Conneaut Lake grew in era when many people were looking for respite from the toil of city life. Entrepreneurs capitalized on the rise of leisure culture and used the natural resources around them to create a resort community that offered city-dwellers the amenities of country life. Jubilant stories of ferry rides across the lake to the amusement park and nights spent at any one of the many hotels that once crowded the lakeshore are among the dominant narratives of life on the lake. Books and memoirs have been written to try to capture fleeting emotions about summers spent in the area. Whatever the future may hold for this picturesque region of northwestern Pennsylvania, the potential it possesses can certainly not be denied.
As Pittsburgh became more industrialized in the late 1800s, the fresh air of Conneaut Lake became appealing to the growing middle class wishing to escape, even if only for a weekend, from the thick smoke and fumes that polluted the Steel City. Hotels sprang up all around the lake, offering not only affordable hospitality, but also recreation ranging from ice cream parlors to square dances. In 1892, Exposition Park was established. Based on similar pioneering parks like Coney Island in New York and the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, what would later be known as Conneaut Lake Park provided quality amusement and entertainment, attracting larger crowds to the area than ever before.
With the end of World War II and the economy booming, the tourist industry provided many jobs for young people in the area. A long day’s work spent standing over a grill or conducting rides at the amusement park could easily be remedied by an afternoon relaxing at the beach and an evening pursuing romance at the Dreamland Ballroom. Boating became a popular attraction as well, with numerous steamboats and ferries providing rides across and around the lake for visitors. Some even included dining services and facilities to host events.
Although just as beautiful a sight as it ever was, like many similar rural tourist areas, Conneaut Lake has suffered economic downturn and is considered by many today to be a mere shell of its former self. Private ownership of nearly the entire lakeshore, with the exception of a few spots including Fireman’s Beach and Ice House Park, limit public access to the lake. The decline of railroad use and increased popularity in automobiles meant that people could now travel further distances and spend their vacations in more appealing destinations. Controversy among locals persists as to whether the now bankrupt amusement park ought to be sold off or fixed up. The question remains, however, if all efforts to restore the area’s largest tourist attraction are abandoned, what will provide economic stability and community vitality?
Burkett, Carl. Personal interview 2015.
Bush, Lee, O. Conneaut Lake Park: The First 100 Years of Fun. 1992. Print.
Luty, Bronson B. The Lake as it Was: An Informal History and Memoir of Conneaut Lake. Meadville, PA: Crawford County Historical Society, 1994. Print.
Williams, Brenda. Personal interview. 2015.