KINDERHOOK–APART FROM THE COUNTY FAIR, what was the big weekend attraction 100 years ago in Columbia County? Why, Electric Park, of course.
In 1901, as a means of increasing weekend rail traffic, the Albany & Hudson Railway Company built an amusement park on Kinderhook Lake. Like other parks opened at about the same time throughout the country, it was named Electric Park because the attractions ran off the same sources of electricity used by the electric trolleys that brought passengers to the park. There were also Electric Parks in Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Dayton, Detroit, Galveston, Newark, New Haven, St. Louis and Tulsa, all inspired by the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and all owned by local trolley and streetcar companies.
The railway company said its Electric Park offered “All that is best in refined amusements” and was a “place where ladies and children can go unattended.”
At Kinderhook Lake, the trolleys pulled into a station located where the Kinderhook Lake Improvement Association now has its Community Hall on Electric Park Road, off Route 203 between Valatie and North Chatham. Passengers would be greeted with the sound of the steam calliope and colored lights that ringed the park. A steam-driven Ferris wheel sat just outside the park, and those who did not want to or couldn’t afford to pay the park admission fee could ride it for 5 cents.
Park admission was 10 cents but those who arrived by rail with roundtrip tickets, which cost 40 cents from Albany, were admitted free. A second Ferris wheel was inside the park. In the lagoon at the bottom of the hill that runs down from where the train stopped, a carousel operated on an island that, in turn, was connected by a bridge with the midway, where soda, popcorn, ice cream and other treats were sold. Also in the lagoon was a roller coaster built on piles sunk into the water.
On the mainland shore along what is still Electric Park Road were a bowling alley/restaurant–the entrance is still marked by an ivy-covered arch at number 45–and several spots where visitors could rent rowboats to cruise the lake or wooden platforms where they could erect tents and picnic, sunbathe and fish for pickerel, bass, perch and pike.
The Boat House was at Favour’s Beach, and the Winslow Boat launch was on East Shore Drive. Winslow’s was run by ancestors of Paul Winslow, who today heads the Kinderhook Lake Corporation. Also nearby was a large dance pavilion where Stella’s Star Orchestra supplied the music.
A huge wooden slide into the water called a chute-the-chute ran floating carts in the summer and toboggans in the winter. The park was also open in the winter for skating, curling and dancing.
Fifteen-year-old F. Marvin Callan, a relative of Albert Callan, who founded the Rough Notes and Chatham Courier newspapers, dressed in a white silk bathing suit and, under the name “Professor Speedy,” would make a 50-to-60 foot dive into the lake, preceded by a drum roll.
Other entertainment could be found at the canopy-covered, stadium-style, 400-seat theater, which initially tried opera performances and then settled into vaudeville shows–two a day at 3 and 8:30 p.m. Moving pictures were also shown in the theater.
The park was in the “dry” town of Chatham, but several hotels were on or near the lake, including the Point Hotel on Hawley Point, which housed one of the six saloons on the “wet” part of the lake. The hotel was built by the Dobler Beer Company, an Albany brewery that also built a bridge from what is now East Shore Drive to the hotel at Hawley Point. Diane Ernst, whose family is now in its fifth generation on the lake, just recently found a telephone-pole-sized support in the water in front of her house, which in the early 1900s was near the eastern end of the bridge. The bridge supports were set into the lake bottom in the winter, after workers chopped holes in the ice to insert them.
In addition to the men-only mahogany bar at the Point, which was said to employ 20 bartenders and 40 waiters on the weekends, there were saloons on three of the islands in the lake, including Cap Shaver’s island (where there is now a home) and what today is One Tree Island, which at the time had a two story building on it and a piano. The U.S. Hotel in Valatie, which is still lived in, boasted electric lights, baths, hot and cold water and livery–all for $2. It is said that Legs Diamond both frequented and supplied liquor to the Lake Shore House on Route 203.
Even before Electric Park was built there was a park on the east shore of Kinderhook Lake. It was called Great Park and was built shortly after the Civil War. Kinderhook’s Electric Park was said to be the largest amusement park between New York City and Montreal. Its owner, the Albany & Hudson Railway Co., later reorganized into the Albany Southern Railroad Company, had a distinguished history of its own.
Typically, electric streetcars operated inside cities, and railways were steam powered in the countryside. The Albany & Hudson is said to have been the first intercity electric trolley company in the country. The electricity that ran through the third rail powered the park rides and trains, not to mention area businesses and homes. But according to Germantown railroad historian Dale Flansburg , the current was so strong that it was shut off at rail crossings as a safety precaution, and the trains had to coast through the crossings. The electricity for the Albany & Hudson was generated at the hydroelectric plant at Stuyvesant Falls.
During the week the trolleys were used by commuting workers, but the trolleys were largely idle on weekends. Hence, the Albany & Hudson created Electric Park as a destination to encourage use of its trains on the weekends. The bright orange and yellow trains left both Albany and Hudson hourly from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. The local made 15 stops. The trip from Albany to the park took about an hour.
In 1917, with America’s entry into World War I, Kinderhook’s Electric Park, like most of the parks around the country, shut down. After the war there was an attempt to reopen the park but, with the coming of the motorcar, it never made it back. The last trolley came through on December 21, 1929.