by Karen S. Roberts
While looking for a quiet lakeside rental cottage for a short vacation, I stumbled upon Olcott Beach in the tiny hamlet of Olcott, NY. Not only did I find a cottage, but I discovered a quaint town with some interesting history.
Back in the early 1900’s, Olcott Beach was a resort area. When a trolley line was put in place between the towns of Lockport and Olcott in 1900, summer visitors flocked to the beach to enjoy the cool breezes of Lake Ontario and entertainment. Also vacationers arrived by steamship. During the early years of the 1900’s, over 100,000 tourists arrived yearly.
Visiting Olcott now, it’s hard to believe that it once teemed with tourists. The streets near the beach are lined with numerous summer cottages. At the Beachfront Vacation Cottages where we stayed, my husband and I enjoyed sitting on the deck each day, looking out over the beautiful lake with its sailboats, speedboats, kayakers, ducks, and sea gulls. On a nearby marina pier, several fishermen enjoyed the summer weather and each other’s company into the evening. But there were no big crowds.
Olcott Beach especially became popular when The Luna Amusement Park opened in 1898, featuring live entertainment at the Dreamland Dance Hall. As the crowds increased due to the trolley, eight hotels opened in the area to accommodate folks who came to enjoy the beach and entertainment.
The most popular hotel was the Olcott Grand Hotel, with one hundred rooms and a huge veranda overlooking the beach. Swimmers had direct access to the water from the hotel. But the real draw for tourists was the Grand Ballroom of 14,000 square feet. It was the beginning of the Big Band era, and popular musicians performed there. These included Guy Lombardo and Louis Armstrong.
Unfortunately, due to the Great Depression when people had little money to spend, in addition to the increase in automobile ownership, the hotel business at Olcott Beach and many other Lake Ontario tourist communities floundered. People could drive to the beach for a day and return home without spending money on a hotel. In 1927 a huge fire wiped out many buildings and the amusement park along the main part of the tourist area. The Grand Hotel was repaired, but only survived a few more years. Due to deterioration, the building was demolished in 1937.
Then in 1942 there was an upswing of summer visitors, although not the hotel business. The new Olcott Amusement Park became a tourist attraction. But it closed in 1986. Another small amusement park called New Rialto was open at Olcott Beach during some of those years as well. These small parks couldn’t compete with Darien Lake Amusement Park, which is now a Six Flags park. That park is only 43 miles from Olcott and opened in the early 1980’s.
Today Olcott is still an attraction for swimming, boating, and fishing. The town now sponsors major fishing derbies which draw in folks who love to compete for trophy fish. In 2012, Olcott Beach won the title of “Ultimate Fishing Town” in an annual contest sponsored by The World Fishing Network. The deep harbor is well known as a great place to catch salmon and trout.
The area north of Main Street in Olcott is the part of town called Olcott Beach. One of the unique characteristics is what might be the tiniest boardwalk anywhere with just a few seasonal shops.
When we parked near the shops, we immediately heard the “oom-pa-pa” of a carousel’s Wurlizer Band organ. The Olcott Beach Carousel Park was developed in 2003-2004 by local volunteers who raised funds for building a vintage amusement park.. It features an old time Herschell-Spillman two-row carousel and a few other kiddie rides for only 25 cents a ride! They can do this because the park is staffed by volunteers and is incorporated as a nonprofit organization. When you enter this quaint park you feel like you are going back in time to around 1945.
The local volunteers who restored the round carousel building made sure that it resembled the original one that was built in the 1940’s. The volunteers take pride in letting children experience the fun of simple amusements like the ones enjoyed when their grandparents were children. This cute little park is open from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day each year.
After a stroll through the mini-boardwalk and the park, we went around the corner to eat at the Mariner’s Landing restaurant. We chose to eat inside due to the heat that evening. But we could have eaten on an outdoor upper deck which offers a stunning view of Lake Ontario and nearby Krull Park. The inside was filled with nautical decor, especially on an upper ledge that ran all the way around the dining room. It was filled with models of ships, lighthouses, sea captains, and other knick-knacks. They were fascinating to look at.
Both of us ordered fish dinners. The waiter seemed a bit impatient as we asked questions about substitutions for potatoes and coleslaw, but he also was quite busy covering several tables in the dining room as well as out front on the sidewalk. Later he stopped by and in a more friendly way chatted about how to cook cabbage. We enjoyed our dinners and viewing the decor. We had to wait awhile to get our check, but overall eating there was fun.
After our meal we needed to walk off some calories and wandered across the narrow street into the beautiful 325-acre Krull Park. The park overlooks the lake in the area where the old Grand Hotel once stood. We didn’t go down the steep stone step pathway to the beach below where the swimming area is, but enjoyed the view from above. The park is pleasantly arranged with benches, picnic areas, and pavilions. We heard that over the summer several festivals take place at the park. Across Main St. is another section of the park. In a drive-by, we could see busy recreation fields and courts that were full of kids playing sports, along with spectators. A cheerleading squad was practicing within sight of the street also.
Within the park is a playground with a water spray area, as well as two ice skating rinks. This small community obviously takes pride in their park. It was very clean and nicely landscaped.
That evening we finished our day back on the deck at the cottage, hoping for a spectacular sunset over Lake Ontario. Although the sky was somewhat colorful each evening as the sun went down, we didn’t see the stunning sunsets that are often enjoyed at the lake.
I felt like we should have planned to stay a day or two longer to see other sights in the area. Olcott isn’t far from Niagara Falls and the Erie Canal that runs through Lockport. I’d like to return again next year during one of the festivals. If so, I hope to see one of those amazing sunsets!
If You Go:
About the author:
Karen S. Roberts, a free-lance writer and blogger, lives in Rochester, NY. You can visit her author page at amazon.com/author/karenrobertsbooks. Some of her blogs are become-a-secret-shopper.com, daily-devotionals.com, and bestgymnasticsvideos.com.
It’s unusual to see four sailboats so close together on the lake – by Karen S. Roberts
It’s fun to visit these little shops that are only open during the tourist season – by Karen S. Roberts
The community takes pride in maintaining the vintage carousel – by Karen S. Roberts
Mariner’s Landing is a relaxing place to get a fish dinner in a unique nautical-themed atmosphere – by David Roberts
Krull Park, overlooking Lake Ontario – by David Roberts