A visit to Charlotte, Rochester’s northernmost neighborhood, can feel like a visit to the 1950s.
There’s a century-old carousel; a lighthouse museum; concerts on the beach; big band dances; a dozen restaurants; one of the area’s great old-fashioned greasy spoon restaurants; and enough old-fashioned ambience to make you feel like you’re in one of those really bad beach movies – more fun than art.
Charlotte used to be its own village, and more than any other section of Rochester it has a distinct feel of being separated from the rest of the city.
To begin with, there’s the pronunciation. It’s Sha-lot. This is not a city in North Carolina nor a spider that saves a pig’s life.
And if you look at a map of the city, you see something roughly like a round ball with a long tube extending north to Lake Ontario, along the Genesee River. Charlotte is at the tip of the tube, where the north flowing river enters the lake.
Charlotte was a separate village until 1916 when the city annexed it, at a time when a larger city didn’t need the permission of the smaller municipality to gobble it up.
The lighthouse museum is actually at 70 Lighthouse St., but it’s clearly visible behind Holy Cross Catholic Church at 4472 Lake Ave. The tower was built in 1822, the keeper’s house in 1863. The tower is 40-feet tall, topped by the 11-foot lantern room. You can go up the tower’s 42 steps, and the additional 11-rung ladder into the lantern room and get a great view of the lake.
On the lighthouse grounds is a Peace Garden, one of dozens in the United States and Canada marking the 2012 bicentennial of the War of 1812.
The lighthouse is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays through Mondays. In July and August, those hours will be extended to include 1 to 5 p.m. Thursday, and 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. Admission is $3. You can see all the exhibits in about 30 minutes.
North of the lighthouse, on the beach, is the Dentzel Carousel, on the same location where it was first installed in 1905. It was built by the Dentzel Co. of Philadelphia and is one of its menagerie models. It includes horses, cats, ostriches and mules, plus a giraffe, a deer, a goat, a lion and a tiger, oh, my. There are 52 animals in all, plus two chariots. All were restored about three decades ago to their original condition.
Rides are a dollar each, but reduced rates are available. For example, for $5 you can ride all day.
There’s moonlight on the beach, volleyball and pickleball, and lots of dandy games. About the only thing Charlotte doesn’t have is quiet, at least not in the summer. There always seems to be someone who thinks his car radio isn’t loud enough. And it’s a summer haven for motorcycles.
But if you like a different kind of music, try one of the Big Band dances held Wednesday nights in the Roger Robach Community Center, toward the beach’s west side. Two different bands, one playing at 6 p.m., the other at 7:15, can be danced to for $2.
Also on Wednesdays, until the end of August, Wegmans sponsors outdoor concerts at the beach, ranging from country and Latin to Irish folk and classical. All start at 7 p.m. and last until 9, except the July 10 performance by the Rochester Philharmonic, which starts at 7:30.
There are at least a dozen restaurants near the beach, up and down Lake Avenue. But you haven’t been to Charlotte unless you’ve eaten in LDR Char Pit. It’s just like the greasy spoons where the kids in the beach movies sometimes hung out.
It’s open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, with breakfast, of course, served all of that time. Fans of LDR particularly praise the steak sandwich. If you get it with peppers and onions, it costs $6.85.
A hot dog is $2.80, and the onion rings, which seem fluffier and lighter than most, go for $3.35.
After eating at LDR, you might consider walking or driving a little more than a mile south along Lake Avenue to where it intersects obliquely with River Street on its east side. There’s a small cemetery there, Charlotte Cemetery, and in it you will find the graves of three of America’s wars: the Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
Also interred there is Sam Patch, America’s first daredevil. He jumped over waterfalls, and sometimes from bridges or ship masts. He did most of his early jumping in New Jersey, but in 1829, at age 20, he jumped over Niagara Falls. His second jump attracted more than 10,000 people and he became a national celebrity.
On his way home he made two jumps over the High Falls in downtown Rochester.
The second one was on Nov. 13. A Friday. You don’t jump over waterfalls on a Friday the 13th. His body wasn’t found until the spring – seven miles north in the village of Charlotte.
If you go
Take I-90 to I-390 north. Take 390 to its farthest point, and switch to Lake Ontario Parkway east. Go to the east end of the parkway. You’re now at Lake Avenue. Turn left. In less than a mile you’ll see a large parking lot on the right. The lighthouse is visible on the right before you reach the parking lot. LDR Char Pit is on the left. The Carousel is on the beach. There’s plenty of free parking all around Charlotte.