Travel: Ohio’s First Vacation Resort
Located in Ashtabula County on Lake Erie, Geneva on the Lake has been a vacation destination for over a century.
In 1795, the Connecticut Land Company purchased the territory along the lake from the state of Connecticut, and soon a group of surveyors set out to explore the land. After months surveying and mapping the land, most of the group returned to Connecticut to avoid the harsh lake winter. Ten people stayed behind, and they became the first settlers of the area. When Ohio earned its official statehood a few years later in 1803, New Englanders came in droves to the newly mapped territory.
Hailed as Ohio’s first resort, the first vacationers of the area arrived shortly after the Civil War from Ohio and Pennsylvania. In 1869, settlers noticed the influx of travelers. Sturgeon Point, today known as the Mapleton Beach area, was designated as a public picnic and beach area. As the area grew in popularity, surrounding beach area was purchased, and a few years later a horse-powered merry-go-round was installed.
A few families built boarding houses for travelers, but most vacationers pitched tents on the beach. By 1905, more than 50 cottages opened their doors to board vacationers. The road that now houses the main strip of Geneva on the Lake was laid in 1912, and many of the original structures in the area are still standing today. As early as 1920, families began moving into the area and opening businesses, dance halls, ballrooms, and hotels. In 1924, Allison’s Mini Golf Course opened and still operates today as the longest running mini-golf course in the U.S.
Over the next few decades, more businesses and amusements moved to the area. Bingo halls, skating rinks, shooting galleries, and arcades opened their doors for vacationers. In 1945, Kiddie Land opened with a host of rides for young children. For 20 years, Kiddie Land added rides and continued to be a main attraction of the area.
In the 1970s and 1980s, adult amusement rides and coasters were added, and the name was changed to Erieview Park. The park remained in operation until 2006 when the owners decided to close the park and auction off the rides and equipment. The original Ferris Wheel was relocated to the Old Firehouse Winery, where it still operates today, offering guests a spectacular sunset view over Lake Erie.
Geneva on the Lake’s popularity diminished in the 1980s and 1990s. State parks and amusement parks began to populate the area, providing entertainment competition for the small community. Vandalism and natural disaster struck, further contributing to the decline in tourism. However, the faithful few stayed committed, and a revitalization began in the year 2000. New businesses opened and new housing was constructed. Wineries and open-air bars offered live music. A few of the local favorites, like Eddie’s Grill and Allison’s Miniature Golf, were undeterred by the tourist drop-off and have remained in operation for nearly a century.
Today, the Strip on Geneva on the Lake is filled with arcades, music venues, restaurants, wineries, ice cream shops, souvenir shops, and antique shops. For those looking to explore the local flora and fauna, Geneva State Park is located a few miles from the strip. In addition to a beach area and boat marina, the park also has several miles worth of hiking trails that wind by the lake and through the woods.
Many families have visited the area for decades and continue to bring their children and grandchildren back every summer. Waterfront cottages and resorts provide a relaxed environment to take in a sunset, skip rocks on the water, eat at a local favorite restaurant, and embrace the vacation of a time gone by.
Historical information source: Geneva on the Lake by Wendy Koile