Geneva On The Lake

The stories of Geneva On The Lake, Ohio
By Robert Carpenter, published in a past edition of OhioTraveler

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 from across the state line. There was one particularly attractive young lady who showed up almost every weekend. Over drinks and very 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 that 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 1900’s 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 normal 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, there are 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 obvious 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 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 that were dissolved only by sunrise that 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, rock and roll was blasted out by local groups, and there is 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 in the top 100 courses in the state.

The big change came in the mid-80’s 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.

Currently the marina has 385 slips and a small boat harbor with 6 public boat ramps open to the public. Now, as boaters and jet skiers make their way in and out of the harbor, serious sun worshipers converge on the wide 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 major 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 at one time sparse, are close by and plentiful.

And 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 a lakeside patio.

Yes, the village is a more sophisticated and hospitable place 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, and 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.

By Robert A. Carpenter