As mentioned in previous installments of Niagara Discoveries, sometimes when you are researching one thing you find something else of interest in the process. Back in the summer I saw a brief notice about a toboggan slide in Lockport in the Homer Republican and thought that would make a good winter article.
In late November 1894, several Buffalo newspapers ran short articles about “A Big Toboggan Slide” in the process of being erected in Lockport. According the newspapers, the slide was the brainchild of Arthur L. Lerch and “a half-dozen enterprising young men” of the city.
Arthur L. Lerch was 27 years old at the time and he and his father, Nathaniel, had a produce/fruit dealer business, N. Lerch & Son, at 46-48 Market Street. Lerch would later work for the American District Steam company as a construction engineer and afterwards in the Lockport city engineering department.
Lerch apparently already had a mind for engineering. In 1894, he undertook the design and construction of what was described as the “largest toboggan slide ever erected in the state.” It was also stated that it would “involve the expenditure of considerable money.” The details of the construction and dimensions of the slide appeared in various newspapers over the next few weeks. Here are some of the particulars of the “mammoth” slide and the place where it was built on East Avenue, just east of the city limits:
“The site is an ideal one, overlooking the country all the way to Lake Ontario and is admirably designed by Nature for the great slide. It is located on the Holly farm, just east of the city.”
In 1894, the city line was just east of what is now Eastern Niagara Hospital, not past Davison Road as it is today. According to a 1902 Lockport Journal article, the Holly farm had once been part of the Shuler farm, which was on the north side of East Avenue and Chestnut Ridge Road. This would put the toboggan slide somewhere between the hospital and the Lockport Town and Country Club, possibly near what is now Lakeview Parkway.
It was reported that “workmen are engaged digging the trenches now. The entire slide will be over 60 rods long (990 feet). It starts at the top of the gulf, runs down the south side 20 rods (330 feet), crosses a [word unreadable] through which passes a rivulet making 10 rods (165 feet) more, then up a slight declivity of 10 rods, and down a second incline for at least 20 rods more.” A subsequent article corrected the length of the toboggan slide to 87 rods (1440 feet).
Depending on which paper you read, the slide opened during the last week of December 1894 or the first week of January 1895. On New Year’s Eve, the Lockport Daily Journal wrote, “If you want to make a lively beginning of the New Year, make a few trips on the East avenue toboggan slide tomorrow. The surface is perfect and the sport is safe, healthy and exhilarating.”
To accommodate what one paper referred to as the “pleasure-seekers,” tickets were sold for 25 cents and were good for five rides on the slide and transportation from the Hodge Opera House to the slide and back again between 10 a.m. and noon on New Year’s Day.
It was also stated that a “great lodge” would be built near the slide but that never materialized. At the same time that the toboggan slide was being built, it was reported that “a number of society people have organized a club,” the purpose of which was to construct a pond to create an ice skating rink in the fairgrounds at Locust and Willow streets. Whether this was to compete with, or to complement, the toboggan slide is unclear.
By the second week in January, reviews of the slide were being printed in the papers. Although the slide was “proving quite popular,” there were drawbacks. Some complained that the slide was too wide, thus causing the toboggans to slew (an uncontrollable sliding movement), putting “the riders in danger of breaking themselves into small pieces.” This resulted in many members of the “gentler sex” declining to ride. When the problem was fixed by narrowing the slide, the proprietors hoped it would attract more riders, both men and women.
What happened to the toboggan slide is unknown. There is no mention of it after January of 1895. However, research revealed that this toboggan slide was not the first or the last one in Lockport. During the winter of 1886-87, a 165-foot long slide was built at the fairgrounds at Locust and Willow, and in 1935 a 40-foot toboggan slide was constructed at Dudley Square.
The slide that sounds the most thrilling was one that was proposed but never built. In 1885 it was suggested that the city should put a giant toboggan slide over the locks and use the frozen canal for the run. Now that would have been a ride!
If anyone has any additional information, or perhaps even a photograph, of the 1894 toboggan slide, please contact the History Center at 434-7433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.