Month: October 2020

Anecdotes of Hotel Conneaut & Exposition Park: Part 3, 1910-1919

In the third part of my ongoing series of Hotel Conneaut and the resort it was and still is part of, I will explore the decade of the 1910’s. Despite the advent of WWI, the park’s success proved only greater as thousands of visitors came to the park to lose themselves in the bounty of amusements and amenities the park had to offer.


James M. Hultz of Niles, Ohio spent the summer as superintendent of the electrical power plant for Exposition Park. He received great praise from park president Holcomb for his mechanical abilities. 

Conneaut Lake Park installed a Mullerton-Harton carousel which continues to operate at the park to this day.

The boat landing, 1910 postcard

The Pennsylvania Lines offered one day excursions to the park, leaving Niles, Ohio at 6 a.m. and returning at 7 p.m. Excursionists could pay $1 to ride the train both ways and spend the day at the park.

The summer season proved the most successful of every year prior, thus maintaining the trend of constant upward movement. The park owners were on a tireless mission to bring only the best to the resort and constantly improve and expand. 

The midway at Exposition Park, dance pavilion at right, 1910 postcard


The park opened on Memorial Day, May 30th and nearly 10,000 souls from within a hundred mile distance came through the gates. Once again the Nirella Orchestra was employed for the season and played from May 27th to September 15th. Hotel Conneaut opened May 27th after being newly redecorated and refurnished. More than fifty new cottages were built and opened by June 15th. Despite a cool season start, by mid-June the cottages and hotel rooms were nearly full. 

1911 postcard of the lake

The park had three new attractions that season. The first was a ride called the Virginia Reel, built at a cost of $10,000 and requiring a hundred thousand feet of lumber in its construction. It was 50 ft. wide by 175 ft. long. It had round cars that ran on an 800 ft. long track, swooping over hills and diving through tunnels. The second attraction was the Shoot the Chutes, a ride 600 ft. long with a 75 ft. drop into the lake. Riders were loaded into the car on a section of the lake with a new cement bottom, the car reversed up the hill and then dropped down into the lake, without any water splashing onto the riders. The third latest attraction was called the Double Balloon, a ride that took guests one thousand feet up into the air by a balloon attached to a rope and dropped them back down.

In early August, the resort hosted nearly 5,000 guests, not including the thousands that visited the park just for the day. Pittsburghers, Shenango Valley folks, and Mahoning Valley residents were among the excursionists. The younger guests enjoyed hay rides, corn roasts, watermelon parties, and moonlit walks along the beach. 

Guests going out on the lake would return carrying dozens of the beautiful white water lilies in their rowboats. The lilies decorated the tables in the hotels and cottages for most of the season as they bloomed from spring to September. 

Docks and navigation steamers, 1910 postcard

Ropes were fitted to each end of every canoe due to the problem of the boats capsizing, causing one drowning death.

On Sunday evening of August 6, the Apollo Club of Pittsburgh played a prank on Thomas Kirk, Sr. when they met him at the train with the club’s band. They put him on a cart with a young woman who was a complete stranger to him, took them to Hotel Conneaut, and there announced them as bride and groom.

The following evening, the Apollo Club held a reception and dance at the pavilion.

“Four hundred couples of the best dressed and finest looking bunch of young people ever seen in the big dance pavilion had the time of their lives. A breeze came up [from] the lake all evening, making it just cool enough for dancing, adding very materially to the enjoyment of the occasion. This club never does anything by halves and everybody is loud in their praise as entertainers.”

The News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania), Saturday August 12, 1911, Page 1

On August 9, a crowd of 3,000 attended the Painesville Merchant’s outing held at the park. 

On August 10, the park celebrated United Presbyterian Day, and required twenty-three special trains to bring in the amount of guests who came to the event.

A guest of Hotel Conneaut, Judge W.E. Porter of New Castle, spent so much of his vacation in the water that he returned home quite red with sunburn. Ed Boyle, Beaver County Clerk of Courts, was also a guest of the hotel.

The Voegtley Cadets of Pittsburgh arrived on August 19 and put up their tents near the lake where they camped for two weeks.

The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · 25 Jun 1911, Sun · Page 34

The first woman to swim twice across the width of Conneaut Lake was Cleo Heisel of Pittsburgh. She had been spending a vacation at the resort with her mother and made quite an impression on onlookers who watched her swimming and diving skills during her stay. She made the swim across and back again on August 12th but her fame was short-lived. Another young lady, Yetta Cable of Rochester, became the first to swim the entire length of the lake, a distance of three miles. On Thursday, August 24, the nineteen-year-old accomplished the great feat in two hours and fifty-five minutes, despite heavy winds.

At the end of August, the lovely goldenrod burst into bloom and hundreds of acres at the head of the lake were covered with yellow. Guests took their rowboats out on the waters and returned with large bouquets for their hotel rooms. Vases full of goldenrod ornamented tables all about the resort and decorated Hotel Conneaut’s dining room.

The Conneaut Lake Fair was held at the end of August into early September with the largest crowd yet seen of almost 35,000 souls. The showcase of livestock proved most impressive and one farm from Youngstown had 800 fowls under their tent. Most alluring was the model dairy exhibit showing the entire dairy operation, including the milking of cows, completely by electricity. The races were a huge draw as usual, with Miss Trace of Franklin, PA the big winner. 

Postcard of the race track

The Pennsylvania Fish Commission showed a selection of fish from the lake from the fish hatchery. This hatchery was located at the foot of Lake Conneaut and was the best in the state.

Washington D.C. aviator Paul Beck displayed his Rex Smith biplane and attempted a demonstration of flying it for four days in a row, only managing one actual flight due to the wind. The aircraft weighed nearly 1,200 lbs., measured forty feet in length, and had an engine of eighty horse-power. On Thursday with no crowds to watch, he was able to rise to 1,000 feet and circled the park, landing with ease. On Friday, he attempted rising again but the cross-currents hindered his flight and he tried to land. He was whipped abruptly to the ground and crashed into a buggy, causing $500 worth of damage to his machine.

