RUSSELLS POINT – It was just like the good old days the weekend of July 15-16 at Indian Lake. The Vintage Wooden Boat Show took center stage at Russells Point Harbor. If you didn’t look twice, you’d think the “way-back time machine” had just placed you back at the “Million Dollar Playground,” as they called it back in the 193’s, ’40s and beyond.
Beautiful, expensive finely-crafted wooden watercraft were majestically docked at the harbor with the recently restored Sandy Beach Bridge towering in the background and passers-by strolling atop the footbridge from one side to the other.
I’m sure this picture looked similar to long ago when thousands of tourists, locals and boaters all converged at the Sandy Beach Amusement Park for a fun day of roller coaster rides, dancing, boat rides and Big Band music.
Saturday’s show was 19th annual and featured over 35 vintage boats and nearly 40 classic and vintage cars.
The Russells Point Harbor was beaming with activity. The docks were full of vintage boats and classic cars parked all about with booths lining the closed-off streets. Many curious lake-goers were taking it all in on foot, bicycles, in pontoons and kayaks.
The only thing missing from this scene of yesterday was the Sandy Beach Amusement Park (aka the Million Dollar Playground), but the many stirred up memories took care of that.
The event not only brought out the best wooden boats from the past, but also the best stories and recollections from years gone by.
Boating through the generations
“Back in the hey-day of the Sandy Beach Amusement Park there would be 3,000-5,000 people gathered in this same harbor area that we are standing at today with these same type wooden boats docked and darting around the lake,” said Jack Beatley, local boat collector and boat historian. “It was the place to be and the place to be seen.”
“My grandfather, Jack R. Beatley, owned two hotels at the lake back in the day, including the Beatley Resort,” he said. “It was a very popular resort, comparable to the Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point at that time.
“As an added attraction, he started offering boat rides for his hotel patrons and other tourists with his fleet of wooden boats. He charged only 5-10 cents for a boat ride and this quickly became a very popular thing to do at the lake. And there lies the connection and the real story behind what’s going on today at this boat show,” Beatley said.
“Many, if not all of the boats my grandfather used, and my parents also, who later inherited the hotel, were built locally by Nate Coon, out of Lima. These boats were called Darts. Coon lived at Indian Lake and also owned 80 cottages on the lake.” adds Beatley.
Beatley currently owns a large collection of vintage boats and some of the last remaining Darts. He has been showing about three of his boats each year at this annual event for the last 19 years.
Around 20 years ago, Beatley and fellow local vintage boat enthusiast Steve Hale worked together to try to save and restore many of these area vintage boats, and both were instrumental in the development and success of this annual boat show.
Hale’s entry in the event was the Lady of the Lake. “Steve had a very rare boat in the show today,” said Jim Foeller, president of the Indian Lake Chapter of the Antique & Classic Boat Society (ACBS Society). “It’s a one of a kind Chris-Craft with dual inboard engines and a National Show Winner. It’s the only one of its kind in the world, a real rarity and special treat to have at our show today.”
Another vintage boat enthusiast who had a boat at the event was Roland Clark of Greenville, who showed a 1958 Lyman 15-foot runabout with a 40 hp motor. “It was a true barn find and I spent six months restoring it,” said Clark.
Clark has restored 13 boats and currently owns five vintage boats. He has shown boats in New York and Florida, winning an award plaque at the 30th annual Sunnyland Antique Boat Festival in Wooten Park, Florida.
There were many Chris-Craft boats at Saturday’s show. Chris-Craft brand boats are considered the “gold standard” of vintage wooden boats.
One such Chris-Craft of notable interest at the show was Mike Foy’s Golden Pond. It’s a 1949 22-footer named after the Academy Award-winning movie “On Golden Pond.” Although not the boat used in the movie, it is the exact model and type of Chis-Craft boat used in the movie and is rare.
The boat has a history of local ownership and is said to originally have been owned by the local Wallace family, reported to have owned the first motor boat on Indian Lake.
Although the woodies stole the show at Saturday’s event, nearly 40 beautiful vintage and classic cars were on display to add to nostalgic feel of the day.
Classic cars on display
Dan Gabel, of Cincinnati, was enjoying the aerial view of the festivities from the top of the Sandy Beach Bridge with Rachel VanHorn and his 2-year-old son Luke. He was a first-time attendee and was showing a 1977 Gold Chevy Camaro in the car show.
Indian Lake Area Historical Society board member Jean Frobase and president John Coleman were on hand for the event, staffing their information booth.
The Historical Society has been active and instrumental in the restoration of the Sandy Beach Bridge. The group recently unveiled 11 historical markers that surround the Russells Point Harbor on both sides of the bridge, telling the history of Indian Lake.
Without the society’s tireless efforts to restore and preserve the Russells Point Harbor and its many wonderful memories, the weekend’s fantastic event would not have produced the million dollar memories that it did.
Just ask the owners of the Big Cigar. They’ll confirm that!
Ron Brohm is a regular contributor to this newspaper.