Anecdotes of Hotel Conneaut & Exposition Park: Part 6, 1940-Present

This will be my final post of 2020 as the busy holiday season is underway and I need to focus on writing my novels, but I have many great stories planned to share in 2021. I was devastated to discover that just days before my intended visit to Hotel Conneaut tomorrow that the travel restrictions have caused my plans to be cancelled. Due to COVID, Ohioans visiting Pennsylvania have to procure a negative test result within 72 hours crossing the border and me and my group simply would not have time to do so prior to the trip. Unfortunately, the ghost hunt will be going on without us both tonight and tomorrow night. I imagine many groups, especially those coming from out of state, had to cancel due to the pandemic.

Postcard of the boardwalk and Hotel Conneaut, 1941

In the sixth installment of my series on Hotel Conneaut, we alas reach the decade where all the parties, all the glamor, all the fun, and the entire experience of vacationing at Conneaut Lake Park came to an abrupt end. September 1, 1939 marked the beginning of WWII and the U.S. joined in 1941 following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. With war came economic crisis, war rationing, and undying patriotism. All the excess and frills dominating the previous decades were trimmed off and though people still longed for the escapism of an amusement park, it simply was not possible for many families to attend an annual outing at the resort. Then, in 1943, a fire devastated Hotel Conneaut, putting her out of business for the next year, and reshaping her entire future. The war and the poor economy left a sad haze on the entire park and the magic was lost. Though many groups continued to come to the park for their annual meeting or convention, the crowds of yesteryear were long gone. Because the hotel appeared significantly less in the news, I have less material to work with and have combined the decades leading into present day.


The Pittsburgh Press, May 26, 1940
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Friday June 14, Jun 1940, Page 27

For everything you’ve ever wanted in a day or a whole season of rest and relaxation. Fun and play—visit Conneaut Lake Park. It is the ideal fun site for young and old alike. Fully equipped to meet the scattered diversions of everyone, rich in concessions, spiced with variety in the amusement center, packed with facilities for outdoor sports enthusiasts. The high, healthful, elevation and pure sweet air instills new life in your system, makes you feel “tops” again. Come to Conneaut Lake Park now….you’ll be a “Conneaut Lake Park fan” every year if you do.

Hotel Conneaut—Located on the Western Shore of Beautiful Conneaut Lake—has long been famous as a vacation center. More than 300 delightful rooms—Both American and European plans—Excellent cuisine at most reasonable rates—at Hotel Conneaut you have everything, and everything is devoted to making your stay a most enjoyable one. Relax in perfect ease on Lake-view verandas, or obtain new vigor and vitality through stimulating sports—at Hotel Conneaut. Dancing nightly at the smart new Beach Club…music by famous orchestras….there’s something here for every mood…under the sun or under the starts…at Hotel Conneaut. Enjoy Your Playtime Here!”
You Can’t Beat a Bargain Like This! All Expense 7-Day Vacation….$31.55
Just think of it! Seven wonderful days and nights at HOTEL CONNEAUT with round trip transportation, a comfortable, furnished room, three inviting meals daily served in the Main Dining Room. Dancing and Floor Show privileges nightly at smart BEACH CLUB. Also Golf and Fishing Privileges. Many Other Activities, ALL FOR ONE VACATION PRICE. For information write Hotel Conneaut, Conneaut Lake Park, Pa. 

– The Pittsburgh Press Sunday, June 23, 1940
The Pittsburgh Press, Sunday, June 23, 1940
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Friday, June 28, 1940, Page 24
The Pittsburgh Press, Sunday, August 25, 1940, Page 44


The Pittsburgh Press Sunday, May 25, 1941, Page 39


Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, Sunday, May 24, 1942, Page 32


Hotel Conneaut was prepared for its opening on May 1st, but on April 27th, an electrical fire began in the north wing. The fire department quickly brought it under control and the resulting damage amounted to $5,000. This postponed the hotel’s opening for a week. However, hot coals from the fire reignited another blaze, one that burned silently through the hotel’s interior for five hours before it was noticed at 4 a.m. on April 28th and brought under control by 9:30 a.m. 150 guest rooms on the second and third floors and the main dining room and main lobby on the ground floor were gutted in the blaze. $150,000 of damages were estimated. The park manager, T.C. Foley, announced the hotel would not open as scheduled and could not open for the imminent future. 

