• Midcentury Medfield Memories: Let’s Swim Again, Like We Did Last Summer

    by  • July 20, 2017 • 1950s, Hinkley Pond, Kingsbury Pond, Medfield • 1 Comment

    Picture postcard shows Kingsbury's Pond in its summer heyday.

    Picture postcard shows Kingsbury’s Pond in its summer heyday.

    During the summers in the 1950s, many kids either walked or biked to Kingsbury’s Pond, only a mile from the center of town on Route 27. The beach at the pond was small – but so was the town – and the water was warm and inviting. The raft was about 40 yards out in the water and beckoned as a challenge to the kids. Swimming lessons were held five days of the week and would culminate into swim meets with other towns close to Medfield.

    Kingsbury’s Pond – like every other pond in Medfield – was entirely man-made. It also had a little sister pond on the other side of the railway tracks that was too small for swimming but home to plenty of sun turtles and small fish. It was fun at times to sneak up on those turtles that were basking in the sun on a log. As soon as they sensed young kids coming down to fish, they’d all quickly jump back into the water.

    Kingsbury’s Pond had a lifeguard on duty at all times. The beach was quite lively in the afternoon as the temperature continued to rise. Parents socialized with one another and kept an eye on their children, making sure they took a break out of the water when their lips turned purple.

    Many of the older people enjoyed lying on a blanket to work on their tans, while listening to their new-fangled AM transistor radios, some of which were sheathed in genuine cow hide. Other parents caught up on reading a favorite novel. Peyton Place, anyone?

    However, after just three seasons, the pond was closed and placed off limits as a public swim pond, per Blanche Kingsbury, who owned all the land around the pond and also the antique store on the other side of the street.

    Why?

    After swimming at the pond, two boys decided to cross the street and throw rocks at Blanche’s stained-glass windows, breaking nearly all of them. Blanche was furious. No more public swimming.

    The loss of a town swimming pond and its social scene was a bitter blow. The pall of disappointment, anger, and frustration lasted for several summers. (This also happened to be at a time when home A/C was rare and expensive.) The Medfield Park and Recreation Department had to make other arrangements and looked another pond outside of Medfield.

    New Pond and Farm Pond
    For a short time, the town of Norwood let Medfield kids use New Pond, a.k.a. Willett Pond, for recreational swimming and lessons. But that was not totally satisfactory: New Pond was much bigger, and therefore both the water and the social ambience seemed colder. And the beach sand wasn’t as smooth underfoot as Kingsbury’s. School buses took Medfield kids there for their 9 am lessons, which many thought was too early. On the other hand, the lifeguards, including Nathan Nye of Medfield, were very responsive and enjoyed teaching the kids the swim lessons.

    Another pond where Medfield residents could go to swim was Farm Pond over in Sherborn. The water was comfortable and very clear, allowing some kids to wear swim gear that covered the eyes and nose. With the water that warm, diving down to the bottom allowed for an up close and personal view of the fish.

    However, only residents of Sherborn could swim free at Farm Pond. Out-of-towners had to pay a $5 admission fee. But the more enterprising kids who hitchhiked from Medfield knew how and where to sneak in from the wooded area surrounding the pond, so they could swim free in Farm Pond all day.

    Kingsbury's Pond as it is today, July 2017.

    Kingsbury’s Pond as it is today, July 2017.

    There were a few good pools located in Medfield that opened their doors to a limited number of kids wanting to swim.
    Jewell’s Pond on Nebo Street was a swimming hole for Tommy Cebrowski and his friends, including myself. In 1893 the Jewell family bought the pond as part of a large farm, which was run for many years by Russian immigrant Addie Cebrowski, Tommy’s father. Tommy also played baseball and pitched in the Medfield Little League for the Indians team. With Mrs. Jewell’s permission, Tommy hosted a July Fourth cookout and swim for the entire Indians team, and many came back later that summer.

    Swimming Pools
    On Frairy Street, Rebel Palumbo once started to build a house but stopped after only the concrete foundation that had been completed. Rebel Palumbo decided to convert the foundation into a swimming pool for all the kids and parents in the neighborhood. The water was filtered and chlorinated and had the temperature of tap water. Rebel’s improvised pool that was only four and a half feet deep, but people loved it.

    With public places to swim ponds in short supply back in the late 1950s, families with the finances decided to have in-ground pools. In-ground pools were expensive to build because of the labor, cement, and the digging involved. Kids with in-ground pools were very popular in the hot weather.

    A diving board provided the perfect opportunity to practice the jackknife, a type of dive in which the body is first doubled up and then quickly straightened just before hitting the water. There was also the one and a half flip, that impressed one’s friends too, just as long as the move looked well coordinated, somewhat graceful, and acrobatic.

