As 1925 comes to end, Hammond plans for Geauga Lake Park’s future
Editors note: This is Part 3 of a series based on the diaries of Harry Horace Hammond, who was the driving force behind the establishment of Geauga Lake Park.
Harry Horace Hammond kept detailed diaries recording the day to day activities of his business and personal life. Hammond was an 1897 graduate of Cornell University and was a law partner with the firm of White, Hammond, Brewer & Curtiss headquartered in the Union Trust Building in Cleveland.
His diaries from 1925 through 1935 provide a detailed history of the development of the Geauga Lake Amusement Co. Previous articles in this series focused on the development of the park through the early months of 1925 leading to the opening on June 20th. While visitors came in large numbers, improvements continued throughout the summer and into the fall and winter.
Plans for the swimming pool began in early May. Hammond had discussions with Ravenna Judge Henry seeking to remove restrictions regarding the pool’s placement in relation to a proposed road that followed along the lake from the Erie Depot.
Judge Henry approved the plans provided that the “pool and bath house not be more than 10’ above road grade.” On May 27th a steam shovel started excavating the pool. A large centrifugal pump was purchased to fill the pool and to routinely empty and refill with fresh lake water. Water started to be pumped into the pool on Aug. 27. Hammond noted that the water was “too muddy to swim in.”
Filling was completed on Aug. 28 and he wrote that the water “seemed to be in good condition.” However, on Aug. 29, Hammond decided not to advertise the pool for the 1925 season and delay its formal opening until 1926. On Saturday, Sept. 3, the pool was drained taking 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Hammond knew that the success of the park was dependent upon attracting visitors. Crowd size was a constant notation in his diaries.
Corporate and organizational picnics were key to financial success. During its first season eight major picnics were booked ranging from corporate, union, and church outings. Success of the picnics depended on two factors, weather and the willingness of the people to spend money.
Hammond purchased ads in both The Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Cleveland Press to publicize the park. A full page ad in the Plain Dealer’s Sept. 1, 1925 issue promoted Labor Day at the park. Afraid of losing money if the weather was bad, Hammond purchased rain insurance.
His entry for Labor Day stated, “Dark and cloudy all day, no rain fell and so our rain insurance for the lake was N.G.” (No Good). Although he added, “Very much to my surprise there were a lot of people on hand who seemed to be anxious to get rid of their money.”
Ability to get to the park was a major concern that Hammond worked on throughout 1925 and into 1926. He approached representatives of the Erie Railroad seeking a siding to be built at the Geauga Lake Depot for passenger trains. He hope to get the railroad to run special trains to the park on weekends.
Hammond also had discussions with both the Northern Ohio Traction & Light Co. as well as the Cleveland Railway Co. to arrange bus transportation from Akron and Cleveland. He held meetings with Portage County Commissioners requesting improvement of the roads leading to the park.
Hammond’s favorite place to dine and conduct business meetings was the Allendorf Restaurant located at 1116 Chester Avenue in Cleveland.
Hammond was so enamored with the restaurant he negotiated with J.H. Allendorf to operate a restaurant at the lake. He met with Allendorf on June 4 to discuss the idea and later in the day they drove out to the lake to examine the property. Hammond wrote that “all like the layout” and that Allendorf would “investigate at once.”
They met again on June 12 and Allendorf “agreed to take over the restaurant on a 10% basis” with Hammond agreeing to provide the equipment. The restaurant opened on June 27. It became Hammond’s favorite place to eat while at the lake.
In 1925 the State of Ohio enacted “blue laws,” prohibiting public dancing, roller-skating and similar entertainments on Sunday.
While permits could be issued to allow such activities by the county, Ravenna Probate Court Judge Henry J. Robison refused, believing that “Sunday dancing is unnecessary and that six days in the week give ample time for such form of recreation.”
On Monday, June, 29, Hammond met with Portage County Sheriff James and Judge Robison to discuss the issue but was told that there would be no dancing in Portage County on Sundays.
The Geauga Lake ballroom was a major draw and the ban on dancing had a significant financial impact on the park. Hammond and other Geauga Lake area businessmen began efforts to incorporate what they called Geauga Lake Village.
If successful they would have the ability to enact their own laws independent of County authorities.
The Geauga Lake Improvement Association, representing the larger Geauga Lake community, filed suit to stop the incorporation. The legal struggle to secede from Aurora Township played out in court and ultimately failed.
Hammond constantly sought ways to improve the park. On Nov. 30, Hammond noted in his diary… “drove downtown left roadster at Euclid Square Garage. Took taxi to Union Station. Met Kuhlman and McCarthy & took 11:30 train to Chicago to attend meeting of Amusement Park Assoc. at Drake Hotel.”
On Dec. 1 he entered, “Arrived at the La Salle St. Station at about 730 and took taxi to the Drake Hotel with Kuhlman & McCarthy, had breakfast at the Drake and registered as members of the National Association of Amusement Parks.”
Hammond spent the afternoon and evening “looking over the exhibits…of various amusement devices, some of which were interesting.”
The next day he spent time at the various exhibits and attended several sessions. He made specific mention that lunch and dinner were at the Drake hotel “served to the members of the Association without charge, paid by the Association.”
In the afternoon of Dec. 2, Hammond, Kuhlman and McCarthy “took a taxi to the stock yards and went to the American Live Stock exhibition of horses, cattle, sheep and swine.”
Hammond was “particularly interested in some fine horses probably Percherons.”
Chicago’s Union Stock Yards was the nation’s largest livestock and meatpacking site from the 1870’s through the beginning of its decline during the Depression. Located on Chicago’s South Side, the yards covered an area of one square mile with enough livestock pens to hold 75,000 hogs and 21,000 cattle, hogs employing over 40,000 workers.
While at the convention Hammond made two visits to the Chicago based Swift & Company located at the Union Stock Yards. During the morning of Dec. 3 he took a taxi to the offices of the company and met with the Superintendent of Construction C.H. Kane regarding “humus” for Geauga Lake.
Hammond was interested in fertilizing the land around the lake. He was introduced to L.W. Rowell, manager of the fertilizer department who indicated that they may be interested. Arrangements were made with Kane for a visitation to the Swift & Company’s plants.
Hammond and the others returned for a scheduled tour of the Swift meat packing plant and wrote in his diary that the visit was “very interesting, they have greatly improved their methods since I was there last, using conveyors when possible – McCarthy was a little white around the gills as it was his first experience.”
If you have read Upton Sinclair’s "The Jungle," which exposed the appalling working conditions in the meat packing industry, it was no wonder that McCarthy turned white. Sinclair’s vivid description of contaminated and diseased meat horrified the public and led to federal safety laws in the food industry.
Over the winter of 1925-26 Hammond and Kuhlman continued to plan for the expansion of the park seeking vendors and purchasing additional rides.
One unique addition in the spring of 1926 was a phrenology booth. Phrenology is the study of the shape and proportionate dimensions of the skull based on the belief that it is indicative of mental faculties and character.
Using fingertips and hands, phrenologists examined the patient’s head carefully, looking for indentations or protrusions. Unfortunately the “science” was used to support racist beliefs.
Hammond also made a visit to Aurora to look over the early stages of A.B. Smythe’s development creating Cleveland’s first “Commuter Village.”
Hammond was not overly impressed with the project and wrote that “not much has been done.”
Hammond and Smythe would both face financial difficulties on the horizon. Hammond’s Geauga Lake Amusement Co. and Smythe’s “Commuter Village” would both be adversely affected by the 1929 Stock Market Crash.
Kudley is president of the Aurora Historical Society.