MyRye.com is working with the Rye Historical Society on Papers from our Past. The Rye Historical Society Archives contains centuries of stories, from everyday life in Rye to significant events in American History.
By Quinn Roche, Rye Historical Society Senior Intern
Temperatures and vaccinations are on the rise, and summer in Rye is off to a great start. Locals and visitors packed the beaches last weekend, enjoying free access to the refreshing water of the Long Island Sound before the Memorial Day rush.
The beaches of Rye have always been a main attraction in the area. For hundreds of years, Native Americans lived in coastal communities near the beaches before the first European colonists came to Rye from Greenwich, Connecticut in 1660. Native Americans lost much of their land to the colonists eight months later, but continued to hold their annual three-day powwow on Rye’s beaches for many years. The coastal community of Mill Town, now Milton Point, grew steadily from the 1600s to 1800s, in part because of the beauty and natural resources of the beaches.
The railroad built in Rye in 1849 gave residents of New York City access to Rye’s beaches. Rye was an ideal location for boating and horse races on shorelines during low tide. The emergence of hotels in Rye allowed more people access to day trips and summer vacations. The beaches of Rye became even easier to reach with the completion of the trolley extension to Rye Beach in 1899. People from New York City, the Bronx, New Jersey, Long Island, and Westchester County could now come by train and connect with a convenient trolley service in Rye that dropped them right at the beach. The trip took them down Purdy Street, along Purchase Street, onto Midland Road, down Palisades Road, to Midland Avenue, and up Apawamis Avenue. The beaches became a favorite for the residents of Port Chester and Mamaroneck as a trolley ticket from their towns, like the one pictured, only cost five cents.
People had a variety of choices when it came to where to stay when visiting the beaches. Cottages on the Halsted property, now Rye Town Park, ran for yearly rental fees of $60 to $90. However, some believe the popularity of Rye Beach stemmed from the opening of Beck’s Rye Beach Hotel where Playland currently is. The hotel started appearing on town maps in 1872. Beck’s Hotel offered not only great accommodations, but also fun public dancing events. The image pictured above is an invitation to a “Hop” being held at the hotel. With admission only costing twenty-five cents and music blasting from an Edison phonograph with a big horn, the events hosted at Beck’s Hotel always attracted large crowds. One of the biggest crowds gathered to watch the Mertz Reed Band play at Beck’s Pavillion in 1897. The hotel was renamed to “Werner’s,” after the manager Richard Werner took over in the 1920’s.
In 1909, the Town of Rye paid Augustus Halsted $303,652 to acquire a large piece of land and turn it into Rye Town Park, overlooking the beaches we know and love today. Soon after, the Oakland Pavilion (which people can now rent for parties) and Rye Town Park were constructed on the site where the Halsted bungalows used to be. Although the Village of Rye became its own city in 1942, the Town of Rye kept authority over Rye Town Park.
Attendance gradually decreased as many of the hotels closed, amusements faced restrictions, ferry terminals closed and trolleys stopped running. The beach has experienced a surge in popularity since the 90s due to the efforts of The Friends of Rye Town Park and initiatives like Playland fireworks on summer nights. While the number of beachgoers has never been at the same levels as the early 1900’s, with the New York State mask mandates being lifted, there appears to be a renewed interest in Rye and Oakland Beach. Our sandy shores are once again packed with people as we approach Memorial Day Weekend and officially kick off the summer.