Ontario Beach Park (Charlotte Beach)

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Location / Directions / Maps

Location:  The Charlotte neighborhood of Rochester, Monroe County; New York

Maps: Google mapBing MapHistoric; Park Map; Interactive

GPS: Beacon: N 43.26387 / W 77.59894
Carousel: N 43.25868 W / 77.60640
Flagpole: N 43.25892 / W 77.60817

Directions: Where the Genesee River meets Lake Ontario in the northwest quadrant of Rochester. Take Lake Ave all the way to Lake Ontario where there is a large parking lot on the right. Park there and to the north is the park.

Or use Google Directions.

Parking: Park in the lot in front of the Port of Rochester or near Abbott’s Frozen custard. There’s parking for several hundred cars. For the playing fields, park in the lot off of Estes St.

Information / Accessibility / Accommodations

Latest Greece, New York, weather conditions and forecastSeasons/Hours: Year round. Pier closed in winter. The park is open from 6 am to 11 pm.

Best time to visit: Summer and fall.

Admission: Free. $1 to ride the carousel.

Handicap accessibility: Yes.

Pets: Not allowed

Swimming: Ontario Beach Park has many different water activities, swimming is allowed daily 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. during the summer, for water conditions call 585 753-5887.

Boating: The boat launch ramp is located to the south off of River Street (map). You can hand launch at the beach.

Accommodations: Restrooms; changing rooms; lockers; playground; Banquet hall; 7 pavilions (call 585-256-4951 for reservations); snack bar; fishing access; basketball and volleyball courts; soccer field; bocce ball courts; guarded swimming; restaurants, shops, and a small museum in the port building; fishing from the pier.

Reserve a pavilion online here.

Contact Information

History and Description

On any given day at Ontario Beach Park you’ll find numerous folks enjoying its breathtaking panoramic view of Lake Ontario. When the weather is decent, hundreds will come out to enjoy one of the region’s most popular parks. If the beach is open for swimming, Rochesterians will flock to its sandy shores. Unfortunately, it is rarely open. Contamination keeps it closed for many days throughout year, and despite the popularity of what the locals call “Charlotte Beach,” little headway has been made to clean up the water.

What it once was

Ontario Beach Vintage Views

The railroad invested heavily in this popular destination; starting with the construction of a whitewashed boardwalk in 1884. The Lake Ontario Beach Improvement Co. leased the surrounding land, constructed attractions and operated the area around the beach as an amusement park. The park featured favorites like the bandstand, Ferris wheel, roller coaster, carousel, toboggan slide (right into Lake Ontario), and Virginia Reel. By far the most popular attraction: the clean, sparkling beach was open to bathers on a daily basis. Admission to the park was free, but the steamer ride to get there would cost at least 5 cents (roughly $1 today). The railroad industry was thriving and so was Charlotte.

Walking through the park today it is hard to imagine that this very spot was once dubbed the “Coney Island of the West.” Ever since the New York Central RR built the first line leading to the beach in 1852, it has been a popular day trip for area residents. Years later trains and ferries would take multiple trips to the small village of Charlotte, bringing up to 5,000 visitors a day to the beach. Cottages soon began popping up along the shore and adjacent river bank. Soon everyone was eager to spend more time near the lake. In 1874 the Cottage Hotel was built on the lakefront, allowing hundreds to stay on site and enjoy the beach for extended periods.

Sideshows lined the midway. For a mere penny, patrons could take a peek at a “wonder of the world” or try a new technology. One unique display was a “Japanese Village,” filled with interesting items from the other side of the world, complete with a beautiful Japanese-style garden. Stunt shows were a frequent occurrence, with tight rope walkers and car jumps giving people something to talk about. Concessions too were popular, with all the traditional carnival food available. Some of the snacks sold became Rochester staples throughout the years.

Rochester’s own electric trolley system was soon extended to the park, taking customers away from the railway. A 10 cent admission was then implemented at the park gate; although free admission was still given for rail customers. Crowds continued to flood in, reaching tens of thousands, while entrepreneurs surrounded the park with businesses. Bars, cheap hotels, makeshift casinos and other risqué services sprung up in the village. Charlotte was beginning to gain a reputation in the 1890′s for being a wild and rowdy place, something the residents blamed on the visitors from the big city.

Ontario Beach Park Boarded concessionModern times

Attempts were made to clean up the area, with laws being passed to ban gambling, alcohol sales and even “recreation” on Sundays, but the park continued to be a hotspot throughout the 20′s, competing fiercely with Seabreeze Park on the eastern side of the river. The decline and eventual dissolution of the park was probably due to several reasons. The Great Depression hit the park hard, closing many attractions and surrounding businesses.  Financial problems and changes in the rail industry made the park a less lucrative business for the New York Central Rail. Probably the greatest contributor to the amusement park’s decline was when the booming City of Rochester annexed the village and took control of the park in 1916. Rochester’s bustling industries and overtaxed water treatment facilities dumped excessive amounts of waste into the Genesee River, which led to a severe drop in water quality at the beach.

Eventually the amusement park transitioned to a community park, retaining little of what it once was. Today the pier, bathhouse, boardwalk, bandstand, a few concessions, and the classic Dentzel Carousel remain.

A recent revival of the park, sparked by the arrival (and hindered by the subsequent failure) of Rochester’s Fast Ferry to Toronto, brought to it refurbished pathways, boardwalks and pavilions, a brand new port and several shops and eateries. But what was once the biggest attraction, the beach, is rarely open for swimming. Poor pollution management and water treatment leave it closed for much of the season, a real disappointment to locals.

