Geneva-on-the-Lake: Ohio’s First Summer Resort

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For me, Geneva-on-the-Lake was Ohio’s version of the family resort where the Houseman family in Dirty Dancing spent their summers. It’s a small town on the edge of Lake Erie where beachgoers flock in the summer for boardwalk games, go-karts, ziplining, plenty of hot dogs, and water sports along the lake.

It is touted as Ohio’s first summer resort and probably experienced its heyday in the 1940’s and 50’s when the Erieview amusement park and several Mom & Pop motels opened. It was an easy getaway for families hoping to spend their summer days along the water’s edge. But as the years went by, bigger mega-attractions lured families away with more deluxe accommodations and promised thrills. What remains today is a fragment of what used to be: a time capsule of treasures that once delighted innumerable Midwestern families.

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My mother and I spent a weekend there, walking along the Strip of arcades, outdoor diners, and miscellaneous attractions. We walked to the water’s edge and looked out along Lake Erie where a few brave souls tried their hands legs at paddleboarding.

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We stayed out of the water but poked inside Sandy’s Chanty one evening for a delicious dinner and old-fashioned entertainment courtesy of Sandy and his 1920’s Shooting Gallery. He happily turned it on and rang all the bells and whistles to the delight of all his patrons. I was shocked that the game still functioned — especially once he explained that the pings and dents we saw were caused by actual bullets used during the Shooting Gallery days.

We had hoped to play Fascination –  a vintage California Bingo game that has become almost obsolete. Only a handful of places still feature these outdated machines. My first job was at an amusement park where I stood outside as a hawker, calling out my spiel to entice passersby in to “give it a try.” The game was $0.25 back then and still is at the Fascination parlor today. Unfortunately, the owners never did take down the “Back in 10 minutes” post-it sign on their door during the three days we were there.

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Instead we entertained ourselves with the selection of street food stands and live entertainment that abounded on the Strip.

And then we watched the sun set. Every night on the horizon of Lake Erie. It was beautiful. The perfect ending to relaxing days along the Lake. I imagine thousands of families did the same thing over the past 129 years that Geneva-on-the-Lake has drawn people to its shores. It’s easy to see why.

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What other little-known family spots have you enjoyed?

 

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15 responses to “Geneva-on-the-Lake: Ohio’s First Summer Resort

  1. Ah, you had me with comparing it to Dirty Dancing! It’s really apparent how over the years (decades) the “bigger, better” thing has overcome the simplicity of life…those good ol’ days. I would love to ride that ferris wheel (beautiful photo by the way) and play Fascination (my family and I love to play board games still). Hate you didn’t get to play it-wonder why they forgot to take the sign down or just didn’t put up a “closed” one? What an absolutely gorgeous sunset too!

    • Thanks, Heather! I find that more and more, I’m drawn to the smaller, more intimate and personal attractions and towns. I was constantly surprised in Geneva-on-the-Lake at all the hidden treasures — like the shooting gallery. Who knew?!

  2. I love going to places that feel as if you are stuck in a moment in history. Its really neat, also a good place to go with a family member. I love the Dirty Dancing reference btw! I watched that for the first time this year. Sounds like a unique weekend out!

  3. That’s brilliant. I don’t know of anywhere that quite compares. I tried to find any reference as to how it (or indeed Geneva NY) came by its name, but no luck. Any connection to the Swiss city I wonder? It too has a lake 🙂

    • It’s an excellent question. I didn’t notice it being particularly Swiss or German. It is in Ohio’s wine country, but don’t know that that’s a good Swiss comparison either. It must be the lake connection!

    • There is SO MUCH to see in Ohio and so much diversity in a relatively small state. The Amish, maple-sugaring in Spring, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, Lake Erie,major amusement parks, the birthplace of flight, etc., etc. I’m not just bragging because I live here. There really is a lot more to it than one might imagine.

  4. I remember watching Dirty Dancing with my Mom as a way of her showing me how things ‘in her day’ were. It still makes me smile every time I think about them practicing the iconic lift in the water. I bet there is a YouTube video out there that has bloopers of people attempting to do that bloody lift. All in all though, it looks really relaxing, and has a bit of the small ‘home town feel’.

  5. I have always wanted to go to Geneva on the Lake. We usually headed up to Kelly’s Island and Put-in-Bay for our Lake Erie fun. There was a time where micro-resorts like this were everywhere (and train routes to take you there).

    • There are so many Great Lake towns to visit. It’s a shame it doesn’t hit people’s radars as much these days. It’s a much more laid-back experience than the bigger waterside resorts.

  6. I love hearing about places like this. I’ve been wanting to get back up to this part of Ohio lately. I’ve heard good things about Put-in-Bay as well! Definitely adding this to my summer wish list next year.

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