Local History of Crystal Beach

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Crystal Beach - through the years

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This is a photo of Bay Beach which appeared as a postcard circa 1950.  You can see the the Royal Dance Hall/Bathouse was still in operation then.  It later was subdivided into apartments and in 2006 after sitting vacant for several years a portion of it collapsed causing the building to be torn down though the concrete foundation remains today.  To this day Bay Beach still draws this type of crowd on most warm sunny summer days

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This is a better photo of the Royal Dance Hall and Bathhouse.  In the right side of the photo you can see the roof of the present day refreshment stand.  You may also notice a thin inner tube being used by the young boy in the foreground of the photo which would seem to be from a 1930s vehicle.

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This is an early photo of Crystal Beach taken in the 1910s.  You will notice the two women walking on the beach in their bathing robes which was to cover their bare legs and arms.  Modesty was very important in this time period.

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The old Glasgow House on Derby Rd.

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An early 1900s photo of a cottage some place in Crystal Beach

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Winger's Meat Market was a family business located on Erie Rd.  This photo appears to be from the beginning of the 20th Century.  You will notice by the sign on the wagon that the Wingers not only sold from the store but also delivered their product in the local community.

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A group of bathers circa 1920. Notice the cottages on the hill behind them..

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This photo was taken at a studio in Crystal Beach sometime around the 1910-20 decade.  You can notice the painted background of the Pier and the sand brought in and used in the studio to make the photo look like is was taken outdoors. This was a time when the average American or Canadian did not own a camera and so they had to rely on a studio for their photographs.

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This photo was taken circa 1920 Notice the old bathhouse in the background.

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A postcard of Crystal Beach in the 1910s.

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This photo shows the beach as it was after WWII.  The photo was taken from the bathhouse and shows a lifeguard tower, swing ride in the water that dated back to the 1930s, and a few tropical type structures to provide shade for those looking to get out of the summer sun.  Off to the far left of the photo you can see Bay Beach and the Casino Bathhouse that was torn down in June of 2006.

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This photo was taken at the beginning of the 20th Century on Derby Rd..

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This is Derby Rd. two decades later.

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The "Backety-Back" was the earliest of the roller coasters that was built in the park.

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This photo was taken at the beginning of the 20th Century.  Notice the pier in the background and the number of people that are on it.  Also the slide directly behind them. 

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This photo also from the turn of the 20th Century shows the waterslide and what was to be called a toboggan run.  The shot is taken from the rail of one of the ships bringing visitors to the beach.

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A third view of the "water slide" and pier this time from the beach.  By the dress of the people on the beach it would seem this was taken at the turn of the 20th Century.  You can also see the Customs/Immigration booth on the Pier set up to check the passengers departing the in coming boats.

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A third view of the "water slide" and pier this time from the beach.  By the dress of the people on the beach it would seem this was taken at the turn of the 20th Century.  You can also see the Customs/Immigration booth on the Pier set up to check the passengers departing the in coming boats.

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This is Crystal Beach circa 1910s.  You can see in the background a large sign that reads "Notice To Bathers" and at the bottom there is a reference to Mentholatum which had facilities on both sides of the river.

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.This is another color postcard showing Crystal Beach sometime in the World War I era.  You will notice most of the women depicted have long neck to ankle dresses showing the modesty of the time.  Another interesting situation is that all four of the national flags shown seem to be American.

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Back row, left to right: Paul Long, Denis Galvin Front row left to right Robert "Bob" Fuhrman, John Rathburn, Jack Decker
Professional photograph commissioned by Ed Hall, he did so every year.
1966 or 67

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These lovely ladies from 1910 are Kathryn Lawrence(top),Sophia Zink(bottom left)and Florence Dixon(bottom right).Kathryn lived on Alexandra here in Crystal Beach during the summers.  Many may remember her as the woman who owned and ran the very popular Kathryn Lawrence Tea Room in downtown Buffalo.

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Sophia Zink and her son Oliver J. on the beach in 1915.  Notice the outfits of the people standing on the boardwalk in the background.  Sophia was a long time resident of Maplewood Ave. where her relatives still live today.

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This photo was taken on July 10, 1914 on Crystal Beach in front of the original pier.  The outfits seem to indicate they may have worked in some capacity in the park or in one of the nearby hotels.

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This advertisement appeared in one of the local papers promoting the opening of Crystal Beach in 1933.