On May 11th, lightning struck wires leading into the second story of the park office near Hotel Conneaut and the building caught on fire. Assistant Park Manager William Tarr and his wife lived on the second story but were reportedly absent at the time of the fire. Downstairs in the office, smoke and water ruined the park records and the total damages amounted to $500.

Plans for repairing Hotel Conneaut were underway, but due to war rationing, the lumber could not be acquired and therefore Hotel Conneaut’s fate was at a standstill. Her gaping wounds lay open to the elements and finally in October, Manager Foley decided that the damaged wing would be completely razed. 120 rooms would be left and Foley projected the hotel would be open for the 1944 season.

The park and the lake as a whole continued to operate and welcomed visitors, but not without further tragedy to cap off the season. Grove City teen, Lillian Cokeane drowned after her rowboat capsized just off of Oakland Beach on the shore opposite Hotel Conneaut.


Due to the ongoing war effort and rationing, the hotel was not finished for the 1944 season as originally hoped and the building sat empty.


The resort opened under new ownership as a family-owned park. Hotel Conneaut finally reopened its doors after a heavy cleanup and restoration, forming a new entryway that opened into the original old part of the hotel which housed the stairwell. The new lobby created that year still stands to this day. 


Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, Tuesday, May 27, 1947


Conneaut Lake Park added a new ride, the Tilt-A-Whirl, which continues to operate to this day.

The resort hosted a two-day convention for insurance claim adjusters of which 175 people attended. 90 were from Ohio and one man, G. Don Brown, was from Niles.


Actress and singer Doris Day reportedly sang at Dreamland Ballroom with her band when she was just starting out her career sometime in the 50’s.

Postcard of Kiddie Land in the early 1950’s


The Conneautville Courier Thursday, April 16, 1953, Page 7

Hotel Conneaut opened on May 24th under new management. Robert S. Haire came from his post at Norman-Shoreham Hotel in South Beach, Florida to manage the storied hotel on Conneaut Lake. Robert Varner from the Naples Beach Hotel in Naples, Florida, took over as room clerk. Business proved to be very good that year as many conventions and parties were booked and guests scheduled their vacations. The hotel closed for the season on September 14th


The Record-Argus (Greenville, Pennsylvania), Friday, July 11, 1958, Page 4


Conneaut Lake Park opened for the season in May, down to two hotels from a dozen. Hotels Conneaut and Elmwood remained. Hotel Conneaut received a new private dining room and patio prior to the season opening.

In the park, a new scrambler ride had been installed next to the Dodgem. The Tumblebug ride was remodeled and the Whip moved to a new spot next to the flying scooter.


Postcard of Hotel Conneaut in the 1960’s


Fairyland Forest opened that year as a separate amusement from the main park.

This attraction, just across the road from the park, was one of several storybook-themed parks which sprouted across the nation in the 1950s and 1960s. It was very popular in its early years. There were many large fiberglass and concrete sculptures on the landscape such as a turtle, frog, penguin in the pond and whale, plus scenes from nursery rhymes such as Humpty Dumpty, Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, Jonah and the Whale and Noah’s Ark. There also were live animals to pet and feed, and visitors exited the grounds through a windmill-shaped building that housed a gift shop.

Ken Lahmers for My Town NEO, Aug 27, 2014

During the off-season, the animals from the new park feature were kept in cages and cared for by trained keepers.


The resort opened on May 28th that year after an early spring busy with workers remodeling. Hotel Conneaut received new carpeting, furniture, and bathroom fixtures in an effort to keep the old hotel looking up-to-date. 

In the park, a new ride called the Paratrooper was installed to replace an old ride, the Rockets. The Paratrooper featured long arms reaching out from a central mechanism and on the end of each arm was a cage to hold riders. It spun around and after increasing in adequate speed, the cages moved so the riders were parallel to the ground like they were flying.  The Merry-Go-Round, Jungle Cruise, and the Caterpillar rides were all refurbished. The Blue Streak rollercoaster was also repaired.


