The club as seen from the west, offshore, in a 1906 postcard. This is now the site of Harbor Watch condominiums, built in 1986 at the west end of Harrison Avenue. (Courtesy of Special Collections, Bailey/Howe Library, University of Vermont) Click here for more postcards and photos.
A century ago, the Crescent Beach Country Club of Burlington, Vermont was a refuge and playground, a place to relax on the shore of Lake Champlain, south of the city's industrial and commercial waterfront. City folks gathered there for swimming, boating, fishing, dancing, dining, and enjoying the view.
After World War II, the club's nineteenth century buildings were gone, replaced by a petroleum products bulk plant. In the 1980s, the oil tanks were ripped out and condominiums sprang up on the rocky point where the Crescent Beach Country Club had been. Except for the beach itself, no evidence remains of the small, rustic resort. Fortunately, postcards, photographs, and documents in the University of Vermont's Special Collections help to reveal the hidden history of this fascinating site.
Crescent Beach, also known in the 1890s as Willow Beach and Lakeside, was the sandy stretch of shore that is accessible from a stairway at the foot of Wright Avenue, west of what is now the Lakeside neighborhood of the South End. Henry R. Conger, a Burlington real estate and insurance broker, had purchased the former farmland by the time the Hopkins map of Burlington was published in 1890. (1) Conger printed maps of his subdivision, which he called “Lakeside Park,” in 1893 (2) and 1894, (3) and he developed a summer recreation area by the shore.
The streets of the small, new community were laid out just north of Howard Park (now the site of the Vermont Hardware Company complex), where the Champlain Valley Association held state and local fairs from 1882 to 1897. (4) The Queen City Cotton Company built a textile mill that opened nearby in 1895, on the northeast corner of Lakeside Avenue and the Rutland Railroad intersection. Some houses were built on Lakeside, Harrison, Wright, Central, and Conger avenues and Proctor Place, but city directories from the years just after the turn of the century do not list the names of their residents.
The shore was already becoming an attraction. Images in UVM's Special Collections' Crescent Beach photo and postcard files, some undated and others dated 1906, show buildings on a bluff and small peninsula, and a beach just north of it. The year the nearby cotton mill was finished, about 600 people jammed “the St. Johnsbury and Lake Champlain railroad excursion” to Lakeside Park on July 3. The races held at Howard Park that same day “made it a very busy day for the streetcar people,” the Burlington Weekly Free Press said. (5) In August the Sunday schools of Jericho, Vermont had a picnic at Lakeside Park, traveling there “by team to Essex Junction, and from there by the electric cars.” (6)
A dance pavilion opened at the park, and there was already a restaurant, run by G. A. Beede. The first dance in this new pavilion was heralded in a brief announcement, published by the Burlington Daily Free Press on August 17, 1895. “First class music will be furnished,” the paper said. “Dancing from 8 until 11 o'clock. Refreshments served at the restaurant.” (7) An undated photo from UVM's Special Collections shows the pavilion from the south, with a house behind it. (8)
Looking southwest in another Crescent Beach photo, also undated, a long, narrow, one-story pavilion is the backdrop for a croquet game. (9) One gable end of the clapboarded building faces west to Lake Champlain. The east gable end has a flag pole attached to it. The building is surrounded on three sides by a deep porch, sheltered by a shallow-pitched, overhanging roof, its soffits decorated with hanging lanterns, which were called Japanese and Chinese lanterns at the time. Two women in full-length skirts and two men are engrossed in the lawn sport, while two more men watch, lounging on the edge of the porch. A man and a woman toast each other at a table on the porch, while a group at another table sit near a phonograph with a large, horn-shaped speaker. On the far right, a bench overlooks the lake shore. In the background on the left is a long, narrow building.
A black and white postcard, a “photo by Barker 1906,” is a view of the pavilion facing southeast, with men wearing straw boater and bowler hats, socializing on the porch. (10) Again the porch looks inviting, with its rocking chairs, tables with white table cloths and flowers, lanterns, phonograph, and planter. The back of the postcard does not say where it was printed, and calls for a one-cent stamp.