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Creating the Amusement Park

These photos were taken in 1922 of workers building the new amusement park in Crystal Beach.  You can see that part of the sand hill had to be cut away to allow enough room for all the rides and buildings that were to be added.
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Local Lore of Crystal Beach

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Albert "Allie" Krushel was a member of the 1912 Olympic team that represented the United States in Stockholm, Sweden. Two of his teammates on the team that year were Jim Thorpe considered by many the greatest athlete of his day and George Patton who would go on to lead the 3rd Army in World War II. Albert Krushel was born in the "fruit belt" of Buffalo, New York in 1889. The "fruit belt" was a strong German community that both encouraged and valued athletic competition. Albert and three teammates won Bronze Medals in the team cycling competition of the 5th Olympiad. The event took the times of each cyclist over a 200 mile course through Sweden, added them up and the lowest time was awarded the Gold Medal(Sweden), while second lowest time received the Silver Medal(Great Britain) and third lowest time won the Bronze(USA). Albert turned professional after the 1912 Olympics and competed in events across the country including the famous 6 Day Bicycle Races. Many of the bigger events were held in the 74th Armory. In the 1920's Mr. Krushel bought a family cottage in Crystal Beach and to this day the family still summers in that home. Another interesting story involving the team that year was that a month before the team was to sail for Sweden the Titanic sank in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. With that story remaining in the newspapers throughout April and May it was with some trepidation that the team sailed for Sweden that May. Albert is the first person on the left in the team photo above.

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Was there ever a song named after the Canadiana?

As part of the hype of the launching of each of the two major boats that served to bring passengers from Buffalo to Crystal Beach music was written and named for each of the ships. The Americana was a waltz and the Canadiana was a "two step" March as you can see from the sheet music above. The composer was Irving Tallis, a Buffalo song writer who played in the Philharmonic Orchestra.

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Canadiana pulling up to the pier

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Swimmers waiting for the coins to be tossed from the Canadiana

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Diving for Coins

This was a tradition that began in the late 1800s when the first large boats began bringing passengers to Crystal Beach. Swimmers would make their way out to the boat once it had docked and wait for people at the rail to toss a coin or two into the depths of the surrounding water. The lake waters here at the beach have always been "crystal clear" (thus the name) and made it possible for good swimmers to see coins on the sandy bottom once they would be tossed in by a person on board the ship or pier. Many a beach resident made some extra spending money by being out in the water when one of the boats would be arriving or departing. I have been told by one person who did this in the 30s that was how he got the money for the 10 cent dances in the pavillion.

AND NOW THE REST OF THE STORY. . . . . . . . . hey wait a minute that has been used before! How about this; an amazing twist to this bit of Crystal Beach lore. This May as I was walking the beach I noticed a round greenish object at the waters edge. I reached down to see what it was, thinking that it had to be coin of some denomination. As I rubbed it to take off some of the tarnish and grit I could see that it was an Indian Head penny made in the US in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. When I got it home and applied a cleaner to it I found to my amazement that it was an 1891 Indian Head penny that some how after all the years that it had sat on the bottom of Lake Erie had found it's way to the shoreline! It may have been one of those coins that was thrown from the boat over 100 years ago.

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The boat ride from Buffalo to Crystal Beach was not always "smooth sailing" as the article below tends to illustrate. The article appeared in the New York Times on  August 16, 1905

A page out of the "Wizard of Oz"?

While Kansas had Professor Marvel the famous balloon flyer in "The Wizard of Oz", Crystal Beach had it's own aeronaut in Professor Church as described in this article from the Buffalo Express in August 13, 1891.

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Were there ever any Crystal Beach newspapers or newsletters in circulation?

Below is just one example of an early newspaper/letter that existed over the years in Crystal Beach. A few interesting things on the cover of the newspaper: it is billing Crystal Beach as "Buffalo's Coney Island" and it is advertising Bell long distance service from Crystal Beach to Buffalo. Ahhhhh living in the 20th Century wasn't it grand with all the NEW conveniences! Notice the date of the publication; Saturday May 27, 1911 which was "Decoration Day" weekend.

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The famous Crystal Beach Ballroom

You could dance the night away in the famous Crystal Beach Ballroom. The Crystal Beach Ballroom had a legendary reputation for the outstanding musicians that played there throughout its history. One of those musicians was the famous "Jelly Roll" Morton who played most of the major cities in the United States. He played the Crystal Beach Ballroom for approximately two weeks from July 25 to August 7, 1927. Below are two ads that appeared in the Buffalo News announcing his appearances.

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Jelly Roll Morton at Crystal Beach August 1927

In the center of the ballroom was an octagonal stage from which the bands would play.  Shown below is that stage.

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The Marathon Dance Craze hits Crystal Beach

Dance marathons were a craze of the 20s and 30s throughout the US and Canada. The Crystal Beach ballroom was the site of at least one of these contests. In the article below from the Fort Erie Times on August 17, 1928 you will read of the Provincial Government stepping in to stop the dance marathon after 9 days of competition. You also will see that the event and those like it had been banned in both Buffalo and Windsor.

