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