On Friday evening of September 1, the Agricultural Association put on their annual banquet, held in a corner of the dance pavilion’s lower story. The hall was decorated festively with a beautiful harvest theme: cornstalks on the pillars and colorful vegetables piled on the table. Boiled chicken and lobster were served for supper. Association President Henry Holcomb served as toastmaster and issued speeches from members of the association.

With farming the topic of conversation, the association praised the efforts of Henry Holcomb who proved quite a busy man. Besides being president of the association and the park as well as proprietor of hotels Conneaut and Virginia, he owned a seventy-five acre farm nearby. Not only did his farm supply all the produce, eggs, milk, and butter served in hotel Conneaut’s dining room, but it boasted 170 pigs, a length of chicken coops, and incubator house. He had many gardeners employed to maintain the gardens and they lived in cottages on the farm.

The following week, the Pennsylvania Electrical Association held a substantial convention at the resort. They put on a large electric display which drew spectators to the park and proved one of the greatest sights yet to be seen in the state of Pennsylvania. With record-breaking attendance so late into the year, Hotel Conneaut and Hotel Virginia kept their doors open later into the season than usual. The resort had a history of closing on Labor Day, but this year closed on September 11.

The Labor Day Celebration on September 4th proved to be one of the greatest and largest revelries held at Conneaut Lake.


In May, light renovations were underway on Hotel Conneaut. The hotel was redecorated inside and out. On the outside, landscapers planted thousands of new shrubs and flowers, many that had been grown on the Holcomb Farm, one mile west of Conneaut Lake, which also provided much of the produce for the kitchen. In the dining room, workers installed artificial grapevines with electric lights. They hung beautifully from an arbor where guests entered the dining room and appeared quite realistic. The vines also wound around the columns and the ceiling, their soft light illuminating the room quite spectacularly and to the delight of all who entered. Mrs. Catherine Wolff was manager of the dining room that year, having proved her skills the summer prior.

1912 postcard of Hotel Conneaut

The campgrounds opened a month earlier that year in early June and despite the cool weather, many eager outdoor enthusiasts put up tents and began their vacation.

Father John Butler of Conneautville held mass in the new auditorium every Sunday during the season at 11 a.m.

The Evening Republican (Meadville, Pennsylvania) · 25 Jun 1912, Tue · Page 5

On July 13th and 14th, resort guests watched as American Aviator, Lewis Earle Sandt, made successful flights through the park. On Monday, he began his third flight at 5:30 p.m., watched by a record-breaking crowd as he took off from the fair grounds and rose above the trees. He made it a not quite a half mile when his engine began to choke and sputter and Sandt realized he was in trouble. While drifting over an oat field on the Lynce farm, the engine ceased to function altogether. The plane veered nose down into the ground, turning over, and Sandt jumped clear, landing three feet away from the engine which would surely have crushed him.

The crowd screamed in fright, believing Sandt to be killed. Someone on the ground pulled an unconscious Sandt into an automobile and rushed him to Hotel Conneaut where he was attended by a doctor. Sandt suffered a concussion, two broken ribs, various cuts and bruises, and was in shock. He awoke within a half hour. A year later, Sandt was flying for crowds in Grove City, PA, when he crashed and sustained injuries that led to a tetanus infection. He died on June 22, 1913 and was buried in Brookville Cemetery within the town he was born.  He was only twenty-five years old.

Pittsburgh Daily Post Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 26 Jun 1913, Thu • Page 4

On Friday, July 26, tragedy struck when the lake claimed three souls by drowning. William King of Wilmerding, PA had left his wife and child at home to come to Exposition Park and camp with his society, the Knights of Pythias. He and another of his order, McKinley Offutt, took two young ladies who were employees of Hotel Virginia out for a midnight rowboat ride. The young women were Alta Robinson of Pittsburgh and Lillian Gustafson of Spring Creek. They were having a pleasant time on the lake when a sudden wind whipped up and the water became rough. As the boat began to fill with water, they jumped in fright, causing the boat to capsize. Offutt was the only one in the group who could swim and quickly made his way to shore. The two young ladies were pulled beneath the waves by the weight of their skirts while King clung to the capsized boat. A fisherman, Max Keck, had heard the cries for help and made his way to where the boat had overturned, but before he arrived, King lost all strength. He loosened his grip on the boat and sunk to the bottom. The bodies were not located until daylight, the drownings having occurred at 1 a.m. 

Hotel Conneaut, 1913 postcard


In April, Charles Mullet of Niles, Trumbull Co., Ohio became the chief engineer of the resort’s electrical department, proving to be another Niles native capable of handling the resort’s electrical demands.

Hotel Conneaut, 1914 postcard

As soon as the season closed, construction workers began making new improvements to Hotel Conneaut. Proprietor Holcomb had been adamant that a dining room double the size of the existing one was required to fit the amount of guests that wished to dine there each summer. The dining room was situated at the north end of the hotel and workers expanded the room outward, making the finished size 60 feet wide by 100 feet long. They rebuilt the esplanade used for the musicians that was originally situated on the northwest side of the building. On the second and third floors above this addition, laborers added twenty guest rooms, each with its own private bathroom. Along with theses substantial renovations, the carpenters repaired and refinished the hotel’s furniture.

1914 Postcard showing gardens leading to Hotel Conneaut in back left and Hotel Virginia in back right

New cottages sprang up all around the resort as the need to supply extra accommodations proved great.

James Reany, owner of the Lakeside Inn (formerly hotel Mantor), ushered in the modern age by razing the old building to make way for a new, 60 room hotel.


1915 advertisement

When the renovations of Hotel Conneaut were completed, the hostelry now had fifty bathrooms and a dining room large enough to seat 400 people. This dining room was shared by guests of Hotel Virginia and was beautifully decorated in white and gold as the Nirella Orchestra played music every evening. The hotel opened two weeks before the resort, admitting guests who wished to get an early start on their vacation.

The Nirella Orchestra of Pittsburgh was also employed to play the music for the dance hall that season and had played in many prior seasons. The season’s first concert was held at Hotel Conneaut on Sunday, May 30th

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · 1 Aug 1915, Sun · Page 39

Prior to the season opening, a young man walking by Hotel Conneaut heard the familiar snapping a popping sound known only to him as fire. He immediately sounded the alarm and the fire department rushed to the hotel within minutes, hoses at the ready. When no smoke or fire was to be found, a quick investigation found the sound to be swallows who had nested in the hotel chimney.

