A Bit of Local History

Rye’s Public Beaches

By Paul Hicks

Credit our civic leaders for creating and preserving our beaches and shore-front park.

In the process of curating the new exhibit at the Square House, “Mapping the History of Rye”, I was curious to discover why both Oakland Beach and Rye Beach are part of Rye Town Park and which is which. Fortunately, the background is provided in a fascinating book about Rye by Paul Rheingold, which is part of the Postcard History Series and is available at Arcade Books.

According to Rheingold, the two adjacent beach areas were originally owned and operated separately. They are now continuous without any boundary. Rye Beach lies at the north end of Rye Town Park, where it is separated from Playland Beach by a metal fence that juts out into Long Island Sound.

There are also four maps at the end of the Rheingold book that show changes in that part of Rye’s shore area between 1895 and 1930. The name of Oakland Beach apparently came from an inn named the Oakland Grove House, built by Augustus Halsted, a large landowner who also rented out numerous bungalows in the summer.

In 1905, the Port Chester Journal described the opening of the two beach areas on May 30: “Rye Beach, the acknowledged playground of the people of Westchester County will be run on a larger scale than ever before…the stage and most of the theater have been roofed over so that 1,600 people can witness a performance at one time…There will be dancing in the pavilion three evenings per week for which the ladies orchestra will provide the music…The Rye Beach Hotel and the Rye Beach Inn will be open for business.”

“Over at Oakland Beach, the same bustle and excitement is seen…One hundred bathing houses are nearing completion…the beach will be lighted by arc lights for nighttime bathing and there will be a diving float.”

As reported by Reingold, “Major change of Rye’s waterfront came in 1909 with the construction of the Oakland Pavilion and Rye Town Park on the site of the Augustus Halsted bungalows...” As time passed, a major development appeared in the southernmost end of Oakland Beach…

In 1928, J.P. Munger opened his ‘Million Dollar Bath and Pool,’ which was finally torn down in 1968. Eventually, the property became the site of the Water’s Edge condominium community.

Also in 1928, Playland Park opened on a 280-acre site acquired by Westchester County, which replaced old hotels, restaurants, and earlier amusement parks. Tons of sand were dredged and brought in to create the Playland beach where rocks had previously lined the shore.

It was announced recently that the Playland Pool, which has been in operation for nearly ninety years, would be renovated in a $9.6 million plan agreed to by Westchester County lawmakers. Legislator Catherine Parker, (D-Rye), emphasized that removing the pool would have had a negative impact on lower-income residents who lack other swimming options in the summer.

Great credit is due to the many civic leaders who, over more than a century, have helped to create and preserve Rye Town Park and the beautiful public beaches with the unbroken views of Long Island Sound beyond. Next time you wake early, take a walk from the entrance to the park at Dearborn Avenue out to the end of the Playland Pier and back. If you time it right, you can stop for breakfast or a coffee at the Ocean Grille, whose sign says it is open at 8 a.m

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