Why was swimming such a big deal in the old days? Swimming played a big part in my childhood, but now my appetite for swimming is satisfied with about three minutes per year in a pool.
Swimming was what we did in Jamestown during the summer. It had been for years. In the Great Depression the CCC built a swimming pool in Pipestem Creek, next to Klaus Park, just down the street from our house. They had cut a new channel in the river, controlled the input and output of the large concrete-lined pool, built a bath house and landscaped the area. It must have been a beautiful sight in the day, there were lovely lawns with trees planted artistically along the hillside and river.
By the time I roamed the park the bath house was long gone, except for the concrete floor, and the pool itself was just another channel in the river, but with concrete sides. My little friends and I spent a lot of time back in that woods looking for treasure. Most of the treasure consisted of various rocks, sticks, and the occasional critter.
The woods that had sprouted around the grounds was a great place for a bunch of eight year old kids to wander and look for things. Getting to the old bath house site was difficult. It was on the other side of the creek, but the downstream wall of the pool had collapsed into a row of rocks and rubble, with several volunteer trees and bushes sprouting among the rocks. We would scramble across the rocks, chancing the occasional soggy foot. Buried among the rocks was one real treasure. A rusted old slot machine. It was barely recognizable, nearly a solid piece of rust. We couldn’t get it open to see if there was any money hiding inside. Try as best we could, there was no way for those eight-year-olds to get inside. Even without coins, what a treasure!
By the time I was able to ride my bike across town there was a nice city pool just a mile or so from our house. My friends and I would ride over there and swim for hours on hot summer afternoons. We loved to swim. That pool is long gone, reduced to six tennis courts. I’ll get into the tennis stories another day.
When the Jamestown Dam was finished in 1953, long before the reservoir filled, there was a swimming area at the upstream side of the dam. It was wide enough to park a row of cars along the huge rocks that made up the dam, a driving lane for cars to get in and out, and a place to frolic and sun right by the water’s edge. There are still huge gashes in the hillside where the road led down from the hilltop to the water visible on the west side of the dam, winding around the overflow drain.
The most memorable time at that swimming area was the time my Dad drove us out there. He was working for a cigarette company (the one that sold Chesterfield), driving a van for deliveries. On this day he used the van to drive us to the dam to go swimming. What a wonderful day. I dimly recall a discussion between Grace and Louie about what if the boss saw Louie driving his family to the beach in the company truck on a Sunday afternoon.
Within a couple of years after that the reservoir water rose high enough that they had to close the area and open a new, bigger, swimming area upstream a couple of miles. It wasn’t as majestic without the huge rock wall behind us.
Later on we got good enough to ride our bikes out to the reservoir swimming area. We enjoyed that much more. We started with a bike ride that must have approached five miles with lots of hills, and at the end of the ride was this huge lake with a roped off swimming area. We’d swim and play in the sandy beach. Then ride home. Simple.