The resort received a large hydroplane to take guests for trips over the lake. It was also employed for longer trips to Lake Erie.

Pittsburgh Daily Post Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 29 Jun 1915, Tue • Page 10

Construction was completed on the brand new Hotel Reany, built on the site of the Lakeside Inn, which opened June 6th. Its dining room nearly filled the entire first floor, with seating capacity for 160 guests. The hotel and parlors were situated at the front of the first floor. The guest rooms were fitted with the most modern conveniences, with hot and cold running water. The separate bathrooms were equipped with showers and bathtubs. The porch was constructed to be deep and 140 feet long, extending along both sides of the building, as well as the front that butted up to the lakeshore. With guests wishing to stay later in the fall every year, Mr. Reany planned for the hotel to be used especially during the late autumn season. 

Postcard showing the new Hotel Reany

Henry Holcomb, park president and head of the Wild Life League, had twenty-five thousand salmon dumped into the lake in preparation for the busy fishing season.

Conneaut Lake Park opened on May 30th, Memorial Day weekend to the largest crowds the resort had ever seen. Pittsburghers drove their fancy automobiles into the resort in hoards. The Good Roads movement had cleared stones from the road between Conneaut and Pittsburgh, making for a smooth drive. Special trains ran from up to one hundred miles around just for the occasion. Trains from Pittsburgh bursting with excursionists rolled into the station on the Bessemer and B & O Railroads. These trains also worked all season bringing in weekenders. A businessman could work all week, hop on the train in Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon and be at the resort in time to eat dinner with his family. He would then depart for home on the Sunday evening train while his wife and children resumed their vacation at the resort.

In June, the State Industrial Board ordered Hotel Conneaut along with other businesses to modify their care of female employees. The order included better division of time of work and time of rest so that chambermaids, kitchen aids, waitresses, etc. would not be on their feet without a break for long hours and also provide time for the workers to use the telephone. The order was temporarily put in place until September 30th, season’s end, to protect the female workers until a permanent ruling could be made. This proved a breakthrough in rights for female workers.

Every Sunday morning, Fred Butler of Conneautville led mass in the auditorium.

Many churches, groups and societies held their annual outing at the park. In mid-June, 2,000 delegates from the Grand Lodge of the Eastern Star of Pennsylvania spent the week at the resort. They used Hotel Conneaut for their festivities and booked every room in the hotel.

Albert Hilgendorf drowned in Conneaut Lake on Sunday evening of July 4th and his body was recovered later that month. The Evening Republican reported that in a drowning incident of a man named Steele some years prior, his body was pulled out a week later with grappling hooks. The water had been so cold that the body was perfectly preserved.  


Hotel Conneaut received a new coat of paint inside and out in preparation for the upcoming season. A water heater was installed to provide the guest rooms with both hot and cold water. Proprietor Holcomb remained steadfast in his desire for the hotel and resort as a whole to showcase the height of modernity and luxury. Guests of the hotel were served mineral water in a setting of the most up to date furniture and décor. The lobby, spacious hallways, and large verandas proved to stage the very best of high class living.

Pittsburgh Daily Post (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · 2 Jul 1918, Tue · Page 8

Once again the Nirella Orchestra was employed at the Dance Pavilion and in the dining room at Hotel Conneaut for the season. A.A. Lutz, a Pittsburgh dance instructor, led the dancing.

Despite the ongoing war, business continued to boom for the resort, though men no longer came in on the train for a day’s excursion, being occupied in service. Most families chose to forget their usual cross country or out of country vacations because of the war and instead traveled to the comfort and extravagance of Exposition Park.

The commander of the Swift Boys Brigade, Major McCombs, was a guest of Hotel Conneaut in late June. A large part of the usual attendance of boys of the last twenty years was much diminished by the fact that the boys were off to war. 

On June 28, the Exposition Park Board held their annual banquet in the dining room of Hotel Conneaut. Some of the board members provided speeches and the Nirella Orchestra performed while the board members and their families dined and socialized.

Hotel Reany opened on July 1st, but as it was under new management, the named was changed to Hotel Elmwood.

More honeymooners spent their newly wedded bliss at Hotel Conneaut that year due to the fact that more young men married by reason of the war and the wage increase for those in service.


As with every season before it, 1919 broke the attendance records and a spectacular year was had. At the season’s end, all of the hotels and cottages were filled to capacity, something that had never happened in the history of the resort. The hotels Conneaut, Virginia, and Elmwood remained open until the middle of September.


  • Will Return to Florida: The Niles Daily News, published in Niles, Ohio on Wednesday, October 5th, 1910, Pg 1
  • At the Lake: The Record-Argus,18 May 1911, Thu. Pg 3
  • Conneaut Lake Has Busy Week: The News-Herald,12 Aug 1911, Sat. Pg 1
  • Girl From Pittsburgh Swims Conneaut Lake: The Niles Daily News, published in Niles, Ohio on Saturday, August 12th, 1911, Pg 4
  • What’s Doing At The Lake: The Record-Argus, 26 Aug 1911, Sat. Pg 1
  • What Time Has Wrought on Conneaut Lake, Where the Credit Belongs: The News-Herald, 6 Sep 1911, Wed. Pg 1 & 6
  • Hotel Conneaut Renovated: The Evening Republican, 27 May 1912, Mon. Pg 4
  • Aviation Meet at Exposition Park: The Record-Argus,10 Jun 1912, Mon. Pg 1
  • Aviator Sandt Falls: The Conneautville Courier, 17 Jul 1912, Wed. Pg 1
  • Death concludes exciting life of aviator E. Sandt: Erie Dispatch. June 23, 1913
  • 50 years ago: Page 2 of The Daily Times, published in Niles, Ohio on Tuesday, April 21st, 1964
  • Conneaut Lake Drowns 3: McKean County Miner, 1 Aug 1912, Thu. Pg 1
  • New Hotels For Exposition Park: The Evening Republican, 17 Oct 1914, Sat. Pg 1
  • Conneaut Lake: The Pittsburgh Press, 9 May 1915, Sun. Pg 54
  • Official Opening at Exposition Park: The Evening Republican, 29 May 1915, Sat. Pg. 4
  • Conneaut Lake: The Pittsburgh Press, 6 Jun 1915, Sun. Pg 41
  • Industrial Board Makes Exceptions: Harrisburg Telegraph, June 24, 1915, Page 9
  • Many Visitors Are At Conneaut Lake: The Evening Republican, Jul 1915, Sat. Pg 6
  • Demand For Housing At The Lake: The Record-Argus, 29 Jun 1918, Sat. Pg 3
  • Summer Resorts, Exposition Park: Pittsburgh Daily Post, Tue. Jul 2, 1918 
  • Conneaut Lake: The Pittsburgh Press, 24 Aug 1919, Sun. Pg 34