In October 2012, the approach to the long-ago setting of the 1906 croquet game had a very different appearance. A photo shows the entrance to the condominiums, at the west end of Harrison Avenue, with signs saying, “Private Drive, No Thru Street” and “Private Parking, By Permit Only, Towing Enforced.”
Lakeside Hotel first appeared in Burlington's city directory in 1899, with Frederick Kean as the proprietor. (11) Serving alcohol illegally was a recurring issue at the hotel, though Prohibition was many years away. The hotel did not have a liquor license.
After a raid in the summer of 1898, William Bradford was fined for keeping liquor he intended to sell at “Gadue's Lakeside Park Hotel,” according to the weekly version of the Burlington Free Press. He had pleaded not guilty, and had appealed. (12)
On Memorial Day 1899, Sheriff Reeves “went from one end of the town to the other in making searches for liquor... and even visited Winooski,” the weekly newspaper commented. “Judge Russell, it will be remembered, holds that the fact of having liquor on hand, even if the bottle is smashed, is a serious matter.” The sheriff searched the Lakeside Hotel and discovered five bottles of beer. (13) The bottles were later returned to the hotel, because the court determined that the beer, at 1.5 percent alcohol, was within the legal limit of less than 3 percent. (14)
A year later, a man named Peter Senna was fined in city court for intoxication. He “disclosed on” the Lakeside Hotel, and said a woman had served him. The sheriff arrested Mary Kean, the proprietor's wife. She was fined more than Senna, and had to promise not to serve alcohol again. (15)
The hotel and beach were admired from the lake by the president of the United States. Theodore Roosevelt made a whistle-stop tour across northern New England in late August 1902. He wound up in Burlington, and took an early evening cruise from the Lake Champlain Yacht Club to Thompson's Point, Charlotte, on the yacht Elfrida. Crescent Beach lights were “the first illuminations passed... which consisted of lines of variously colored lights and lanterns and made a very pretty showing,” the Daily Free Press said. (16)
By 1903, the hotel was called Crescent Beach Inn, and was owned and operated by Charles A. Wahlstrom. (17) He was born in Sweden in 1856, and had emigrated to the United States in 1889. (18) His wife Melvina Willett Wahlstrom was born in Vermont in 1857, and her parents were from “Canada - French,” according to the 1910 census. (19) Charles Wahlstrom and 33 other people presented a petition to Vermont's Board of Railroad Commissioners in September 1905, asking the board to remedy a dangerous situation. (20)
After the turn of the century, the Lakeside area was drawing residents, many of whom worked in the cotton mill. The small community was becoming a bustling place, and several accidents occurred where Lakeside Avenue crossed the railroad track. The petitioners requested that “an under-pass, or other adequate and sufficient protection be ordered at this crossing as the law provides.” (21)
The crossing, the petitioners wrote, “is used daily by many vehicles and foot passengers, because a large population live west of the railroad aforesaid and have no other way to their work or to the main portion of the said city; also the Crescent Beach Country Club is located on the Lake shore and cannot be reached except by way of this crossing.” (22) Trains could not be seen approaching from the north or south, until it was too late, and could not even be heard over the din of the cotton mill. The railroad grade crossing was replaced by the current underpass.
As the neighborhood grew and changed, so did the resort called Crescent Beach Inn. Charles Wahlstrom applied for a third class liquor license for the inn during the winter of 1903. (23) An article in the Burlington Weekly Free Press that spring said the inn had been “a popular resort for those wishing to give a dinner party during the past year.” (24)
In May the grounds of the inn were closed to the public and it was converted to a club, Crescent Beach Country Club. For several weeks, some of the inn's customers had been discussing the idea, and more than 100 prospective members had signed up. Charles, along with his wife Melvina, who was the inn's housekeeper, would continue to run the club and serve meals. “The beach will be reserved for the use of members and will be fitted with bathhouses and dressing rooms,” the Free Press said. There were plans to enlarge the country club. (25)
The club's main building, a vernacular, mid-19th century, 1 ½-story house, appears clearly in two photos, one taken by Barker in 1906 (26), and the other undated. This may have been the farmhouse of the Proctor family before the property was sold to Henry Conger. “N. B. Proctor” owned the house next to the shore in the area that later became Lakeside, according to H. F. Walling’s 1857 map of Chittenden County. (27)
The 1869 Beers Atlas map of Burlington is bit more detailed. A short road, from the west end of what is now Flynn Avenue, led north to the approximate location of the Crescent Beach Country Club. The house at the end of this road was owned by N. B. Proctor at the time the map was published. The atlas also shows a shipyard a short distance to the south, owned by Proctor. N. B. (Napoleon Bonaparte) Proctor, was born about 1814 and died in 1890. He was a steamboat pilot on the lake from 1832 to 1847, and a steamboat captain from 1847 to 1872. He designed the 258-foot steamboat Champlain II (originally named the Oakes Ames). It was built at his shipyard, launched in 1868, and wrecked at Westport, New York in 1875. (28)
By the early twentieth century, the house was sheathed in clapboards, painted a light color, and the door, muntins in the six-over-six sash windows, window frames, and shutters were dark. For both images, the photographer was facing roughly north toward the house's front facade, towered over by an elm tree. A portico sheltered the front door, a window to the left of it, and part of a deck that appears to wrap around the house. The photos were taken at different times; the grounds show minor changes. Judging from all the photos that include buildings, the house was north of the dance pavilion.
In the undated image, a man in a captain's hat reclines on the grass, chatting with two women, one of whom wears a Gibson Girl updo. Other people talk in the background, as a man fills a bucket from a hand-cranked well.
A 1906 photo taken from the lake, made into a postcard, shows what the club looked like from offshore, facing east. (29) (Again the postcard back does not say where the card was printed.) In October 2012, the small peninsula was recognizable from the lake, though lined with condominiums. Extra rocks seem to have been added to reinforce the shore. Another postcard photo was taken from the shore just south of the club in 1906. (30) Though the postcard images are fuzzy, it is obvious that the buildings were fairly close together on the small peninsula. Along the shore, boats competed with trees for space on the beach, in a postcard view facing Burlington Harbor to the north. (31) From Blanchard Beach, looking north toward Burlington in October 2012, the view of the Crescent Beach area did not appear to have changed dramatically.
Crescent Beach turned up in the pages of the Burlington Daily Free Press and the Burlington Weekly Free Press from time to time, for events both happy and regrettable. In 1904, an early fall squall drove a steamer aground 30 feet offshore, where the depth was only about 3 feet. (This is called Proctor Shoal on the Beers Atlas map.) The Valcour was carrying ship's rigging from Shelburne to Burlington to be shipped to New York, when waves crashing over her gunwales smothered the fires in her engines. The helpless craft drifted onto the sandy shallows off Lakeside. The captain and crew were rescued. (32)
When the steamboat Ticonderoga was launched at Shelburne Shipyard in April 1906, the steamboat Chateaugay transported most of the spectators, making two trips between the King Street dock in Burlington and the shipyard. Some people rented canoes at Burlington Harbor boathouses for the excursion to Shelburne. On the way back to the dock after the ceremony, the Chateaugay's wake capsized a canoe, dumping two college students from the class of 1908 into the lake off Crescent Beach. Three high school students, in another canoe, rescued them. (33)
Sometimes Crescent Beach was used as an address. Toward the end of World War I, the Weekly Free Press reported that Bernard E. Morey of Crescent Beach
had been sent to Albany, New York, after enlisting in the army of occupation at the local army recruiting station. (34)
Despite all this activity, Crescent Beach and the club buildings were literally off the map. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Burlington published in 1906, 1912, 1919, and 1926 do not include the area.
The country club became well-known. The Weekly Free Press noted that Charles Wahlstrom had “established an enviable reputation as a caterer.” In the fall of 1906, Charles and Melvina moved on to new jobs at the Van Ness House, a Burlington hotel. Four years later, the Elks Club hired Charles Wahlstrom to run its dining room. “It is the intention to serve game dinners on the same plan that Crescent Beach was run on,” the Weekly Free Press said. (35)
When the Wahlstroms departed, William Pierce Conger, brother of real estate broker Henry Conger, became proprietor of the country club. (36)
Sewage at times drifted toward the beach from the main city sewer line near the lumberyards, according to a 1972 article in the Chittenden County Historical Society Bulletin. (37) Despite that, people swam and fished at Crescent Beach. (38) (39) A photo, facing northeast, shows several bathers standing in the shallow water. The women wore swimsuits that looked like dark-colored dresses with white collars and short, puffed sleeves. The men swam in dark, knee-length shorts and t-shirts. Another photo postcard, dated 1906, pictures a quiet day at the beach, with boats pulled up.
In October 2012 no one was swimming, but it was easy to see that the northeast view from the rocks at the foot of Harrison Avenue, in front of the condominiums, was Crescent Beach.
Twenty-six-year-old Arthur A. Perkins drowned off the beach, southwest of the home of William Conger, in September 1908. While fishing in a row boat with his friend Charles F. White, Perkins changed his position in the boat and fell overboard, capsizing the boat at the same time. Conger's sister Jennie heard the men struggling in the water, and ran to the orchard to get help from her brother. He rowed out in time to save White. (40)
In the winter of 1912, the Lake Champlain Yacht Club was seriously considering buying the club from Conger for $8,000 and moving from the College Street dock to Crescent Beach. (41) The Central Vermont Railway Company owned the yacht club's house, and would not lease it for more than a month or so at a time, though the yacht club had about $1,000 of equity in the club house. (42)
The committee of the governing board felt that the five acres of land and 500 feet of lakefront “would be well suited, with slight modifications, for the use of the yacht clubmen.” (Members could reach the club by streetcar that ran as far as the Queen City Cotton Company, or automobile, or horse-drawn transportation, or boat.)The property included the inn, the dance pavilion, and two stables. “The building which now stands on the bluff overlooking the lake can be used for a temporary clubhouse,” the Weekly Free Press said. The committee members thought there would be plenty of room for tennis, swimming, and other sports. The shore would provide a good anchorage. The committee even liked “the fine shade trees.” The clubhouse could remain open all year, and the club could be called the Lake Champlain Yacht and Country Club. (43)
At its annual meeting that winter, under its new commodore H. Nelson Jackson (the first person, along with his mechanic, to drive across the United States in an automobile, in 1903), the yacht club decided not to buy the Crescent Beach property. “The present location of the club house is considered the only logical one, inasmuch as it affords a good anchorage and there is a good course for regattas and other events,” the paper said. (44)
William Conger still owned the property but apparently ceased managing an inn or club there around the time the yacht club considered the purchase. Crescent Beach was not listed in the 1913 city directory. The public once again had access to the beach. The Weekly Free Press reported that the Vermont State Association of Undertakers and Embalmers finished up their annual convention in Burlington with a visit to Shelburne Farms and “a 'shore' lunch at the noon hour at Crescent Beach” on September 1, 1916. “The local undertakers were their hosts and the visitors enjoyed the trip thoroughly,” the paper said. (45)
Conger committed suicide in his taxidermy shop, near his house, in November 1916. He was 63, had been somewhat ill with a cough, and believed he wouldn't recover from it. Before shooting himself in the head, he wrote his wife of only 16 months, Adorna Malcolm Clark Conger, detailed instructions for dealing with his affairs, including how to feed the chickens. (46)
Adorna Conger died the following March. A dispute over the inheritance dragged on in court for years. The estate included the house at Crescent Beach, just south of Lakeside Park, and “a good-sized tract of land... one of the finest along the lake front in this vicinity,” the Burlington Weekly Free Press said. (47)
Life went on at the beach. In early September 1920, The Hamilton Lodge No. 14, International Order of Odd Fellows was planning to hold a field day at Crescent Beach, from 2 p.m. to midnight,with a corn roast, ball game, track and field competitions, and dancing. (48)
After the idea of moving the yacht club to Crescent Beach fizzled, the history of the beach became more difficult to trace. The city directory listing for the Crescent Beach Inn continued on in the directory during the time the inn was actually a club. (49) After 1912, the inn, the club, and the beach disappeared from the directory for many years. Crescent Beach was never a municipal park or beach, and was not listed in the Burlington Annual Reports as a sporting organization or club.
