Article From the Spring 2004 Issue of


The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation


by Charles R. Lowe

Since 1920, the famous Jack Rabbit roller coaster has been Seabreeze Park's central attraction. This exciting roller coaster has become the fourth-oldest wooden roller coaster in continuous operation in the United States. NYMT Photo

Every so often your editors are reminded of an important anniversary at the last minute, and the recent 125th anniversary of Seabreeze Park's opening falls into this category. Seabreeze Park dates to the opening of the Rochester and Lake Ontario, a six-mile-long standard-gauge steam railroad built in 1879. The R&LO extended north from the end of the North Avenue horsecar line along what is now Portland Avenue and continued east along East Ridge Road to a point near present-day Eastridge High School. From here, the line turned north and followed the route of today's Sea Breeze expressway.

With construction of the track complete, the line's two dummy steam locomotives and eight coaches for the line were unloaded and placed on R&LO tracks on August 4, 1879. This operation took all day and was fraught with difficulties. When an attempt to haul two coaches by streetcar tracks to the R&LO depot was made, it was found that the streetcar track curve at Draper Street and Concord Avenue was too sharp for the cars. The two cars were then hauled back to the New York Central crossing on North Avenue (now North Street) where "rails corresponding to those on the regular [streetcar] track were laid on the top of the pavement on North Avenue for a certain distance and the cars ran upon them. The rails passed over were taken up and carried forward, and the cars were again drawn towards their destination... Then engine number 1 was arranged, fired up and coupled on to the other engine. The rails were laid and taken up and relaid...and the little dummies were soon on their proper tracks." John Rauber of Rauber and Vicinus, a well-known general contracting firm, had charge of this work, using 32 men and innumerable horses.

The cars and locomotives were all in the R&LO yard by just after 11 P.M., but spirits remained high despite the late hour. "About 1 o'clock, 'dummy' number 1, and one car loaded with the officers of the road and a few invited guests started for the bay. It was feared that difficulty would be experienced with trees growing close to the track…but nothing serious happened. Yesterday [August 4, 1879], however, the gas lamps from Bay to Clifford street on the west side of North avenue, were all taken down by permission of the proper city officials to accommodate the road, and last night there was but one gas light in the sixteenth ward north of Bay street." The train finally returned to the Bay Street engine house at about 5 A.M.

Only a few hours after the first trial run over the R&LO, the line's excursion took place. "Yesterday morning [August 5, 1879] at a late hour the picnic of the Sunday-school scholars of the North Avenue Methodist church took place. About 600 persons in all enjoyed the inaugural trip to the bay. The train of three cars returned again, and in the afternoon made its last trip for the excursionists, carrying down a large number of persons who paid their money and took their choice [of cars] for a hasty jaunt over the new road."

At Seabreeze Park's 125th anniversary celebration, park manager Jeff Bailey places a ride wrist-band on Charlie Lowe. Working the controller at right is Sam Reifsnyder who, with photographer Dave Reifsnyder, helped move the NYMT display equipment. Later, the wrist bands were put to work on several rides including the 1920 Jack Rabbit roller coaster.

It also seems that a group from the Hudson street Memorial Church congregation was also taken over the new line. "It was found to be impossible to run [trains] on any regular time. The machinery being all new, runs, of course, a little hard, and the boilers 'foamed' so much that it was found necessary to clean them out. A trip was afterward made in the evening, and the waiting party at the Bay brought safely to town." The R&LO's grounds at the end of the line consisted of a simple "pic-nic" grove with access to the nearby beach on Lake Ontario. The grove was located within the confines of present-day Seabreeze Park. Rochester Transit Corporation sold Sea Breeze Park to long-time concessionaire George Long in 1946. In the 1970s, the park was renamed from its early-day "Sea Breeze Park" and post- World War II "Dreamland" to its current "Seabreeze Park" so as to distinguish the amusement park from the locale.

Although the railroad to Sea Breeze, electrified in 1900, was
abandoned in 1936 in favor of buses, a vibrant Seabreeze Park remains in operation and has become the nation's fourth-oldest amusement park. On August 5, 2004, a day-long celebration marking Seabreeze Park's 125th anniversary was held at the park. Heavy crowds attended the park that
day, and members of the media as well as area museums including NYMT also were present to note the occasion.