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Free trolley tour highlights festivities at Old Olcott Days

OLCOTT – You can take a step back in history through a free, narrated trolley tour offered as part of Old Olcott Days from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

This free, annual event – now in its 19th year – highlights this tiny hamlet’s illustrious past as a major trolley destination. It boomed for decades at the start of the 20th century as the home of a dozen hotels, three amusement parks and large dance halls, where big band sounds frequently could be heard.

The two-day event offers visitors a chance to peek into the past through displays of memorabilia, photos and postcards.

Organizers Barb and Nelson Colley own Images of the Past in Olcott, which houses a gallery with many donated items of local historic note. They also show the short movie “I Remember Olcott” there, as well as operating an adjoining snack stand featuring Coney Island hot dogs.

“We started Old Olcott Days at the Lakeview Village Shoppes and it’s grown each year,” said Nelson Colley. “It’s really gotten to be a big event. This year, Bill McCleary, of Toronto, will bring his band organ down for the event. It’s called King William Stinson 2000MA and it’s a big, beautiful band organ.”

In addition, a Skee Ball challenge is slated for the Olcott Carousel Park. Contestants may play on six Skee Ball machines at the park (25 cents per game) and try to top each other’s scores for a spot on the leader board.

Also slated is a performance by the River Dogs on Sunday in the park gazebo.

Music was a hot commodity in the Olcott of old. The lakeside hamlet boasted a number of dance halls and huge hotels, and drew well-known musicians like Louis Armstrong, according to Barb Colley.

“The International Railway Company (IRC) owned the Olcott Beach Hotel and boats traveled back and forth from Toronto all day and singers of the day performed here,” she recalled. “They had a trolley that ran every half hour from Main and Court streets in Buffalo and brought people here, too. Many members of our Olcott Beach Postcard Club will display memorabilia from that time, and some even have dishes from the old Olcott Beach Hotel.”

Olcott thrived until the automobile replaced the trolley and the IRC – which owned quite a bit of lakefront property from 1900 to 1937, including an amusement park, as well as the hotel – subsequently tore everything down.

Burt Flynn opened Olcott Amusement Park on the current amusement park’s site in 1942, and he and later owners kept it in operation until 1986.

The land is now owned by the town and rented to the park. The new carousel park opened in 2002 and is a nonprofit, volunteer-run enterprise. It features a 1928 Herschell-Spillman carousel and vintage rides from the 1940s and 1950s. All rides are just 25 cents.

Old Olcott Days also will host a tent with volunteers eager to describe Olcott’s latest project – the construction of a replica of an 1887 log cabin that once stood where Krull Park is now located on Lake Ontario. It is hoped the small cabin will serve as a museum.

Old Olcott Days is sponsored by the Olcott Beach Post Card Club, Images of the Past and the Town of Newfane. Parking is free.

For more information, call 778-8284.