Seabreeze Park – A Rochester Gem Providing 130 Years of Fun & Amusement

By Warren Kling © 2009


The Beginning - Who knew that the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 would still impact our life in Rochester , NY ? The idea was to hold a World’s Fair in the U.S. to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It proved to be a tremendous success as hundreds of thousands of people came from all over the U.S. and the world to enjoy the many exhibits and attractions. 


One of the many from Rochester , NY who attended was Michael Filon, a successful carriagemaker, businessman and former Mayor of Rochester during the Civil War. The Exposition planted a seed in Filon’s mind of the potential that trains had in moving large crowds of people to recreational and amusement destinations. Filon envisioned a summer resort destination near Irondequoit Bay and Lake Ontario not only for Rochester ’s population, but the surrounding area as well, if only people could easily get there. This idea led him to convince a large group of investors to form the Rochester & Lake Ontario Railroad of which he was named president. The group initially purchased a couple 17- ton steam locomotives and eight open passenger coaches when the Philadelphia Exposition ended. The company secured land at Portland Avenue and Bay Street for its main station. They obtained the track right of way from Portland to Ridge to Culver (then called Woodman) to Sea Breeze. They also purchased 50 acres of land on the scenic Sea Breeze    
    Michael Filon      bluff. Money would be made in fares from increased ridership by transporting thousands of people to the park. The Rochester & Lake Ontario Railroad, also called the Bay line, was completed in July of 1879. On August 5, 1879 the first excursion of people arrived on the steam train from downtown Rochester . Sea Breeze had officially opened as a summer destination. There was a hotel, dance pavilion, dock, and boathouse, but the main attraction was a shady picnic area nested in a large grove of trees nearby. The park was officially called “The Grove.”

The railroad who owned the picnic park decided to attract more people by hiring concession operators to provide a couple rides.  In 1883 a steam-driven carousel became the first ride at the park. The company built the Sea Breeze Park Hotel in 1889 at the north end of the property, but it unfortunately burned down ten years later. Then disaster struck in 1899 when the train full of passengers derailed on a curve near Portland and Ridge, injuring many and killing 2 people. The claims from the accident forced the bankruptcy and liquidation of the Rochester & Lake Ontario Railroad, which included the Sea Breeze Park.

 An Amusement Park Begins -The following year in 1900 a local trolley company, the Rochester & Suburban Railway Company, purchased the Sea Breeze Park and the rail right of way from the defunct Rochester & Lake Ontario Railroad. Their trolley car marked ‘Sea Breeze” went from the Four Corners of downtown Rochester and headed east on Main Street to North Street to Portland Avenue to Culver to Sea Breeze. An alternative route was to take the trolley to Glen Haven, Ontario Beach or Summerville on the east side of the Genesee River and then take a ferry to Sea Breeze. The trolley company decided to bring more people to the picnic park by adding many more rides and amusements. Rather than buy and operate the amusements, the trolley company leased park space to individuals who would install and operate the amusements.

In 1903 a figure eight type of roller coaster arrived, the first step in the plan to turn Sea Breeze into an amusement park. This was followed the next year with a carousel located where the Jack Rabbit is today. It had been built in Philadelphia by Arthur Long, George Long Sr.’s brother, who built eight carousels, and also operated one at Ontario Beach Park . George Sr. was born in Rochester in 1859, but he was sent to live with relatives in England after his mother died. Later, he was reunited with his dad in Philadelphia . When an opportunity arose to operate a carousel for the trolley company in Rochester at Sea Breeze, George Sr. jumped at the chance. He had been here helping his brother run carousels at Ontario Beach Park in 1892 and Genesee Valley Park in 1894. He returned for good in 1904 with a Long carousel and his 12 year old son George Jr. After Ontario Beach Amusement Park closed in 1919, Sea Breeze became the main destination of Rochesterians for fun and amusement. And so began 105 years and counting that six generations of the Long family (whose descendants today Norris and Hoffsass) have provided fun and amusement for generations of Rochesterians.

Perhaps the most famous ride at Sea Breeze was the Jack Rabbit, still fondly remembered and enjoyed to this day by many Rochesterians. This roller coaster which was built in 1920, is 2,130 feet long, 60 feet tall, has a 75 foot drop into a ravine, into a helix and through a 265 foot dark tunnel. It is the 2nd oldest operating wooden roller coaster in the world. Some older

Rochesterians also remember the Natatorium at Sea Breeze, just south of the Jack Rabbit.


