Two Towns, Two Lakes, Not Too Long Ago

Even in the 60s and 70s, my hometown Linesville, Pennsylvania, for all of its perceived artlessness, was actually a small tourist town and remains so today, at least from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Each Saturday of Memorial Day weekend heralded the official start of summer, and the beaches and campgrounds of Pymatuning Lake unfurled themselves from the winter’s gloom and spring’s muddy wetness in time for another season of swimming, fishing, and camping. After Labor Day, Linesville and Pymatuning said goodbye to its summer explosion of visitors, exhaled, then folded inward onto itself, returning to attach to the high school as the epicenter for what passed as bustle and activity—much like most little towns of that era.

Summer in Linesville was unique if only because of the assortment of people who landed there from the working class steel cities south of Pymatuning—an array of out-of-towners who, whether it was for a week, a weekend, or for the entire season, straggled into the area towing their sleek campers and state-of-the-art fishing boats behind rusted out pickup trucks and patched station wagons. Along with the townies, these summer folks ate breakfast at the Driftwood Restaurant, played pinball and shopped for sundries at Coursen’s Cut Rate, bought Coleman lanterns and replacement propane tanks at Tabor’s Hardware, pawed through the musty assortment of tents and used camping supplies at Morrison’s Army Surplus, purchased Cokes and Saegertown Ginger Ale at Grant Woodard’s grocery store, stopped in to Isaly’s to stock up on chip-chop ham, wandered through the three cramped aisles of the Five and Ten for penny candy, plastic kiddie toys, and, of course, never failed to step next door to the bait and tackle shop to prepare for the day’s fishing. The summertime shower of out-of-towners were well aware that Linesville lacked the charm of more commercial tourist towns, towns like Put-in-Bay, in Ohio or Mackanaw Island, in Michigan; nonetheless, for a working class family from Pittsburgh or Youngstown or Kittanning, a camping excursion or a fishing trip to Pymatuning was a chance to break free from the grit of the city, breathe in some fresh air, drink Iron City beer, and roast wieners alongside other working class folks from Youngstown, Pittsburgh, or Kittanning.

If Linesville laid claim to Pymatuning Lake, its neighbor to the east, the Town of Conneaut Lake, boasted its pride and joy and its namesake–Conneaut Lake. Town-wise, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between Linesville and the Town of Conneaut Lake, but an unspoken and solid reality existed: Conneaut Lake, and the Town of Conneaut Lake which sits right to its south, featured a captivating measure of vacation magic that made it much more alluring to tourists, especially those with more capital than Linesville’s summertime flotsam and jetsam. If Linesville was a bologna sandwich on white bread, Conneaut Lake was steak and lobster.

Though the lake itself was smaller, Conneaut Lake, unlike its bigger brother Pymatuning, was a clear, crisp, spring-fed glacier-made body of water that had existed long before the wooly mammoths and Iroquois Indians had inhabited the deciduous forest surrounding it. Its main attraction, its crowning glory, and, for many families, the pinnacle of their summer vacation was a magical day spent at Conneaut Lake Park, an historic turn-of-the-century amusement park featuring an exciting assortment of rides, its own charming boardwalk overlooking the entire lake, the popular nighttime hangout The Beach Club, the stately and prestigious Hotel Conneaut, an impressive and historic midway, and one of the country’s oldest and most thrilling wooden roller coasters, The Blue Streak. If one was looking for magic in this little corner of northwestern Pennsylvania, it certainly could be found at Conneaut Lake Park. The entire Park was gushing with enchantment, charm, and its own Fairyland Forest, a sweet addendum located across the road from the main Park, which showcased exotic creatures nested in a storybook setting—an added attraction for smaller children and animal lovers. That the establishment’s resident chimpanzee was notorious for flinging fresh feces at its gawkers and the bear was suffering from some type of mange did not detract from the number of delighted visitors flocking to Fairyland Forest for a calm respite following the bustle of The Park.