Anecdotes of Hotel Conneaut & Exposition Park: Part 2, 1900-1909

In my ongoing series of anecdotes from Hotel Conneaut and Exposition Park, I found the first decade of the 20th century to be one of triumph and also devastation for the resort as a whole. The park had yet to become a prime destination for vacation goers and far off from being known as the largest resort in Pennsylvania, but was well on its way to success. As an interesting aside, Clark Gable, who was born in Ohio in 1901, lived on a farm along Conneaut Lake from the ages of seven months to five years. Republican candidate for the 1936 presidential election, Alfred Mossman Landon, also spent his childhood summers at Conneaut Lake during that same decade and accomplished a two-mile swim across the lake..

1909 Postcard showing Conneaut Lake


Mr. O. E. Gleason, owner of the Mansion House in Titusville and partner to Frank Lockwood, leased the Exposition Hotel to E.D. Comstock for the season. Fred G. Pardee of Titusville operated the hotel through the year of 1900 before departing to lease a hotel in Watertown, N.Y.

The park installed a huge, 60 foot diameter merry-go-round at the tune of $7,500, a price tag that would read about $232,000 in today’s dollars.


View from Hotel Conneaut Veranda, early 1900s

Henry O. Holcomb took over management of the hotel Conneaut.

Advertisement from 1902


On March 10, a crew of forty men commenced building the new Hotel Conneaut on the site of Exposition Hotel. The plan for the building sized it at 160 by 130 feet with a projected cost of $25,000. Whether newspaper error or a project going extremely overbudget, the hotel construction actually cost $35,000, or about one million in today’s value. 

Workers labored rapidly, their work made faster because they used a portion of the old Exposition Hotel in the construction of the new building. They used the three story section of the original structure, having moved the one story north wing near the auditorium to be used for another building, and built the new hotel in its place. By April, they set about wiring the hotel for electric lights.

Meadville house furnisher John J. Shryock provided all the new carpets and bedding for the new building. He won the contract in a bidding war against companies from Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Erie, and New York.

Also under construction was the largest gravity railroad on that side of the country.


Image from The Record-Argus (Greenville, Pennsylvania) Monday, June 15 1903, Page 1

When construction workers continued working on the new Conneaut hotel, tragedy struck. On February 9th, one of the laborers, Harry Hogan, fell and hit his head, but returned to work the following day. By evening, he felt poorly and returned to his parents’ home in Erie where he fell into a delirium and eventually died.

In mid-April, a group of carpenters employed by Constable Brothers, the company contracted for the hotel’s construction, quit the job and returned to Meadville, tools in hand. Because they had refused to name their union, they had been placed on the unfair list of the Erie Carpenter’s Union, thus causing the strike. Non-union laborers took over the work on the hotel while the matter was resolved.

Park guests would be arriving in a new terminal, as a new station was constructed farther south than the original. It could not be completed in time for season opening due to difficulties in finding material, but was still used and required every guest to pass through gates before boarding a train.

A new train, the Conneaut Lake Limited, was up and running and featured a day coach, chair car, and a private car. Along the lake, new, larger docks were built by the steamer company.

Circa 1910 Postcard showing the new docks

With the new hotel alas complete and improvements made all around the park, the new owners could label the grounds as a first class resort. Hotel Conneaut boasted a Spanish style entrance, built of stucco and large porches that wrapped around both sides of the hotel. Guests could walk up to the roof garden for a peaceful rest and view of the grounds. In the north wall of the large lobby was a fireplace and on the west side, a staircase leading to the upstairs guest rooms. Off of the lobby were separate writing rooms for men and women. Also on the ground floor was a barber shop, buffet, telephone booth, toilets, billiard room, ladies parlor and several guest rooms.

On Decoration Day, 700 diners filled the new dining room in Hotel Conneaut’s north wing. 

During the remainder of July, thousands visited the park on a daily basis, many coming during the day to picnic and enjoy a leisurely stay at the lake. The hotels ran at full capacity and were forced to turn many travelers away, some taking the train to Meadville where they found accommodations and returned on the morning route.


In April, the Conneaut Lake Company purchased the resort from the Conneaut Lake Exposition Company. The new officers were President Henry O. Holcomb of Erie who was the current proprietor of Hotel Conneaut, Secretary and Manager C. P. Kepler of Pittsburgh, and Treasurer F.W. Henninger of Pittsburgh.

1905 Postcard

They immediately set about making improvements to the resort, including building a new, modern bathhouse.

The park opened for the season on May 30, Decoration Day, with the year’s schedule already quite jampacked with reunions and picnics. The hotel rooms and cottages were booked well in advance by eager excursionists. Park Manager Kepler, the former Traveling Auditor of the Bessemer Road, was in charge of the bookings.

The Circle Swing, a new attraction installed, featuring a dazzling spectacle of light, made possible by doubling the capacity of the electric light plant.

Postcard showing the park’s large Circle Swing at left

On August 29-September 1st, the Conneaut Lake Agricultural Association hosted a fair and race meet on the new fair grounds adjacent to the resort.


On December 4, a large fire tore through three of the largest hotels in Conneaut Lake Park as well as the surrounding frame buildings. Hotels Arlington, Brunswick, and Thatcher were lost, amounting to about $30,000 in damages.

On April 2, another fire began in the basement of the Taylor Hotel inside Conneaut Lake Park and men from numerous surrounding towns rushed in to fight the blaze. The Taylor burned to the ground followed by the Chilcott Hotel and several barns before it was extinguished. The damage amounted to around $35,000.

