By Jennifer Sierra
Ever drive down Route 8 and pass this sign and wonder, “What the heck is that place?”
It is a country club. Yes, Dayton, Kentucky has a private country club. That is the only original beachfront property from the heyday of Ohio River beaches left. It is over 100 years old and has had many of the same families in ownership since the beginning. One family has had ownership for 5 generations. According to Marcele Sanzenbacker of Newport, Kentucky, the property is owned by 16 members and they are seeking a Historic Preservation nomination to the National Register for their Dance Pavilion built in 1921. The Doyle Country Club, formerly Clark’s Grove, is a nonprofit social club incorporated in 1919, though they have newspaper ads inviting the public to picnics as early as 1913.
In 1920 Doyle’s purchased 15.794 acres between the Ohio River and Mary Ingles Hwy. They are still in business today as a private social club consisting of the Dance Pavilion, a swimming pool, basketball courts, commercial kitchen and lots of land to run around on. The members privately own 16 summer cottages on the same 15.794 acres. Other than necessary upgrades there have been no significant changes to the grounds and buildings over the past 96 years, though individual cottages have been improved.
Before some of the buildings were erected, families came their and stayed in tents. Many of the families that were originally part of the club were from the west side of Cincinnati. Back then, families often had summer homes by water and spent summers getting out of the cities. This was before air conditioning and businessmen often took time off in the summer to spend with their family.
The cottages are still summer homes for the families that own them. They have a heated pool, playground and a vegetable garden for their members. The open-air dance hall can hold up to 125 people. The compound is reminiscent of the one in the movie, Dirty Dancing, but smaller. Standing there, looking around, I could hear the voices of the children from past generations. I could see them running around and laughing, giving this place a happy feeling even in the middle of winter. So much has stayed the same here that you are immediately drawn back in time. The cottages are nicely appointed. They have modern day conveniences like Wi-fi and cable but the ladies told me that when the families come there, the kids want nothing to do with video games or Wi-fi. The kids just want to be outside playing and running around discovering the nature in the Ohio River camp. Marcele’s cottage has 4 bedrooms on a foundation that is less than 900 square feet. She has maximized the space and the cottage feels spacious and welcoming. There is a large screened-in porch on the front which overlooks the community playground.
Another member, Angie Catanzaro, and her brother, Austin Welch, stopped by to show me some photographs from the club. They are part of the family that has owned a cottage there for 5 generations. Austin recalled having ponies there and hosting ball games. He said, “My dad got a pony for me one year from somewhere east on Route 8 and we walked it here down Route 8.” They also have concrete pads where they played basketball for years but it is currently in need of clearing since it has been covered in mud during one of the recent Ohio River surges. Amazingly the cottages and dance hall have only been under water 4 times since it’s existence.
Through oral history they learned that one cottage had been a rowers club house across the river in Cincinnati. It had the lockers on the second floor to prove it. Apparently, the 1937 flood took the building and placed it on the club’s property and when they called the rowing club in Cincinnati they said, “Well we won’t be coming to get it.” It was moved and turned into a cottage for one of the club’s members. They also heard that the name “Doyle’s” was after a local priest, Father Doyle.
Marcele Sanzenbacker also said, “Historically the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s were a very significant time for the Ohio River Beaches and the communities of Bellevue and Dayton, KY. The river was very shallow with white sandy beaches were ideal for sunbathing and swimming along with summer cottages, dances, picnics, amusement park rides, and other recreational activities that drew crowds of thousands on weekends. The Bellevue and Dayton Beaches were notably referred to as “The Atlantic City of the West.” Except for Doyles, all of the other Ohio River “Beachfront” properties are gone. Our grounds are intact, our Dance Pavilion is very much in its original form and is still used for dances today.”
Sanzenbacker added, “Our plat includes a portion of the famous Dayton Sandbar and the plat of ground know as Clark’s Grove. I have found hundreds of newspaper references to Clark’s Grove, including a mention that the 1898 GAR Encampment was at the grove. We have found numerous newspaper advertisements for picnics and dances at Doyle’s in the early to mid-1900’s but additional information would be helpful.”
Sanzenbacker has been to Tharp Heritage Museum on several occasions and there was no information available about Doyle’s Country Club.
For the group to get on the National Register of Historic Places, they need more information about the property and they are asking the communities of Bellevue and Dayton to let them know if they have photographs or oral history to share. Any assistance anyone can offer about Clark’s Grove, Doyle’s or the Bellevue and Dayton Beaches in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s would be appreciated. Feel free to send info and inquiries to The Bellevue Dayton Sun – firstname.lastname@example.org