NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Tourist camps in Niagara County

COURTESY NIAGARA HISTORY CENTERBrown’s Tourist Cabins depicted on a post card, circa 1940.

 

Back in the 1920s when the automobile was becoming a regular sight on roadways and the economy was in high gear, people took to the road with a newfound sense of freedom and leisure. One of the most popular destinations of course was Niagara Falls.

Although trains were still a significant means of fast and efficient transportation, the journey now became almost as much of an adventure as the destination itself. Families traveling from out-of-town could now stay in small cabins along rural roads or major highways of Niagara County. Two of the most popular routes to Niagara Falls from the east were Niagara Falls Boulevard (then an extension of Pine Avenue) and the “Honeymoon” or “Million Dollar” Highway, Ridge Road (now Route 104). You could not travel more than few miles along these roads without finding some sort of accommodation along the way. The closer you got to Niagara Falls, the closer these tourist camps got to each other.

If you look in the Niagara Falls City Directories from the 1930s through the 1950s, you will find there were at least 10 different tourist camps listed between the 6000 and 9000 blocks of Pine Avenue (now Niagara Falls Boulevard). They had names like Blue Star Tourist Cabins, Brown’s Camp, Camp Niagara, Corky’s Cabins, Hi-Way Cabins, Rainbow Cabins, Tourist City Cabins and White Village Cabins. Most offered small cabins. Some had beds while others had only bunks for sleeping bags. Kitchen and bathroom facilities were usually available in a separate building. The fees ranged from 50 cents to a dollar a night in the early years.

One of the earliest sites was the Honey Farm Tourist Camp, which opened in 1926 and closed in 1962. It was located at 2761 Niagara Falls Blvd. in Wheatfield. According to a 1964 Niagara Falls Gazette article, the camp was operated by Edwin and Lily De Vantier on their 121-acre farm. They started with an area for camping out, then added a few cabins and eventually ended up with 18 of them.

The camp never lacked visitors. It was a popular spot with Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, as well as honeymooners on their way to the Falls. Mrs. De Vantier was quoted as saying, “We used to see a couple come in on their honeymoon and return years later with their family.” Their cabins we so popular that the same families would come back year after year.

In the 1940s, Bell Aircraft rented a block of cabins for men working at the defense plant nearby. This happened again in the early 1960s when the New York State Power Authority rented cabins for power project workers.

Although it was hard work for 36 years, the De Vantiers were still sorry to have had to close due to age and declining health. “I felt a little blue when we had to close,” Mrs. De Vantier lamented, “but one’s health comes first. What’s the use when you are sick? We had our share of it. Why not give someone else a chance.” She added that “Today (1964) the tourists want swimming pools, TVs and what not.”

Although the camp is gone, the De Vantiers descendants still operate the farm in Wheatfield.

Another camp, closer to Niagara Falls, was Brown’s Camp at 6503 Pine Ave. (now Niagara Falls Boulevard) and 66th Street. The Brown family operated the camp from 1930 to 1965. Brown’s advertised “50 Furnished Sleeping Cottages, City Water, Shower Baths, and Cook Kitchens with Gas.” A restaurant was later added to the facility. Ironically the camp was replaced by a motel that offered “a swimming pool, TV and what not.” The location is now the site of a Hampton’s Inn and a Bob Evans’ Restaurant, just east of the 1-90 interchange. Today, you could never tell that the area was once bucolic farmland and a wooded campground.

The material on the age of tourist camps in Niagara County is limited. If anyone has any information, photos, postcards, advertisements or other paper ephemera that could be copied or scanned, the History Center would like to add it to our collection. Please call 434-7433.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.

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