A mere ten miles to the west lay the vast and steady shores of Pymatuning, with its safely benign ten horsepower motor limit and profusion of fat pontoon boats teeming with life-jacketed retirees and flat-bottomed outboard fishing boats. Pymatuning was a “Fisherman’s Paradise”; its main attraction The Spillway, located about a mile south of town, an asphalt funnel about twenty feet in diameter where fish that were bred and hatched at the park’s upper lake fish hatchery would gather in such profusion (before being sucked through the funnel and ferried under the dividing causeway’s bridge to the lower lake) that it became a favorite stop for visitors who liked to throw bread over the rail and watch the fish devour it. Though a variety of fish were bred at the hatchery, The Spillway’s most frequent guests were carp,—big, bloated oversized goldfish that bullied themselves over to The Spillway because in some corner of their paraphyletic brains, they learned that food was being proffered. Then, once the area’s ducks discovered that human visitors were actually casting entire loaves of stale bread into the spillway to feed the bloated goldfish, these fowl were savvy enough to learn how to walk on the backs of those same fish in order to snatch the bread before it was consumed by the gaping, sucking mouths of the greedy carp. Thus, Linesville became known as the town “Where the Ducks Walk on the Fish”. Most first-time visitors to the area thought the moniker was a clever slogan made up by the Chamber of Commerce to entice hunters and fishermen to the area, but once initiated into the reality that is The Spillway, they soon discovered that the ducks do indeed walk on the fish in order to nick some bread—or empty beer cans, or the twist ties from the bread bags, or cigarette butts or any other manner of detritus cruelly heaved at fish and fowl.

Sadly, Conneaut Lake did not feature any manner of pedestrian attraction equal to the evolutionary marvel that The Spillway represented. On Conneaut Lake, though, visitors could delight at the panorama of slick Chris Crafts and Ski Nautiques pulling bikinied water skiers eagerly waving to the bathers on Fireman’s Beach or on the docks of the private Iroquois Club, or better yet, witness a ‘ski-by’ past The Park’s boardwalk. Those who vacationed on Conneaut Lake could choose among a variety of fun and exciting water activities—speed boating, water skiing, floating endlessly on plump, brightly colored rafts, and could enjoy swimming with inflatable toys, beach balls, and other accessories such as fins and masks, while Pymatuning’s water enthusiasts were left floating on Grandpa’s boat, fishing for walleye, or swimming at one of the State Park’s beaches notorious for their draconian rules (no inflatables!) that sucked all of the fun out of the swimming experience. This triggered envy among many of Pymatuning’s vacationers. If, in the course of their trip, they had been unfortunate enough to have peeked at the excitement that Conneaut Lake had to offer—perhaps after spending a dizzying day at The Park—these same folks might have longed for a more civilized holiday. Instead of a moldy tent or a musty pop up camper in which to sleep, they just might pine for the luxury of falling into deep Adirondack chairs perched on the back lawn of their lakeside cottage while watching the twinkling of boat lights on Conneaut Lake as their children enjoy a midnight swim off the dock. Pymatuning’s campers were the kids on the field trip to the ketchup factory; Conneaut Lake’s tourists were at Disney World. The younger the tourist, the more pleasure Conneaut Lake provided. It wasn’t unusual on a Saturday or Sunday to find ten to twenty boats lashed together on the sandbar in Conneaut Lake’s Huidekoper Bay, tethered coolers of beer floating between boats; the urine content of the bay most likely rendering the entire lake unsuitable for swimming. It was as if Conneaut Lake was the rich cousin with the expensive toys everyone wanted to play with and Pymatuning was the matron aunt with the comfortable lap and the stale breath that smelled like old people.

Curiously enough, this distinction often played out in the rivalry that existed between the townspeople of both Conneaut Lake and Linesville. Conneaut Lake was hip, it was fun, it was where everyone wanted to be in the summer; Pymatuning, and its accompanying village of Linesville, was like returning to something safe and quiet, earthy, and serene. Summertime cottages surrounded Conneaut Lake; Pymatuning’s shoreline was protected wildlife areas—the entire reservoir and its surrounding wetlands were all part of the state park.

Those summertime cottages that dotted Conneaut Lake’s shoreline were usually owned by wealthy folks from Pittsburgh; that is, they were wealthy by Linesville’s standards. Farther inland, the year round homes were either large family estates that had been broken up into smaller pieces of acreage and owned by locals, or were comprised of one or two acres upon which more modern mid-century ranch homes were built. Thus, not only did the summertime fun discrepancy between the two towns loom large, but the differences in lifestyles among each town’s inhabitants created an interesting dynamic when it came time to play each other in high school basketball.

