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Postcards from the heart recall Olcott's past Weekend festival of memorabilia concludes today

Visitors are invited to reminisce as they peruse old postcards, souvenirs and memorabilia from the hamlet's glory days during Old Olcott Days, which concludes today.

The weekend festival runs from noon to 5 p.m. today.

The annual event, celebrating Olcott's history as a major trolley destination a century ago, began Saturday at the Olcott Beach Carousel Park, 5976 Ontario St.

There is free admission and free parking.

The event is sponsored by the Olcott Beach Postcard Club.

"We love when people come and share their memories of Olcott with us," said Nelson Colley, founder of the club.

Colley and his wife, Barb, also serve on the board of directors of the Carousel Park, which boasts a 1928 Herschell-Spillman carousel, a number of vintage rides from the 1940s and '50, and two Skee-Ball machines. All rides and games are 25 cents.

With a background in antique dealing, the Colleys are well-schooled in the value of history. Buffalo natives, they have made their home in Middleport some 40 years, but their hearts belong in Olcott, where they started Old Olcott Days 11 years ago.

During the festival, Barb Colley conducts "trolley" tours of the neighborhood, noting, "It's about a 20-minute ride, and it's free. We're using a new vehicle this year, owned by the Town of Newfane, that actually looks like a trolley."

Meanwhile, members of the postcard club will display their wares under tents on the park grounds. Historical displays depict the hamlet's storied past. The oldest items probably include tintypes by Elmer "Tinny" Gilbert dating back to the turn of the 20th century, Nelson Colley said.

"People will be able to reminisce and see our postcards and memorabilia from the old hotels and such," he said. "One of our members, Mark Laskey, enjoys taking down notes at this event. He has been great at documenting, organizing and cataloging the postcards."

Nelson Colley said they pick a theme for each year's festivities, and this year it is Main Street, due to the attention it received this spring. March 12, fire destroyed two dilapidated buildings on East Main Street that had been slated for demolition as part of the Town of Newfane's revitalization plan for Olcott.

He said he has worked plenty of trivia questions into the celebration, which includes memorabilia from many original businesses on Main Street.

"People might remember Castle's Ice Cream; the shooting gallery and Seafood Bar, owned by Walter and Edna Holtz; "The Olcotta" dance hall; the Coney Island Restaurant, owned by Edna and Jesse Fisher; and Gracie's Corner Store," he said.

Colley said he started the postcard club nearly a dozen years ago "to catalog different postcards made about Olcott. We started thinking there were maybe a couple of hundred, and now we've cataloged over 400, and we're still discovering more."

The group began with a dozen members, and it has grown to about 30. They meet sporadically throughout the year, but all look forward to Old Olcott Days, he said.

People from around the country make new contributions to the postcard collection all of the time as they visit the Colleys at their shops, Images of the Past and Carousel Concessions, in a building adjacent to the Carousel Park on Ontario Street. They operate an Olcott-themed museum, gallery and gift shop in Images of the Past.

The couple recalled how an old friend, the late Charlie Manhart, planted the seed for the postcard club when he wondered aloud how many postcards had ever been made of Olcott.

In its heyday, the Colleys recounted, Olcott boasted a dozen hotels, three amusement parks and large dance halls that buzzed with the big-band sound.

The International Railway Co. owned quite a bit of lakefront property from 1900 to 1937, and built an amusement park and enormous hotel. The hamlet boomed until automobiles began replacing the trolley, and the railway tore everything down in 1937.

A man named Burt Flynn opened the Olcott Amusement Park on the new park's current site in 1942. He and later owners kept it open until 1986. The land is now owned by the Town of Newfane and rented to the park.

The Olcott Beach Carousel Park is a nonprofit corporation formed to "restore, create, develop and maintain" an amusement park reminiscent of those old parks, with an eye toward promoting tourism, education and economic growth in the area, according to its mission statement. The park is operated entirely by volunteers.

Last year, the park opened a replica of an old photography studio belonging to the late John Boeckmann that once stood in what is now Krull Park in the early 1900s.

The group plans to build a small amphitheater in the coming year where it will show outdoor evening movies from the 1930s, '40s and '50s, and perhaps band concerts.

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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