On Friday, June 29th, Mrs. Holcomb, wife of Manager Holcomb served as hostess for one hundred women from Conneaut, Erie, Girard and other localities. With her incredible grace and class, she welcomed the women into Hotel Conneaut and spent the day giving them a grand tour of the resort.

The July 4th holiday week proved to be the busiest the resort had seen as 25,000 people visited the lake. 6,000 paid entry to see the horse races, the best ever seen in western Pennsylvania. Hotel Conneaut’s management handled the crowds with unwavering professionalism. Next door, Hotel Mantor burst at the seams as harried park employees ran about, tending to the many needs of excursionists. On the 4th, guests waited an hour to find a place within the bathhouse, which showed considerable traffic that week.

In November, laborers began constructing a substantial addition to Hotel Conneaut. It measured 30 by 100 feet with a wing of 30 by 60 feet. It stood four stories high.


Postcard featuring Hotel Virginia

Hotel Conneaut received a sister hotel upon the completion of Hotel Virginia, built to accommodate the overflow of guests. Hotel Mantor had a new third story with added guest rooms and its name was changed to the Lakeside Inn, which without argument, boasted the best view of the lake.

Postcard of Hotel Mantor after the name change to Lakeside Inn

Upon a cold and rainy season opening, visitors could not be discouraged by the poor weather and poured into the park, eager to see all the new improvements and amenities.

On the morning of Sunday, June 2, Hotel Conneaut guest Edward Hammond was taking a stroll along the hotel’s lawn when he came across the rain-soaked body of Dr. Cornelius Van Horne. A coroner’s jury theorized that Van Horne had fallen from his guest room’s balcony during the night, walked several feet, collapsed from a head injury and died from exposure.


Postcard showing guests on the porch of Hotel Conneaut, about 1908

Prior to the season opening, $50,000 (nearly one and a half million in today’s value) was spent in new attractions, including the scenic railway, managed by Piper & Skeen, a penny arcade, managed by Fred J. Spillman of Niles, OH, The Castle of Fun led by Meadville’s C.H. Clark, The Old MillThe Mystic CycloneThe Circle Swing managed by Scott Murphy, the Ocean Waveoperated by M.D. Fox, the Ferris Wheel conducted by Larry Palmer, and the Avenue Theatorium—Conneaut’s first movie theater, and especially for the children, Erhart’s merry-go-round and the pony track with saddle and carriage horses. 

The park buildings and pavilions received a fresh coat of paint, and all the benches painted vermilion red. A new half-mile-long racetrack, the Conneaut Lake Oval, was constructed and spectators soon claimed it was the fastest half-mile track in Pennsylvania. Its grandstand could hold 5,000 people.

1908 Postcard Showing the Boat Landing

Seven steamboats owned by the Conneaut Lake Navigation Company were repaired and improved in preparation for summer passengers.

Early 1900’s Postcard showing steamboats

The partial list of 1908 park employees is as follows: 

  • Park Manager: Mr. Kepler
  • Park Superintendent/Hotels Conneaut and Virginia Manager: Henry Holcomb
  • Hotel Conneaut Chief Clerk: Frank Garber, Greenville PA
  • Hotel Conneaut Assistant Clerk: Joe Longmore, Pittsburgh PA
  • Park Office Manager: Mrs. J.O. Jones, Greenville PA
  • Post Office Manager: Mary Moulthrop 
  • Bessemer Station Agent: F.H. Wheeler, Mercer PA
  • Bessemer Superintendent of Motive Power: E.B. Gilbert, Greenville PA
  • Baggage Handler: C.W. Cubbison
  • Yard Master: C.M. Kamerer, Butler, PA
  • Bathing Pavilion Manager: A.W. Robertson
  • Rowboat Manager: Mark Lynce
  • A.K. Tower Operator: C.A. Rood 
  • Bowling Alley Manager: C.W. McCullough
  • Park Contractor: Mr. Piper of Moundsville, WV with crew of forty men
  • Cottage Contractor: Martin Dennis
  • Park Photographer: W.W. Wilt
  • Lakeside Inn (former Mantor House) Proprietor: James Reany
  • Hotel Bismark Manager: Julius Fuhrman
  • Check Stand Attendants: Phoebe Irons, Linesville PA and Mildred Powers, Grand Rapids MI
  • Cashiers: Flora Moulthrop and Lillian Schaaf

Friday, May 29th, the day before opening day, a storm blew through, toppling thirty trees, removing the roofs of two cottages, damaging the bathhouse roof, and sinking all the rowboats. Undeterred, thousands entered the park on Saturday May 30th, Decoration Day, welcomed by the boisterous music of the Greenville based Boyd’s Band. 900 people arrived on two trains from Pittsburgh alone. Park superintendent Henry Holcomb welcomed guests into Hotel Conneaut, entertaining 400 from Pittsburgh and countless others from other districts. In the dining room, Henry Wiesbauer’s orchestra delighted diners with a musical program. They also played in the dancing pavilion for the entire season.

A College Field Day was put on the Saturday after Memorial Day with many sports and activities for athletes from all around.

On June 12-13th, the park hosted an Italian festival, featuring food, games, music, excursion trains, and fireworks put on by P. Rozzi.

In July, Imogene DeTier opened a manicuring parlor in Hotel Conneaut.

In the early morning hours of December 2,  a fire of unknown origin began in the Bismark Hotel. The fire rapidly spread with devastating results to more than half the park. A detailed account by the Crawford County Historical Society can be read here.  An investigation into the fire was made but with no natural explanation found, the people of Conneaut assumed an arsonist set fire to the Bismark Hotel. The National Board of Fire Underwriters offered a $500 reward for anyone who had information leading to an arrest. Fingers pointed to the hotel’s owner for beginning the fire for insurance purposes, but with no evidence, no one was ever brought to justice.


Park management set about making many improvements during the quick rebuild prior to the upcoming summer season. A large, fireproof cement midway was constructed with entirely new buildings.

They purchased one-hundred new rowboats to replace the ones that had been in storage inside the dance pavilion when it burned to the ground. 

