At the end of a seven-and-three-quarter mile peninsula in northern Ohio lies the renowned and beautiful Cedar Point resort. The once well-vegetated area is part of the historic city of Sandusky and owes much of its existence to it, along with the graceful white sand beach that runs along its northern shore. But how could this narrow plot of land go from a modest beach to a world-class amusement park? The answer lies within antique postcards, past brochures and the fascinating people whom enjoyed the park in its early years.
The Erie Indians first inhabited the one-mile long and one-half mile wide area in the late 1600’s. The Indians on the peninsula lived among many wild animals there, including wild deer and large eagles. It is believed the peninsula got the name “Cedar Point” as early as 1805. It was first documented by that title on a map from 1823 and was named for the groves of cedar trees that once covered the peninsula.
When several resorts started popping up in America in the 1830’s, they were very proper with only the wealthy being able to visit them. Not until after the Civil War, when hotels were built with moderate prices, could the middle class enjoy these types of resorts.
Louis Zistel, a German immigrant, built two boats for use during the Civil War to transport Confederate officer prisoners to a prison on Johnson’s Island, near Cedar Point. After the war in 1870, he used the boats again to transport visitors to Cedar Point and opened a bathhouse near the beach accompanied with a beer garden and dance floor. In its inaugural year, the majority of visitors were the neighboring Sandusky residents. The following summer, the beer garden at Cedar Point didn’t re-open for a second season and remained closed for the next few years.
James West opened the area again when he opened a grouping of bathhouses with bathing suit rentals, in 1878. Besides bathing, a visitor to the resort could enjoy picnicking and the many acres of seclusion that the park offered, which was a delight to several couples.
In 1882, Benjamin F. Dwelle and Captain William Stackfore leased the property from the peninsula’s owners. They started their first year with the addition of picnic tables, a dancehall, eight new bathhouses and wooden walkways, which were laid on the beach. This first season under their direction was so successful that it was likely to see over one hundred people on the beach and sometimes even one thousand on some warm summer days. Over the next five years after they leased the peninsula, the two partners built up the resort. They built a restaurant that offered lunches and ice cream, and a large dance floor over the restaurant. Acres of brush were cleared with more picnic tables added. Near the newly expanded picnic grounds they constructed a baseball diamond for their guests to enjoy. Also guests could enjoy firework displays at Cedar Point for the first time ever. Even more bathhouses were built in this period where bathing suits were available for rental for a mild fee of 25 cents.
Charles Baetz headed a new partnership of five men, which was formed at the end of the 1887 summer season that ran the potentially successful resort. Their biggest project for the 1888 season was the construction of the massive Grand Pavilion. This two-story building, which was 110 feet wide and 168 feet long, contained a theatre, concert hall, photographer’s studio, bowling alleys, and a bar. In the center of this new building was a large cupola where guests could peer into Lake Erie. After a period of seasons, this distinctive tower was removed from the Grand Pavilion. Near the new Grand Pavilion they constructed a Music Pavilion and a Ladies Pavilion, which offered cakes, fruits, ice cream and a soda water bar.
In the early 1890’s, Cedar Point expanded with many new additions. Around this time, electricity was first added to the resort that made it possible to power arched passageways with lights over some of the many pathways throughout the park. On the beach side of the resort they had a water toboggan type ride built where guests could be able to climb to a top of the tower and descend down a ramp into the refreshing Lake Erie. Also a Candy Pagoda opened on the peninsula selling a wide range of candies.
Located parallel to the Grand Pavilion, the Switchback Railway was Cedar Point’s first roller coaster in 1892. This ride was about twenty-five feet high and reached speeds of ten miles an hour. The ride incorporated two tracks, which ran side by side, one for the ride down and the other for the train to be hauled back to the top. To achieve this, they were hauled back up by muscle power of a ride attendant.
During the next few years, other resorts opened near the vicinity of Cedar Point. One of these new resorts was Johnson’s Island, which was only about 10,700 feet away from the Point. This close competition cost the resort a great loss of money and the park itself showed it by falling into cosmetic despair. Luckily, a man named George A. Boeckling would arrive in Sandusky, Ohio, in late 1897. Boeckling became one of Cedar Point’s owners in the off season between 1897 and 1898 and didn’t waste anytime with his plans of the new Cedar Point. He had the existing buildings at the park repainted and cleaned and added a carousel. By this time, the swimsuits that were available for rental were in need of replacing and sure enough, he had all new ones ordered that year.
After the 1898 season, the park showed a modest profit and even more improvements were made for the 1899 season. The biggest addition was the Bay Shore Hotel, which was built near the pier on the other side of the peninsula. With the success of the Bay Shore, Boeckling had the White House Hotel built next to it. Once the White House opened in 1901, the existing Bay Shore Hotel was turned into a boarding house. The new hotel included two floors of rooms with a restroom on each level. Later they added seventy new rooms, which gave the hotel a grand total of 125 rooms.
Cedar Point’s second roller coaster, the Three-Way Figure Eight Roller Toboggan, was built near the beach in 1902. The ride was forty-six feet tall and had eleven cars on its hilly track. After eight years, the ride was removed and the Racer roller coaster took its place. The Sea Swing was also added in 1904 as a ride that let guests sail over Lake Erie as this unusual ride spun riders. Two years later, in 1904, the Crystal Rock Castle opened mid-way between the beach and the pier and sold beer and wine to guests. The building’s exterior had the look of a stone castle and the structure itself remained on the peninsula until the early 1960’s, when it was intentionally burned. Also that year, the Detroit Dredging Company dredged the lagoons, which were once almost obsolete, into interconnected passageways. In parts of the lagoons, they added lights that lit the area dimly and canoes and rowboats were then used in them.