Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Summer Swimming Spots

Would we be the only people in history to be kicked out of Lake Mark? We waited with bated breath.

The above photo is one of a few I pulled from a flikr site. They were taken in 2011, about 25(?) years after Lake Mark closed. If that figure is nearly accurate, my friends and I were one of the final groups to enjoy this party haven in West Stafford, CT. The last time I went there was in the summer of 1986. I had just received a job offer in Boston and it was time for one more hurrah. I brought along my camera, and the photos below were buried in a shoebox after all these years. Please excuse my obscuring of the faces—I know you’d like to see them, but . . . you know.

Lake Mark was always popular with us Springfield high schoolers because we could bop over the state line when the drinking age was 18 in Connecticut and hit this boozing and swimming spot. We continued to go there when we were in our early 20s, because, after all, how many beaches do you know of (not counting Cahoon Hollow in Wellfleet) where which you could drink alcohol openly? For some reason, beer on a beach has the best taste in the world. And as for vodka:

Oh, yeah!

But this time we were coming close to being bounced from the place. How did it go from tossing back a few, to a little Frisbee toss (below), to us being in danger of getting tossed?

Here’s how. One of the Frisbee participants, Mike Burns, had to go to the bathroom. Why, oh why, didn’t he (in the ultra-short 80s blue shorts) just head to the proper facilities: the yellow building behind us on the left?

No, that would have been too easy. He was at the bottom of a steep wooded hill and he decided to go for a little hike to take a piss behind the trees. On the way down he began to lose his footing on rocks and roots and started swearing:

“Jesus Christ!” Mike yelled. “What the fuck? Oh my fucking God!” There was an amphitheater effect to his remarks, not only from the hill, but also because the beach was essentially a levee that also sloped downward and bounced voices around the lake. The mini-avalanche of small stones he caused didn’t help things.

Did you have trouble spotting him in the above photo? There he is:

I just love the cockeyed angle I had when I took the picture. Doesn’t it add to the chaos and drama of the incident? I was laughing too hard to hold the camera straight. Maybe it was our laughter and my camera that compounded the spectacle. Maybe it was also the pot smoking. Maybe it was also the “chicken fights” before the game of Frisbee that started drawing undue attention to us:

We didn’t think anyone really cared. We were wrong. One of the members of the Molitoris family, which owned Lake Mark, didn’t have any problem spotting our mountain climber. The guy came out of his office and started yelling: “That hill isn’t a public toilet! Next time use the bathroom! If there IS a next time, ’cause I might have to ask you to pack up your shit—all your vodka and your dope—and leave if you don’t cut the crap now!”

“I was just trying to find our Frisbee!” Mike lied. “It went in the woods!”

“Bullshit!” the owner responded. “You guys keep it up and you’re outta here! I don’t need this shit!”

I wish one of us had a movie camera to film Mike once he got down from the hill. Oh, wait! Apparently, someone did! I just found some footage in my basement:

Jeez, it wasn’t like we were starting fights or blowing off M-80s or anything. No, we didn’t get the hook, but we chilled a little bit after that.

Lake Mark as it is now—very peaceful:

The Molitoris family closed the lake to beachgoers pretty soon after that summer because the liability insurance became too costly. Drunken swimmers, chicken fighters, joint tokers, and urinating mountaineers drove up insurance costs? Imagine that! 

A quarter-century later the guy on the flikr site did a little trespassing and took the above and below photos.

The old road heading up the picnic table area (to the left of the bathrooms below) is now overgrown:



The price for Lake Mark, the last time I looked, was about $1.5 million.  Just think: all 370 acres, including the lake, could be yours—with the help of a Powerball drawing.

Quarry Swimming

Okay, I’ve been moving away from The Acres a bit with this entry and the last two Springfield Indians posts (Part 1 and Part 2), but I thought I’d bring a little summer swimming fun to warm up my readers in January. One thing that struck me about my research into these swimming spots is how many of them are closed now, such as Redstone Lake on the East Longmeadow-Sixteen Acres line (above and below). What I also noticed, in retrospect, was the danger some of these places posed, especially the old quarries. Leave it to a bunch of youngsters not to consider the risks of unsupervised swimming!

