Jefferson Beach - St. Clair Shores MI

Address: 24400 Jefferson Ave
City: St. Clair Shores
State: MI
Zip: 48080
County: Macomb
Number of visits to this page: 50754
General Information:

By Denis LeDuc

School is out. The kids settle into summer. In the city the air shimmers above the hot pavement. The soft breezes of Lake St. Clair are calling with cool promise.

Families pack the swimsuits, the picnic basket and head to the park. What could be better for summer fun than an amusement park right next to the beach?

Built in 1927 on Jefferson just north of Nine Mile, Jefferson Beach Amusement Park boasted the world’s longest roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, carousel, arcade, and dance pavilion. People swam at night on the lighted beach. It was an overnight sensation, drawing thousands to the shore.

Mention Jefferson Beach to anyone of a certain age and the memory immediately elicits a story. “I loved the big wooden roller coaster and the great fries with malt vinegar and salt,” recounts Charline Kitchens Ahlgreen. “The merry-go-round used to make me dizzy and we would listen to the music from it and the screaming people on the roller coaster as we settled down to sleep on summer evenings.”

Bonnie Heacox loved the park’s natural beauty. “The park was really pretty,” she said. “The entrance had flowers and all bright colors of flags on both sides of the walk in. The picnic area had swings and slides and deep, light sand. Once, I made a record at this one booth for my dad (who was) in the Army.”

Take a good, close look at the young couple above posing in front of the entrance to Jefferson Beach. The young lady’s hair is pulled back and she wears a nautical style dress with a belted drop waist very popular in the late 1920s. She wears stockings and heels – to the beach! Yet she is a “modern” woman. She has escaped the somber colors and long, heavy skits of her mother and grandmother. Her dress is loose, comfortable and cool. Perfect to dance to the hot jazz music of the age.

The lady’s dapper gent is sporting a baggy suite from the era and a straw summer hat. In fact, all four men in the photo wear hats. Look for the boy in the backseat of the touring car with is spoke wheels and soft top.

Sadly, Jefferson Beach was destroyed by fire in 1955. The remaining buildings were town down in 1959 to make room for what is now Jefferson Beach Marina.