1909 postcard showing docks in front of the new boat pavilion

At the end of May, the finishing touches were put on the brand new cement and steel dance pavilion. The impressive structure that would eventually be called Dreamland Ballroom featured a beautifully laid maple floor and 17,000 square feet of floor space. Its outdoor promenade boasted a 14 foot width by 412 feet length. The first floor was used for picnics when the weather proved too inclement for an outdoor affair. In its first summer, dances were held every night but Sundays, led by a twelve-piece orchestra.

Postcard featuring the dance pavilion

The park’s grand opening was held on Decoration Day, May 30th.

On July 8th, Exposition Park hosted the seventeenth annual picnic of the Merchant’s Association of Niles (from Trumbull County, OH), the largest ever held. 

During the hot summer days, swimmers enjoyed the bathing pavilion with 150 dressing rooms. It had a large collection of brand new, modern swimsuits for men, women, and children. Along the lake, visitors sped down the toboggan slide, and jumped from springboards and diving platforms.

Within the Arcade, guests bowled in the eight lane bowling alley or played pool or billiards. Those up for more vigorous sports could play a game of ball on the regulation baseball diamond or on the tennis courts just south of Hotel Conneaut.

By this time, the Conneaut Lake Fair, held on August 30-September 3 that season, proved to be the most popular fair in the state.

1909 Postcard featuring the post office

On Friday, October 15, around 11 a.m., a fire of unknown origin broke out at the resort, starting in Phelp’s grocery across from the trolley station. The frame structure quickly went up in flames and spread to the adjoining frame buildings, though was stopped from spreading further by the new fireproof cement structures on the Midway. Park employees battled the blaze to no avail and the Meadville fire department arrived with a steam fire engine and hoses. The men of Conneaut Lake came over by steamboat to assist and by the time all help arrived, the fire had consumed the grocery, the back of the Old Mill, Penny Arcade, Bonheyo Bakery, and the park lock-up. The men put out the fire as it reached the Log Cabin Restaurant, Miller souvenir store, and Jackson’s restaurant, all of which received mild damage. The front section of the Old Mill was spared. The initial rumor was that the hotel’s Conneaut and Virginia were both up in flames, but in truth they were nowhere in danger and it’s interesting to note how word of mouth can quickly twist information. The buildings destroyed were not owned by the park and the losses for the self-employed businessmen who owned them were great.


  • Mr. Comstock: The Conneautville Courier,1 Mar 1900, Thu. Pg 1
  • Fred Pardee: The Conneautville Courier,10 Jan 1901, Thu. Pg 1
  • New Owner: The Record-Argus, 31 May 1901, Fri. Pg 3
  • New Hotel: The Conneautville Courier, 13 Mar 1902, Thu. Pg 1
  • New Hotel Work: The Conneautville Courier, 3 Apr 1902, Thu. Pg 1
  • Hotel Progress: The News-Herald, 24 Apr 1902, Thu. Pg 8
  • Furnishing Contract: The Conneautville Courier, 29 May 1902, Thu. Pg 5
  • Harry Hogan Death: The Conneautville Courier,18 Feb 1903, Wed. Pg 1
  • Carpenter Strike: The Evening Republican, 16 Apr 1903, Thu. Pg 4
  • Conneaut Lake’s Prospects Bright: The Record-Argus,15 Jun 1903, Mon. Pg 1
  • Conneaut Lake Pleasure Resort Changes Hands: Butler Citizen, April 13, 1905, Pg 3
  • Two Hotels Destroyed At Conneaut Lake PA: The Evening World, December 5, 1906, Evening Edition, Final Results Edition, Pg 13
  • July 4th at Conneaut Lake: The Pittsburgh Press, 8 Jul 1906, Sun. Pg 33
  • Plan for Addition: The Conneautville Courier, 19 Sep 1906, Wed. Pg 5
  • Annex: The Conneautville Courier, 7 Nov 1906, Wed. Pg 1
  • Three Hotels Destroyed: The Daily Morning Journal and Courier, December 5, 1906
  • Cold Weather Doesn’t Interfere With Arrival of Guests: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,16 Jun 1907, Sun. Pg 14
  • Sudden Death At Expo: The Record-Argus, 3 Jun 1907, Mon. Pg 2
  • Exposition Park Season Opened: The Evening Republican, 1 Jun 1908, Mon. Pg 1
  • Summer Season At Exposition Park: The Evening Republican, 23 Mar 1908, Mon. Pg 1
  • Manicuring Parlor: The Conneautville Courier, 8 Jul 1908, Wed. Pg 1
  • Reward for Arsonist: The Forest Republican, March 17, 1909
  • Beautiful Conneaut: Page  1 of The Niles Daily News, published in Niles, Ohio on Wednesday, July 7th, 1909
  • Merchants to Picnic Here: Page 3 of The Niles Daily News, published in Niles, Ohio on Thursday, May 27th, 1909
  • Fire at Exposition Park: The Conneautville Courier, 20 Oct 1909, Wed. Pg 1

Anecdotes of Hotel Conneaut & Exposition Park: Part 1, 1892-1899

On November 21st, for my third year in a row, I will once again be visiting Hotel Conneaut for a ghost hunt put on by Ghosts n’at Paranormal Research Team. In preparation for this annual ghost hunt, I want to explore Hotel Conneaut even further by digging into its history through the decades. I already wrote about the deaths and other strange occurrences that have been recorded to have happened there, so today I wish to make a study of the changes that were made to the hotel and surrounding grounds in the last century. Along the way, I wish to add certain accounts of the workers and guests, some humorous and some sad. This will be an ongoing study, leading up to next month’s ghost hunt.

Exposition Hotel, Crawford County Historical Society


Conneaut is a Native American word that means “plenty of fish” and indeed Conneaut Lake had a bounty of fish which drew in sportsmen from all around. An interesting fact about Lake Conneaut is that conditions allow the tuberin water lily, an extremely rare flower, to grow on its surface. Nowhere else in the country does this type of lily grow so large or pure white than on the lake. They grow five to eight inches in diameter and prove a spectacular sight for anyone coming to roam among Conneaut’s shores. The lake proved to be a large draw for boating, fishing, and picnicking throughout its history and towards the end of the 1800’s, a businessman wished to capitalize on its popularity.