Prior to the season opening, Hotel Conneaut lost her last standing comrade when Hotel Elmwood was leveled to the ground. Meanwhile, Hotel Conneaut received a facelift with new carpeting and décor.



The Pittsburgh Press Sunday, April 26, 1970, Page 109


The Pittsburgh Press, Sunday, May 7, 1972, Page 150


The Pittsburgh Press, Sunday, Aug 5, 1973, Page 38


Postcard of Conneaut Lake in 1974

The park opened for the season on May 24th. Memorial Day weekend brought a huge United States Polka Association convention along with the 3rd annual Polka Festival held in Dreamland Ballroom. Cleveland radio personality Paul Wilcox acted as the master of ceremonies.

Buffet dinners were served every Sunday in the hotel’s dining room. The Log Cabin restaurant had been newly rebuilt within the park and welcomed diners for eat-in or take-out. The lake-front Buffeteria served one-priced dinners to park guests.

At Fairyland Forest, “children can feed a baby llama, talk to their favorite Mother Goose characters, or to Bobby Baxter, the park’s clown-in-residence —while their parents can stroll through the Lollipop Gardens, a majestic maze of floral beauty.” –The Daily Times, May 22, 1974

On July 12th, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a special article on Hotel Conneaut. Editor Mike Kalina said the hotel was “a cross between an antebellum mansion and a nursing home for the affluent in St. Petersburgh, Fla.” He mentioned how the overall charm of the hotel was due to its history and inability to keep up with the times. The hotel had not been regularly updated like it had in its heyday, decades before. Kalina mentioned how such efforts had been attempted, such as the conversion of a reading room to a television room or fish tanks placed in the taproom, albeit holding artificial fish. He brought up how the hotel rooms were almost primitive in nature, with no TV or radio, air conditioning, and the bathrooms absolutely ancient. Sounds carried through the thin walls, even with the transom (the window above each guest room door) closed. In many ways, the hotel still resembles a few of these aspects in 2020, though the rooms are comfortable and quaint with televisions and some rooms with modern showers, though many still have the old clawfoot bathtubs.

Kalina’s article expressed the affordability of staying at the hotel, a night’s stay costing $12.50 a night for a single-bed room and only $80 for a week’s stay. Food was still served in the hotel’s restaurant, though the dining room was significantly smaller than the one lost in the 1943 fire that could hold up to 1,000 people. The menu offered at the hotel featured steak, chicken, and seafood. In the park, people could eat at the Buffeteria or at one of the food stands. Corn dogs, a novelty food item at the time, was the most popular food sold in the park.


Local Sharon Stone won the title of Miss Crawford County and reportedly stayed at the hotel, though I cannot confirm that fact as an absolute truth. Born in Meadville and having graduated from Saegertown High School, it seems very likely the famous actress would have visited the park and the hotel.


At Hotel Conneaut, a family of four could stay for $20 a night or $120 for a week. The rooms still lacked air conditioning and televisions, but most guests came for the atmosphere. The main dining room served entire meals for between $3.95 to $6.95. The hotel also served drinks in the cocktail lounge, which today is known as the Spirit Lounge. Guests could sidle over to the Beach Club in the park if they wanted to spend an evening listening to contemporary music. Cottage rentals costed between $90 to $100 for a week’s stay and even today, vacationers can rent out various cottages around the park and lake.

In the park, a ride pass, or Ride-A-Rama pass, cost $5.25 for the day or $3.50 for just the evening. Among the 39 amusements in the park, there was the Ferris Wheel, the Turtle, the Wild Mouse, the merry-go-round and the famous Blue Streak roller coaster. The park acquired four rides from the closed West View park. Other amusements included the Jungle Cruise—a 20 minute motor-boat ride on a lagoon—pony rides, and miniature golf. Guests could eat at the Log Cabin Snack Shop or Lakeside Cafeteria. 


The park’s resident paddle boat captains.
The Pittsburgh Press, Sunday, June 17, 1984


Conneaut Lake Park opened on Friday, May 28th, celebrating its 90th season after major remodeling and additions throughout the prior winter and spring. Charles Flynn, the park’s director of public relations that year, was the grandson of one of the businessmen who bought the park in 1945. He said, “We’re seeking to set ourselves apart from the huge theme parks of steel, concrete, and plastic. We are an old-fashioned, family-style lakeside resort with something for everyone.”

