Delving into the Hammond Geauga Lake Diaries

John Kudley Jr.
Aurora Historical Society
The Marcus Illions Carousel with 64 hand-carved horses was housed in a building constructed by the Miller Co. with lumber purchased from the Cuyahoga Lumber Co.

Editors note: This is the first of a three-part series.

The driving force behind what became the Geauga Lake amusement park was Harry Horace Hammond, a prominent attorney from Cleveland Heights who lived through the turn of the last century.

Born in 1872, he lived 67 years, dying on March 6, 1939. He was married to Katherine Shumway Hammond in 1904. She was born in 1881 and died in 1958. They had two daughters: Katherine, born in 1908, and Lynn, born in 1912.

Hammond’s offices were located in the Union Trust Bank Co. building at the northeast corner of East 9th and Euclid Ave. in Cleveland.

The building replaced the old Lennox office building and the Euclid Theater. The building transformed the intersection making it the center of the city’s financial district and one of the more important commercial addresses in the United States. It opened to the public, during a week of gala events, in May 1924.

Hammond was involved in business investments and dealings on both a national and international level.

His association to the history of Aurora is connected through the development of Geauga Lake Park during the 1920’s. It was during that era that Picnic Lake Park was transformed from a quaint summer spot for family outings, swimming, boating and baseball games into an amusement park that rivaled competitors like Euclid Beach Park.

While William J. Kuhlman is recognized as the individual that expanded the park, Harry Hammond was the real mastermind, driving force and financier behind creating what came to be known as Geauga Lake Amusement Co.

While many Geauga Lake Park historians and enthusiasts may question the significance of the role Hammond played, his detailed diaries depict the day-by-day, month-by-month, and year-by-year development of the park.

Hammond’s diaries for the years 1918 through 1921 and 1925 through 1935 are part of the Aurora Historical Society’s accessions, providing an intimate look into the daily life of one of Cleveland’s prominent citizens.

In his diaries, Hammond recalls dining on a routine basis at the Allendorf Restaurant, purchasing suits at the May Company, ties from Halle’s, and having a haircut and shave at the Cleveland Athletic Club. He writes about seeing Harry Houdini at the Palace Theater and watching Buster Keaton’s silent film “Go West.”

He recalls going to the Cleveland Air Show, seeing Charles Lindberg and other noted fliers, and watching the German Graf Zeppelin in the evening from the roof of the Cleveland Athletic Club as it flew around Terminal Tower on its last leg of a world tour.

Hammond’s diary entries for January 1925 relate the fact that he and Kuhlman were busy buying properties around the lake:

Jan. 2 – “busy with Atty. Patterson working out title on Dr. Hatch property. Closed with RV Romano purchasing his lease and option to purchase the Kent property… Borrowed 15,000 from Geo. Coulton on demand to take care of 1st payments on Geauga Lake property.”

Hammond was hopeful that he will be able to purchase the “Liberty Club” property along with the Giles property. He was also taking steps to establish the park on a sound financial footing.

On Jan. 7, he opened an account with the Union Trust Bank and found out that the dance hall was insured for $25,000.

Jan. 8 – “After dinner went to the office … sent our checks for all the Geauga Lake Co. miscellaneous debts.” Jan. 12 – “paid debts and taxes with Portage County.”

The Amusement Arcade featured a six-alley set of “Whirl-o-ball” games and a 10-alley set of “Skee-ball” games.

Samples of water from the lake were sent to the Portage County Health Department for test which indicated that impurities would need to be treated with filters and chemicals.

January was also filled with making arrangements for the expansion of the amusement park. He requested estimates for a 1,000-ton ice house to be constructed, which was completed by Feb. 15 with 50 tons of ice already harvested from the lake.

He met with representatives of the Sanitary Company of Buffalo for the construction of a sewer plant. On Jan. 13 he met with representatives of the John A. Miller Co. regarding the building of the roller coaster. A deal with Northern Ohio Traction & Light was signed on Jan. 30 to provide electricity to the park.

An agreement was reached with a Mr. Anderson of Youngstown for the installation of the “latest type of aerial swing on a royalty of 30% of the gross receipts and to have an option to purchase.” He also contracted with the Brown Fence Co., receiving shipment of the fence at the lake on Jan. 25.

On Jan. 16 he traveled to Ravenna to discuss with Portage County Commissioners the ability of controlling the water level of the lake by using a series of gates. After submitting plans, the Commissioners approved the project and the water level of the lake was lowered 18 inches providing an area for a beach.

Hammond also met with Father Gracey from the Catholic Diocese regarding the possibility of having a Catholic Church at the lake. While Father Gracey indicated that he had no plans for a church, an agreement was reached to hold services temporarily at one of the stands.

Plans were received from the Miller Company for construction of a building to house the carousel as well as estimates for the lumber from the Cuyahoga Lumber Co. The Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. was contracted to construct a water tower.

The site for the location of the water tower necessitated a change in the layout of the roller coaster. On Jan. 31 Hammond met at his office with Miller & Salisbury in regards to the construction of a large amusement building. He also bought the merry go round and shooting gallery from Miller & Miller Corp.

On Feb. 4 Hammond ordered a “juvenile waterslide,” an “adult water toboggan,” miniature railroad cars, and mechanical parts for the coaster. Lumber for the coaster was purchased from the Cuyahoga Lumber Co.

In March, arrangements were made with Angelo Palemero to construct a model of Geauga Lake to be used for exhibitions. Negotiations began with McDonald of Summit Beach Park in regards to the concessions at the park with McDonald seeking a 50-50 split of the receipts. Hammond was also looking to hire a “booker” for picnics and outings.

April was a busy month. Concrete was poured for the foundation of the carousel building. Plans for the amusement building were approved and lumber was ordered.

Hammond met with Mr. Baldwin, V.P. of the Erie Railroad and T.C. Powell, Superintendent of Traffic at the offices of the Erie Railroad. Hammond hoped to get the railroad to schedule trains to the lake and to provide a siding at the Erie Depot behind the lake.

Officials visited the lake to get a firsthand look at what was being requested in order to devise a track layout. The amusement ride the “Whip,” 10 Skee-Ball alleys and a miniature railroad was ordered by telegraph. Six “Whirl-o-ball” alleys were ordered by phone from Briant Specialty Co. of Indianapolis.

Hammond reduced the $80 cost of each alley by paying cash. Fifteen “Dodgem Jr" cars were ordered.

A meeting was held with Geauga Lake homeowner’s association regarding a deal for an easement on a strip of land next to the dance hall.

Talks were held with a bus company to provide transportation to the lake. The company indicated that a round trip would cost a rider $1.20, which Hammond stated was “N.G.” (no good).

The Merry Go Round building was nearing completion and machinery was being installed. The Challenger Co. had completed three bottom legs of the water tank.

A rough draft was drawn up for an agreement with a Mr. Williams of Detroit for operation of the refreshment concessions and a meeting was held with a Mr. Grimes of the Newman Stern Co. in regard to “cartridge for shooting gallery.”

Plans for the construction of swimming pool were discussed at an evening meeting at Hammond’s home in Cleveland Heights. April came to an end with Hammond considering where to place the “toilets” for the park.

The diary of Harry Hammond details the development of the Geauga Lake amusement park.

The first four months of 1925 saw exhaustive and detailed planning, negotiating, construction and expenditure of money.

As will be seen in next week’s article, the planning and construction moved forward at a rapid pace with the opening of the park scheduled for June 20.

In writing this article recognition must be given to the Aurora Historical Society’s former director Marcelle Wilson for her transcribing of the 1925 Hammond Diary.

Kudley is president of the Aurora Historical Society