Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, August 16, 1998, pg. 19
It has been observed that children in Albion today donít have a place to swim outdoors in town during the summer months, and are usually transported to Swains Lake instead. This wasnít always the case, as there were once several places where Albionites swam locally. Our local asset, the Kalamazoo River, was once a popular swimming place for many years, and even had governmental approval in the days before pollution and lawsuits were invented. There were several "old swimming holes" nearby in the Kalamazoo River, which were readily available to local youth wanting to cool off during the hot summer months.
On S. Hannah St., just south of the Albion College Athletic Field on the east side, is a small dam and an area containing a railing and some steps going down into the water. This was once Albionís popular swimming place during the early 20th century, known as Dutchtown. The name dates back to the 19th century when German immigrants, particularly the Schumacher family, settled nearby. The word "Deutsch," meaning German, was mispronounced and/or evolved to sound like "Dutch," hence "Dutchtown" where "those Deutsch immigrants" lived.
The dam at the site is the result of the erection of the "Gothic Mill race" or "Peabody Mill race" that was erected in 1854. The mill was located on the west side of S. Monroe St.across from the Presbyterian Church. It was erected by Albionís first settler, Tenney Peabody, and Albionís first banker, George Hannahs. The Marvin Hannahs family lived in the white house just to the left (east) of Bellmont Manor on Haven Road, and Hannah (originally with the "s" on it) St. was named after the family. Upon Tenneyís death in 1856, the mill passed to his sons David and Walter. It continued in operation until the early 1870s when it burned. The Peabody/Gothic Mill was replaced by the White Mill which was erected on E. Cass St.
A rickety wooden bridge once crossed Hannah St. at Dutchtown, and this was replaced by a new one following the flood of 1908. Because of the deper water at that spot, the site became a favorite swimming spot for area youth. The City of Albion erected a bathhouse at the site in 1919, and it was tended by Irish immigrant Patrick Fanning, whose brother was a local postmaster in the late 19th century.
Dutchtown also served as a popular spot for water-filled "tugs of war" by Albion College students. One class would line up on one side of the river, and the other on the other side. There are various historic postcards depicting"tugs of war" here at Dutchtown.
Dutchtown was improved by the City of Albion with the installation of cement steps, railing, and other conveniences. Following World War II, it became apparent that the site was becoming dangerous from a swimming standpoint according to the new standards. The millpond had become filled with polluted silt, thus diminishing adequate water levels at the site. The Dutchtown swimming area was closed in the late 1950s, and the bathhouse demolished. Today Dutchtown is used as a fishing site, and the millpond dam water level is significantly lower than it used to be.
One favorite swimming area today of course is the Haven Road St. bridge, where youngsters often jump off the bridge into the deeper water just above the waterfall. Of course after the millpond was dredged along Water Street in the late 1970s there was talk of establishing a swimming area there, but liability risks apparently were too great for the city to undertake that endeavor. A quick look at the high-tension power lines immediately above serve as a reminder of just one of the problems at the site.
Years ago, however, there was a park at Montcalm Lake which existed through the 1920s. People rode the Interurban along Michigan Avenue and walked back to the lake, where there was a picnic, concession, and swimming area. The property was acquired by Starr Commonwealth and the park was closed. Another water park was located at Spectacle Lake west of town on Division Drive. This was a favorite swimming area in the 19th century which included a water slide into the lake. This lake developed a silt problem, as well as there being a legal fight concerning the lake level which resulted in it being lowered.
Although today there are chlorine pools which youth can swim in for a fee, there is nothing like a natural lake or river to go swimming, something which Albion youth have legally been without for many years now. From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of the old Dutchtown bridge over the Kalamazoo River where many persons swam in Albion during the early 20th century.
Next: WISE OWL QUIZZETTE
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic