- Robert Hodge
In the summer of 1910, hundreds of electric lights shed their radiance on the Rappahannock River for the opening of Casino Island Park.
In May of 1910, a force of men were at work clearing Scott's Island* in the Rappahannock River under the Free (now Chatham) Bridge at Fredericksburg.
For fifty dollars, paid in advance, the island had been rented from the City of Fredericksburg for one year by residents R. J. McDonnell and L. G. Roach and a Mr. La Blanche of Washington, D.C., these men operating under the name of the Casino Company.
By July 6, the Casino Island Park could be approached by the Free Bridge by broad steps which were flanked on both sides by strings of electric lights. The island had been leveled and benches and seats placed at all available points. Hundreds of electric lights supplemented the three brilliant lights mounted on the bridge. They shed their radiance to illuminate the scene below.
A comfortable theatre with a seating capacity of seven hundred had been erected. Workers had installed the moving picture fixtures purchased at auction from the bankrupt Star Theatre. Among the other facilities were galleries for shooting, hitting the coon, testing the strength, ringing the bell, and dispensing the refreshments.
On the opening night of Casino Island, each of the one thousand persons who attended paid an admission fee of five cents. The stage featured a vaudeville show of higher class artists than usually seen. The four Spanish Troubadours from the Casino Theatre in Washington sang in voices that were fine and well-blended. The great comedians, Donnelly and Carroll, presented "The Dixie Boys," and a five-piece string band provided music for both the moving pictures and dancing.
Soon after, construction of a dancing pavilion was undertaken and was completed in a week. There a crowd of eight hundred enjoyed Miss La Blanche as she sang "Our Absent Brothers," "The Elk Song," and "Hello, Bill."
For a small fee, pleasure seekers could take passage on several motorboats which ran from the Island to the bend in the river and returned.
The moving pictures were changed nightly. A sampling of titles included "The Prince and the Peasant**," "Poetical Jane," "Road to Happiness," "In Old California," "White Doe's Lover," "The Engine Hero,"*** and "Queen of the Burlesque."
Special personalities featured during the summer included Miss Lillian Ray, a serpentine dancer using over one hundred colorful lights; The Great Shepherd in feats on the high wire; Professor Royal Wood, a high class crayon artist; petite Florence Mascotte, a quick change artist; and Richard Mansfield, a lightning chalk artist and cartoonist. A baby contest was another popular feature, but unfortunately the winner's name never appeared in the newspaper.
The Daily Star reported on Friday, September 2, 1910 that the pleasure lovers of Fredericksburg would learn with deep regret that Casino Island Park would close on Saturday night, but that the past season was only a foretaste of what would be furnished next year.
This article originally appeared in The Fredericksburg Times magazine, May 1989, and is reprinted online with the author's permission.