Redstone Lake is still owned by the Linder family, although it’s fenced off hasn’t been open to swimming since 1971. The town considered buying it in 2008, but backed off. I’m surprised to see an intact diving board and picnic table there in recent photos. Someone might be swimming there, but it’s not the public:

William Dusty’s website has some great photos of another old East Longmeadow quarry. Pine Quarry was mined for its red sandstone from 1864 to 1918. The stone was used to build the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, along with tenements in New York and Boston, before builders turned to concrete, which was cheaper and didn’t have to be blasted and dug from the ground.

The Norcross Brothers Company worked at Pine Quarry:

Nature has since reclaimed the place:

Pine Quarry was the scene of a tragedy on June 20, 1963:

Westfield Quarry was another destination when I was a teenager. We used to park on Route 20 and cut across railroad tracks to what was known to locals as the Lost Lake quarry. (We always called it Westfield Quarry.) The quarrying company that had a working site north of Lost Lake—John S. Lane and Son—tried to block access to the abandoned and water-filled quarry on their property by linking unused boxcars together on a railroad track spur, but we simply climbed under or over the train connectors. You can see one freight car at the bottom of the photo:

Anyone remember the two main cliff jumps at the Westfield Quarry? The shorter one was called “Bye-Bye” because someone had painted these words onto the rock. We thought it was about 35 feet high, but it was probably only about 25 feet. The really insane jump was called “Purple” because legend had it one’s feet turned purple from the impact of hitting the water. That cliff had to be at least 50 feet high, and the daredevil had to do a running jump to avoid hitting the rocks below.

Believe me, everybody stopped what they were doing whenever someone was jumping from Purple—it was that rare. And then came the jumper—usually wearing a pair of sneakers to get a better grip on the cliff and reduce the impact on his feet. The moment of truth: there was the inevitable instinctual flapping of his arms in midair—as if the bird motion would actually slow him down (not)—and then the applause when he surfaced on the water alive.

I remember Rick Riccardi grabbing his nose the first time he jumped off Bye-Bye—to avoid getting a painful snoot-ful of water. The problem was that he suddenly remembered to do this in midair, and the motion pushed him backward into a resounding back-flop. Don’t worry, he was okay. Did his back become purple? No. Let’s say it turned a pinker shade of pale.

On August 15, 1985, 16-year-old Jose Martinez of Springfield drowned in the quarry. The place had seen numerous incidents for decades, including a 22-year-old who ended up in intensive care when he fell off a ledge a week before the Martinez drowning, and an 18-year-old Hampden youth who drowned there on July 14, 1970. Does anybody still swim at this quarry? Inquiring minds want to know.

Loon Pond (above) off Pasco Road was once the site of Joyland, which featured exhibition high diving and a dance club. Way past its glory days when I was a kid, it was still a decent beach, but now it has been closed for years. The city bought the pond and “Jam’s Beach” from a private owner 2007 with the intention of cleaning it up and opening it to swimmers that summer, but not much has been going on there in the past few years except some illegal beachgoing and boating, as evidenced from July, 2011 photos of a fenced-off, weedy beach from Rusty Clark’s flikr page:

Lake Lorraine in Indian Orchard featured an anchored float that had both low and high diving boards. If we couldn’t con one of our parents to drive us there, we had to make the trek on our bikes. When we got to be of driving age, we would skirt the admission fee by parking on Lake Drive and take inner tubes out on the water. The eagle-eyed life guard at the main beach blew his whistle every time we paddled over to the diving board float, so then we would make our way over to the Knights of Columbus beach, where another life guard gave us a hard time because it was private property. We put up with the hassles because we swam for free.

Lake Lorraine is a state park now—and unstaffed and closed, which is too bad, because it still looks inviting.

The Knights of Columbus beach on Lake Lorraine was always a good place to go for a nighttime dip, although they’ve probably cracked down on this pastime ever since three people were shot there on the night of July 27, 2012. More than 20 rounds were fired at a group of youths from the North End. WTF?

