Your Hometown: Sylvan Beach
Summer is winding down and that means there's only a few weeks left for folks in Oneida County to enjoy a seasonal tradition. For more than 100 years, tourists have traveled to Sylvan Beach not just to spend time along the shores of Oneida Lake, but also to experience thrills and chills at its historic amusement park. In this week's edition of Your Hometown, our Sarah Blazonis takes us to the park that continues to pay homage to its past while looking toward its future.
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SYLVAN BEACH, N.Y. -- This is what summer sounds like at the Historic Sylvan Beach Amusement Park. For generations, it's been a haven for the young, and young at heart, who come to visit the village. That includes the park's assistant general manager, Darlene Kelly.
"I think I moved in, and I haven't left. There's a saying here in town that says, 'You get sand in your shoes in Sylvan Beach and you keep coming back.' Well, I apparently have sand in my shoes, because this is my 30th season," Kelly said.
Longtime residents say it's hard to imagine what Sylvan Beach would be like without its amusement park. That's because ever since the turn of the 1900s, there's always been one in the village, though not in this same spot.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, visitors actually had two amusement parks to choose from: Luna Park and Carnival Park. According to histories of the village written by author Jack Henke, a big change to the park and village came when a man named Martin Cavana moved there from Oneida in 1891. Cavana gained control of Carnival Park and expanded it.
During the "Cavana era," it was thought of as "The Coney Island of Central New York." Cavana's death in the mid-1920s, along with the onset of the Great Depression, took its toll on the park.
One of Henke's books includes a quote from a Depression-era visitor who says the roller coaster was so rickety, it took a few drinks to be able to enjoy it. A turning point came decades later.
Kelly said, "What you think of as today's amusement park, the rides started coming in around the late 1950s and started building up from there."
Henke describes the 1950s as a period of revitalization for the village and amusement park. It was during this time the park became the first of its kind in New York State to receive a full state inspection.
The attraction also got some new life when it was purchased by Francis and Iva Money in 1953. They and their children operated "Money's Midway" until 1965, adding rides that sound a lot like today's familiar favorites.
There was the "Scooter," described as a ride where people slammed into each other with bumper cars. The "Caterpillar" was a chain of cars that whirled around, similar to a mini coaster. There was also a plane ride known as the "Hammer."
Organizers say it's the nostalgic feeling the park still evokes that helps attract thousands of visitors every year.
"It takes you back to that feeling, that safe feeling for a family where you want to come and spend the day and share that memories that you had as a child with your children," Kelly said.
And while the old fashioned games and rides are part of the park's charm, officials say they keep looking for new ways to revamp and add to it to keep bringing in crowds.
"The shooting gallery is currently being revamped and is getting ready to open up,” Kelly said. “We're keeping our eyes open for new attractions we can add to the park. Last year, we added a huge new attraction through our Halloweekends in October."
And while the park holds a lot of history, visitors say trips to the park are all about living in the moment.
"It's not overcrowded. You can enjoy your family time here," Jackie Strong said.
"It's a great place for kids to come and enjoy themselves. Get a lot of family time, food's great, rides are great, everyone's having a blast," said Devon Robinson.
And though another season of summer fun is about to turn into another piece of Sylvan Beach history, officials say it's not so much a sad time. They know youngsters of all ages will return next year. After all, it's hard to leave Sylvan Beach without at least a little bit of sand in your shoes.