A family-owned and operated park for the last 40 years, the 100-acre facility distinctive for its turn-of-the-century charm, contains a 40-ride amusement park, a grand old resort hotel, two ballrooms, a convention hall with 3500 seat capacity, a children’s storybook land and petting zoo, Fairyland Forest, a sandy well-guarded beach, and several restaurants as well as a night club and lounge.

– Niles Daily Times, Friday, May 28, 1982, Page 1

The two golf-courses were now separate from the park, though the park did have miniature golf.

The famous wooden roller coaster Blue Streak was painted blue over its original tan shade. A new water ride had been installed, called the Rampage, a roller coaster with a 63 ft drop into Conneaut Lake. Also added was an electronic wild west shooting range called “Krazy Kenny’s Saloon” along the midway. 

Kids could enter a miniature version of the park and in Kiddieland, they could ride a small Blue Streak rollercoaster, Ferris wheel, and merry-go-round. 

Water Slide
The Pittsburgh Press
Sunday, June 17, 1984

Entry into the park was free and visitors could pay for individual rides or purchase a ride pass. The Ride-A-Rama day pass cost $7.25 that year and every Wednesday was bargain day where ride passes cost $5.50 a person. The park was open daily from 1 to 10:00 p.m.

At Hotel Conneaut, a family could purchase a three-night vacation package starting at  $69.95.

For entertainment, the season brought Sammy Bill Orchestra’s “Big Band” in Dreamland Ballroom, dancing, country and western music shows, a 15,000 meter foot race, two antique shows, a water ski show, and fireworks on July 4th and September 5th. Johnny Greco and Art Farrar’s orchestras also performed that year.


The park opened on May 27th and for six months prior, extreme renovations and additions had been made. Two new rides, Battlin’ Bob’s Bumper Boats and Captain Conneaut, a bounce ride, were installed. A turn-of-the-century ice cream parlor, the Gazebo, proved a nostalgic new feature as well. 

A three-year remodeling process began on Hotel Conneaut and by the season’s opening 56 guest rooms had been updated with new paneling, carpets, and fixtures. The remodel was accomplished with a turn-of-the century tastes in mind.

That season, free shows went on every Sunday from July 4th weekend to Labor Day. The Laker 15k race was held on Saturday, June 18th and runners ran the ring around the lake. The 2nd annual Conneaut Lake Jazz Festival was held August 26-28th. Fireworks were set off on July 4th and September 4th. The park closed for the season on September 5th

Ride passes cost $7.25 that year, with the bumper boats and pony rides extra.


Hotel Conneaut received a fresh coat of white paint. A new ride, the Sea Dragon, was installed and along with the 1900’s carousel, 1920’s Tumble Bug, and Blue Streak, gave the resort a turn-of-the-century, nostalgic atmosphere that executive vice president Charles Flynn hoped to create. “We’re trying to make the rides more active and still keep the atmosphere the same as it has been for the past 50 years. It’ll be a neat trick,” he commented for the Pittsburgh Press. 

In regards to the hotel, he said, “I think we are tapping the nostalgia market, especially at the hotel. We’ve probably had a 40 percent increase in occupancy over the past two years. It’s not only grandparents bringing their grandchildren back; we’re also getting couples with young children. I think they don’t like cookie-cutter motel rooms.”

For that reason with keeping with the atmosphere, the guest rooms still had no televisions or air conditioning. The TV room was located off of the lobby. Guest rooms cost between $24 for a single room to $38 for a larger room with a view.

1990’s & 2000’s

I visited Fairyland Forest with my family in the late 80’s or early 90’s. I don’t remember much from our trip, but I have several photos from a couple visits there.

In 1990, Conneaut Lake Park enclosed its perimeters and for the first time charged admission in desperation to remain afloat. That season proved a bust and led to even greater financial ruin. What followed was an effort to find stability by auctioning off several rides and a group of businessmen banded together to save the park. However, in 1995, the park owner’s filed for bankruptcy and did not open that season. After a few transfers of ownerships, the park finally found footing and was able to stay open. This is a brief summarization as the details can be found on Wikipedia, therefore I will not go into them.