Perhaps you cooled off in the pools at the long gone Camp Husky on Grayson Drive (above). “We welcome you to Camp Husky; We’re mighty glad you're here; We’ll welcome you to Camp Husky—with a mighty cheer! Rah! Rah! Rah!”

The Pine Knoll Swim School, on Allen Street on the Sixteen Acres-East Longmeadow line, operated from 1958 to 1994:

The Pine Knoll pool was closed during the entire summer of 1995, but the town purchased the property the following year and the good news is that there has been swimming offered there since 1996 in what is now the Pine Knoll Recreation Area. A new pool will soon be built to replacing the leaking old one.

Swimming—and getting kicked out of—Bass Pond at night is, of course, a Sixteen Acres tradition. The police were so sick rousting illegal swimmers that one night they shined flashlights on us in the water and threatened to take away our clothes that were on the beach!

In The Circle, James A. Coleman’s nonfiction book about the Circle Gang, he details the youths’ drunken exploits one night in “Bear Pond” (Bass Pond) in which a few of them break into the “Bear” Pond Club building, rob the Coke machine, and swim back across the pond with their mouths filled with coins because they don’t have clothes on and therefore no pockets to fill.

Coleman went on to write about Frank “Archie” Archidiacono’s drowning that night at Bass Pond, and the story was distorted enough over the years that, according to Acres legend, the coins either weighted him down to the bottom or he choked on them. The reality is, however, that Coleman changed the circumstances of his death, as he did with some events in the book:

The reality is that Frank Archidiacono died in a presumably accidental shooting in 1968 on an overnight camping trip with his friends in Sturbridge:

Anyone slide down this slope waterfall in Forest Park? I didn’t, but I heard people used to do it:

I remember in the late 1960s and early 1970s seeing kids swimming under the waterfall at the Duck Pond in Forest Park (below). Was the water that clean? Probably not.

Another great jumping/diving spot: Granville Gorge in Southwick (above). The water was cleaner that it was at the Westfield Quarry, but a lot colder. Unfortunately, the only photo I could find online of the main gorge swimming area is the blurry one below.

One word of advice I always had for people about that high rope swing: release your grip at the precise moment of the furthest sweep of the rope! If you chicken out and delay letting go, you will swing back and hit either the tree or the rocks! A 36-year-old woman seriously hurt her back on the swing this summer (below), and the rope actually broke when a boy used it in 2007, sending him to the hospital with head injuries.

How many of you remember the now-defunct Cedarhust Pool in Southampton? I remember my family somehow stumbling upon signs pointing to this place after I had worked up quite a sweat throwing a football around with my brother at Look Park. We followed the signs and found this incredible oasis: a pool/pond with diving boards and slides!

The Lakeside restaurant in Wilbraham had a good beach on Nine Mile Pond. We always called it “Root Beer Beach” because the tannins dissolved from the leaves turned the water brown. Abruzzo Restaurant is there today, but I’m almost positive there isn’t any swimming on the beach.

Apparently there used to be a beach and a concessionaire at what is now the boating/fishing ramp of Nine Mile Pond. The above photo was taken during the 1955 flood.

Congamond Lakes

Which was YOUR favorite summer swimming spot? Babb’s Beach at Congamond Lakes?

There is an effort underway to restore the roller rink at Babb’s Beach, which closed in 1996. If they ever reopen it, Gooky McGoo will not be welcome there, droopy drawers and all. Who is Gooky? He was in the following ad in the Westfield News on April 16, 1959:

Maybe you went to the Hampton Ponds:

Possibly you swam at the Blunt Park or the St. Catherine of Siena pools, or you Splashed and Dashed, or maybe you had a pool in your backyard:

Where did YOU swim? Five Mile Pond? The wading pool at Van Horn Park? The pool at Forest Park or Look Park? Did you jump off the train trestle at Watershops? Hell’s Acres wants to know! Leave a comment! Did you go in the water, or did you just hang out and cause trouble like us at Lake Mark and Gooky McGoo at Babb’s Beach?