The setting sun's dusky streaks pierce through the valley's haze of baseball dust as the Glenn Miller Band finishes tuning and begins the unforgettable strains of "Moonlight Serenade." Suntanned, romantic couples gather around friendly, glass-tinkling tables and begin swaying to the lilting music, eagerly anticipating an exciting evening - more special than they then can realize. Late-arriving couples hurry through the towpath's Chinese lantern mosaic as the last squeals from the swimmer's beach are fading out. The lake's mirrored water, darkly dotted by a few boats, gently shimmers the gradually appearing cottage's lights. The delicious blend of smells from the lake's water, trees, picnic shelter cookouts, and the rich, nearby river imprint the memory as few events can. Couples dance through the night, now able to hold each other as closely as they feel, stealing kisses, with some falling in love for the first time, all to the glorious sounds of the big bands that until now they " ve only heard on scratchy records or staticky radio. And what top flight bands: Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington, Les Brown, Billy May, Benny Goodman, Johnny Long, Sammy Kaye, Lionel Hampton and Woody Herman.
But also sometimes equally good lesser-known organizations: Jack Armstrong, Cozy Cole, John Meese, "Tiny" Bradshaw - the "King of the Jitterbugs," Hod Williams, Hal Goodman and his NBC orchestra, Ramona Ray and her six USA Girls, Peter Palmer, Emil Velasco, Rita Rio (featuring a floor show with 17 girls), The Dreamers as well as local and regional bands, Don Crawford (Henne n), Dale Mack, Rudy Bun day, The Swing Teens. All enjoyed the wonderful acoustics of the trussed, arched roof set amid the quiet serenity of Lake Park, "Ohio's Beauty Spot."Ohio's Beauty Spot" was coined by founders Dick and Helen Johns when, after retiring their vaudeville act, they opened the park on Memorial Day, 1923, using land leased from Ed S carr. Their dream of a total entertainment complex took shape right around the Middle Basin, an abandoned feeder lake for the Ohio-Erie Canal, and opened a mere ten years after the last canal boat departed. They developed the lake with a sand beach, a merry-go-round, a "first class" shooting gallery, a derby racer, motor launch rides, a 60 foot ferris wheel, and the park's crown jewel: the Lake Park Dance Pavilion. The pavilion was a community center for myriad activities: amateur boxing, drill team marches, big-time wrestling, company and organizational picnics and parties, wedding receptions and political rallies. And what a sight it was as crowds hung out the pavilion's windows to watch the lake's powerboat races.
1936 saw the building of an adjacent pier out over the water, decorated with colored lights and tables seating "hundreds." Lake Park changed hands in 1953 with the sale from J. Glenn Barrick and James Rice to the A. J. McConnell family and was managed by Matt McConnell. Two years later it again sold, this time to William Mooney of Alliance. At the urging of community leaders under the auspices of the Coshocton Foundation, the park, along with abandoned adjacent canal lands, was sold to the City of Coshocton in 1958 for development under local control.
Although still used on occasion, the pavilion's glory was tarnishing and its upkeep was minimal, while money was used for the larger demands of the beach, bathhouse, towpath, campgrounds, ball fields, and removing the cottages. A big band revival was engineered by the Jaycees under the direction of Bill Bacher t during the late 60's and early 70's, but economics curtailed it. Lake Park complex was transferred to the Coshocton City and County Park District in 1985, and after more years of neglect, then thought benign, community leaders using the Coshocton Foundation again led a campaign resulting in the total renovation and upgrading of the pavilion, completed early 1996, making it a versatile, all-weather building with the largest open span in the area. The first live-music sounds were fittingly performed for the donors and the community by the Coshocton Community Band, followed by the Rick Brunetto Big Band on inaugural night, Saturday, April 13 th, 1996.
During the pinnacle of the dance pavilion era, all across the country such pavilions were the "gathering spots," and Ohio boasted many: Myers Lake at Canton, Indian Lake at Bellefontaine, and the Crystal Ballroom at Buckeye Lake. All of these have disappeared, with a sad silence. But the Lake Park Pavilion lives on, proud of its diverse past, refurbished and prepared for the new century - ready to host new memorable moments, when couples will once again gaze lovingly into each other's eyes, hold each other tightly, and sway to new romantic music, played by groups the future will form, playing music yet to be written.