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Where did the "Lobster House" get its name?

When the Town of Fort Erie purchased the Bay Beach property they arranged to have all but 3 of the existing structures torn down. Left up were the snack stand, dance hall and a building referred to as the "Lobster House". Intrigued by the name and never having heard of that reference before I set out to find out the orgin of the name "Lobster House". I sought out some of our senior residents who are very knowledgeable regarding the history of the beach. Not a one knew how the building came to get the name "Lobster House". I then went to the Historical Museum in Ridgeway to find out if they had any records of the building. Though very cooperative I again was faced with failure. They had no records, photos or references to it on record.

Then my luck changed. In a conversation with long time resident and community activist Judy LaCroix I happened to mention my lack of success in tracking down the answer to my question. She guaranteed me she could find out the orgin of the name, no problem! I was silly enough to bet Judy that she couldn't and for that I owe her a cup of Timmy's finest. However with that said, my hat is tipped to Judy as she went directly to Ted Jewson and the former property owner George Rebstock Jr. to get the answer. So for any of you who were as curious as I, here is the answer.The building was erected by the Bay Beach Corporation and was first opened as a Tea Room in 1927. Judy swears to me that she was not alive then so she does not remember the day of its opening.

In 1928 they decided they needed to serve meals and not just tea. A chef was hired and the specialty of the restaurant became their lobster dinner. Though other items such as steak were served the lobster became everyones favorite dish. As a result the name of the restaurant became the "Lobster House". The north side of the building was the kitchen and the rest of the building was the dining room with its hardwood floor. The refrigeration and storage was in the basement area. To the east of the building was a minature golf course, to the south was the dance hall where you could dance the evening away to a small live orchestra. Wrestling matches and roller skating also took place in the dance hall. Under the dance hall was the bath house with 250 lockers, 250 beach chairs that could be rented along with 20 to 25 rental canoes. Bathing suits could also be rented and were washed on site. Word has it that Ray Haggerty still has one of the rental suits. The bath house operated into the 1950s. Drinks could be purchased in a small building that was run by Fowlers Soft Drink Co. and located between the "Lobster House" and the dance Hall. Unfortunately after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 everything closed up.

In 1939 - 41 changes were made to both the "Lobster House" and the dance hall so that they could be used as rental apartments. At this same time cottage apartments were also built on the property. Thanks Judy for coming up with a little piece of our history here at Crystal Beach.

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This photo shows the Lobster House in the background to the right and the dance hall to the left. As you can see there was a minature golf course between the buildings and Erie Rd.

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Was there ever an athletic stadium in Crystal Beach?

There was a stadium which was located on Ridgeway Rd. across the street from the amusement park. In its "heyday" it attracted both huge crowds and some of the best runners in the world. In the 1930's the Erie Club would hold track meets in that facility. There were crowds of over 7,500 people in attendance to watch some of the best runners of the time compete in Crystal Beach. This was a time when Track and Field was a extremely popular sport throughout the world. It has been reported that sprinter Jesse Owens was married on a friday night and then took the train to Buffalo Saturday morning so he could compete in one of the Erie Club's Track meets. Though Owens only finished second in that meet he would eventually go on to the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin and win 4 gold medals for the USA.

Claude "Buddy" Young considered by many to be one of the greatest Afro-American athletes of the 20th Century also ran in the Crystal Beach stadium. Through the 1940s "Buddy" Young was both a collegiate All American football player and one of the fastest sprinters in the world. He would be awarded the Most Valuable Player Award in the Collegiate All-Star Game played against the Chicago Bears and then go on to play professional football for many years.

Later runners such as the Kansas University premier middle distance runners Glenn Cunningham and Wes Santee (who was attempting to become the first man to break the 4 minute barrier in the mile) would also find themselves racing in Crystal Beach. You can also see from the advertisement below that appeared in the June 2, 1926 addition of the Buffalo Express that even the high schools of Buffalo and Erie County held some of their meets on the Crystal Beach Track.

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The Crystal Beach 5 Mile Derby

Throughout the 1930s and 40s the Buffalo Courier Express newspaper sponsored the "Crystal Beach 5 mile Derby" . The race drew the best runners in the area. First prize was a diamond ring and the entry fee was a quarter which included a roundtrip ticket on the Canadiana and your entry into the amusement park. The race course wound its way through the village of Crystal Beach rather than being run on the track in the athletic stadium. One of the winners of this very prestigious race in the early 1940's was Don Munson. Don was an elite runner in the Western New York area. He graduated as a top school boy runner from East High School and went on to run at Buffalo State College.

