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Each of these historic structures was part of the Roton Point Amusement Park, a family oriented amusement park that opened in the late 1880s. Prior to that, with transportation limited to the “horse and buggy,” the entire Roton Point area was a quiet enclave used mainly for picnics and bathing by local residents. Soon thereafter, however, all the surrounding land was consolidated under one ownership when Catherine and Julius Finkelstein and James S. Kelly (as the Roton Point Improvement Company) purchased the land in 1895. Thanks to the introduction of the trolley car—first horse-

drawn, then electrified—the park quickly started to expand. The trolley line was extended from South Norwalk, and then linked to Darien in the west, thus allowing many more local communities to have easy access to the area. Trolleys came into the park through the present entrance and made a sweeping loop close to today’s Roton Point tennis building where they would discharge their passengers and wait for the mass exodus at the end of the day. The fare was five cents, and a trolley arrived about every twenty minutes. Soon the word was out about the fun to be had at Roton Point Park, and excursion boats were enlisted to bring people from New York and New Jersey. With an average capacity well over 1,200 people, some 12,000 visitors were able to arrive in one day by boat alone.

 

11 Pine Point Road:  The Roton Point Roller Coaster Platform, c. 1914

This pavilion and the area we now know as Bayley were once a part of the amusement park, in operation from the late 1880s until 1941. Neville Bayley, who first managed the park in 1913 and took over ownership in 1928, sold the land for Bayley Beach to the Sixth Taxing District of Norwalk (Rowayton) in 1943. He wanted the beach to be open to the public, so he allowed the District the two years it took them to raise the necessary funds to buy the property.

In its earlier incarnation, the pavilion was the original starting and finishing platform for the Roton Point roller coaster, minus the roof, which was put on after the property was purchased by the District. The earliest version of the roller coaster, “The Big Dipper,” extended along the edge of the beach, and although a fun ride, it was rather sedate. In 1934, the far end of the west beach was sold to the Wee Burn Country Club. To accommodate this change, the old roller coaster ride was replaced by a shorter, but more precipitous "Breath-taker.”

 

15 Pine Point Road: The Roton Point Merry-Go-Round and Bath House, c. 1880

The present-day circular bathhouse was built to house the first merry-go-round but was converted for use as a vaudeville theater and then as a skate rink when it was relocated at the water’s edge near the roller coaster. The two rectangular bathhouses that are now on both sides of it were originally one large, long structure that extended parallel to and down the full length of the present beach. This structure was cut in half and moved to its present locations in 1914 when Neville Bayley made many changes and additions to the park.

 

15 Pine Point Road: The Roton Point Hotel, c. 1880

The Hotel, or Casino as it was also known, used to offer rooms for both paying guests as well the owners of concession stands [1] and was the site of a many an activity at the park. In 1928, dining facilities [2] at the Hotel were enlarged to seat hundreds on the porch, and the West Grove was filled with picnic tables to accommodate up to five hundred at one sitting. Also added were a fortuneteller,

a weight guesser’s booth, and even a fish pond. The favorite foods sold from the refreshment stands were hot dogs, ice cream, taffy, popcorn, and cotton candy. There were weekly vaudeville shows,

and animal acts were a big attraction. The rides in the midway were upgraded to include an airplane ride, whip, and bumper cars, among many others.

Beauty contests were an annual event, and for years, “Miss Connecticut” was selected on the porch of the Hotel before going on to Atlantic City. Dances and dance competitions were held from the earliest days in the Dance Pavilion, and endurance contests, with generous prizes, were very popular. Nationally known big bands were scheduled for Sunday nights, and thousands turned out to see and hear them. All the famous bands made an appearance . . . including the Glen Miller, the Dorsey brothers, Eddie Duchin, Louis Armstrong, Rudy Vallee, Guy Lombardo, Wayne King, Cab Calloway, and Duke Ellington bands, just to name a few. The Dance Pavilion was demolished in 1943.

15 Pine Point Road: The Roton Point Gazebo, c. 1926

This gazebo, located just beyond the Hotel porch, was also known as the bandstand and hosted musical performers and small bands that would serenade the crowds in the Grove and on the porch. The well-known photograph of Neville Bayley as he passed over ownership of what is today Bayley Beach to the Sixth Taxing District of Norwalk was taken from the bottom of the gazebo’s steps. The gazebo, a rustic construction of crossed timbers, is used today to host small dinners and parties and is usually festooned with lanterns and colored streamers throughout the summer months.

           

The hurricane of 1938 did a tremendous amount of damage to Roton Point. Especially hard hit were the rides in the midway, and most of them were never restored. This event marked the beginning of the end for the park. As World War II approached, fuel rationing crippled the 1941 season, and all the excursion boats were taken for the war effort. The amusement park was then closed, never to reopen.

           

After the closing, the assets were sold piecemeal. The ten acres of land that comprise Bayley Beach were acquired by Rowayton’s Sixth Taxing District in 1943 for $31,665. The remaining thirteen acres, representing the present configuration of Roton Point, were offered to the residents of New Canaan for $45,000, but this was rejected. Today, the Roton Point Association, also known as the Roton Point Yacht Club, is a private beach club with three pools, tennis courts, a sailing program, picnic area, and

snack bar.[3]

 

 

[1] Rowayton resident Helena Oakes Stanish, great aunt of Tom Robinson, was born in the Hotel in 1893 while her parents were employed by Roton Point.

[2] The Hotel’s food must have been delicious; Helena Oakes Stanish’s family cat JoeJoe would head down to Roton Point from his home on Roton Avenue around Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) and stay through Labor Day!

[3] The above information was submitted by the History Committee of the Roton Point Association, with specific reference to Frank Raymond’s Rowayton on the half-shell.

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The Belle Island Ferry to Roton Point

The Midway 

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Roton Point Amusement Park

Park revelers

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Trolley stop at Roton Point

Miss Connecticut pageant

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The Whip and parking at Roton 1920s

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Bill Fontaine winner of AQUA CAT 1964_ed
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Picnickers in the Grove 1930s

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