Ghosts of Main Street: The Old Swimmin’ Hole

June 7, 2018

By Julie Traynor
Correspondent

 For kids in mid-century Marion, Michigan, the hot days of summer meant a trip to the new Village swimming pool, just below the dam. The pool venture was quite an undertaking by the folks of Marion and they sought to do things up right. Improvements featured a sandy beach, better diving board, a life guard on duty, and swings. The upgraded swimming site, located between the base of the dam and the highway, was the highlight of the summer of 1956 and was indeed a big deal. Only ten years before the Michigan Department of Health had declared a long stretch of the Middle Branch River, the Mill Pond and swimming hole polluted and unfit for swimming.

Before construction could begin on the low, pool creating, 64 foot concrete ‘dam’ and walk-way, the flow over the big dam was diverted through the smaller causeway and the Wing dam. Local potato farmer John Hesselink used his irrigation equipment to draw down remaining water from the site and the old river bed was cleaned up and improved. The Marion Kiwanis donated $100 to the project to cover the cost of the concrete retaining wall for the north side of the pool.

The old swimming hole in 1937 was above the dam and enjoyed much use. Among those in this photo are Johnny Alberts and Arlene Raymond Swiler, the girl in the dress on the far right.

The old swimming hole in 1937 was above the dam and enjoyed much use. Among those in this photo are Johnny Alberts and Arlene Raymond Swiler, the girl in the dress on the far right.

Prior to this project generations of local kids found different places along the Middle Branch to swim and cool off on hot summer days. The earliest identifiable photographic evidence we know is of kids swimming at the pond and playing in the waters above, and just to the north of the dam; a site where at one time sawdust from one of the local mills was dumped in abundance. That did not stop local swimmers. A make shift diving board and a rope hung from a tree were all that was needed for hours of wet entertainment and summer fun.

This location in the valley of the Middle Branch of the Muskegon River is the reason we are here. Founder Christopher Clark sought the perfect place to build a pond and mill and he found it here. The Middle Branch became a highway for shipping logs to local mills and the Muskegon River beyond. Folks then saw the river as both a convenience and a hindrance; useful when needed for transportation or the disposal of trash, bothersome when it overflowed its banks.

Unfortunately for many years this kind of thinking also meant a good deal of abuse of its waters. For much of the first half of the 20th century, the Middle Branch, on its twisted course through the Village, also served as a dumping ground for anything the local citizenry chose to toss into it; including a good deal of glass, scrap metals, trash and unfiltered sewage. The belief was that once something was tossed into the river it was simply just gone. There were no ramifications to it.

 The below the dam swimming hole of 1956, before, during and after major improvements were made.

The below the dam swimming hole of 1956, before, during and after major improvements were made.

In 1946 the state health department declared the Middle Branch and the Mill Pond, referred to as Lake Marion at that time, a no swim zone due to pollution. By the early 1950’s Marionites were taking a different look at the local waters.

The Michigan Conservation Department deemed the Middle Branch a dirty, polluted river and in trouble, and cleaned waters above Marion, from Stone’s Dam to the pond. Locally, the Rod and Gun Club, Kiwanis, Boy Scouts and church groups took up the torch, working to clean up the river beyond the dam. We gained a new and much deserved respect for the Middle Branch. Ten years later the new pool was born and gave several generations of Marion kids warm summer memories.

We apologize for the quality of this newsprint photo from the front page of the Marion Press, June 28, 1956. It shows John Hesselink working with his irrigation equipment to drain the pool. 

We apologize for the quality of this newsprint photo from the front page of the Marion Press, June 28, 1956. It shows John Hesselink working with his irrigation equipment to drain the pool. 

Not many are seen swimming in the local waters today. The diving board is long gone and fishermen replaced sunbathers on the now grassy beach a long time ago. Better access to the grounds gives visitors a great place to picnic and fish. The sounds of children at play still echo through our little valley on the Middle Branch.   



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