March 28, 2019

Memories of Holt Lake, Part 2

Bobby and Thel Hooks play on the shore at Holt Lake in 1949. Notice the boat houses on the opposite shore. Lakeside accommodations were simple, even spartan, back in those days. (Photo provided by Warren Grimes)

Johnny Ward recalls lake play in the '50s and '60s:
the "big float," the "diving tree," and motor boats

Gary Ridout has been compiling personal memories for a number of years now for a newsletter he produces for present-day Holt Lake residents. We're sharing selected samples each month with readers of the Sun. Here are excerpts from Gary's interview with Johnny Ward (Smithfield High School Class of 1965), conducted in December 2017:

Back in the 1950s my mother and my grandmother would drive my brother (Watts) and me to the Holt Lake Pavilion and drop us off so we could swim. We swam all over Holt Lake when we were children and teenagers. Out from the pavilion was what they called the “little float.” There was also a “big float” in deeper water. When I was very young, a guy named Jerry Grantham would carry me on his shoulders out to the big float. This was a big thing for me to go out there with him....

There was a rope that ran in front of the floats. This rope was placed there for safety purposes to keep the boats and swimmers separated. In those days the lake was filled with boats and the dance hall was filled with people dancing and listening to the juke box each Sunday. On the grounds across from the Pavilion were picnic tables where church group dinners and family reunions were held.

In the 1950s, Interstate 95 had not been constructed and people traveling north and south used Highway 301. It was the main highway from Maine to Miami. We could stand and watch the traffic on 301 and it seemed like there was an accident every day. We called the highway "Bloody 301."

In the area where Mark McMillan now lives there was a row of "shotgun" houses. These houses were very small. I think they each had about 800 square feet of floor space. A gentleman named Luke Capps owned one of the houses and would rent it to us. Our family would rent a house in the summer. It would cost $20 to rent the house for the week.

One time in 1953, my mother backed her 1947 Plymouth Savoy into a ditch near the shotgun house that we were renting. Some men had to get chains from a tobacco barn down Highway 701 to pull her out of the ditch. My brother and I were just little “shakers,” so we were not any help....

Motor boats were very popular on Holt Lake in the early Fifties. Most people had Johnson or Evinrude outboard motors on their boats. Some people used an Elgin motor. George Brannan represented another brand of outboard motor. He was a sales representative for Scott Atwater outboard motors.

During those days you could rent a locker for $5 for the whole summer. You would pay the admission and get a little pin to put on your bathing suit to show that you were a legitimate swimmer.

Jennie Grimes grew up in a cabin on the south side of the lake. The cabin was located where General Lee’s house is now.  Jennie Grimes’ sister, Bonnie, married a man named Billy Lee. He was the lifeguard at Holt Lake during the 1950s. Billy had a cousin named David Lee, who had a 14-foot wooden boat with a 7½-horsepower motor on it. We were teenagers and would ride all over Holt Lake in that old boat.

During that time you could dive down into the water and open your eyes. It was so clear that you could see four or five feet in front of you. We would motor-boat over to the “diving tree” and dive for a while. When we got tired of that we would go over to a man’s watermelon patch and eat fresh watermelon. When we got tired of that we would go back to the diving tree and have a watermelon fight. Watermelon was all over us but we just have a good time. My brother and David Lee (Billy’s cousin) were the first people to put a wooden platform on the Diving Tree. At that time, you could dive head first and never hit the lake bottom.

As I remember, the swimming part of Holt Lake closed in the mid-1960s and the dancing pavilion closed in the early 1970s. Holt Lake was the happening place when I was a teenager.

On the south side of the lake was the Skinner house where Frank Berry Skinner lived. There was also a house that was named “The Journey Inn,” which is near Lee Hatch’s home. We had parties at the Journey Inn. A woman named Eva Persons from Selma owned the Journey Inn.

There were very few houses on the north side of the lake. Mr. Mac McCormick built two houses that were exactly alike: one was for his son, Ken McCormick, and the other was for Bo Welch. Also, I remember there was a party house built by the Cunninghams. This house was located where George Faulk now lives. That house was flooded by Hurricane Matthew. It was torn down and George and his wife built a new, larger house on that lot.

Holt Lake was a very popular spot for Smithfield High School students to have their pictures taken for the yearbook. The students who had earned "superlative" recognition such as “Most Popular” would get their pictures taken near the lake or at the old mill near the dam (pictured above)....

In case you missed last month's initial installment,
here's the link to Mokie Stancil's Holt Lake memories>