“Conneaut Lake, the largest and most picturesque inland body of water in Pennsylvania, rests on the apex of what is known as the “Divide,” whence the waters flow northward to Lake Erie, and southward to the Ohio and Gulf of Mexico. Conneaut is 400 feet above Lake Erie and 700 feet higher than Pittsburgh, assuring the pure, balmy air and delightful climate so necessary to health and perfect enjoyment. The wooded shores surrounding the six square miles of water conceal from the unobservant the many delightful walks and drives; the twelve mile drive around the lake being especially charming.”

Beautiful Conneaut: Page  1 of The Niles Daily News, published in Niles, Ohio on Wednesday, July 7th, 1909

The idea struck Col. Frank Mantor, owner of the Conneaut Lake Exposition Company to establish a high-class resort, luring the wealthy to Conneaut Lake with open pocketbooks. In 1892, Mantor’s company and a number of investors purchased seven acres of land from Aaron Lynce who had used the parcel for a boat landing, known as Lynce’s Landing, since 1877.  They also purchased one hundred more acres to be used with the initial seven as a fairground and exposition for livestock and machinery. Thus, Mantor founded Exposition Park, the original name of Conneaut Lake Park.

The summer, locals witnessed a lavish resort form rapidly along the lake. Wide roads and several large buildings were immediately constructed within the first few months. Exposition Hotel promptly sprouted up as the resort’s projected opening for August 15th loomed. By July, the auditorium was framed, the office building nearly complete, and the hotel right on schedule. Lack of correct timbers delayed the building of the pavilion upon the wharf, but the issue was soon amended. Management proceeded in sending out many invitations to prominent speakers for opening day as well as ordering hundreds of tents for visitors who wished to spend the night. 

At the close of the season, The Select Knights’ Band escorted resort goers on the train from Allegheny to Exposition park, playing music during the ride. Upon the 11:30 a.m. arrival at the Exposition Hotel, the band played a concert. The train departed at 6 p.m. and the round trip cost each guest $1.50. 

In the first years, Mantor’s company continuously added and improved, even building a telegraph office to allow rapid communication to the outside world. A two story dance pavilion with open sides was built just north of the office, set to be the social center of the entire park. North of the dance hall was a long, two-story building with glass sides named Floral Hall. It was filled with floral exhibits during Exposition week and held other functions during the remainder of the season. North of Floral Hall was the auditorium, an enormous domed structure that could accommodate hundreds of people and boasted a stairway to the top where a spectacular view of the entire park could be seen. The result of these improvements was a high class destination which drew the rich and prominent from all over, particularly Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Meadville, Erie, Beaver Falls, Greenville, Youngstown, and Cleveland.


Exposition Hotel in 1893, Crawford County Historical Society

Frank M. Lockwood of Titusville took over as proprietor of the hotel, leasing it from Mrs. Hill. Lockwood was born on Oct. 5, 1836 in Penn Yan, Yates Co., NY, the son of Bradford Lockwood and Sophia Cole and was a veteran of the Civil War. He had married and divorced Emma Heath, after having a son, Frank. For many years Lockwood ran the Mansion House in Titusville, his hometown, and operated a hotel in Virginia during the winters when Exposition Park was closed. He was a charming figure who carried himself with great dignity and class. 

When young, Lockwood’s family had moved to Michigan and he trained as a barber at the age of twelve, went into the hotel profession at age thirteen with his father, and at fourteen was handed the business from his father.  During the nationwide financial hardship of 1850, Lockwood returned to New York and learned the telegraph trade, but went into the bakery business. While serving in the war, General Wadsworth put Lockwood in charge of baking bread not only for the troops, but for President Lincoln himself. He operated the very first field ovens. At the end of the war, Lockwood went to Corry, PA where he became police chief and ever the man of many trades, worked in grocery, baking, and confectionery. Following this time he became steward of the New Kent House in Lakewood and learned how to run a first class hotel. He went on to run a few other hotels before investing in the Mansion House in Titusville with O. Gleason in 1891. His experience in the hotel business landed him the management of Exposition Hotel and under his guidance, the investors of the resort hoped it would elevate in popularity and status. 

A post office was established at the resort named “Exposition” and mail brought in by steamer from the Conneaut post office. Soon, the resort functioned like a town and under competent leadership, ran like a well-oiled machine. 

The season brought hordes of visitors to the park, so much that the railroad struggled to accommodate them. More and more tents sprang up on the grounds with camping visitors. State Insurance Commissioner, George B. Luper of Harrisburg, spent his summer at Exposition Hotel with his wife, daughter Blanche, and son, Daniel Bert. He consumed the bulk of his stay fishing, having grown up in nearby Harmonsburg, and caught the most fish of anyone else in the sport. 

A Pittsburgh gentleman who was staying at the hotel took his lady for an evening boat ride and it was quite dark when he helped her into the boat. He pumped the oars for some time but did not seem to be getting anywhere. With great amusement, they discovered the boat still roped to the dock.

As the summer season came to a close, many guests from Pittsburgh and Allegheny stayed on to experience hunting season and some of the hotels stayed open until late fall. The Evening Republican reported that Exposition Hotel closed for the season on September 3rd, but the Pittsburgh Press mentioned the hotel keeping guests until later in the month, so perhaps though the hotel closed to the public, they remained open for select guests. September was the best for fishing and guests spent their days lingering in and about the waters, catching pike and bass. T.P. Garber of Greenville caught a 14 lb. pike, much to the delight of all who witnessed it. Squirrel shooting commenced in the beginning of the month and ducks felled later on. Brilliant goldenrod burst colorful about the grounds and park employees set about creating bouquets to adorn the tables in the hotel and cottages. Many guests enjoyed the ten mile drive around the lake, admiring the breathtaking sights of nature. 

Two sisters who were spending their fall at an old farmhouse met up with gentlemen friends who were guests of the hotel. The men took the ladies for a boat ride in the evening and docked within a half mile’s distance of the farmhouse. It was about ten o’clock at night and quite dark, so it did not take long before the group became hopelessly lost in the swamplands. Their skirts and trousers became quite soaked through as they slogged through the swamp and found themselves inhibited by high fences. Several hours later, the men at last delivered the ladies to the farmhouse, found their way back to the boat and by the time they reached the hotel, dawn was breaking on the water.


