Vintage Views: Cooling off in summers past

 Concord children enjoy the first swimming pool at White’s Park a century ago.

Concord children enjoy the first swimming pool at White’s Park a century ago. courtesy photo of James W. Spain

Published: 06-07-2024 4:00 PM

As long as there have been hot summers, there have been children in search of a favorite swimming hole to cool themselves. Our ancestors were very accustomed to hard physical labor and spent very limited amounts of time on recreation.

When work on the Concord area farms concluded for the day, the farmers were ready for dinner, a weekend luxury might be a walk down to Main Street to socialize with the local citizens. While the parents sought the rest and relaxation they deserved, the children were more focused on their own forms of entertainment.

With the school year over and the first heat wave ready to arrive on schedule after the Decoration Day celebrations and parades, children were ready to stay clear of adult supervision and sought their own forms of recreation.

The very earliest settlers in Concord found the children primarily gathered along the sandy banks of the Merrimack River, swimming lazily with all of their friends during the hot afternoons. The Merrimack River was the most popular place to gather well into the 1800s and certainly fulfilled the needs of those seeking a remedy to the summer heat.

As the years progressed, our ancestors ventured off in search of additional swimming holes, finding cool refreshment north and south of the Merrimack, Garvin Falls, Sewall Falls, Long Pond and Broken Bridge. The children at Camp Spaulding and tourists on the Penacook Island enjoyed the waters of the Contoocook River while the students enrolled at St. Paul’s School frequented the warmer water in Turkey Pond.

It was in 1888 that Charles Eliot designed White’s Park, and one of the first “swimming pools” was actually referred to as the “Upper Pond” located where we do have our present-day swimming pool in this park. It was a wonderful design by Charles Eliot, spring fed with a flow of water exiting to the lower, or larger pond below. As part of the WPA program in the 1930s the first concrete swimming pool was installed on the site of the “Upper Pond” and became the pool that we all remember from our childhoods at White’s Park.

With the popularity of the city park pool concept there was increased demand from the citizens of Concord for additional city parks with swimming pools. Parents enjoyed the fact that their children would no longer seek relief from the summer heat in the dangerous rivers and unmonitored swimming holes. They felt that the structured swimming pool managed by the city provided safety with a lifeguard on duty.

As the many quarries on Rattlesnake Hill were quarried deeper and deeper, they eventually found the natural springs that flooded them. The quarrymen at first set pumps to extract the water, when the springs continued to fill the voids the pumps were abandoned and the deep quarries filled with spring water, providing generations another option for a refreshing day under the Concord sun.

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It was during the 1940s that the children of Concord set up a picket line and marched around the YMCA building bearing rebellious signs seeking an indoor pool at the present-day YMCA building. Their efforts did gather the attention of the media as well as the citizens of Concord, resulting in the first indoor YMCA swimming pool being constructed in 1966, two decades after their infamous march on the State House common. The New Hampshire Highway Hotel did offer one of the very first enclosed pools and the many hotels and motels around the Concord area also attracted both residents and tourists with inground swimming pools.

The children of today, much like the children living in Concord two hundred years ago, seek the refreshing cool waters to combat the heat. Once summer arrives the echoes of children consumed by delight can be heard across our little town, much like our very own grandfathers’ grandfather along the sandy shores of the Merrimack River so many years ago.