Geneva, Ohio

Geneva, Ohio
Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler by Robert Carpenter

It’s not surprising that some people look upon their transgressions of youth as a badge of honor—but usually, the crowing starts only after reaching respectability and the statutes of limitation are in place.

The closest I can come to errant war stories are summer escapades at Geneva-on-the-Lake—and the statutes would be irrelevant.

My adventures were perhaps a little over the top at times, but mainly just a search for those things central to an unseasoned age—a few drinks, a lot of laughs, and of course, girls.

Frankly, I had never heard of the resort on the lakeshore until I moved to Ashtabula County in 1959.  Although youthful, a responsible job had brought me there—with a rather intolerant employer. Still, Geneva-on-the-Lake soon beckoned with the enticement of a fiery lover that fledglings always long for, rarely experience, and find impossible to resist.

In those days most of the crowd came from the northeastern corner—Cleveland, Warren, Youngstown, and across the state line. There was one lovely young lady who showed up almost every weekend. Over drinks and loud music, I understood her name to be Sewickley—uncommon, but a cute handle, I thought. Often, complete names in those surroundings were not surrendered, so that’s what I called her on following encounters, and she replied with giggles and good-natured grins. Imagine my embarrassment when I finally discovered she had been trying to tell me she was from Sewickley, Pennsylvania.

Visitors in recent years have come from a much wider geographic area, supposedly due to Geneva-on-the-Lake becoming more family-oriented. The resort took root about 140 years ago with parks and picnicking. One claim to fame is that in the early 1900s, it was a favorite camping area for Henry Ford and friends John D. Rockefeller and Harvey Firestone. So, from that vaunted beginning, the town has billed itself as “Ohio’s First Summer Resort.”

However, one thing should be clear. People coming to Geneva-on-the-Lake have never cared much about the history—the drawing card here is all-out fun.

And Geneva-on-the-Lake should not be confused with parks like Cedar Point or Six Flags.  Geneva-on-the-Lake is a village with a mayor and council charged with all the usual duties and responsibilities of managing a small municipality—it’s just that they understand their purpose better than most.

There are few permanent residents, and Memorial Day and Labor Day are the on/off switches for three months of frenzied activity. Unlike decades ago, some nightspots open year-round, but still, during much of the winter, you can fire a cannon down the mile-long thoroughfare—the “strip” they call it—without doing much damage.

On an up-to-date visit, it was evident that the natural lakeside ambiance of clean air and sunny beaches had not changed and will always be appealing.  But, after several decades, one would expect a transformation of the synthetic elements.

On the strip, there were a couple of amusement rides I didn’t remember, and most of the business fronts were unrecognizable, but to my delight, some were not. There was Eddie’s Grill—appearing almost as it had fifty years ago—and the old-style arcades presented fresh faces, but they were still there, lining the street.

Reminiscence flooded in—the concessionaires with whom I’d made friends—the after-hours, behind-the-scenes parties dissolved only by sunrise and scattered players like vampires. Those people led a lifestyle that I was unacquainted with.

It also occurred to me that aside from the fun factor, the most alluring element of Geneva-on-the-Lake is the throwback to the lighthearted ‘40s and ‘50s. It’s different. There was a time when it was a Mecca of the Big Band era featuring the likes of Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Duke Ellington. Currently, for the more reserved, the equivalent is free concerts every Tuesday evening throughout the summer at Township Park.

Of course, when I first arrived, local groups blasted out rock and roll, and there was still that ingredient of loud music and drink at the epicenter.

That’s the night scene, but there’s an abundance of entertainment to occupy the daylight hours, too. The eighteen-hole championship golf course south of the strip is where I first took up the game. The design and topography were more of a challenge than I wanted as a beginner. Today, it’s rated as one of the top 100 courses in the state.

The big change came in the mid-80s when the State of Ohio got into the act, creating new camping, hiking, and bathing facilities west of the strip in the Geneva State Park, a 698-acre facility with a 300-foot sand beach, a marina, outdoor pool, and several picnic areas. Overnight guests can choose from cabins or campsites.

The marina has 385 slips and a small boat harbor with six public boat ramps open. As boaters and jet skiers make their way in and out of the harbor, serious sun worshipers converge on the vast beach while kids rocket down the waterslide, play miniature golf, or race go-carts.

It’s the state park that brings families to Geneva-on-the-Lake. Most of them have endured air travel to the ultra-expensive theme parks popular since the ‘70s and have opted instead for longer, more economical vacations on Ohio’s north shore.

Another significant alteration has been in accommodations necessary for the family influx. Old cottages have been torn down and condos erected.  Modern hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts that were once sparse are nearby and plentiful.

In addition to the casual hot dog and french-fry eateries of my day, there are fine restaurants such as the Crosswinds at Lakehouse Inn Winery that looks out over the water, and the Old Firehouse Winery with house-crafted wines, live music, and lakeside patio.

Yes, the village is more sophisticated and hospitable than it was in my youth, and the State Park is a big plus. Yet, regardless of the family lure, the strip reverberates as the only “real” Geneva-on-the-Lake. It still caters to, and probably always will favor, the young singles crowd. You see, to me Geneva-on-the-Lake is a state of mind. That’s my frame of reference; anyone from my era understands that.

The question now is: how long can a charming and venerable but archaic community like this be preserved before some progressive decides it all has to be ripped out and replaced with modern chic?

If you haven’t yet been there, you must go and judge for yourself—and if, in your fun-seeking, you should happen to run into a senior sweetie from Sewickley…

For more information, go to www.VisitGenevaOnTheLake.com; call 800-862-9948 or 440-466-8600.

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