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On-Erie Beach

On-Erie Beach played a significant role in the African American community in Northeast Ohio from the 1920s to the 1940s. Located in western Lorain, the beach was a very rare example of an African American–owned and –operated beach on Lake Erie. On-Erie Beach was situated near Stop 110 on the Lakeshore Electric Railway at Franke Drive along State Route 2. A round trip there by interurban cost of 60 cents in 1934, roughly $13 in today’s dollars. 

On-Erie Beach was founded in 1921 and was the brainchild of Margaret Barnes, a native of Kentucky who had moved to Oberlin after marriage. Barnes envisioned a “utopia” exclusively for African Americans. The beach, which occupied 33 acres along the lake adjacent to the Phillis Wheatley Association’s Camp Merriam, was sometimes referred to in newspapers by other names, including “Erie-on-the-Beach.” It was intended as a “summer colony,” an exclusively African American summer resort that would include communal amenities and privately owned cabins. Margaret Barnes was a trustee of Wilberforce College, and also founded a Welfare Club which bore her name in Elyria, which provided college scholarships to African American graduates of Elyria High School.

Nationwide in the 1920s, African Americans created private beach resorts that offered safe places of recreation to their communities. Many of these resorts were located in coastal regions in the South. Such resorts were racially separate facilities, which offered African Americans safe havens from discrimination where they could reclaim their sense of self and community. As a result, creating resorts, country clubs, and other such attractions became a common business venture among African Americans who could amass sufficient capital.

Lakeshore Electric Railway Map, Showing Stop 110 | Richard A. Eagen Papers, Cleveland State University Special Collections

Although it suffered severe damage in a major tornado that struck Lorain in 1924 and was still described as an emerging work in progress the following year, On-Erie Beach appears to have enjoyed some measure of success in the ensuing years. By the 1930s, the beach was a popular spot for recreation. It hosted an annual picnic spot for local Republicans of the 17th Ward, including the Lady Republicans and the Boosters Club. Recreation at the beach included not only swimming, but baseball and dancing as well. African American employees of the May Company in Cleveland also picnicked at the beach, on a trip which included free transportation, probably via chartered interurban, and free food. Even organizations from as far away as Ravenna made the trip to the beach.

In 1937, On-Erie Beach changed ownership, a sign that the venerable company was having problems amid the Great Depression, and at this point it became known simply as Erie Beach. These problems were no doubt made worse a year later. In 1938, On-Erie Beach lost its interurban connection when the Lakeshore Electric Railway service ended and the line was torn up. However, the interurban era lived on in an interesting way at the beach: The operators purchased the bodies of three interurban cars, built by Niles Car Company between 1906 and 1907, which were converted into cabins for the beach’s patrons. The loss of public transport, along with gasoline rationing and travel restrictions during World War II, probably accelerated On-Erie Beach’s decline. Without easy access for either the Oberlin or Cleveland communities that supported the beach, it could not continue as a privately owned beach.

Interurban car body used as cabin at On-Erie Beach | Dennis Lamont

Although On-Erie Beach itself never enjoyed a listing in the Green Book, one of its cabins, Smith’s Manor, was listed from 1939 to 1946. In 1943, the Phillis Wheatley Association campaigned to have its land adjacent to On-Erie Beach purchased by the state as a public park, but this effort but failed. A lack of further mentions of the On-Erie Beach suggests it was abandoned sometime soon after the end of World War II. With automobiles changing the recreation patterns of vacationers after the war and the rise of the Civil Rights movement encouraging the desegregation of larger, white-dominated beaches, On-Erie Beach’s role for African Americans would likely have changed if it had lasted longer.

Whatever remained of the beach’s structures was likely demolished in the 1950s as the result of work to reconstruct Lake Road to eliminate a dangerous S curve under a bridge. This curve had been causing accidents since the 1920s at the “Undergrade,” where the Lakeshore Electric had run alongside the road and suffered many derailments. In the 1950s, Lake Road was widened to four lanes, and given wider curves approaching the bridge, which likely overlapped the former site of On-Erie Beach.

Approximate site of On-Erie Beach, ca. 2017 | Google Maps

Green Book Details

Smith’s Manor appears in the Green Book between 1939 and 1946 at On-Erie Beach under the category Tourist Homes.


  • Bush, Gregory W. White Sand Black Beach: Civil Rights, Public Space, and Miami’s Virginia Key. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016.
  • “This Daring Colored Girl.” Call & Post. September 1, 1934.
  • “17th Precinct M Gives Outing.” Call & Post. September 8, 1934. 
  • “May Co. Employees Frolic at On-Erie Beach.” Call & Post. July 18, 1935.
  • “17th Ward Picnic at Erie Beach on Sunday.” Call & Post. July 23, 1936.
  • “Grand Opening July 4th & 5th Erie Beach.” Call & Post. July 1, 1937.
  • “Annual Meeting of On-the-Erie Beach Stockholders.” Cleveland Gazette. January 14, 1922.
  • “Mr & Mrs’ Frank Scott’s Cottage at On-the-Erie Beach injured by recent Lorain Cyclone.” Cleveland Gazette. August 2, 1924.
  • Daniels, Carmen. “Ravenna News.” Call & Post. August 12, 1937. 
  • “Summer Park for Colored People.” Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. March 27, 1925.
  • Ervin, Kevin. “75 Dead, 1500 Injured; The Lorain Tornado: 45 Years Ago Today.” Lorain Journal. June 28, 1969.
  • Kahrl, Andrew W. The Land Was Ours: How Black Beaches Became White Wealth in the Coastal South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016. 
  • “Anti-Gambling ‘Bite’ Asked by 3 Pastors.” Mansfield News Journal. March 24, 1943.
  • “New Negro Utopia Now Under Way in Ohio.” Mattoon Journal Gazette [Mattoon, IL]. April 20, 1925.
  • “Barnes, Margaret Elizabeth Sallee.” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (University of Kentucky Libraries).
  • Penfield, Drew. “Lorain Page 3.” Lakeshore Rail Maps.
  • Stanonis, Anthony J. Faith in Bikinis: Politics and Leisure in the Coastal South since the Civil War. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014. 
Franke Dr, Lorain, OH (Location is approximate)

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Many of the locations documented on Green Book Cleveland are not well-documented in the historical record. If you have additional information about On-Erie Beach, please let us know by sharing a memory, correction, or suggestion using the comment form below.

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