 residents. The old Indian trail that ambled at the hilltop of Cowles Creek north to Lake Erie developed into state Route 534. Another east-west trail became Route 531.

In 1869, an enterprising businessman, Cullen Spencer, decided to capitalize on his lakefront holdings by clearing trees from his land to create a park and access to the lake. He opened his picnic grounds, called Sturgeon Point, to the public for a fee on July 4, 1869. Shortly thereafter, Cullen added a steam-driven carousel and a boarding house to his lakefront property, and the town's first resort was born.

Over the next fifty years, more boarding houses, summer cottages and a hotel opened. A new taxi service brought summer visitors from the train station in Geneva Village, five miles south of Geneva-on-the-Lake. These visitors were a mix of ethnic and income groups, who stayed at lodging facilities that catered to different groups. In the pre-air condition era, blue collar visitors, who came to escape the oppressive steel mill heat of Pittsburgh, Warren, and Youngstown, comprised the majority of visitors until about 1950. The first dance hall, the Casino Ballroom opened in 1912. When the 1928 Pier Ballroom was expanded before World War II, it was the largest ballroom between Buffalo, New York, and Sandusky, Ohio. During the Depression "marathon dance" contests took place at the Pergola Garden dance hall. Meanwhile, "park plan" dancing-named for amusement parks that adopted the system of ten cents per dance-kept the Pier and Casino alive. During the 1950s as the resort matured into a nationally known destination with little municipal oversight, bingo parlors, game arcades, and nightclubs opened on the main street.

Eventually pollution and erosion began to attack the town's biggest asset-Lake Erie, called the "dead lake" by the late 1960s. At the same time, Pennsylvania teens, attracted to Ohio's lower drinking age, crowded the town, which caused families to stay away. In 1970, the town's drinking age was raised to 21. Slowly, the Geneva-on-the-Lake's image began to turn around. Tourists were attracted because of its quaint nature. Many returning visitors were new parents who had vacationed there as children. The tastes of the traveling public have come full circle, and family-oriented activities are back in demand.

Documentation comprises a text report, and a pictorial history through approximately 40 color postcard facsimiles.

Originally submitted by: Steve C. LaTourette, Representative (19th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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