Geauga Lake Amusement Park opens in 1925, after months of preparation
This is Part 2 of a series. Part 1 was published in the Sept. 16 edition and can be found online at www.MyTownNEO.com.
The first four months of 1925 saw a flurry of activity in the organization and expansion of the Geauga Lake Amusement Co. under the direction of Harry Horace Hammond.
He met on a routine basis with William Kuhlman and a Mr. McWethy (Most first names are not cited in the diary entries) to discuss the progress at the park. Hammond made daily trips to the park from Cleveland Heights or his downtown office.
On many occasions he made several trips in a day and if visiting the park late in the evening he stayed overnight. Numerous notations in the diaries refer to his frequent automobile breakdowns: clogged gas filters, flat tires, dead batteries and loose wires, as well as being towed.
While attending to the matters dealing with the amusement park, Hammond continued to conduct other business dealings. He was actively engaged in the trading of stock for a company called Monobloc.
In researching the company, it is surmised that the company was involved in the manufacturing of automobile cylinder heads, cylinder blocks and crankcases cast as a single integral unit, rather than being assembled. Hammond’s diary entries indicate that he often sold stock in the company to finance the numerous Geauga Lake improvements.
The month of May was filled with the purchase and installation of the parks rides and midway stands. On May 5 Hammond paid for both the carousel and shooting gallery, deducting $5 for a damaged cap on the merry-go-round.
On May 6, he ordered 30 cars for the coaster. He was also notified by McWethy that high winds at the park nearly blew over the coaster that was under construction. M.F. Linnick of Detroit met with Hammond to discuss machines for the Penny Arcade. Hammond also ordered additional machines from a dealer in Chicago which were delivered on the 25th. The Skee-ball alleys were installed in the arcade. Metal plates for the Dodgem floor were ordered from Carnegie Steel Company on May 18 and the first car was operating May 28.
On the 19th, nearly all of the horses had been installed and an artist was hired to touch up the merry-go-round. A cigar stand was under construction and would be ready on opening day.
Hammond was also informed that the water tower was nearly complete. Drillers had started digging the well a week earlier and had dug 50 feet without hitting water. On May 15, after three days of digging, they were at a depth of 80 feet and still had not hit water. They continued to drill reaching a depth of 100 feet, pulling up nothing but sand.
On June 1 the drillers hit an “adequate supply of satisfactory water” and installed “Johnson screens” to filter out the sand. On June 11 the pump was run all day providing a constant 26 gallons per minute.
A successful test run of an empty train on the coaster took place on June 2. Afterwards, Hammond, Kuhlman and McWethy took a ride on the second train to make its way around the “Sky Rocket.” The whip was delivered and installed with adjustments being made to a slipping belt. Lyman delivered boats for the lake.
On June 7, Hammond had dinner at the lake along with his daughter and the Kuhlmans and McWethy. After dinner everyone rode the merry-go-round. The carousel building had been completed and a new Wurlitzer pipe organ was installed. Hammond negotiated a trade of $200 for the old organ. A deal was also made with McCarthy and Kuhlman to take charge of the “merchandise concessions” taking “15% of the net profits and drawing $40 per week.” The “toilet” building was still in the stage of being completed when the park opened with only the women’s portion finished.
Hammond was also busy with advertising for the park. He received samples for metal signs to be used at the lake as well as having met with representatives of The Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Cleveland Press for ads in the respective newspapers.
After the park had opened and most of the rides and amusements were in place, Hammond hired a photographer to take photos. On Sept. 23, he noted “Mr. Herman photographer delivered to office 25 albums of views of Geauga Lake. (The Historical Society has one on the albums in its archives. Photos printed in the Aurora Advocate are from the album).
Prior to opening a discussion was held to determine how to charge patrons for the rides. Unlike today, where parks charge an admission fee for admittance to the park, early amusement parks individually charged for each ride and midway games. On Wednesday, June 3, Hammond’s diary entry reads, “Spent the PM principally in discussing whether to have rides pay enter or pay as you leave.”
On June 19, the evening before the park opened, Hammond took $1,000 in change to the lake. After months of preparation and planning Geauga Lake Amusement Park opened for the 1928 season on Saturday, June 20.
Hammond wrote that there were “not many people in the park early in the day. About 8 pm there were between 3,000 – 4,000 people. Everything was working to capacity and 2 trains on the coaster.”
Dudley S. Humphrey, owner of Euclid Beach Park, was in attendance for the opening. On Sunday, June 21 there was a “great crowd in the park, must have 15,000 people – from 4 to 7 the roads were blocked with autos for miles.”
The previous day the park had run out of change and Hammond had to scramble to get more. “The $1000 in change of the park was exhausted during the evening & went after more this morning – got a little from the Millers & finally after a telephone conversation with Miss Humphrey of Euclid Beach drove there and got $1210 from Mr. Humphrey.”
On Saturday, July 4, Hammond wrote, “Drove to the lake about noon, a great many people there. They kept coming and going all day – probably 40,000 altogether.
“Had some fireworks at 930 – very fine – particularly the balls of fire that illuminated the whole lake – home about 130. Receipts for the 4th were $7,300 and for Sunday $3,700.
Hammond took the money with him to his Cleveland Heights home and deposited the money on Monday. This was a common practice that Hammond followed as recorded in his other yearly diaries. As the park revenue increased the amount of the receipts was often coded as entered on “Sept. 3rd, Tuesday, 1929 yesterday’s receipts TKASTS.”
The Geauga Lake Amusement Park went through a tremendous transformation during the early months of 1925. The park changed from a leisurely summer picnic lake to one of northeast Ohio’s premier amusement parks with the area’s largest roller coaster.
The construction of the “bathing pool,” company picnics, Hammond’s attendance at the National Association of Amusement Parks in Chicago, the improvement of transportation to the lake, and the county’s ban on Sunday dancing are the focus of next week’s article.
Kudley is president of the Aurora Historical Society.