From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings
Our old farm house was situated on the south side of the Lyn road. It had been re-modelled about the year 1871, and with lots of apple trees around it was a very pleasant spot to be brought up in. South of the house and on the side hill were the barns; the hill below was quite steep, ending with the sandpits that dropped away sharply to the creek.
To stand near the house and look south across the valley was always a pleasure, and in the spring to the east of the barns you could hear the roar of the falls a quarter of a mile away. The water flowing down and across the flat below the sandpits was always cool, as Father said it was fed from the springs away below the gravel pit bordering its banks; and at one spot where there was a bend, our swimming hole was located.
It was the mecca for all the boys, and in the summer evenings you could run down the hill hide your clothes behind a bush, and for a half hour enjoy the clean fresh feeling of a good swim. Then, putting on only what was necessary, you made your way to the house, and with fresh clothing you were ready for anything. Sunday morning was usually the time that more of the boys gathered for a cooling dip. We always tried to get down there first, as we had to hurry to be ready for church, but a lot of the boys who had other views regarding this spent an hour or two in the water.
There was always another reason why we wanted to have our swim first; if these boys arrived before you were dressed, a handful of mud or sand tossed your way hit you with a splash and sent you back in to clean up again. But the tough guy who started this was usually the last one to get dressed, as repeated attempts were usually failures, and finally you saw him race over to where his clothes were, grab them and run for the woods, where nettles were most abundant.
It was a great spot in the spring when the snow was melting. The stream always overflowed its banks, and driftwood, pieces of boards, and fence rails were salvaged, pulled back from the shore and later were made into a raft. The pieces of boards we nailed crosswise with some nails we had secured from where an old barn had been torn down. These nails were nearly all made by hand and hammered out square, and the ends pounded to a point, with the head left a bit larger. It was not known when this barn had been built and no one could remember when it had ever been used.
The stream or creek, above our lot rambled and twisted its way for a quarter of a mile through the woods, having tumbled its waters over the falls, that at one time furnished power for a mill located below and at one side of the narrow flume. The flume had been cut through solid rock with the help of hand drills, blasting powder and chisel. In our boyhood it was a great place to spend an afternoon, fishing for bullheads below the falls, and playing around the few remaining timbers of the old mill that was still standing. I remember tracing an abandoned road from the mill to the bank of the stream above the falls, where at one time a bridge had crossed the water. The road then ran on to the main concession or street. Below our farm and on for a bit the creek wound its way around trees, protruding rocks and bushes to a deep gully worn through the rough rocky bed of the stream. In the spring you could stand on the bank and see large red fin suckers dashing through the running water to the quieter pools farther up, and many times were treated to a nice dinner of fish caught in these rapids.
As the flooded flats cleared and the stream went back to its natural course we built our raft, fastening a long rope on one end so that one of us could go aboard and pole across the creek, while the other boy hung onto the rope, fastened another rope in place and towed our raft from each side up as far as we could go. It was great fun! Reading David Harum and his experience driving horses or mules hitched to the end of a tow rope, hauling barges on the Erie Canal always reminded me of these days with the raft.
My sister’s birthday came in April, and Mother had a party for her. A few of the boys too were invited, but instead of staying at the house and playing there, they all wanted to go to the creek. My raft had been securely tied to a tree along the shore, and they all wanted to play with it. I had told them that it was not safe for more than two or three at once, but they would not listen, and four stepped on. They used with poles out from the shore and when the current caught it away they went down stream, laughing and yelling. All went well. It was always a tricky job to steer around the crooks and rocks on the bank, and they were nearly down to the lower log where they would have to stop, when the raft caught a rock, swung around and struck again and it was all over! I managed to salvage the broken boards and the rails, but the bys were wet right to their armpits! Their good clothes of course were soaked, so we went back to the house. One of the lads who did not live far away went home. I can see him yet plodding along with the water gushing from his boots at each step.
The three others, well, Mother found enough clothing for them and their garments were hung around the kitchen stove to dry. Mother told them she ought to make them put on the girls’ clothes as punishment, but it nearly broke up the party.
There was another swimming hole above the falls to which the big boys at noon would run from school, for a dip before one o’clock. One day I went with three or four of them, not to swim, but to play around on a flat rock at the edge of the deeper water. Getting too near the edge I slipped and down I went. I can still feel the weeds at the bottom of that hole at my feet I came to the top but down I went again. Next time, as I came up I heard one of the boys yell “he’s drowning!” Well they dove in and got me out, laid me with my face down hill and was I sick! I went back to school that afternoon and had a horrible head-ache. A neighbour heard about it and told Father. He said. “All right boy, I am going to teach you to swim!”
Father in his younger days was an athlete; he could play ball, swim well and could do a perfect dive. I have heard him tell of going to the river, climbing up the high rock overlooking the swift water of the Needle’s Eye, and after diving into the swirling current he would swim down to the eddy below, then go back and do it all over again. He could turn cartwheels, do hand springs and walk all over the flat on his hands.
We were all in the water one day. (You could go back a couple of rods from the bank, take a run and jump, and land in two or three feet of water.) All at once I heard a loud splash, and looking round, saw Father in the water. I knew it was of no use for me to try to get away, he caught me and before I left the creek that day I could swim.
Years later when the family were all home for a holiday, we went down to the swimming hole, eighteen of us, enjoyed a swim and then sat on the bank and told others of the fun we had when as children, we took our bath in the swimming hole at the creek.