Apponaug's "Old Swimming Holes"
Fortunately for all of us who are interested in Warwick’s
past, Apponaug has a number of excellent historians who can recall
how the city grew in the 20th century. Some, like Robert (Bob) Champagne,
have many fond memories of growing up in Apponaug. Time has sharpened
Bob’s memory of the Apponaug he knew as a boy and his knowledge
is a delight to old and new residents alike.
He is especially fond of relating stories of the good "old fresh water swimming holes that were so much in use during the summer months." He vividly recalled swimming in these in the late twenties and through the thirties. One of his favorites was Gristmill Pond, commonly referred to as "Barlow's Pond." This was on Toll Gate Road where the Grist Mill Apartment houses are now located. "It had very cold water throughout the season," he recalled as he spoke of "its flowing, dam, the little island in the center of the Pond and the metal ring hung from a tree by a rope that would carry one out over the pond some 20 feet above the water. To show how brave you were, you let go of the ring and plunged into the pond."
A Little Pond near Carroll’s
Looking back over the years, Bob said, "There was a little pond in Apponaug between Pontiac Road (now Greenwich Avenue) and a small dirt road in back of Carroll's Shamrock Cafe that led to where the F.O.P. Building is now located." He went on to say, "Here we could dive off the wooden bridge at what was called the trench and swim in very clear water up to Jencks (and later Siravo's) Ice House." He said, "It was great fun to dive off the runway of the ice house and swim back to Carroll's."
Bob Champagne's fond memories include swimming at various locations on Gorton's Pond. He recalled, "We had Gorton's Pond with several swimming areas especially at the Ice House off Bragger Avenue and at a cut out 'Sand Bank' area called the 'Ring.' This was similar to the Ring at the Gristmill Pond. These two locations were right where the Warwick Police Station is now located."
The late Dorothy Mayor, who was one of the people originally responsible for Apponaug Days, showed swimmers in Gorton's Pond in one of her drawings. Bob Champagne pointed out that, "In her booklet, I Remember Apponaug, Dot shows Gorton's Pond with a swimmer on the Ring." In commenting on the drawing Bob fondly remembers, "...the area where Carney's Island was built” as well as”... the house that was between the road and the pond, and the two ice houses that have since been torn down."
Apponaug Festival Days brought about comments that compared Apponaug in the early 20th century to the present day. Many recalled that the city beach at Gorton’s Pond, as it is now called, was always in use. The most popular area, according to Bob Champagne, was Carney's Island located where the city bath-house now stands off Veterans Memorial Drive. Bob recalled that in the 1930's and into the 1940's, this sandy beach area was not only popular with the local residents, but was visited frequently by swimmers from throughout the state.
Bob Champagne tells us that Carney's Island was built by the late Julian Carney, known to everyone as "Dude." The popular spot ceased to exist when the present by-pass road from Post Road to Greenwich Avenue, known as Veterans Memorial Drive, was built. “On many a weekend,” Champagne remembered, "the parking lot for the Carney Island swimmers, which was where Fleet Bank parking lot is now, was filled three and four rows deep with cars."
During that period, the Island, as it was called, had a large sandy beach, a steep bank of sand and was surrounded by woods. Bob Champagne went on to say, "The Olympic-style diving board was out on the point, which is still partially there, and was six to seven feet above the water. Wooden bath-houses were along the cove side which is now part of Veterans Memorial Drive. Finally, there was the octagonal shaped building that stood right where Fleet Bank is now situated." "Here," he said. "You could get ice cream, soda, coffee, hot dogs, hamburgers, and good old clam cakes."
"Prior to the lifeguards' era," Champagne stated, "We would swim from Carney's Island to the city beach or to the ice house on the north side, next to city beach. Many times we would swim directly across the pond to the Greenwood side to a large sandy hill area which we called 'Old Orchard Beach'." As an afterthought, Champagne added. "On the long swims we always tried to have a row boat along-side."
Bob commented, as so many of us would who look back to the past with nostalgia. "Swimming in this area has never been the same."