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Cedar Point - Resort Era

Ron Davidson • Oct 28, 2013 at 3:00 PM

Photo #1 - the grand pavilion and bandshell. Photo #2 - the Cedar Point Band, circa 1900. Photo #3 - One of the first dance halls at Cedar Point, with a massive dance floor, circa 1910. Photo #4 - In its price in the 1930s, the Cedar Point ballroom attracted some of the most popular musicians of the time. 

Following the theme of the new video produced by Sandusky Library staff, using documents and information from the library’s historical collections – and premiering at the Sandusky Library on Friday, November 1 at 7PM – here is a little bit about early Cedar Point. You will notice it is not the same as today’s Cedar Point – the one defined by giant roller coasters and other fast and freaky thrill rides. This is the Cedar Point of the resort era, where people went for a different kind of pleasure, one of relaxation and more passive entertainment, where the beach and music were the primary attractions.

Before the Civil War, Cedar Point was mostly uninhabited wilderness, except for the occasional transient and fishing crews that set up encampments there during fishing seasons. That and men coming to harvest the many cedar trees made up nearly all the human activity on the peninsula at the time. After the Civil War, with the growth of peacetime industrialization and the subsequent rise of an American middle class, with somewhat more opportunity for leisure, Cedar Point became a place for leisure and recreation. In 1870, Sandusky resident and German native Louis Zistel opened the first resort on Cedar Point, when he built a small beer garden and bathhouse on the peninsula; he even began ferrying passengers from the Sandusky mainland to the resort, on the steamer Young Reindeer. Although the Zistel resort appears to have lasted only one season, by 1880, Cedar Point began to return to popularity for bathing and picnicking. Soon after, the first of many dance halls opened, a “grand pavilion” and band shell were installed, and live musical performances became a popular activity at the early resort. In fact, one of the first general managers of the Cedar Point resort was Charles Baetz, best known in Sandusky as a talented musician and founder of the Great Western Band.

In 1892 Cedar Point’s first roller coaster, the Switchback Railway, began running (or maybe we should say walking – its high speed was around ten miles per hour), but Cedar Point remained more of a resort than an amusement park for a few more decades. Besides the beach and the few amusement rides, the resort’s major attractions were the musical performances, dance halls, and vaudeville shows. For many years, Cedar Point had a “house band,” directed by popular local musicians, including E.B. Ackley and Leopold Adler. Under the guidance of Cedar Point’s visionary general manager, George Boeckling, the resort became an important venue for musical entertainment in the early twentieth century. Soon, not only local bands, but famous musicians from all over were coming to Cedar Point to perform – from John Philip Sousa in the early years, to many of the great “big bands” of the 1930s, including those of Buddy Rogers, Ted Weems, Ozzie Nelson, and many others. (Even Benny Goodman and Woody Herman paid visits to the Point.) The beautiful Art Deco ballroom in the Coliseum at Cedar Point was host to many dances and musical performances, particularly at the peak of the Big Band era.

While today people think of roller coasters when they think of Cedar Point, it is quite likely that a person from a hundred years ago would more likely think of music and the performing arts when they thought of Cedar Point. You can learn more about this musical era from Under the Baton: Music at Old Cedar Point. Additional showings at the library will be on: Thursday, November 7, at 6:30PM; Thursday, November 14, at 10:30AM; and Friday, November 15, at 1:30PM.

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