Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, June 11, 2006, pg. 7
Our theme this month is “summer fun.” Albion once had an officially-sanctioned outdoor swimming place along the banks of the Kalamazoo River. Named Dutchtown, it was located along S. Hannah St. just south of the Albion College athletic field. A small dam there kept the waters high enough for swimming. The waters flowed to the historic White Mill on E. Cass St. to power their flour-making equipment. I wrote about the early history of this place (Part 1) in my August 16, 1998 edition of this column, which can be read on the www.albionmich.com website.
Dutchtown had railings which were cemented into the stone wall, which swimmers would use to climb down into the water. One of those railings finally crumbled and fell last year. At the front, there were long, cement steps which led into the water below on both sides of the river. On the west was the Hannah St. bridge, from which children would watch the swimmers in the water. I encourage our readers to visit this site and view the remains of what once existed there.
Hundreds of Albion children swam in Dutchtown, which opened the day summer vacation began. On one such opening day, June 11, 1954, 300 children showed up. The Albion Recreation Department would annually hold a “water ballet” featuring various acts and swimming maneuvers. It was a big production. For example, in 1953 the theme was “The Good Ship Lollypop,” while in 1954 it was “Mother Goose Daze.” The 1955 presentation was entitled, “The Jester Lost His Heart.” There were various props and costumes which swimmers used in their performances. Hundreds of youth lined the Hannah St. bridge and along the banks of the Albion College athletic field to watch these water ballets.
What happened to Dutchtown? On July 2, 1956 at exactly 3 pm., the summer swimming program came to an abrupt halt. The Albion Flour Mill lowered the millrace in order to make repairs, and Dutchtown was closed for the remainder of the season. What an inconvenient time to close Albion’s only official swimming place, right before the July 4th holiday.
Mill owner Lloyd Key died in November, 1956, but his widow Gladys kept the Mill open. The following year (1957), Dutchtown opened for the summer as usual. However, Mrs. Key closed the Mill on August 24, 1957 after failing to find a buyer for the Mill and the water rights, which went all the way upstream past the old Newburg Mill site.
Concurrently, the health department began pressuring the City to close the park for water quality, sanitary, and safety reasons. People would throw glass bottles into the swimming area from the Hannah St. bridge. Broken glass abounded, as well as blood-suckers, I am told. The 1957 season was therefore the last, (although they didn’t know it at the time) and Dutchtown did not re-open for the 1958 season.
Albion College subsequently purchased the water rights to the millrace from Mrs. Key, and the water level was lowered, thus reducing the quality of any future potential swimming there. There was some talk of the City building a municipal swimming pool in Victory Park to replace Dutchtown, but that never happened, even after Dutchtown closed. So Albion youth subsequently sought to go swimming at Swain’s Lake, or at Dudek’s, or swim at their own risk clandestinely at various places around the Victory Park waterfall. Some swam in the Parker Inn pool, provided that they paid the 50˘ fee each time.
The bathhouse (erected in 1915 when Dutchtown opened) which was tucked away in the south corner of Dutchtown, remained standing for a few years before it was finally demolished in 1959. It had contained changing rooms and a concession stand.
The director-lifeguard of the Dutchtown “pool” as it was known, was Walter McCormick. From our Historical Notebook this week we present a picturesque scene at Dutchtown taken in June, 1955. McCormick (center) is flanked by lifeguards (left) Lindsay Gunderman, and (right) Gary Kraus. Across the river is the Albion College athletic field. How many of our readers remember swimming at Dutchtown under the auspices of the Albion Recreation Department?
Dutchtown, June, 1955
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic