The summer heat wave is upon us and, for most of us today, that means pumping up the air conditioning. But for many residents of Northern Kentucky in the 19th century, summer heat meant going to the beach.
The Ohio River is a constant force that drives the evolution of our area. Economically and culturally, our area has relied on this body of water for centuries. But over the past 200 years, the river has fundamentally changed. As hard as it is to believe now, the water levels of the Ohio River once dropped to as low as a few feet. Prior to the damming and canalization that would improve shipping channels and aid commerce, the Ohio River featured beaches along its Northern Kentucky coastline.
The bend in the river along Campbell County’s border caused erosion of the northern shore that deposited sand and silt along the southern shore. Centuries of this process made huge sandbars and beaches around the Bellevue, Newport and Dayton riverfronts. By the early 1900s, a total of six beaches sat along the waterfront, with Long Beach and Queen City Beach in Bellevue and Primrose Beach in Dayton becoming nationally recognized as premiere bathing spots. These beaches were complete with boat races, restaurants, aquatic sports and shopping pavilions.
The 1920s spelled the end of fun on the beaches for Northern Kentuckians. The need to grow commerce on the river saw dams constructed with the purpose of raising the water level to increase shipping. The increased water level flooded all but one of the beaches.
The surviving beach, then known as Gem Beach, was bought and turned into Dayton’s Tacoma Park, an entertainment complex complete with a roller coaster and arcades, until the flood of 1937 destroyed most of the facility. The land was then the site of the Riverview Drive-In until 1982 when Riverport Enterprises purchased the land and built the Watertown Yacht Club, which stands today.
From the Facebook page of the Behringer-Crawford