The name Crescent Beach popped up again when the 1928 city directory noted that the east end of Harrison Avenue was one end of the beach. (50) From the late 1920s into the 1930s, the Lakeside Athletic Club had an address at the east end of Lakeside Avenue. (51) By 1940 there was no athletic club, though maps inserted in city directories labeled the shore Crescent Beach. (52)
The 1952 directory shows a Lakeside Boat Club on Lakeside Avenue, and something new - the Northern Oil Company bulk plant. The oil company's office was at 150 College Street, along with Northern Fuels. (53) A tank farm was built on the peninsula where the inn, dance pavilion, and stables had been. Bollards, to unload oil from barges, appeared offshore. (54)
Finally, the land was sold to Gerald Milot, a Chittenden County real estate developer. He bought the 6.5-acre parcel in 1984, had the oil tank farm removed, and built luxury condominiums called Harbor Watch in 1986. (55)
Barbara R. Bosworth
1 "Map of the city of Burlington, Vermont from official records, private plans and actual surveys"(Philadelphia: G. M. Hopkins, 1890).
2 "Map of Lake Side Park Situated in Burlington, Vermont. Property of H. R. Conger" (Burlington: H. R. Conger, 1893).
3 "Lakeside Park. Burlington, Vt. July 1894" (Burlington: H. R. Conger, 1894).
4 Lauren Ober and Matthew Thorsen, “Art's Start, How a South End neighborhood went from pallets to palettes,” Seven Days, September 8, 2009, http://www.7dvt.com/2009arts-start
5 “Home Matters,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, July 11, 1895, 5.
6 “Vermont Local News,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, August 15, 1895, 6.
7 “New Dance Pavilion,” Burlington Daily Free Press, August 17, 1895, 5.
8 Photograph 1-14.2, folder 1-14, Burlington Photograph Files, Special Collections, University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library.
9 Photograph 1-14.3, folder 1-14, Burlington Photograph Files, Special Collections, University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library.
10 Postcard 1-14.6, Burlington Beaches, Burlington Postcard Files, Special Collections, University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library.
11 L. P. Waite and Company,"Burlington and Winooski Vermont Directory" (Burlington, Vermont: L. P. Waite and Company, 1899), 161.
12 “Old Timers in Court, Wife Beaters, Liquor Sellers, Thiefs and Peace Breakers Before Judge Russell,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, August 18, 1898, 8.
13 “Memorial Day Searches,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, June 1, 1899, 5.
14 “Beer Returned to Lakeside, Contained Only 1.5 Percent of Alcohol – Bicycle Thief Sent to Windsor,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, August 3, 1899, 8.
15 “Two Drunks in City Court, Disclosures Made on Lake Side Park Hotel and Port Kent Whiskey,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, May 3, 1900, 8.
16 “President Here, Trip from Windsor to Burlington One Continuous Ovation,” Burlington Daily Free Press, September 1, 1902, 2.
17 L. P. Waite and Comapny, Burlington and Winooski Vermont Directory (Burlington, Vermont: L. P. Waite and Company, 1903), 152.
18 U. S. Bureau of the Census, 1910 Census of Population and Housing, Vermont (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of the Census, 1910), http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7884 (accessed October 2012).
20 Tenth Biennial Report of the Board of Railroad Commissioners of the State of Vermont: June 30th, 1904, to June 30th, 1906 (Bradford, Vermont: The Opinion Press, 1906), 74-75.
