Throwback Thursday by Matson Insurance: Swimming at Walter Dick Memorial Park

Matson Insurance has partnered with Jefferson County History Center to offer readers a look into Jefferson County’s past. Today, swimming at Walter Dick Memorial Park is highlighted.

[Pictured above: What’s more fun and more refreshing than jumping into cold water on a hot summer day? Kids have enjoyed the old swimming hole for time immemorial, and in Brookville for more than a century, that old swimming hole has been “the dam” at Dr. Walter Dick Memorial Park. (Courtesy JCHS)]

Submitted by Carole Briggs:


In 1900 the sprawling Litch lumber mill occupied the North Fork area above the East Main Street bridge, and old photographs show the millpond above the bracket dam. The millpond, of course, was too dangerous for swimming, but 19th-century sources refer to the area north of the millpond as “dark hollow,” and it was there that many boys went swimming unguarded.

On the west side of the lumber mill’s pond, a group of men, who had privately incorporated in 1883 to provide Brookville homes with water, had built a pumping station and installed an intake pipe. The Litch mill closed in 1905 and by 1912 the borough had purchased the water company and completed a new filtration plant and concrete and earthenwork dam, both familiar to us today.

Girls began to join the boys there to swim, and so did grown-ups. Concerns about cleanliness arose. In 1915 a local editor wrote, “the boys and girls, as well as the older folks who enjoy swimming, have been requesting council on various occasions to erect bath houses adjoining the swimming pool south of the waterworks dam on the North Fork.” The borough fathers responded by inspecting the location, ordering lumber for two bathhouses, and assuming all expenses.

Water safety was another concern. Even before the present indoor pool was built there, the Y offered swim classes. “The swimming classes usually conducted by the YMCA will start next Monday morning at 10:00 o’clock. Secretary Bartholemew will be in charge and no boys will be permitted in the water unless he is present. The swimming will be done in the North Fork as last year.”

More than 100 boys had been in the previous year’s class, and 40 had learned to swim. Once the Y pool was completed swimming classes for both boys and girls were an annual occurrence.

The floods of 1936 and 1996 did severe damage to the dam area, and in the first case, Dr. Walter Dick himself, and in the second, his family, contributed financially and motivationally to restore and improve the area for swimming. In an oral interview, Mary Geist Dick remembered, “They didn’t have many places to go [for swimming] and so my husband was very partial to the park. He thought swimming was a great sport that all children should learn.” After his death, the Dick family donated substantial funds for the park’s development and the area was named after him.

The dam at Dr. Walter Dick Memorial Park is still maintained by the borough. There is a pool at Cook Forest and cold spring water at Clear Creek. The YMCA offers lessons for people of all ages, and if you’re lucky, you may even have a pool in your own backyard! So come on in, the water’s fine!

[email protected] County Historical Society, Inc.

Throwback Thursday is brought to you by Matson Insurance in Brookville.

Submitted by the Jefferson County History Center.

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