Click the following links for locations of interest nearby:
Info Updates:
3/29/2022 - Brenda
My great aunt was Bernice Pike Stahl, second wife of Harry Stahl. My mother has memories of visiting from Illinois and riding rides until they got sick..lol..they used to go behind the scenes and help their aunt collect the coins..I also have seen a picture of my great aunt encased in ice, will have to look through our albums to try and find it.
10/22/2016 - William Falkner
I grew up at Jefferson beach. my mother worked for king amusement,witch had amusement rides. Mr stall owned park his wife used to be frozen in ice. It was a great place to grow up in the 50s. the hillbilly up stars in the bath house. speed boat rides. i have run every ride,worked every consign,by I was 14. The fire hurt the park. god bless. mr way burn,buckels the bun. The Coney island you front of park, by his turn around. probley have some great pictures.
1/15/2014 - Jerry Dillon
While digging the footings for the new pavilion at what is now The Jefferson Yacht Club in 2009, we struck the footings of the old roller coaster along Harry Stahl Rd. Work stopped and conversations of fond memories reviled.
6/23/2013 - waterwinterwonderland.com
re: Julia Michals: Burkemo's was about a block North of Jefferson Beach, The amusement park was straight up 9 mile across Jefferson Ave. where the high rise apartments are now. There was a Roller coaster, Ferris wheel and other assorted rides also a swimming area at the end of the pier and a huge building that housed a very large wood dance floor. Burkemo's had trampolenes a driving range, go-karts and concession stand.
6/7/2012 - Charline Kitchen Ahlgreen
We lived on Kramer Avenue (north of the Amusement Park) separated from it by an irrigation canal and a large open field from 1946 until 1959. I remember laying on the porch roof at the Bishop's house (they live on the other side of the street and closer to the Park) to watch the fireworks displays on the 4th of July. I loved the big wooden roller coaster and the great fries with malt vinegar and salt. The Merry-Go-Round used to make me dizzy, and we would listen to the music from it and the screaming people on the roller coaster as we settled down to sleep on summer evenings.
1/19/2004 - St. Clair Shores Historical Commission
By Stan Simek -Part 1- Along the banks of Lake St. Clair is the suburban community of St. Clair Shores. With little industry and no mega-shopping mall, large crowds tend to congregate here only for special events like the annual Fourth of July fireworks or the Memorial Day Parade. However, once, large crowds were aweekly if not daily occurrence in St. Clair Shores. Now nearly hidden in the midst of condominium developments and a large marina is a building of Spanish design with a "floating dance floor". The building remains hidden in a spot where pleasure seekers from Wayne and Macomb counties once enjoyed themselves and where the novelty of electric lights illuminated a beach area for night swimming. The building is a dance hall and the area that once surrounded it was the amusement park called Jefferson Beach. Closed in 1959 and converted into a marina storage facility, the dance hall and shooting gallery buildings are the only remains of the park. Jefferson Beach opened in 1927 and was constructed at a cost of over one million dollars. However, thats not where the story of Jefferson Beach begins. It starts at another amusement park once located near Belle Isle on the former site of the Uniroyal tire plant. Electric Park was one of the first amusement parks in Detroit. The novelty of electricity and electric lights gave the park its name. Fred W. Pearce, a nationally-known builder of roller coasters, constructed one of his many infamous rides there, the Trip Thru the Clouds. Two other players at the future Jefferson Beach, Cyril Wagner and Harry Stahl, started their careers at Electric Park. Pearce was an interesting man. Two generations of his family had constructed roller coasters and amusement parks. At the turn of the century, he and his father operated a steamboat on Conneaut Lake In northern Pennsylvania. An amusement park called Exposition Park that was later renamed Conneaut Lake Park was located there. Many inventions are attributed to him, including rot-resistant pressure-treated creasoted lumber for the construction of roller coasters. Sometime in the mid-1920s, as the city of Detroit grew up around Electric Park, the noise, crowds, and general commotion associated with amusement parks led to a movement to close the place. That drive succeeded and the park went out of business. Amusement parks were usually located near the end of transportation lines because owners of streetcars and trolleys sought a way to increase ridership on weekends. They found that locating an attraction at the end of the line was a way to do this. Kennywood Amusement Park in Pittsburghis an example of such a "trolley park". When Electric Park closed, Cyril Wagner headed out to Eight Mile Road and Gratiot where he constructed Eastwood Park. The streetcar line ended near the parks entrance. Then Pearce headed out to St. Clair Shores. Why he chose Jefferson near Nine Mile for his next amusement park is unknown. Perhaps his memory of Exposition Park influenced Pearces decisions to locate and design Jefferson Beach as he did. Pearce selected George Haas, a local architect, to design his new park. (Mr. Haas is featured in Volume 3, Number 2 of our Muskrat Tales.) Construction began in early 1927 and like Electric Park, Jefferson Beach would feature a system of electric lighting so even the beach would be completely illuminated for night bathing. White sand was trucked in from the shores of Lake Michigan to enhance the beach.
1/19/2004 - St. Clair Shores Historical Commission
