The Park of a Thousand Trees

a Rich Tarrant Narrative®

The story goes: On or about the year 1874 pioneer farmer George Shadduck decided to transform his 23 acre farm on the shores of beautiful Lake Erie from cow pasture into a picturesque public picnic grove and bathing beach. Energized by widespread approval of this basic recreation facility he soon added a beer garden, gaming devices, and a dance hall. Thirty-two years later an area businessman, George H. Blanchat, purchased the property with the intention of stepping things up a notch (or two or three). It is said that during an early inspection of the property with his wife, Josephine, she took up a handful of sand from the beach taking notice of its crystal-like qualities as it ran through her fingers and...on May 30, 1907 the Crystal Beach Park opened for business.



As the years passed, and business flourished, a merry-go-round, shooting gallery, ice cream parlour, boat rental and landing, bowling alley, a bigger refreshment facility, a prodigious water toboggan slide (from the cliff into the lake), and additional amusements and rides were added to the park.

On Friday, May 29, 1925 Mr. Blanchat arranged to have two of the finest orchestras in the country play host at the grand opening of one of the most beautiful dance halls to ever grace the banks of the Great Lakes. It was formally known as Crystal Gardens.

Bedecked in tones of blushing pink and apple green the new hall was capable of comfortably accommodating two thousand (that's right folks - two thousand) dancers on its hardwood floor. A broad promenade that afforded enough room for nearly the same number of people embraced the dance area. Also included were a new refreshment stand, check room, and spacious lavatories. Throughout the following decades it was not unusual for folks in the area to dance to the music of Sammy Kaye, Count Basie, Les Brown, Coon-Sanders, Louis Prima, Lawrence Welk, Duke Ellington, Xavier Cugat, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Guy Lumbardo, and many others at the Crystal Gardens in Vermilion, Ohio.

Sometime in 1928 Mr. Blanchat added a new ride to the park. This was a roller coaster constructed of 200, 000 feet of Georgia Pine (some beams measuring 60 feet in length) and some 20 tons of iron track. For the better part of the next 30 years this coaster would be the main thrill ride for the many thousands of people who visited the park every season.


On the night of April 20, 1947 tragedy struck. Fire claimed the two story pavilion housing the roller-skating rink, penny arcade, refreshment stand, and several other rides located at the back, or northern part, of the park. But by July 4th of the same year a new single-story building housing the arcade and refreshment stand was built to replace the one lost in the fire. Roller-skating activities were moved to the Crystal Gardens facility.

James M. Ryan, Blanchat's son-in-law, had assumed management of the park after Mr. Blanchat passed away in 1938. When Mrs. Blanchat died in 1952 park ownership passed to her daughters, Thelma and Eleanor. Ten years later they sold the park land to the Crystal Development Corporation, headed by Vermilionite James M. Fisher.

In November of 1962 20 frame buildings, rides, and equipment belonging to the Crystal Park were sold at auction. Over 700 people withstood the cold and rain to witness auctioneer Jim Wagner sell the midway rides and concessions. Paul J. Kopsch, then Lorain County Coroner, purchased the shooting gallery complete with targets, and pumpguns. But Francis Dean, a former mayor of Vermilion-On-The-Lake, captured the big prize - Crystal's big coaster.

Built at a cost of perhaps $50,000 in 1928 the estimated cost of building the ride in 1962 was around $250,000. Mr. Dean paid a whopping $400 for the ride, a four room cottage, and 12 of the coaster's cars. Dean dismantled the coaster and sold the wood for building purposes, and the iron for scrap. The electric motor for the ride fetched $900. His son, Dr. Norman Dean, recently wrote me to say, "It was a fluke that Dad got the roller coaster for $400. The lawyers who came to buy it did not bring cash, a stipulation of the auction."

And that was the end of the Crystal Beach. For a time plans were in the works to remodel the ballroom that had been the site of, perhaps, a million love stories, and make it into a summer theater for the community. But by 1967 when I returned from duty in a far off galaxy called Vietnam it too was gone. Only the memories and a few pictures remain.

(Ref: The Vermilion News; 5-28-25, 11-1-62, 1-24-63; Photojournal (Vermilion); 11-14-62, 11-21-62, 12-5-96; Chronicle Telegram (Elyria); 4-17-63; The Lorain Journal; 11-19-62; Cleveland Plain Dealer; 11-62; Through These Gates; Karen and Ray Boas:1984; Ancestry.com; Special Thanks; Dr. Norman Dean of Maryland, Bill Cutcher of Brownhelm Township, Ohio, and Dennis Lamont of Birmingham, Ohio)


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