The trademark of Headlands Beach State Park is its mile-long natural sand beach, the largest in the state. In addition to its popularity during the summer season with picnickers and swimmers, the area is home to many plant species typically found only along the Atlantic Coast.
Lake Erie was a principal avenue of transportation for Indians and frontiersmen alike. The Lake Trail, a heavily used Indian path, ran along the south shore of the lake. Originally, the trail was used by the Iroquois. Later other Indians and settlers found it provided access to the Ohio country. Northeastern Ohio was given to Connecticut in an agreement by which that state gave up claim to all other land running west to the Pacific Ocean. Connecticut named the 3.8 million acres the "Western Reserve". Proceeds from the sale of this land were to benefit Connecticut schools. The Connecticut Land Company purchased the land for roughly 35 cents an acre and began selling tracts of land. Easterners moved west, and by 1800 the population of the Reserve was approximately 1,300 .
Nearby Fairport attracted Finns and Hungarians, later Slovenians and Slovaks, who came to fish and unload coal and ore from boats onto railroad cars by hand. The lake influenced development, and the harbor was a gateway for settlers and trade. Fairport Harbor is one of the best located on the lake with access possible when other harbors are closed.
Lake County, Ohio's smallest county, covers 231 square miles. With the lake's effect on the weather, the county developed a substantial nursery and fruit growing industry utilizing the prolonged growing season. The county claims one of the highest points in the Western Reserve. Known as Little Mountain, it is located about seven miles south of Painesville and offers excellent views of the surrounding area and Lake Erie.
In 1951-52, the state of Ohio began acquiring land west of Fairport to create a state park. Originally opened in 1953 as Painesville Beach State Park, the name was changed to Headlands Beach two years later. Its large beach has attracted huge crowds consistently since the opening. In 1957, the beach was closed when Lake Erie's waves and the undertow created safety problems. For a while, the public enjoyed swimming in the creek until the area was filled in. Capital improvement projects started in 1967 created numerous parking lots, concession buildings, restrooms, change booths and a treatment plant. Headlands Beach State Park remains very popular with swimmers and sunbathers.