The Golden Age of Onondaga Resorts - Purple Mountain Press


by Donald L. Thompson

From Chapter 3 / White City:

"During the opening day, the attendance reached 41,203 by 9:00 PM, just before the fireworks display. In a Syracuse Post Standard article the day after the opening, it was reported that, `the transportation capacity of the Syracuse, Lakeshore and Northern Railroad was overtaxed. Every car leaving the courthouse was packed. People were jammed in the vestibules of the closed cars and the running boards and fenders of the open ones. In a number of cases the roofs of the cars were occupied. One car had 211 people, according to the trolley conductor.' Crowds were greeted by the fifty-member Kilties Band from Canada during the first week, playing at the bandstand just beyond the arched entrance. Seats were available for up to 5,000 people. In June, the Duss Band was scheduled to appear, and later in the summer John Phillip Sousa's band was slated to entertain the crowds at White City. The west side of the grounds included a dance pavilion 100 by 150 feet, with music furnished by a 'large orchestra.' Adjoining the dance pavilion was a theater of oriental design that could seat 500 people. . . . White City included many amusement rides, but the most popular ride was the Shoot-the-Chutes ride that was found just beyond the entrance gate, in the center of the park grounds. The Post Standard on May 31, 1906, reported, `the center of attraction was the Shoot-the-Chutes, and the artificial lake into which the boats plunged was always surrounded by a crowd.' "

There seems to be a gap in the knowledge of many people currently living in Central New York regarding the rich history of the west shore of Onondaga Lake. A new book, The Golden Age of Onondaga Resorts by Donald Thompson of Clay, brings to life an era that should not be forgotten when great resorts lined the west shore during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Four of the seven largest resorts were amusement parks with an amazing variety of attractions, including roller coasters, carousels, dance pavilions, shooting galleries, and bowling alleys. Others featured picnic groves beneath majestic maple and chestnut trees. Many people are familiar with the history of the east shore of Onondaga Lake, thanks to the recreation of a 1650’s French Mission to the Iroquois and the Salt Museum. It was the west shore that was developed as a resort community when the east shore was covered with marshland and thousands of deteriorating solar salt sheds. Today only the Haley West Shore Trail crosses the area and the surrounding land has reverted to a mostly natural state. Markers erected to indicate the resorts’ locations have fallen victim to vandals.

In this book the author portrays what the west shore resorts were like about 100 years ago and describes each resort in detail based on contemporary news accounts, interviews, historical postcards, and library and historical society archives. Each resort had its own unique character and appeal. For example, White City rivaled Coney Island with its amusement rides, and Rockaway Beach catered to the sporting set. Some were backed financially by trolley companies that offered promotions to increase ridership to the resorts.

While a marina and a yacht club exist on the east shore of Onondaga Lake today, the original yacht club, a focus of much social activity around the turn of the century, was on the west shore. Most Syracusans today pass along the west shore on Rte. 690 to and from the city, or visiting the New York State Fairgrounds, never realizing they are driving close to the last of the resorts, demolished in 1954 for the Rte. 690 right-of-way.

The final chapter of the book explores the future of Onondaga Lake Park and proposed expansion plans. In the past, politicians and planners have attempted to make Onondaga Lake a recreational playground, instead of a dumping area for industrial waste. Today federal, state and local leaders are again trying to create a renaissance for Onondaga Lake as a recreational site after years of neglect. As these plans for renewal begin to transform the lake, it is an opportune time to become acquainted with the “Golden Age of Onondaga Lake Resorts.”

Meet Donald Thompson

141 pages, illustrated, 7 x 10, index
$15.00 paperback--A Purple Mountain Press original

Copyright © 2002 Purple Mountain Press. All rights reserved.