-Part 2- No project of Fred Pearce would be complete without the requisite roller coaster and Jefferson Beach would have a large one. Just north of the dance hall and constructed in a straight line toward Jefferson Avenue, the out-and-back coaster was built at a cost of $80,000 and was considered the longest in Michigan at nearly 1,000 feet! North of the coaster would be the picnic grounds and baseball diamond. The midway and rides were arranged south of the coaster, and parking ran the entire width of the park along Jefferson Avenue or just about anywhere drivers found space to park. The Merry-Go-Round constructed by the the Philadelphia Toboggan Company at a cost of $35,000 was located in the center of the parks many rides. (These Merry-Go-Rounds are featured in another article of this issue of Muskrat Tales.) The parks southern border featured the fun house, archery range, concession area, and photo studio. Hundreds worked on the park to complete it before the grand opening on July 2,1927. Art Blacks orchestra would provide the music at the opening, but not at the still-incomplete dance hall. Another bit of information that captured my attention was the notion of a "floating dance floor". During a research visit to Jefferson Beach, Judge Crouchman encouraged me to drive my car up a ramp into the dance hall. On the way, it occurred to me that I was driving my car onto the second floor of of a building that had a wooden floor and was nearly 70 years old! The second floor, which is now used for storage of cars and boats, is still supported by giant wooden beams that once accomodated crowds of 4,000 to 10,000 revelers. The dance floor itself has a unique feel and spring. I cannot explain the sensation, but now I feel I understand how a "floating dance floor" feels. The parks original Ferris wheel I called the "Swooper" was not a real Ferris wheel in the classic sense. Instead of a large round wheel, the Swooper was oval in shape. A round ferris wheel rotates, but the Swooper did not. It remained stationary while steel cables pulled the seats attached to the steel cables pulled the seats attached to the steel brackets around the trunk core. Because of its oval design, more cars moved into a boarding position than in a traditional wheel, making the ride easier to load and unload passengers. The arch collonade entrance to Jefferson Beach which was a landmark for the park until it closed was not the original entrance. The first arch which was constructed of wood and was 50 feet tall and 24 feet wide was destroyed by fire. The "Moorish design" arch burned down shortly after the park opened in 1927. The cause of the fire was unknown and remains a mystery to this day. Only two people were present on the site at the time of the blaze: John Goss, a night watchman, and Edward Schudnich, a pump house worker. Goss noticed the fire when he was talking to Schudnich and phoned the fire department. The arch was quickly engulfed in flames and could not be saved. Written accounts claim Goss believes the fire was caused by spontaneous combustion involving several cans of paint stored near the arch. Defective wiring was ruled out since wiring the arch structure had not even been started. Firemen at the scene believed the fire was deliberately set that conclusion is still supported by a few people familiar with the park at the time. However, who set the fire and the motive remain unknown. During 1940s both the Army and the Navy operated recruiting booths at Jefferson Beach. During this time the Wagner family, owners of Eastwood Park, purchased Jefferson Beach to eliminate the competition. The park was subsequently closed for two years but reopened in 1946 with Harry Stahl, an interesting and popular man, as its general Manager, However, more changes lay in store for Jefferson Beach. Alvin Wagner, the marinas present owner, said that Jefferson Beach never made any money. Prior to World War II, St. Clair Shores was a summer resort community, but in the post-war boom, the city was growing rapidly, On April 15, 1955, a huge fire swept through Jefferson Beach, causing damage of nearly $100,000. The fire destroyed the fun house and an adjoining concession building on the south side of the park. Although the park remained open for another three years, it was the beginning of the end. The park business began changing in the mid-1950s to include about 500 boatwell facilities and the focus of operations became the sale of boats and marine equipment. A marine gasoline service station and facilities to service boats were constructed. With the successful birth of this full-scale marina, the business closed as an amusement park in 1959. Remaining park structures were razed during that summer and expansion of the marina was rapid. Today Jefferson Beach Marina offers few clues about the amusement park that once existed there. The dance hall remains and is visible from Jefferson Avenue. The road that travels into the marina carries the name of the man who managed the park for years, Harry Stahl. The shooting gallery building on the south side of the park still stands, bullet holes and all. The giant cement block that anchored the Tumble Bug ride is still there. Nothing else remains that would indicate an amusement park once operated there. Fred Pearce, the park founder, died the year the year the park closed. But if you have been around for a few years and grew up east of Woodward, chances are you harbor fond memories of a visit to Jefferson Beach at least once in your youth.
 Photos:32
Jefferson Beach - EARLY 2000S
EARLY 2000S
Jefferson Beach - OLD PHOTO FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
OLD PHOTO FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
Jefferson Beach - OLD PHOTO FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
OLD PHOTO FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
Jefferson Beach - OLD PHOTO FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
OLD PHOTO FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
Jefferson Beach - OLD PHOTO FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
OLD PHOTO FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
Jefferson Beach - OLD PHOTO OF HARRY STAHL FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
OLD PHOTO OF HARRY STAHL FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
Jefferson Beach - OLD PHOTO FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
OLD PHOTO FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
Jefferson Beach - ENTRANCE
ENTRANCE
Jefferson Beach - INSIDE DANCE HALL FLOATING FLOOR
INSIDE DANCE HALL FLOATING FLOOR
Jefferson Beach - PAVILLION
PAVILLION
Jefferson Beach - BEACH HOUSE
BEACH HOUSE
Jefferson Beach - PAVILLION
PAVILLION
Jefferson Beach - ROLLER COASTER
ROLLER COASTER
Jefferson Beach - FUN HOUSE
FUN HOUSE
Jefferson Beach - KIDDIE RIDES
KIDDIE RIDES
Jefferson Beach - RIDES
RIDES
Jefferson Beach - ROLLER COASTER
ROLLER COASTER
Jefferson Beach - CAROUSEL
CAROUSEL
Jefferson Beach - ARCADE
ARCADE
Jefferson Beach - POST CARD
POST CARD
Jefferson Beach - POST CARD
POST CARD
Jefferson Beach - AERIAL VIEW
AERIAL VIEW
Jefferson Beach - TICKET
TICKET
Jefferson Beach - BEACH SIGN
BEACH SIGN
Jefferson Beach - FIRE
FIRE
Jefferson Beach - FIRE
FIRE
Jefferson Beach - FIRE
FIRE
Jefferson Beach - RUINS
RUINS
Jefferson Beach - OLD AD
OLD AD
Jefferson Beach - 1952 AERIAL
1952 AERIAL
Jefferson Beach - AD FROM AUG 11 1940
AD FROM AUG 11 1940
Jefferson Beach - MAY 11 1942 AD
MAY 11 1942 AD
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