At the turn of the century, the area around Russells Point harbor was owned by the Ohio Department of Conservation, was leased as several separate tracts and operated as picnic grounds. Samuel "Pappy" Wilgus held the leases for ground on the east side of the harbor and in June of 1923 he and his son, French Wilgus, acquired leases to property on the west side of the Russells Point Harbor for the sum of $100,000. The Wilgus Family, along with other investors, built an amusement park over the next year on the east side of the harbor including a wooden roller coaster named TheThriller, a miniature train, the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Twister, and the Flying Scooters among other rides. The "Sandy Beach Amusement Park" opened on Decoration Day, May 30, 1924. The Plaza Hotel and Showboat, and Danceland and the Vienna Gardens were opened on the west side of the harbor during this same time period. By the following season (1925) they had constructed and opened the Sandy Beach Bridge connecting the east side amusements and the west side dining, drinking, and dancing establishments. The amusement park, the dance pavilions, excursion boats and bathing beaches soon earned the area the name "Ohio's Million Dollar Playground."
An important factor to the growth and success of the Sandy Beach Amusement Park was the Minnewawa
Dance Hall. The Minnewawa was one of the biggest and best dance halls in the Midwest primarily because it had two bandstands with space for hundreds of couples to dance.Even during the Great Depression, Sandy Beach hosted many dance marathons. In 1931, the National Endurance Dance Marathon was held at the park; it lasted an incredible 80 days and two hours. In 1935, fire destroyed the wooden structure and the Minnewawa was never rebuilt. An outdoor dance pavilion featuring a huge patio called the Moonlight Terrace Gardens took its place. The Sandy Beach Park had many popular dance halls, including Dreamland Ballroom, the Plaza Showboat, and the Moonlight Terrace. All these dance halls attracted the biggest names in musical entertainment throughout the years, including Rudy Vallee, Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk.
In 1936, French Wilgus sold the Wilgus family interests on the east side to Charles Horvath, a Cleveland entrepreneur and operator of the Minnewawa Dance Hall. Mr. Horvath continued to operate the Sandy Beach Amusement Park while French Wilgus operated the hotel, restaurants and dance halls on the west side. Claiming that Wilgus was violating liquor laws, the State of Ohio refused to grant him a license renewal in 1948. The west side leases were then granted to Charles Horvath. After a legal battle going all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, the leases were upheld
in a 1954 ruling and the Wilgus days at Sandy Beach came to an end. It is likely this 6- year legal battle and the lack of continuing investment during this period was the beginning of the decline of the amusement park.