Burros at Sacandaga Park

Sport Island was a natural land formation that existed in the Sacandaga River before the man made flood of 1930 which created the Great Sacandaga Lake. Sport Islands location would have been directly east of the present Sport Island Pub.

The sixty acre island split the Sacandaga River into two smaller waterways, which rejoined to form one river again after passing the islands southern end. This sizable island later afforded the Fonda, Johnstown, & Gloversville Railroad (FJ&G) an extra venue for the thousands of people that visited Sacandaga Park in the summer season at the turn of the century.

In the Mid 1800’s Sacandaga Park had started out as a summer camping and picnic grove frequented by Methodist excursionists. Eventually, tents gave way to cottages. It was then that the river side spot gained the attention of a group of businessmen from Northville, Gloversville, and Johnstown.
The FJ&G already had it’s train route from Fonda to Gloversville established when these businessmen came up with the idea to continue the track from Gloversville to Northville with a station added along the way in Sacandaga Park. The Park was a relatively short distance away from Gloversville; only sixteen miles.

The business men decided that with the proper funding the FJ&G rails could be extended to points north to facilitate the transportation of people to the area; thus to help them and the area prosper. Construction of the track was initiated by the businessmen in 1872.
The Town of Northampton supported the effort and raised $200,000 through stock subscriptions. That kind of money back then would be in excess of two million dollars today.
But even with that funding the businessmen had to give up construction, and the venture went into bankruptcy.

Whatever track and rail beds that had been constructed were acquired by the FJ&G which then completed the line to Sacandaga Park ending in Northville in 1875. And plans and construction for the Midway began.

In the coming years literally thousands of people arrived by train at the Sacandaga Station in the Park. Every season they would find some new section had been added or another attraction to be enjoyed.

These “day-trippers” would sample the Midway offerings which eventually included: two carousels, roller coaster, shooting gallery, house of fun, bowling alley, souvenir shops, burro rides, roller skating rink, animated trolley car ride, dance hall, toboggan slides which propelled beach goers directly into the river, picnic grounds, open air rustic theater, canoes, boats, and bathing suits for rent, games, food and confections, photo studios, and live music along nearly a mile of sandy shore line on the river.

Upon acquisition of the island, which was promptly named Sport Island by the FJ&G, a baseball diamond was constructed around 1901. This sporting locale was completed with a grandstand which held 1500 people. Midway visitors would be shuttled by a miniature steam powered train whose rails traversed a 500 foot long rustic wooden bridge to drop them off for events. The tiny train then continued on it’s tracks and made a loop around Sport Island; again to cross the bridge and pick up more visitors. The bridge also provided a walkway for those who chose a leisurely stroll to attend events and enjoy the river breezes.

Sporting games took place on the island between semi-professional leagues, cities, merchants, or just about any organization that felt the need for a good game of baseball; whether it be a grudge or just for fun. Boxing and wrestling matches held attraction for visitors, most likely along with a bit of wagering just to make it interesting .

Sport Island also played host to fireworks at the 4th of July, hot air balloon ascensions, military reenactments and encampments. Daredevil airplanes swooped over the crowds head to thrill and delight.

Another purpose Sport Island served was after long hours of toil the Texas Burros would be led across the bridge to enjoy it’s quiet refuge. The Burros spent the summer days giving rides to children and adults up the ponderous trail to High Rock Lodge where the view of the river valley held spectators in awe.

According to an old map the present Sport Island Pub and the beachfront is the general location of where the main carousel and the rollercoaster were.
The main carousel was a huge enclosed ornate steam powered amusement; so large in fact that it had a separate building to house it’s motor. Inside the structure visitors could pick from 44 elaborately carved wooden animals to enjoy the leisurely ride. The roller coaster was referred to as Dip-the-Dips, but of course, packed more of a thrill.

Sport Island now rests beneath the waters of the Great Sacandaga Lake; but it’s rich history remains. It is remembered so that it may live on.

by Lorraine Frasier