Geneva-on-the-Lake: Ohio's First Resort
Generations of families fondly remember visiting Geneva-on-the-Lake (GOTL) each summer to enjoy its Lake Erie shoreline and catch the action along its mile-long main drag, affectionately known as "The Strip."
This resort town, 50 miles east of Cleveland, has a rich history, stretching back more than 140 years, as Ohio's first resort.
Cullen Spencer and Edwin Pratt envisioned the early 1800s farming village as a summer escape from the heat and dirt of large industrial towns like Cleveland, Youngstown and Pittsburgh.
In 1869, they cleared a bluff overlooking Lake Erie to open a picnic park called Sturgeon Point. It soon became a campground, and Cullen Spencer installed a steam-driven carousel there.
By 1905, there were over 50 resort cottages and 20-plus boarding houses for summer visitors.
The Casino Ballroom opened in 1912, the first of many dance halls that flourished in GOTL through the Big Band era of the 1940s when big names like Cab Calloway, Jimmy Dorsey and Ozzie and Harriet Nelson played the small town.
Tennis courts, roller skating rinks, sightseeing boats and miniature golf drew more and more tourists to GOTL through the 1920s and 1930s.
You can still play Allison's miniature golf course on The Strip. The course, opened in 1924 and owned by the Allison family since 1981, is the oldest continuously-operating miniature golf course in the United States.
GOTL grew rapidly after World War II with the opening of businesses still fondly remembered by baby boomers who visited as young children.
Places like Eddie's Grill, a hot dog stand opened by then-17-year-old Eddie Sezon in 1949, still draws boomers with their kids and grandkids in tow each summer.
In 1946, "Pop" Pera bought "The Flying Scooters", setting the ride up behind his lakeside inn. It was a hit, and Pera's Erieview Park became an 18-ride amusement park.
Fortunately for nostalgic fans, the park's 1956-vintage Ferris wheel sits near its original site at the Old Firehouse Winery, where you can ride it nightly during the summer.
The Strip's attractions like shooting galleries, midway games and bingo parlors continued to draw tourists during the 1950s, but families moved away from vacationing at vintage resorts.
Today GOTL is the only remaining classic Lake Erie resort town.
The State of Ohio developed camping, hiking and a swimming beach west of The Strip in the mid-1980s and added a marina and harbor at Geneva State Park by the early 1990s, revitalizing GOTL's summer tourist season. The state park's Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake, opened in 2004, also offers year-round events and activities.
Planning to visit Geneva-on-the-Lake? Be sure to download the PDF version of GOTLs vacation planning and event guide for 2012.