In 2008, an arsonist torched the Dreamland Ballroom and the historic dance hall was gone forever. In 2013, the banquet hall and an adjoining bar were lost to fire as well.

The park struggled for many years, but rallied back to delight new generations. I do not feel the need to cover the recent history as it is fairly well known and dozens of articles are available online about history buffs coming together to save the park and the hotel. 

The Ghost Lake 13 Levels of Fear helps keep the park alive during the Halloween Season. Patrons visit several areas of the park, including the hotel, and delight in the abounding scares.

Hotel Conneaut has become a historic landmark and prime destination for ghost hunting. The Spirit Lounge bar alone is a huge draw for locals who crowd inside its walls, the lobby, and the porch. I am devastated that due to COVID, I will not be visiting the beautiful hotel this year. I cannot even begin to describe how much I adore the historic building and I truly hope she is around for many years to come.

2022 UPDATE: In January 2022, the Blue-Streak was lost to fire and people thought that once again the curse of fire had destroyed the beloved coaster. Instead, news reports said that while the park owner conducted a controlled burn of wooden parts of the roller coaster, the machinery performing the demolition malfunctioned and the fire went out of control. The entire roller-coaster, tracks and all, burned to ash. The fire department worked to contain the blaze, concerned that the fire would spread to other areas of the park, including the carousel which was most under threat. History-lovers as well as people that had grown up riding the coaster were outraged at the deliberate razing of the Blue-Streak, which had been around since 1937. To recall fondly its memory, enjoy a video of what it was like for thousands to ride the coaster here.


  • Fire Causes $5,000 loss to Conneaut Hotel: The Morning Call, 28 Apr 1943, Wed Pg 2
  • $150,000 Fire Hits Hotel Conneaut: Lancaster New Era, 28 Apr 1943, Wed Pg 2
  • Hotel Conneaut Partly Gutted In Blaze Today: The Record-Argus, 28 Apr 1943, Wed Pg 1
  • Conneaut Lake Office Suffers Loss in Blaze Today: The News-Herald, 11 May 1943, Tue Page 9 
  • Around the Keystone State: The Morning Call, 24 Aug 1943, Tue Page 5
  • Plans For Rehabilitating Fire-Swept Conneaut Hotel: Warren Times Mirror 6 Oct 1943, Wed Page 3
  • Town Talk: Niles Daily Times, Friday, June 10th, 1949, Pg 1
  • Hotel Conneaut Manager Named: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3 Jun 1953, Wed. Pg 24
  • Manager Named At Hotel Conneaut: Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph 22 May 1953, Fri · Page 21
  • Conneaut Reopens: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3 Jun 1959, Wed Page 11
  • Kaleidoscope: Tired old Conneaut Lake Park facing uncertain future; visit was nostalgic: Ken Lahmers for My Town NEO, Aug 27, 2014
  • Conneaut Lake Park Stirs In Sleep As Crews Prepare For New Season: The Oil City Derrick,19 Mar 1965, Pg 15 
  • Landmark Razed At Conneaut Lake: The Pittsburgh Press, 28 May 1967, Sun · Page 82
  • Conneaut Lake Park to Open: The Daily Times, May 22, 1974 Page28,
  • At Hotel Conneaut, It’s Yesterday Once More: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12 Jul 1974, Fri Pg 21 
  • Small-Town Resort Never Seems To Change: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Fri, Jun 16, 1978 Page 19
  • Old Fashioned Lakeside Resort Opens: Niles Daily Times, Fri May 28, 1982, Pg 1
  • Big Band Sounds At Conneaut: Niles Daily Times June 16, 1982 Pg 16
  • Hotel Conneaut Fix-Up: The Akron Beacon Journal, 24 Apr 1983, Sun Page 94
  • Conneaut Lake Park To Open For 91st Season on May 27: Niles Daily Times May 19, 1983, Pg 13
  • The Resort Time Almost Forgot: The Pittsburgh Press · Sun, Jun 17, 1984 · Page 112
  • Conneaut Lake Park’s Blue Streak roller coaster is no more, but not due to fire: By Associated Press, Published January 10, 2022 at 2:00 PM EST

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