R is for rickety docks, picnic groves, and other historical stuff

One of my articles in yesterday’s Island Dispatch was about a donation to the Grand Island Historical Society that was made about ten years ago. It was a shadow box containing stuff that was found on land near the river. The land has had quite the history. Back in the 1890s, the land was going to be used for a railroad to connect streets and various locations on Grand Island. The railroad, however, was never built. In the beginning of the 20th century, the land was used as a “picnic grove,” or what we would now call an amusement park. This picnic grove, Electric Beach, was one of five picnic groves on Grand Island, which was then a place where wealthy people had summer homes and where others would go to spend a day of fun with family, friends, or with large civic organizations, such as political parties and business associations.

The names of the other picnic groves were Sheenwater Hotel, Edgewater, Eagle Park, and Sour Spring Grove. People traveled to the picnic groves via ferry boat from the mainland. Mostly, they came from Buffalo to have a fun time. The activities were seasonal, as the ferries were shut down during the winter.

People who visited Electric Beach could enjoy visiting a dance hall or playing at a shooting gallery. At the shooting gallery, they shot little metal birds. One of those metal birds was found at the property and is now part of the display in the shadow box. After Electric Beach, the first picnic grove to get electricity, closed, there was, for a brief time, a brewery on the property.

Things to visit at other groves included a gravity ride called “bumpety bump.” According to Curt Nestark, president of the Grand Island Historical Society, people climbed to the top and slid down. At Edgewater, there was a Rathskeller, a ferris wheel, and a bowling alley.

This dock used to be twice as wide as it is now. The pictures above show the underwater supports of a dock that was once much larger than the current dock.

 Ferry boats would land at the end of the dock and people would walk onto the dock toward land. I saw a photograph of a parade of people marching down the dock. They were Republicans, who were going to have some sort of event. The people, mostly men, were well dressed and were all wearing hats. There were musicians leading the parade. The instruments that they were playing included a tuba, a trombone, drums, a French horn, and a clarinet.

The dock at Eagle Park, however, turned out to be a problem. In 1912, there was a terrible disaster. Hundreds of people were waiting on a dock for a steamer to take them back to Buffalo. The dock collapsed, and 260 people went into the water. They became trapped and they struggled underwater with beer kegs and bottles of soft drinks. Most of them were able to get out of the water, although many were injured severely. Unfortunately 39 individuals died. The Eagle Park Disaster was probably the worst disaster to strike Grand Island.

This is the new shadow box. The original shadow box started falling apart about a year ago, and the Grand Island Historical Society had a larger shadow box made to include more donations. The cost of the new shadow box, made by Linda of Eddie’s Art Shoppe, was covered by an anonymous grant that was given to the Historical Society to cover educational programming, such as exhibits in River Lea, a 19th century farmhouse, which is the society’s museum.

6 thoughts on “R is for rickety docks, picnic groves, and other historical stuff”

  1. Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com

    What a horrible tragedy – I'm glad that most survived. You're a wealth of information on this patch of earth and water.

    Be well, Alice.

  2. I love hearing these kinds of stories! And the shadow box looks neat. I like the whole time capsule type idea.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top