When we think of historically Black beaches, Atlantic coastal resorts usually come to mind, including American Beach near Jacksonville, Highland Beach outside Baltimore and Washington, and Atlantic Beach near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. But in the early 20th century, African Americans in the Great Lakes region also sought out their own lakeshore beaches, including on Lake Erie in Northeast Ohio. Black leaders in Oberlin, for example, formed a syndicate in the 1920s that created On-Erie Beach near Lorain. A second Black-operated Lake Erie beach, Burton’s Bathing Beach, opened during the Great Depression outside Ashtabula.
Burton’s Bathing Beach was located on Lake Road about two miles northeast of Ashtabula. African American Pittsburgh native Dr. William P. Burton moved to Ashtabula in 1925 to practice medicine and opened Burton’s Bathing Beach in 1931 on land formerly owned by white greenhouse operator Sherman H. Luce. The small lake resort charged 10 cents for a single admission or $3 for a season pass. It offered cottages, dining and dancing, a picnic grove, swimming, tennis courts, and a baseball diamond. A gas station and general store lined its entrance. Entertainment included vaudeville shows and revues, and guests enjoyed breakfasts with fresh-picked fruit in the resort’s orchard and dinners of fried Lake Erie fish. Burton’s Bathing Beach drew guests from Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh, but also from at least as far away as Buffalo, Chicago, and Indianapolis.
Dr. Burton died in 1933, but his beach resort appeared in ads and articles as late as 1937 in the Cleveland Call & Post. The resort’s history beyond that point is a matter for further research, and we have much to learn about where African Americans in other parts of the Great Lakes region went for lakeside leisure in this period.
- Advertisement. Call & Post. June 6, 1935.
- Advertisements. Pittsburgh Courier. July 18, 1931, and June 17, 1933.
- “Burton Bathing Beach Opens at Ashtabula, Ohio.” Pittsburgh Courier. June 13, 1931.
- “Burton’s Bathing Beach.” Pittsburgh Courier. July 25, 1931.
- “Burton’s Bathing Beach.” Pittsburgh Courier. August 1, 1931.
- “Burton’s Bathing Beach, Ashtabula, Ohio.” Pittsburgh Courier. August 20, 1932.
- “Burton Buried in Dayton, Ohio.” Pittsburgh Courier. November 18, 1933.
- “Hostess.” Pittsburgh Courier. May 28, 1932.
- Kahrl, Andrew. The Land Was Ours: How Black Beaches Became White Wealth in the Coastal South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.
- Phelts, Marsha Dean. An American Beach for African Americans. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997.
- “Society to Enjoy Clam Bake.” Pittsburgh Courier. September 3, 1932.
- Stokes, Barbara F. Myrtle Beach: A History, 1900-1980. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007. 199–202.