Coming across a name like Danc’ Inn for a business is pretty unusual, but eye-catching. Geneva native Dorothy Doxsee, 12 years old in June 1922, submitted the name for a contest put on by Carl Ferris, who had opened a dance pavilion on the outlet at Seneca Lake. For her winning entry Doxsee won $10 (equal to $156 in today’s money).
Ferris had previously opened a music shop at 106 Seneca St. in 1920; his love of acting and singing was clear from numerous articles naming him as soloist. He was involved in several local groups or would perform solo for organizations like the Woman’s Club. Maybe it seemed natural for Ferris to open a dance pavilion for Genevans, as it gave him an opportunity to eventually form his own in-house orchestra.
Opening day was scheduled for Memorial Day in 1922 and at that time the dance pavilion had no name (the exact location is unclear). The dance floor was 60-by-40 feet, offering plenty of dancing space for patrons with music provided by The Big Four of Ithaca. The May 31 Geneva Daily Times reported the park was so busy with cars that the highway was nearly closed down; nearly 3,000 people visited Seneca Lake that day. So many Genevans and tourists visited the dance pavilion, filling the whole area with cars and picnic parties, that a new bus service was quickly started from the Algonquin Hotel on Seneca Street in order to reduce traffic.
The pavilion’s popularity increased with each day and Ferris built a bathhouse nearby for renting bathing suits, lockers and providing concessions. The pavilion provided music late into the evening, usually until midnight but as late as 3 a.m. for the holidays. By this time, the Ferris Danc’ Inn Orchestra had been formed, although Ferris would engage other orchestras such as the Omer-Hicks Original Dixie Orchestra from Baltimore. Also performing were Jimmy Lynch’s Orchestra, Geneva Park Band, Will Osborne and His Royal Canadians and the W. Thomas Orchestra from Cornell University.
In late July 1922, Ferris began adding electric lights to the road along the outlet in order to address safety concerns over the amount of traffic and pedestrians that continued to populate the area after dark.
The pavilion would close at the end of the summer to reopen the following year. An additional mode of transport would be provided for persons through the boat “Sea Call,” which would leave from Lakeside Park. Ferris also started keeping a camp register for tourists who stayed the night and pitched their tents; folks from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York City, Washington D.C., Iowa, Rhode Island, Nebraska and Ohio were signing the book, stating their final destinations as Canada, Puerto Rico, Niagara Falls and more.
Ferris had built a floating baseball diamond in the water and added a 90-foot dock with a diving board that was reportedly 10 feet itself. The Hobart Herald told its readers, if you’re looking for your friends, “try the Danc’ Inn.”
In 1926, the Danc’ Inn Orchestra made its radio debut on WHEC in Rochester with Adelaide O’Brien, Neil Golden and Carl Ferris singing; the station reported it had been the most popular program broadcast so far. The Danc’ Inn made it into Billboard magazine several times with mentions of its performers.
In 1930, the dance pavilion was torn down and a new pavilion was constructed at the intersection of Pre-Emption Street and Lake Road. This was said to be done due to the changing of the highway and to be closer to the city. Ferris continued to conduct business there with a new and modern building, even operating it as a roller skating rink for a while, but bankruptcy reports in 1931 reveal a bigger problem.
In June 1931, the Ferris Music Shoppe advertised a bankruptcy sale for the store; in October, the city attorney asked the City Council for power to file an answer to a suit instituted by Charles Salerno as trustee for “Carl Ferris, a bankrupt,” against William Vogt and city over ownership of the Danc’ Inn. Vogt’s company had built the second pavilion and Paul Vogt would take over operations for a short time.
In 1956, the demolition of the Danc’ Inn on Seneca Lake Park property “provided a spectacular finish to a building that had come to be a Geneva landmark, despite the comparatively short period of existence” (Geneva Times, July 6, 1964). In the end, the building was owned by the city and had been occupied by the Geneva Trading Center, an appliance sales mart/furniture dealer.
I never did find out how Dorothy Doxsee came up with Danc’ Inn as a name, but it turned out not to be a hotel at all unless you count the many people who pitched their tents for the night on the surrounding land.