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December 20, 1866, Georgia Legislature grants a charter to the Savannah, Skidaway and Seaboard Railroad Company to build rail lines to Thunderbolt, the Isle of Hope and Skidaway Island


Thunderbolt Casino & Amusement Park

The Casino at Thunderbolt was built in 1895 by the Savannah Electric Company to increase patronage on their streetcar lines to Thunderbolt. The tracks ran right up to the Casino, a large three-story frame building with expansive porches supported by white wood columns on all sides. 

The porches and balconies provided shade in the summer and views in all directions, of the river, marshes and amusement park. There were two large pavilions on the north and south ends of the Casino. Broad staircases led to the main entrance, facing the bluff.

A pamphlet advertising the Casino could not have made it sound more enticing:

To him who is on pleasure bent, the Casino and Park at Thunderbolt offer everything to be wished for. The Casino building is large, well constructed and convenient, with spacious airy piazzas, a roomy and well ventilated auditorium, lighted by electricity, and cooled by electric fans, with a fine dancing floor, handsome stage and furnishings and the best orchestra in the county. Here is presented in the amusement season, vaudeville, comedy, minstrels, and comic opera. Dancing and moving pictures are furnished free for the pleasure of those who visit the resort.

The Casino was one of the first establishments in the Savannah area to show movies.  Ernest F. Schmitt, a long-time employee of the Savannah Electric Company, ran the projector.  The above description emphasizes that the Casino was built not only to increase business on the streetcar lines but to promote the popularity of electricity, with movies, lights, and fans all running on electricity.

The grounds around the Casino were as exciting as the actual Casino facility. Built on parts of the Confederate battery, the site boasted two bandstands for concerts and dancing. One bandstand extended over the bluff onto a pier jutting over the Wilmington River. The second bandstand was a circular gazebo in the center of a large round duck pond west of the Casino. As at the Savannah Yacht Club, wood and cast iron benches lined the bluff overlooking the river.

The Casino grounds included an amusement park which further promoted the interests of the electric company with electrical rides and games including a merry-go-ride and miniature roller coaster. Additional entertainments included a thirty-acre zoo and a beer garden. In one post card image of the Casino, tightrope walkers are performing on a rope set up over the duck pond at almost twice the height of the Casino.

Once again the electric company's advertising pamphlet describes the resort and wonders that were once at Thunderbolt:

The grounds are large, beautifully laid out and well kept. On Sunday afternoons and evenings there are concerts by orchestra or band. The shady piazzas of the Casino are always well crowded on Sunday afternoons with people who go out to enjoy the cooling breezes and charming scenery, and the view of the river, with numerous craft of all kinds passing up and down, is a very pretty sight.

The complete and extensive amusement park of the Electric Park Amusement Co. is provided with everything usually found at a first-class resort, the list including: a Tobagan Slide, Mystic Maze, Carousal, Circle Swing, Miniature Railway, Shooting Gallery, Box Ball Alley, Etc.

The Casino enjoyed immense popularity during the late 19th century and early 20th century. As automobiles became wide spread, use of the streetcar lines decreased and Savannahians began to travel outside of the immediate area for vacations. By the 1920s the Casino had become run down and neglected. 

  In 1930, Michael M. May bought the Casino after it had already changed hands several times.  May renovated the property, hoping to revitalize it as a resort destination for dining, dancing and golf under the new name of "May Linx."  The renovation cost $60,000 and included adding an eighteen-hole miniature golf course, an archery gallery, and other sports.  The golf course was designed by Arthur F. Comer, of Savannah, and was constructed by D. H. Wall, a Savannah landscape architect.  The course utilized some of the old earthwork mounds from the Confederate battery as hazards and a "Confederate cannon" was placed on one of the novelty holes, with the object to get the golf ball into the mouth of the cannon.

  On 2 November 1930, only two months after reopening, the Casino was completely destroyed by fire. The fire started in the basement and spread quickly in the heart pine building. The fire gutted the inside and an explosion in the basement caused flaming embers to fly through the night. All that was left when the fire was put out were the foundation pillars.

1930-Thunderbolt Casino and Amusement Park (Savannah) burns down.



CREDITS:Excerpts:Clippings and 'Notes' courtesy of Savannah Library