Today, some parts of Linesville appear as if frozen in time, while others, like The Spillway—that steadfast attraction that remains thanks to the resolute nature of fish, ducks, and bread—have been updated and modernized. In contrast, Conneaut Lake, as the tragic result of The Park’s tumultuous management and mysterious demise, represents what happens when the stewardship of a veritable jewel falls into the hands of individuals with less than honorable motives. The Town and its surrounding area have sadly deteriorated.

Like many of life’s sparkling treasures, one doesn’t appreciate the gifts enjoyed in youth until they no longer exist.

Published by

kellyspringer

Following my years as an elementary and middle school teacher, I decided I wanted to spend the second half of my life just writing. Currently, I work as a technical writer for a software company, fulfilling my passion for writing and editing, and in between the times I'm trying to figure out how to put really complicated ideas into words the rest of the world can understand, I write novels. The Gym Show, published in March 2014, is my first novel. I'm already half-way through with my second novel--a title soon to be revealed. The creative side of me loves to write, but the teacher in me loves to edit, so let me help you craft your message, write your articles, mend your prose, and get people to read what you've written. Contact me at kellyspringer126@gmail.com.

23 thoughts on “Two Towns, Two Lakes, Not Too Long Ago”

  1. Kelly, I do not know how you knew so much about the little quirks & establishments in Linesville. Great article and oh so very true in every respect. I lived and loved it for many many years. Thanks. Probably should send this to Community News for print.

  2. My folks owned the grocery store in Harmonsburg, so we knew, first hand, about the folks who came to Conneaut Lake for the summer. We got a lot of business from those summer cottage folks. I married a guy from Pittsburgh who has often told me about his summer trips (hint: his family didn’t have a cottage…). Your piece is beautifully written; I look forward to following you.

    1. Jane D’Alfonso! , I remember you! Please tell me I spelled your maiden name correctly! We were in that store ALL THE TIME! Your dad was the best butcher! Thank you so much for your kind words!

      1. You nailed it! It means so much to me that you remember my dad. He was such a great guy. I still miss his Italian sausage.

  3. In the 60’s Conneaut Lake Park was owned by Art Freeland and family and all the food and beverage was leased by a company out of Toledo OHIO and managed by my ex husband Ernie Harmon and myself, Sally Harmon McClelland. He was surely a genius with his ability to not only make money for the OH Co. but kept the parks standards up for, if I remember correctly, at least 8 years we were there running it. We had all food and beverage in the park: the Midway concessions, Log Cabin, Cafeteria, Hotel Conneaut, Hotel Cocktail Lounge, all the company picnics that had us cater and the famous Beach Club. The Beach Club was a jumping place with the entertainment we booked out of Pittsburg….namely Ken Hill and The Tijuana Trumpets who had weekend gigs and 2 acts on Saturdays…..jam session in afternoon (VERY casual) and in the evening it was a dressy affair with linens on the tables and candlelight !! Proper attire was required. There was always a little contest each Saturday evening to see if the Hotel Conneaut Dining Room could beat the french fry stand on the midway with sales !! You don’t have to have a degree in Hotel/Restaurant management to know which one was the most profitable !! Those french fries were so popular folks stopped by on their way home to get several orders to go. They were made from scratch and there was a kid that ran the potato peeler machine in the back of the stand for his summer job !! Ernie made sure he took good care of the folks running that stand because it was a VERY hard, hot and greasy job. They were always in on the gig of trying to beat the Hotel in sales !! The wonderful lady, her name escapes me, was a dear and worked there for the 8 years we were there. We employed approx. 250 folks for the summer, many who came back year after year and were students in high school and we saw some continure through college and work at the park for their summer job !! I have many wonderful memories of the Park and many of the terrific friends we made back then. I have lost touch with them but my memories linger. Sadly, Ernie Harmon died Nov. of 1994. He was an exceptional restauranteur as was evident when we owned Ernie Harmon’s Restaurant in early 70’s on Conneaut Lake Road. We turned them away most nights. As mentioned in the above blog, I also remember the Hotel in Harmonsburg where we went on days off to party, fun spot.