21 Ibid., 75.
23 “One Application Monday, Total Number of Licenses Asked for 61,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, March 26, 1903, 8.
24 “Changes at Crescent Beach, Place Will Be closed to the Public and Managed as a Club,”Burlington Weekly Free Press, May 14, 1903, 8.
26 Photograph 1-14.5, folder 1-14, Burlington Photograph Files, Special Collections, University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library.
27 Photograph 1-14.4, folder 1-14, Burlington Photograph Files, Special Collections, University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library; Henry Francis Walling, "Map of Chittenden County, Vermont" (Boston: Boston, Tilden and Company, 1857).
28 Frederick W. Beers, "Atlas of Chittenden Co., Vermont" (West Topsham, Vermont: H. E. Osmer, 1869); "Vermont, Find A Grave Index, 1777-2011," Ancestry.com; Ogden John Ross, Arthur B. Cohn, and J. Kevin Graffagnino, The Steamboats of Lake Champlain, 1809 to 1930 (s.l.: Vermont Heritage Press, 1930, 1997), 177-178, 206.
29 Postcard 144, Burlington Beaches, Burlington Postcard Files, Special Collections, University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library.
32 “Gale on the Lake, Steamer Valcour Beached at Crescent Beach,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, October 6, 1904, 16.
33 “After the Launching, College Men Doused in Lake – High School Boys Get Them Out,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, April 19, 1906, 5.
34 “City News,” Burlington Free Press, April 17,1919, 5.
35 “E. P. Woodbury to be Manager – Positions for Mr. and Mrs. Wahlstrom,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, September 20, 1906, 6; “City News,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, May 5, 1910, 5.
36 “E. P. Woodbury to be Manager – Positions for Mr. and Mrs. Wahlstrom.”
37 T. D. Seymour Bassett and David Blow, “The Lakeside Story, Part II,” Chittenden County Historical Society Bulletin , July 1972, 1.
38 Postcard 141, Burlington Beaches, Burlington Postcard Files, Special Collections, University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library.
39 Photograph 1-14.1, folder 1-14, Burlington Photograph Files, Special Collections, University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library.
40 “A. A. Perkins Drowned, C. F. White, His Companion, Saved With Difficulty,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, October 1, 1908, 10.
41 “Yacht Club May Move, Governing Board Considers New Site at Crescent Beach,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, January 4, 1912, 5.
42 “Club will Not Move, Yachtsmen Believe They Can Stay in Present Quarters for the Present,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, February 8, 1912, 7.
43 “Yacht Club May Move, Governing Board Considers New Site at Crescent Beach.”
44 “Club will Not Move, Yachtsmen Believe They Can Stay in Present Quarters for the Present.”
45 “City News,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, September 7, 1916, 5.
46 “W. P. Conger A Suicide, Shoots Himself in Head at his Crescent Beach Shop,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, November 9, 1916, 12.
47 “Appeal Taken, County Court Called on to Settle W. P. Conger's Estate,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, April 22, 1920, 12.
48 “City News,” Burlington Weekly Free Press, September 9, 1920, 5.
49 L. P. Waite and Company, Burlington City Directory (Burlington, Vermont: L. P. Waite and Company, 1903-1912).
50 H. A. Manning and Company, Burlington City Directory (Burlington, Vermont: H. A. Manning and Company, 1928).
51 H. A. Manning and Company, Burlington City Directory (Burlington, Vermont: H. A. Manning and Company, 1929-32).
52 H. A. Manning and Company, Burlington City Directory (Burlington, Vermont: H. A. Manning and Company, 1940).
53 H. A. Manning and Company, Burlington City Directory (Burlington, Vermont: H. A. Manning and Company, 1952).
54 U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, Draft Environmental Assessment: Oil Bollard Removal, Burlington Harbor, City of Burlington, Chittenden County, VT (New York: U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2012).
55 “Lakeside Prepares for Condominiums,” Burlington Free Press, September 16, 1985, 1A.