OLCOTT – A glimpse of a 1905 postcard and a narrated trolley ride will help carry visitors back to gentler times during Old Olcott Days, set for Saturday and next Sunday at venues throughout this lakeside hamlet.
The free event will take place from noon to 5 p.m. both days, rain or shine. It is sponsored by the Olcott Beach Postcard Club and the Town of Newfane, which provides the trolley.
Club members have collected and catalogued more than 400 postcards of Olcott in its heyday and will be available to talk to visitors, according to Nelson Colley, who coordinates the event with his wife, Barb.
“Most of our postcards are from 1905, 1909 and 1910, when a lot of photographers frequented Olcott because it was such a popular tourist area,” Colley said. “We also show a video, called ‘I Remember Olcott’ downstairs in our shop, Images of the Past, and we have a gallery upstairs with many items people have donated on display. And we’ll have tents set up in Olcott Beach Carousel Park with displays.”
He added, “We give a narrated tour that starts in front of the Carousel Park, and goes around the block. It takes about 20 minutes and we show pictures of what it was like back then and then people see it now. We give quite a few tours in a day. It’s free, but we ask for a donation to help pay for some of the things we’re doing.”
Olcott was once a major trolley destination and was booming for decades at the start of the 20th century. It boasted a dozen hotels, three amusement parks and large dance halls where big-band sounds could be heard floating on a lake breeze on a warm summer night.
International Railway Co. owned quite a bit of lakefront property from 1900 to 1937, and it built an amusement park and huge hotel. The hamlet started to decline when the automobile replaced the trolley, and the railway subsequently tore everything down in 1937.
Burt Flynn opened Olcott Amusement Park on the current amusement park’s site in 1942 and he and later owners kept it open until 1986. The land is now owned by the town and rented to the park. The new carousel park opened in 2002 and is a nonprofit, volunteer-run enterprise, featuring a 1928 Herschell-Spillman carousel and vintage rides from the 1940s and 1950s. All rides are 25 cents.
The park also features old-fashioned Skee-Ball machines, and event organizers hold a Skee-Ball competition throughout the weekend, where competitors try to top each other’s scores for a spot on the leader board, Colley said. Each game is 25 cents, and there are divisions for youths, adults and seniors.
It’s the 18th year for Old Olcott Days.
“Every year, Old Olcott Days has just grown and grown,” Colley said. “We try and have something here for everyone and we have some neat things here. We have some things on loan from the Town of Newfane Historical Society. Bill Henderson just started a big collection of family photos and Jim Hedley has a huge collection of items from the old Olcott Beach Hotel.
“Invariably, someone remembers something when they see something here and there are a lot of great stories,” Colley added. “Mark Laskey has been jotting them down.”