"The beaches were a focal point for Bellevue and Dayton recreational life and early amusements of its residents. The sandbar that first attracted Colonel Rogers also made the formation of swimming beaches possible in the days before mass river pollution. Boating, fishing, and swimming were the finest found anywhere in Greater Cincinnati, often referred to as the "Atlantic City of the West."
The quality of the beaches attracted the national G.A.R. [Grand Army of the Republic] convention of 1898 to Cincinnati. Beach promoters erected a huge American flag on the hillside above the Dayton Beaches.
The beaches had a foot deep layer of pure white sand extending almost 1,000 feet from the shoreline. The water was crystal clear where one could wade chest high and still see one's feet. The several beaches were privately owned and also offered picnic areas, largely because no public parks existed within the city.
A two-block-long, 2 story beach house pavilion was built in 1903 with 900 men's lockers, 500 for women, and a dance hall known as "The Horsehoe Gardens." Beach proprietors made their money from renting lockers, bathing suits and boats, running concession stands and dining rooms.
Swimming attire of the times required men to wear trunks and shirts with sleeves "long enough to cover their arm muscles." Women had to wear full length suits (usually made of wool!) and stockings. This dress code continued until the early 1930's. As late as 1933, Dayton residents complained about the "shocking" way bathers were dressing. [Dayton Councilman Edward Gohs is quoted as saying:] "The men bathers stroll around attired in nothing but trunks. And the women have not much more on!"
The demise of the beaches was caused by river pollution as sewers were installed under more streets that emptied raw sewage directly into the river. A constant problem of injury suits against the beach operators made insurance premiums prohibitive. Many bathers would dive into shallow water. Today's pool stage for the Ohio River is about 26 feet; then it was 9 feet. During exceptionally dry times, bathers could roll up their pant legs and walk from shore to shore without getting wet.
Most beaches were slowly dying by the late 1920's, due to the Corps of Engineers installing navigational dams along the Ohio River and raising the pool stage above the 9 foot level."
This is the work of Mr. Charles R. Tharp, and is quoted from the Fall/Winter 1999 issue of Northern Kentucky Heritage. Mr. Tharp covered a broad range of Dayton, Kentucky history, and we've limited this excerpt to his remarks on its beaches.