Our History



Humble beginnings

Cradle Beach was founded in 1888, at a time when there was neither a Children's Hospital nor United Way. The Fresh Air Mission, as it was called at the time, had a sole purpose of serving underprivileged children from the city of Buffalo in a time when diphtheria, cholera infantum, and typhoid were major killers of infants and children. The Fresh Air Mission, with the support of community minded funders, would send children to Cradle Beach, to provide a place where these children could enjoy the sun, water, and wind, while having enough to eat. They were brought to the shores of Lake Erie by horse drawn carriage, lived in tents on the hill and were brought to a big farm house for meals. 

Early records of campers were only a line, which included limited information on each camper. What was recorded, was the child's weight at intake and his or her weight when they returned home. 

For many years the organization continued to serve children in this capacity. As it began to grow in numbers of children served and in structure, cabins were built for the children to sleep in. Programs were put in place to make their stay an enjoyable one, while still helping the camper to become healthy.

A shifting mission

In 1946, after many years of serving only underprivileged children, the summer camp program took its first group of children with special needs, financed by the Buffalo Rotary Club. A new era in the history of the camp had begun. A new philosophy began to take shape, holding true then and now - every child, even the most small and deprived has importance and dignity. The children with special needs were integrated into the program with "well children". Physical structures were built with these children's lives in mind. The cabins were at ground level, allowing easy access for those in wheelchairs or using walkers. A tunnel was built for the children to easily cross the street, as the camp was split by Old Lakeshore Road.

A new campus

As the needs of the children served by Cradle Beach Camp expanded, the need for a larger, more easily accessible camp was realized. In 1996 the camp was moved to its current location. Still located on the shores of Lake Erie, the camp is over 60 acres of beach, woods, nature trails and open space. The camp facilities include 15 cabins, large dining and recreation hall, infirmary, computer lab, library, and an arts and crafts center. All facilities are designed to meet the special needs of our campers. Outdoor facilities include a tennis court, basketball court, baseball field, walking-hiking trails, low ropes course, a universally accessible playground, adaptive challenge course and a swimming pool that is one of very few in the state to be fully accessible to all children.

The move to a larger year-round facility enabled Cradle Beach to expand the programs it offers to children with disabilites and children from low income families. Cradle Beach created a respite program that now serves almost 150 individuals with disabilities from age ten and up. Respite is offered four weekends in the fall and spring to families who need to take a break from the demands of caring for a family member with special needs and to refresh themselves to care for them in the future. We also share our facility with organizations with similar missions for retreats and youth programs.

Over 130 Years Later

This institution has witnessed many changes in children and society, such as the eradication of polio, challenges to the local economy, and the rise of violence in schools and neighborhoods. The needs of our children have never been greater, whether it's the number of children with autism, or the frequency of violent acts in schools and neighborhoods. For almost 120 years, thousands of WNY parents have trusted Cradle Beach with their physically and emotionally vulnerable children. When other institutions could not care for children, Cradle Beach was there every summer with medical attention, caring adults, and measurable results.