Frank Lockwood became postmaster of Exposition Park and the park office moved to the hotel. 

The Elks Investment company planned to build a grand first class resort hotel on the lake called the Elks Hotel on the site of the Cornell House. The new hotel would feature a casino, amusement hall, a steamboat launch, and its own fleet of boats for guests to roam Conneaut Lake. The company and park as a whole hoped the new hotel would draw even more people to the grounds to seek their summer amusements. 

Visitors to Exposition Park often arrived by train, the great machine haven taken them through woods and fields before riding along the edge of the lake, greeted by the rippling water. The train pulled into the park and the passengers disembarked, walking along the main thoroughfare between confection booths, newsstands, and various buildings. Near the office, stood a sea shell store and the large Miller Bros. shop selling fruit and sweets, the most popular place to seek refreshments on a hot summer day. Next-door was a graphophone parlor followed by George P. Ryan’s Rocky Mountain museum, featuring the treasures obtained through his travels through the Rockies. Continuing northward, stood the Echo Hotel near the beach and bath houses, a large draw being the toboggan slide.

Across the railroad was the “upper park” where guests picnicked and played ball. Also there was the merry-go-round, booths selling sweets and refreshments, and photograph cars, among other entertainments. At the west side of the park were the stables where hands cared for countless horses during the day.

At Exposition Hotel, guests could sit in the dining room and eat a large, delicious dinner. The hotel featured the park office, parlor, wash room, and barber shop and sixty rooms to accommodate staying guests. The ever-busy Frank Lockwood readily greeted visitors, welcoming them warmly.

Exposition hotel closed for the season on September 15, after a successful year under the management of Lockwood and courtesy of the hotel’s landlady, Mrs. Hill. 


The 1896 season employed Professor H.L. Braun’s orchestra. The Pittsburgh Post called vacationers to come enjoy the amusements, which included dancing, tennis, swimming, and fishing. The Exposition and Mantor hotels could accommodate 250 guests between them, but due to the popularity, the resort burst at the seams with visitors and the resort called for constant expansion.


In preparation for the 1897 season, extensive improvements were made to the park that included the installation of an electric light plant at the end of the railroad track. Hundreds of incandescent lamps were placed around the grounds and buildings and three rental cottages were built south of the hotel. 

On June 1, Frank Lockwood, proprietor of Exposition Hotel, married Mary Conroy of Jamestown, NY, at the Commercial Hotel in Meadville, PA.


Visitors poured into Exposition Park, some to enjoy a day-long picnic while others stayed several weeks or more at one of the hotels or cottages. The late train from Meadville began to run three nights a week in July, coming back after the weekly dance at the resort. 

Butler Citizen, June 23, 1898

Fishing parties covered Lake Conneaut, some staying out on the water the entire day. Guests fishing from the docks were able to catch a number of sunfish with a cut pole, string, and bent pin. Guests also kept the steamboats in constant employ, the most popular being the Iroquois, controlled by Captain Quigley.

A group of eighty boys from the Swift Mission Brigade camped on the grounds below the hotel. The other guests watched in awe at 5:30 every evening when the boys performed their dress parade in front of the hotel. They sported white duck pants with patent leather boots, similar to the uniform of the national guard and each carried a sword.


Tuesday, July 4th,1899 drew the largest crowds the park had ever seen with numbers between 6-10,000 people. Huge throngs of people gathered at every attraction around the lake. The steamships regularly departed and arrived at the pier, taking people to and from Oakland Beach and the fine hotels along the eastern shore. Meadville’s famous Northwestern band arrived on the early train, playing to fellow passengers, a large body of around 1,000 people. W.H. Whiteside of Youngstown won the bicycle race and George Long of Pittsburgh won the swimming competition.

Despite it being such a successful holiday, the fog of tragedy laid over Lockwood’s triumph when on July 3, he lost his infant son to cholera. I wonder if Lockwood remained at his post tending to guests while his wife mourned back in their home of Titusville. The little body was buried in Jamestown, NY, his mother’s birthplace. I do not see how the park could have replaced Lockwood in the event he left to bury his son, but perhaps the employees stepped up and were successfully able to carry out the large celebration without their manager. Perhaps, somewhere, it has been recorded, but it is more likely these details have been lost to time.

The season closed as the most successful in the resort’s short history. Park manager E.D. Comstock sought to renew the lease for the next twenty years with many plans for improvements drawn up. They wished to double the size of the dance hall as well as construct a bandstand, fountain, and fifteen cottages upon the green around the hotel. The most exciting news was the plan to build a new hotel on the site of Exposition Hotel, the building that would become Hotel Conneaut as we know it. 


  • Founding of Exposition Park: Futrell, Jim (2002). Amusement Parks of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books. pp. 79–92. ISBN 0-8117-2671-1.
  • The Conneautville Courier, 14 Jul 1892, Thu. Pg 5
  • New Owner: The Conneautville Courier, 4 May 1893, Thu. Pg 1
  • The Lilies of Conneaut: The Pittsburgh Press, 23 Jul 1893, Sun. Pg 16
  • Lost in the Swamp: The Pittsburgh Press, 26 Aug 1893, Sat. Pg 4
  • Lockwood Appointed Postmaster: The Conneautville Courier, 7 Jun 1894, Thu. Pg 5
    Romantic Conneaut: The Evening Republican, 2 Jul 1894, Mon. Pg 3
  • Exposition Hotel Closed for Season: The Evening Republican, 15 Sep 1894, Sat. Pg 4
  • Spend Your Vacation at Conneaut Lake: Pittsburgh Daily Post, 5 Jul 1896, Sun. Pg 5
  • Resort Improvements: The Conneautville Courier, 22 Apr 1897, Thu. Pg 1
  • F.M. Lockwood Marriage: The Conneautville Courier,10 Jun 1897, Thu. Pg 1
  • July 4th At Conneaut Lake: The Evening Republican, 5 Jul 1899, Wed. Pg 3
  • Most Successful Season: The Conneautville Courier, 31 Aug 1899, Thu. Pg 1