World’s Largest Salt Water Pool - The Natatorium, built in 1925 at a cost $300,000, was over 1½ times the size of today’s Olympic swimming pools. It was the largest salt water pool in the world and heated to 72ºF. It became a destination in and of itself and for $3 you could swim all day. When hungry, you ate at the restaurant inside and even could get your hair cut at the barbershop there. As the depression hit the country the price for a day at the Natatorium was slashed 67% to $1/day, but this aquatic wonder at Sea Breeze was forced to close. In 1931 it was covered over and used as a bingo hall in 1938. The far left corner of the Natatorium building was cut back in 1952 when NY State took land for highway construction, but the building is still there today and used for storage.

In 1926 a large new roller coaster called the Wildcat was installed. It was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, was 93 feet tall and had 2,800 feet of track. In 1924 Danceland was built at the park replacing a dance hall named Dreamland which had burned a year earlier. Danceland was located adjacent to the southwest side of the Jack Rabbit. Sea Breeze was now advertised as Rochester ’s Million Dollar Playground.

The Great Depression Hits
- During this period the depression, along with a number of fires, took its toll on the park. Danceland burned down in 1933 and the fire almost took out the Jack Rabbit. The Wildcat coaster met the same fate, also destroyed by fire in 1935.


Sea Breeze was now a financial albatross for the trolley company who wanted to get rid of it. It was tough to find any buyers at this time, but George Long, Jr. offered to lease the entire park from the trolley company in 1937 and run it. He brought in live shows twice daily and began the process of adding more rides and attractions, like the Loop-O-Plane and famous Lightning Bug.

Dreamland Park Is Born - It was a struggle but George Long, Jr.’s dedication and perseverance managed to make it all work. As World War II broke out in 1939, Long decided to give the park a new name -  Dreamland Park. After the war in 1946 the park’s owner, the Rochester Traction Company, wanted to sell it to Long for $100,000, but he was able to purchase it for $85,000. In the next decade with the baby boom following the war, Long added a number of rides and attractions especially for younger children like Fairyland. In 1958 one of my favorite rides back in the day was added, Over The Falls, which was later replaced with the Wild Water Log Flume ride in 1984.

Over the next few years many more rides were added, and in the early 1970’s Long was ready to retire and perhaps sell the park. Fortunately for Rochester , his grandchildren learned the business. In the mid 70’s they formed a new company, took over the park operation, and changed the name from Dreamland back to Seabreeze, continuing the great tradition their grandfather had begun.


George Long, Jr. took advantage of his newly found free time and began to develop his woodcarving skills. By the age of 92 he had carved over 40 full size and 500 miniature horses. Long was a graduate electrical engineer of Drexel Institute. He founded George Long Construction Co., building 700 homes here in Rochester during the off season, but he loved operating the amusement park best. He died on September 27, 1988 at the age of 96, very happy with what he had done with his life.

Disaster Strikes - As the park was getting ready to open for the 1994 season, a terrible tragedy occurred on March 31, 1994 . A fire broke out in the arcade as a result of workers re-tarring the roof. The fire destroyed the famous Philadelphia Toboggan Company #36 carousel and the Wurlitzer 165 band organ which had been purchased in 1921. All of the organ’s roll music also perished. The carousel had originally been purchased and installed by Long Sr. at Seneca Park in 1915, but was moved to Seabreeze in 1926 in a swap with his original 1904 carousel which went to Seneca Park. The demise of this historic carousel in 1994 was a blow to thousands of Rochesterians who had many fond memories of this beautiful object of local history. Many felt like they had lost an old friend. The fire also damaged a number of other rides and attractions like the Goofy House. It took a lot of hard work, and with the help of other amusement parks around the country, the park did manage to open that unforgettable year in 1994, and only two weeks later than normally scheduled.

 How Do You Replace The Historic Carousel? - This was no easy decision for a family whose heritage was steeped in the carousel business for decades. For most parks the quick solution would just be to purchase a new catalog issue carousel with fiberglass animals. This was not acceptable to the grandchildren of George Long. But how do you replace the historic carousel? The grandchildren finally came to one conclusion; build your own in the great tradition of the family. The frame of a 1914 Philadelphia Toboggan Carousel was located and completely reworked by Seabreeze with a new support structure. They also made their own design changes to improve the durability of the new carousel. Fortunately, six horses survived. Two horses carved by George Long had been in storage and four horses from the PTC #36 had been off the carousel for repair when the fire broke out.

