From When Railroads Went to the Beach by John Taibi and A. Bruce Tracy (Depot Square Publishing, 1999)
(The New York, Ontario & Western Railroad in May 1886 completed new trackage from its mainline at Beacon Beach Landing Depot on Fish Creek west to Sylvan Beach and then north to reconnect with the main line] When completed on May 20, this was the trackage that gave O&W passengers direct access to the waters of Oneida Lake. Although technically named the Sylvan Beach Loop, it was more commonly referred to as just the ‘Loop’.
It was around the time of the Loop’s completion that people began calling the area ‘Sylvan Beach.’ How, or who, originated the name is not clear. What is certain is that when the New York, Ontario & Western Railway announced on June 1, 1886 that is would build a new station and call it Sylvan Beach, the name stuck.
With the coming of each summer season (traditionally July Fourth through Labor Day), crowds of Sylvan Beach-bound passengers returned to the Oneida Castle
station. Convenient connections between the Oneida Railway Company’s third-rail cars [put into
service on June 15, 1907] and the Ontario & Western’s ‘locals’ provided for quick transfers and a short twenty-two minute train ride to Oneida Lake.
The year 1908 . . marked the beginning of the ten year period where all of the associated rail system came together to produce the heyday of railroad travel to the beach. If the New York, Ontario & Western Railway had not been considered the premier route to Sylvan Beach before, then this decade of time would prove its reign was indeed supreme… The O&W had superior, organized Beach train schedules and was the preferred connection at the Castle depot. The New York Central continually fed the railway with large numbers of people bound for the Oneida Lake shore. Such was the case on August 20,1909,when four NYC trains arrived at Oneida with nearly 4,000 travelers destined for Sylvan Beach. The O&W put a pilot aboard each Central locomotive and all four trains headed to the Beach.
The Syracuse & South Bay Electric Railroad operated a ten mile-long, straight-as-an-arrow line from North Syracuse to (Lower) South Bay on the southwest shore of Oneida Lake. . . . Once at South Bay, trolleys proceeded onto a ’balloon’ track that extended out
into the water on a man made embankment. From this track, connections were made with lake steamboats. These vessels called at Frenchmen’s Island, Dunham’s Island, and Sylvan Beach. . . After two failed attempts to begin operations. . .the electric trolley line was finally opened to the public on August 27, 1908. Two cars were employed to operate on an hourly schedule between Syracuse and the South bay terminal.
To provide for the transit of Oneida Lake, the railroad formed the Oneida Lake Transportation Company. This company contracted for the construction of a steamboat large enough to hold 600 passengers and fast enough to deliver them to Sylvan Beach in one hour and forty-five minutes. When put into service in 1908, the Sagamore made two round trips from South bay to Sylvan Beach each day. It was considered the grandest ship to ply the waters of Oneida Lake.