Part of Don's running resume included competing against the great Czech Olympian Emil Zapotek who in the 1952 Helsinki Games won gold medals in the 5000 meters, 10,000 meters and the Marathon. Don also won the U.S. National AAU 10,000 meters championship held in Bowling Green, Indiana. When asked about the race he won in Crystal Beach, Don recalled it being a very hot humid July day which caused several runners to drop out of the competition including his best friend who was running just ahead of him at the time. Don mentioned the fact that the race director was the late Carl Roesch who was very well known in the National and International running circuit. As a result he was able to attract many big name runners to this and other events in the area.

As you will see below Don to this day proudly wears the diamond ring he won in the Crystal Beach 5K Derby. After his running career was over Don went on to coach Cross Country and Track at Buffalo State College and Amherst High School, along with becoming the Principal of that same school.

The Crystal Beach Municipal Building/Crystal Beach Community Centre

Several people have asked about the building on the corner of Belfast and Shannon Rds. So we will try to provide you with a brief history of its existence as a multi purpose centre in our community. On June 7, 1922, George Rebstock donated the lot on which the Community Centre is located. Then on December 16, 1925 the Fire Department donated the deed and lot to the Corporation of the Village of Crystal Beach along with a donation of $1,000.00 to be used toward the construction of a Community Hall. The original building was 2 stories with a stucco exterior and a one bay garage in the front of the building to be used to house the village fire engine. That fire engine was purchased in 1926 and cost $1,200.00. The building would also house the Village Council Chambers, Clerk's Office, Assessor and Building Inspectors Office, Police Office(the O.P.P. had a year round staff located there), Red Cross Office, and a meeting hall on the second floor used by the firemen and various community organizations. Later a three bay garage was added to house a pumper truck, rescue truck, and the Ridgeway-Crystal Beach Kingsmen Club volunteers ambulance.

Above that addition would be the Magistrate's Court and Chambers. In 1952 a library was created within the existing building with 3,000 donated books in its collection. In 1957 the library moved to the former Post Office on Derby Rd. In 1982 additional renovations were made to provide space for a doctor's office. A former resident wrote in to tell me that she remembers the siren on the top of the hall going off at 9pm each night and that meant that if you were under 16 years of age you had to be off the streets. If the police found you after that time they would bring you home in their car.

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People have asked if there was ever a movie theatre in Crystal Beach?

The answer is there was indeed a movie house here at the beach. It was located on Ridgeway Rd. near the corner of Erie Rd. It was aptly called "The Crystal Beach Theatre" and was run by the Ziff family who also owned and operated another theatre in Fort Erie. That was called "The Bellard Theatre". When it closed the building became a casket company. That in turn caught fire and burned. One of our readers remembered there was also a large explosion that spewed large pieces of brick and cement all over the area, crushing neighbour John Pearson's garage. Subsequently Cambridge Rd. was closed for several days. The photo above is of the Ziff family in the Crystal Beach Theatre during a Christmas season gone by.

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The first motion picture theatre in Crystal Beach was built in the early part of the 20th Century and was located in the park.  It was called the Theatre Royal and clearly advertised the showing of "moving pictures".  You can notice in the photo below a man standing above everyone else.  We assume he was some type of a "barker" telling what was to be shown in the theatre that day.

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Could Crystal Beach really have beaten Walt Disney to the punch?

Could there really have been a monorail passenger train that took visitors to the Park? Crystal Beach became a very big tourist draw in the late 19th Century. People came to the park from all over Canada and the Eastern United States. The problem they faced was how to actually get there! There was a ferry that would carry early visitors from the Buffalo waterfront to the Pier at the Park but for those who were coming from other places within Canada it wasn't quite that easy. Most people at that time in history did not own an automobile and therefore used the train to get to distant destinations. The problem with that was the nearest train depot to Crystal Beach was in Ridgeway. That left the passengers facing the dilemna of how they would travel the remaining mile to Crystal Beach. Seeing this problem Henry Beecher and Nathan Fuller decided to resolve the problem by building a short monorail line connecting Ridgeway and Crystal Beach. It was run by the Ontario Southern Railway and became known as the "Peg Leg" railway.

It got this name from the T-shape of the supporting trusses that kept the monorail off the ground. The train itself traveled approx. 20 miles and hour and was anywhere between 10 and 30 feet above the ground as it worked its way to the beach. It was the first monorail in Ontario being in operation from 1896 to 1898. So as much as Disneyland and DisneyWorld would like to think of themselves as futurists with the monorail that takes people into their parks, we here at Crystal Beach hold the honor of using that system of transportation a good 60 years before them. Below is a photo of the "Peg Leg" railroad.