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

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