    You didn’t need a diving board to launch the cannonball. All you had to do was get a running start, jump out from the side of a pool as far as possible, then while you’re in the air, hug your knees close to your chest and plunge into the water…and see if you can’t soak everyone nearby.

    A Lasting Breakthrough
    In the early 1960s the town of Medfield decided to break ground and install what is now called the Stephen Hinkley Swim Pond. Finally, there was a swim pond in Medfield where residents could kick back and swim in a pond that was filled with natural spring water.

    Medfield residents enjoy swimming in Hinckley Pond. Photo courtesy Medfield Parks and Recreation.

    Medfield residents enjoy swimming in Hinckley Pond. Photo courtesy Medfield Parks and Recreation.

    For over 50 years now, Medfield residents have cooled off on hot summer days at this pond off Green Street. This pond is perhaps everything that Kingsbury’s Pond should have been. There are swimming lessons, a swim team, a beach area and a snack shack. There are over 200 family memberships, and over 100 children take swimming lessons each week in the summer.

    By the end of the 20th century the cost for above-ground pools started to become more affordable, and before long, these “do it yourself” pools were beginning to show up in many back yards. The above ground pools included the instructions that guided the owner on how to put the pool together. The dimensions were fifteen feet in circumference and four feet deep, making the pool spacious. All one had to do was make sure the ground was flat before putting the pool up and secure the liner properly. The pool came with an electric filter pump with hoses for ingress and egress of water and chlorine, stabilizer bleach to keep bacteria and algae from growing, and skimmers to keep out leaves or lawn clippings.

    During the summer months these above ground pools are always on sale. One local nearby store advertises “Crazy Deals where a family can buy a 15-foot by 4-foot Easy Set Pool for $250. Get a $100 Crazy Deal Gift Card Free! Or buy a 10-foot by 2-1/2-foot pool for only $79.99. With that a family gets a $30 Crazy Deal Gift Card Free!” Who can pass up deals like these? With prices that affordable, every family should have a back yard pool! With all this, there’s the realization that anyone who wants to have a pool has transcended the boundaries of any race or class distinction. Inspired, swimming in Medfield and surrounding towns is a very gratifying American summertime ritual.

    Nevertheless, while this splash party is going on, children of varied backgrounds have so much more to take up their time with summer camps and enrichment programs happening at places like the Medfield Library. But on the upside, there are very attractive and fun water parks like Water Country, Canobie Lake Park, and Great Wolf Lodge New England where parents can take their family to experience the diversions of long slide tunnels and safe, bouncing wave pools. What’s not to enjoy?

    Whatever your passion is, whether swimming in the ocean, in a pond, or a public or back yard pool, the water is where people can relax and let their mind float down stream. With children alongside in the water, a parent can joyfully playact and pretend to be The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, or maybe Godzilla.

    Remember what we had just a half century before, and what we have now. With progress we may have learned at first to swim the dog paddle and later some learned to swim like an Olympian. We’ve seen some pools later filled in to make a small golf course. Some of us may have even worked as lifeguards and saved people from drowning. Other kids went diving for coins in the salt water, money thrown to them from tourists on the piers of Cape Cod.

    We watch in amazement when some scuba divers kiss gentle nurse sharks. We see the inspiration of gold medalist Michael Phelps face on the box of Wheaties cereal. Putting all these natural events together, we are participating in the joys of the sun and swimming in a time of prosperity. In this world we are forever like the stars that come crashing to earth, showing the way and working to find our mark.

    About

    Tim Flaherty, a lifelong Medfield resident, served in the Peace Corps in Africa and in Central America. He has published numerous articles and is nearing completion of his second novel.

    One Response to Midcentury Medfield Memories: Let’s Swim Again, Like We Did Last Summer

    1. Edna Colcord
      July 25, 2017 at 6:37 am

      Wonderful memories evoked! Thank you. In Cathy and Todd’s class so was of the age when Kingsbury Pond played an important site. Wade pulled me out of the water onto the raft many times. Now I have enough adipose to float but was a “rock” at age 8.
      Also recall turning blue in morning lessons in Westwood. Later we would ride our bikes and spend the day there. Would often be able to get a very large creamy to lick on the ride home. Look back at those memories and freedom we had. Feel sorry for kids today.
      Hope you are well.
      When I return to Medfield , always before Memorial Day, to the cemetery (another familiar haunt of us kidss) I see a changed town but very happy it has preserved so much due to the historical society. Thanks for a wonderful article. -edna

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