  4. My sister, Kay, recently sent me this article. I read it immediately. Wow, did it bring back memories.
    I lived in Linesville and went to L-C-S high school where Mr. A was principal and Mrs. A was a substitute teacher. Tough woman. I graduated in 1966. Like Kelly, I attended Penn State where I met my eventual wife, Jane.
    In my youth, we spent a lot of time at the End-of-the-Road and Conneaut Lake Park. I even worked there for a couple years at the balloon dart stand. As I got older, my sister, Kris, and I spent many Wednesday and Saturday nights at the Dreamland Ballroom dances. I saw numerous popular acts there and at the Convention Hall. This article nailed that time period. What a shame the park no longer exists.
    Thanks, Kelly, for bringing back so many wonderful memories of my youth. I also hope Bob Sorenson and John Aclkin are both doing well as I have not seen them in close to 50 years, since I left Linesville.

    1. Mick,
      I remember you, or at least hearing about you. Kris was one of my mother’s protégés, if you’ll recall, and eventually took over for her at LCS. You need to read THE GYM SHOW–it’s available on Amazon. I think you’ll find more nostalgia there than you ever thought possible.
      Kelly

      1. Hearing about me is probably accurate. I was the klutz that broke his neck in 1964 practicing for the gym show and came back the next year to be in the gym show. I will definitely go to Amazon and buy “The Gym Show”. Can’t wait to read it.

  5. Wonderful article, beautifully written. I grew up on the shores of Pymatuning, down the little dirt road right next to Forestview Restaurant, out Route 6 a few miles out of town. So many great memories of my hometown Linesville as well as Conneaut Lake and the park. I love your recollections of the restaurants and stores in Linesville– Courson’s, Tabor’s, Isaly’s, Morrisons, etc., those beautiful quaint old places with their creaky wooden floors. So much nostalgia in what you’ve written here. I haven’t lived there in nearly 20 years, but am only 1 county away just outside of Warren, PA.I will always be proud to call little old Linesville my hometown and I was truly blessed to have grown up there, right on Pymatuning Lake. ❤️

  6. Great article Kelly. I grew up in Conneaut Lake, parents owned Dee Jays Drive In and my grans parent ran Fairyland Forest so most of my summer days were spent at the park. What a great place to grow up. Thank you for the article brought back some great memories.

  7. Whenever I was younger, my family (dad, mom, my brother and I) and my aunt, uncle, my two cousins and my grandmother all rented a cabin and spent a week there. Those are the best memories of my life. We had a big group and finding cabins that would sleep us all was hard. But we had some pretty crazy cabins. The one by the boat ride that we heard the natives (they were automated) singing these native songs the whole day and evening until the ride closed. The cabin that the guy swore would hold us all and we ended up with my grandmother sleeping on the porch, I was on an air mattress half under the table and half in front of the refrigerator, my mom and dads bed went downhill so they slept with their feet where their heads should have been. Then there was the bunk beds tgat we prayed each night wouldn’t fall apart and kill my cousins and the footon bed that wouldn’t lay down flat so my aunt slept in the “V” that it made. But we laughed so hard at that cabin. Our cabins were never what you’d call fancy but we loved every minute of it. I loved Conneaut Lake Park until they got a buyer that ruined that park. Closing it off and charging just to get in. When we first started going there we went to the park every night and did different things. One night we played games, another night we rode the rides but it was always fun until they sold it and once they started making the changes they did, it lost its family fun quality. But I have so many years of memories from there that I will never forget the years of vacations that were amazing. My aunt and uncle ended up buying a small cottage in Linesville and after their children were grown, they permanently lived there. Thank you Linesville and Conneaut for the many years of great vacations there.

  8. I loved this article, I grew up in Conneaut Lake. This brought back so many great memories. Can’t wait to read more. Thank you!

  9. Your article brought back so many wonderful memories of my childhood. I so cherish my good fortune at having grown up at Conneaut Lake during the summers my family spent there! Thanks for the memories!

    1. Kelly – Your writing is wonderful. Your story is too.

      While I didn’t actually live in Linesville, I grew up there. My grandmother, Sara Egan, taught at LCS as you may recall – and worked with your parents there. I grew up in Buffalo, but was there many weekends and for extensive periods as a kid. In fact, I visited your family home off the Harmonsburg Road several times. When your mother was getting treatments at Roswell Park in Buffalo all those years ago, she stayed with us often in Buffalo. I’m sure you don’t likely remember me, as you were a couple of years younger, but I do remember you, Becky and Jamie.