Then they commissioned master carver Ed Roth from Long Beach, CA to custom carve 38 figures in basswood, using the traditional techniques master carvers utilized over a century ago. By the way Roth was also commissioned by Disney to carve carousel animals for their theme parks.


Carving the horses is quite an art, but giving them life was another challenge. For that we have local artists Bill Holowka and Bob Whiteside to thank. They brought life to the horses they painted for the new carousel at Seabreeze. Holowka also gave us the horse Pegasus for the Horses on Parade competition. Many Rochesterians will recognize Pegasus who stands by the Rochester Museum and Science Center today. Whiteside also painted a number of horses for Horses on Parade. One of his, C.C. Rider, is at Frontier Field, and another, America , is at the Smithsonian in Washington , DC .

Seabreeze constructed an impressive Victorian 86’ octagonal building 46’ high with a fancy cupola on top to house the 50 foot carousel. The famous and comfortable red rockers we remember were also replaced. The result of all this hard work and attention to detail was a beautiful building and carousel that would have made George Long Jr. very proud. The carousel was ready for the Seabreeze park opening on June 1,1996 .

How Do You Replace The Wurlitzer 165 Band Organ? - The Wurlitzer 165 Band Organ had a wonderful sound that entertained thousands for many years. Riding the carousel, trying to catch the brass ring while listening to the great sound of the Wurlitzer 165 band organ, is ingrained in the memories of many Rochesterians. Wurlitzer had gone out of business in 1942 and other new organ options existed. The Seabreeze family again decided that heritage, tradition and quality must take precedence, whatever the band organ replacement decision. Matthew Caulfield, who had worked for George Long, Jr. from 1954-62 in his youth, had developed an interest in band organ rolls. Over the next decade he became a collector, amassing one of the most complete Wurlitzer 165 roll collections in America while residing in Washington , DC . When he heard about the 1994 fire, he offered to donate his entire roll collection to Seabreeze if they would get an organ to play them. So the decision was made to have a replica of the Wurlitzer 165 band organ made by the best organ builder in the world, the J. V erbeeck Organ Manufacturing Company of Antwerp , Belgium . This 4th generation family-owned company has been manufacturing and restoring all types of mechanical organs since 1884. When Caulfield retired in 1997, he came back to Rochester to live and today operates the carousel part time and is the park’s maintenance expert on the new organ.

Seabreeze today has the most complete Wurlitzer 165 band organ roll collection in the world. So when your family heads to the park this summer, don’t forget to ride one of the most beautiful carousels in the country. If
Matthew is there, be sure to say hello and let him know how much you enjoy the organ music. Also, be sure to take time to look at the carousel museum around and behind the carousel.

Great Fun In Your Own Back Yard – As Rochester celebrates its 175th birthday as a city, Seabreeze celebrates its 130th birthday, entertaining millions of Rochesterians and visitors over its history and hopefully millions more due to the dedication and care of George Long’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The park has come a long way since its earliest beginnings as a picnic grove and the great tradition of family fun and amusement lives on with even “more smiles per hour,” as the parks slogan says. If you have never visited Seabreeze Amusement Park you don’t know what you’re missing. If you haven’t visited in some time, do yourself a favor and go back to enjoy the carousel, shows and food. Walk around and watch the children thrill to the rides and splash in the water park. By the way, if you’re a senior considering going on a Monday. On any Monday during the season, seniors get a free spectator pass. Consider these additional benefits: it’s easy to get to, it’s the only amusement park where parking is free and you are permitted to take in your own food for a picnic.


Seabreeze is a must destination each summer when my grandchildren visit from St. Louis . We are always impressed with the friendliness, cleanliness, security and value we receive at Seabreeze. Make a point to visit this historic entertainment gem in your own back yard, on the beautiful shores of Lake Ontario and Irondequoit Bay . You won’t regret it! Visit the park’s website and check it out: http://www.seabreeze.com



Warren Kling is local historian and author of the new book America’s First Boomtown - Rochester, NY. Visit his website www.Rochesterhistoryalive.com and send him an email to share your Seabreeze memories.


[1] The author wishes to thank John Norris for access to the Seabreeze archives. Special thanks to Matthew Caulfield, Seabreeze archivist, for his time, assistance and explanation of many documents, which he has so wonderfully organized and maintained for many years. Thanks also to the NY Museum of Transportation, especially to Jim Dierks and archivist Bob Sass for their time, information and photos regarding the early amusements parks of Rochester operated by the railroad and trolley companies.