The park today

People continue to come to “Charlotte Beach” in droves to walk the boardwalk and pier. Although the smell of the lake’s green sludge will hit you head-on when you first approach the beach, once you get further out, it’s nothing but beautiful scenery. This is a favorite location of many residents for fishing, bird watching and gazing at the setting sun. You’ll always find a young couple sitting at the end of the pier gazing at the orange horizon. One could even spend a whole day just observing the various boats and ships coming and going out of the harbor.

Ontario Beach Park entranceAnother favorite activity is to ride The Duchess, the original 1905 Dentzel carousel from the amusement park. This recently restored masterpiece is one of only 14 operating antique menageries in the country, and one of a few that still lies in its original location. Its three rows of horses (33), rabbits (3), cats (3), ostriches (3), pigs (3), mules (2), chariots (2), a lion, tiger, giraffe, goat, and deer all dance around to the original music from the park’s heyday (synthesized for modern times, of course).

Gazebos spot the boardwalk, and large pavilions are scattered about, catering to small or large gatherings which are frequent throughout warm weather. Recently, the Roger Robach Community Center (the former bathhouse) has been renovated to feature a large banquet hall. It also features walled-in basketball and open volleyball courts.

Summer brings musical performances to the park, not unlike those of the past. Crowds will gather around the bandstand, setting up their own chairs or blankets to sit and enjoy a performance as they picnic. Classical, Big Band and Jazz often fill the air Wednesday nights throughout the summer and early autumn. Call 865-3320 for more info. Throughout the year the City of Rochester will host various events and parties at the park. The Rochester Harbor and Carousel Festival in June are some of the more popular events worth checking out.

Several restaurants, shops and bars surround the park; offering excellent food with both indoor and outdoor seating. A local favorite is Abbott’s Frozen Custard. Settling his traveling ice cream business on the corner of Lake and Beach Avenue (directly across from the park), in 1926 Arthur Abbott built this landmark of Rochester cuisine. Even on the colder days of summer, people will line up for a classic sundae. Since this premiere shop, Abbott’s has opened franchises in numerous upstate locations, one in Connecticut, two in Florida and even two in Japan.

Ontario Beach Park Sunset

Hiking / Walking Trails

Difficulty: Easy

Markings: All trails are paved, except for the wooden boardwalk.

Distance: You can squeeze out a mile-long walk easily.

Our recommended walk: Start out by grabbing an Abbott’s frozen custard and head left towards the bathhouse. Follow the boardwalk along the beach towards the pier. Head up the pier and back and continue further to the port building where various restaurants and shops are.

Map: Interactive Map

Ontario Beach Interactive Map

Drag the map or click the arrows to move around and use the +/- to zoom in or out. Click on the icons for more information. This map is not accurate. Caution and common sense should be used when hiking.

View Ontario Beach Park in a larger map

Interesting Stuff

Lighthouse

Charlotte Lighthouse

The Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse is located on the bank of the Genesee River south of the park and seemingly too far away from both the river and the lake to do any good. Constructed in 1822 by the federal government, it was intended to signal the entrance to the Genesee River so boats may find their way to the popular river port Carthage Landing, the site of Norton’s Falls. At the time of construction it was atop a small bluff and with the help of a V cut out of the surrounding trees, it did its job quite well. That is until piers surrounding the Genesee River outlet were built on the lake in 1829. Over the years, sediment built up around the piers, extending Charlotte Beach further into the lake and narrowing the mouth of the river. That build-up seemingly pushed the lighthouse further away from both bodies of water. In 1881 the lighthouse was decommissioned and the lantern and lens were moved to the west pier light. Today the Charlotte-Genesee Historical Society operates it as a museum and gift shop.

The Other Pier

The eastern pier, although not as popular, is accessible from the other side of the river. To get there, take St. Paul Blvd to the public parking lot on Parkview Terrace. The eastern pier offers a less crowded environment and better views of the shores to the east.

1905 Dentzel Menagerie Carousel

The Carousel’s 2014 operating schedule is, as follows:

  • Noon to 9 p.m.
  • Memorial Day Weekend – Open Friday, May 23 through Monday, May 26
  • Post-Memorial Day until June 27 – Open weekends (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
  • June 27 through Labor Day – Open Daily (7 days per week)
  • Post-Labor Day through Columbus Day – Open Weekends (Just Saturday and Sunday)
  • Columbus Day – Open Monday, October 13 (last day of 2014 season)

The Carousel’s 2014 price is, as follows:

  • Single Ride: $1.00
  • Punch Card (12 rides for the cost of 10): $10.00 **Valid Any Time**
  • Wrist Band (Ride All Day):$5.00

Photography Tips

Carousel

  • Classic American carousels are works of art! Get in and capture it in motion, when still, take your camera in for a ride, bring the telephoto and zoom in on the art above the ride. And don’t forget the organ.

Sunsets

  • Come in mid summer and walk the pier to catch the sunset to the west. For a better vantage point, walk out on the east pier and photograph the beacon and visitors as foreground to the sunset.
  • The best sunsets are when there are clouds.

Sports

  • Check the events calendar for sporting events. From Jet Ski competitions to Volleyball Leagues, there are plenty of opportunities for action shots.

Boats

  • Walk to the end of the pier to watch boats enter and exit the port. Large ships are rare, but sailboats are common, and make for wonderful photos.

More tips

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