Mary L. McClure's latest book is about "the Coney Island of the West."
"Silver Lake Park" is the amusement park that was located in the area of what is now the village of Silver Lake. Silver Lake Park was in existence from 1876 to 1917. It was founded by Ralph Lodge who had been a market gardener in Cleveland. When Ralph was 16 he told his father he was going to buy Silver Lake one day and live along its shores.
"A lot of people thought that was a boyhood whim," said McClure, who is a Cuyahoga Falls native living in Stow. In 1874, while Ralph was in his 40s, he purchased 35 acres along its southwestern shore and the rights to the lake. Lodge began charging people to fish in his lake as a side income and started planning to develop his land along the lake to attract visitors, stating he could someday make $100 a day, McClure said.
"Boy, he was way too modest," she said. "In the park's heyday, it was earning $2,000 to $5,000 a day. Not too shabby, because admission was only a nickel." One particular day, the park drew nearly 30,000.
While researching the park and its founders, McClure said she was amazed by how inventive the Lodge family was. In the Victorian era, with no electricity at first, the Lodges came up with a number of unique attractions including an aquarium, a menagerie that included black bears, air shows with stunt pilots and a live production of "Hiawatha" featuring a troupe of Native American actors.
The author said she believes her readers, especially those familiar with Silver Lake Park's history, are going to enjoy the many photographs she's gathered from a number of sources. The cover photo, she said, was only recently uncovered in an attic in one of the oldest homes in Cuyahoga Falls and donated to the Cuyahoga Falls Historical Society Museum.
The book has much to offer to those of many interests including local history, amusement parks, aviation and railroading.
"[I'm] writing about an amusement park, but there's a lot of social history of the area, and there's a lot of pictures of some of the railways, other parks, early aviation … I think this will bring a lot to people who are interested in local history in general."
Transportation was pivotal to the park's growth, McClure said. In its early years, Silver Lake Park was mainly known only to local residents of Cuyahoga Falls and Stow Township. But as High Bridge Glens Park became popular, more people began hearing about -- and visiting -- Silver Lake Park. And then going home to tell their friends and neighbors about this new park they've discovered. Excursion trains and trolleys accounted for two-thirds of the park's income, she said, because out-of-towners spent more money than the locals.
"I hope this book will make more area residents aware of what a special place Silver Lake Park was," said McClure, "and that it inspires readers to check their family albums to see if they contain photographs or information that add to the community's understanding of this amazing park."
McClure began collecting photos and information on Silver Lake Park while researching her first book, "High Bridge Glens of Cuyahoga Falls," which has sold more than 700 copies.
McClure is a member and officer of the Cuyahoga Falls Historical Society and frequently gives local history presentations to civic and historical organizations. She is a former newspaper reporter and associate editor (for Record Publishing Co.) and has worked in public relations and internal communications.
Author Mary. L. McClure will sign copies of her book "Silver Lake Park" on April 19 from 1-3 p.m. at The Learned Owl Bookshop, 204 N. Main St., Hudson; April 26 starting at 10 a.m. at Oakwood Cemetery Chapel, Cuyahoga Falls; and April 28 starting at 7 p.m. at Stow Safety Center for Stow Historical Society, 3800 Darrow Road, Stow.
"Silver Lake Park" by Mary L. McClure (Arcadia Publishing, 128 pages/softcover, $21.99) is part of the "Images of America" series and available at local retailers, online bookstores or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or 888-313-2665.