      I’ve had a long career in broadcasting management that’s taken me to St. Louis, New York and Chicago – but am happy to say I got my start at WVCC at age 14 in the trailer under the tower on Maples Road.

      My grandmother would take me to all kinds of school events and as a high schooler. I went to dances when she was the chaperone. It was like having a double-life – a kid from both places.

      I loved Linesville.

      Wonderful memories of lying in bed, hearing the lonely horn of a train heading up through the swamp and across Pymatuning on a summer night, as the curtains blew in the breeze. I’d jump up, get dressed and run down Erie Street, past the traffic light (which was on flash) – just to watch the train go by. The soundtrack of summer also included the echoed voice of the announcer at the baseball field – and “The 7 O’clock Siren.” I’ll never forget the taste of the BBQ sandwich at the Dairy Isle. I loved to go to Stewart’s farm to get corn and play with their kids. We also went to the North Shore Boat Club and took pontoon boat rides. I was a member of the boat club for many years, even after my grandmother died. Since I’d moved far away, I rarely went, but paid my dues yearly, because it meant something greater to me. My grandmother was a charter member – and the only woman in that group when they built the place.

      Our family history runs deep in the town. My ancestors, the Van Sicklins, ran the Arlington Hotel around the turn of the century, then established the Traveler, on Pymatuning Street, across from the train station. My grandmother went to college in Washington, D.C., got married and lived in Massachusetts (where my grandfather was from) for many years. When my grandfather’s health deteriorated, he moved the family back to Linesville to make sure my grandmother was back with the support system of her family. He taught at the old Linesville School for a couple of years before he died. My mother also was a teacher and taught at the “new” high school and at Conneautville.

      I remember riding on the tiny train at Knierman’s Cottages – and actually stopped and stayed there, recalling to the current owners, the fun times. The train and tracks are long-gone, but the cottages are still there.

      My favorite time as a little kid, was Fall – for the “summer people” as my grandmother called them, were gone – and the town was quieter. Just the locals. The people we knew. On a crisp fall day, my sister and I played in the huge piles of leaves, walked down past the Driftwood, where you could hear the player piano – and on to the bakery for a “moon cookie.” Unlike suburban Buffalo, we had the run of the town. We were safe, could roam and explore where we wanted. We felt free. Walks up the railroad tracks, across the trestle, down to find arrowheads and fossils near the creek, Linesville was magical. The smell of burning maple leaves hung in the air.

      I wanted to be near Linesville when I want to college. So did my sister. So she went to Allegheny and I went to Grove City College.

      My wife and I would take our kids to visit when they were little. They were lucky enough to spend time in Linesville, but they were young when my grandmother died. Her house, a really special Sears Catalog house on West Erie Street, was sold – and we no longer had our grandmother or our “second home.” I wish I’d just bought the house and kept it in our family. When I drive by, it’s an odd feeling.

      Years later – I quietly drive through the town when I can… I stop and see our family headstones at the Linesville Cemetery. I take a walk through the town. I no longer recognize the people walking in and out of the Post Office – but I’ll bet some of their last names would be familiar.

      The town looks much the same…..

      A few weeks ago, I have a dream where I won the lottery and bought the town. I fixed it up like I remembered it and it came back to life…. I woke up, saddened that the dream wasn’t true, but happy to have gone back in time to a happy place…..

      What terrific memories. Thanks for a gift you may not have known you’d given!

      Best Regards,

      Tom Egan Langmyer
      Milwaukee, WI

  10. Lived in CL 1950 to 1983. Graduated from Linesville HS in 68. My grandfather Willard Wilt ran the photography studio above the Gift Shop on the midway at the Park. My dad delivered ice from the lake in the 20’s and worked as a lifeguard when the beach was in front Elmwood Hotel at CLP….grew up a park brat and worked there for 8 years where many friends gathered from colleges all over to work the summers. Still friends today. What a wonderful, magical place to grow up.

  11. Read your blog ( story) just now about “Two Lakes two towns” loved it. Grew up on East Side of CL. Interesting perspective! Really enjoyed it.

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