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Brentwood High School Alumni Association

Across the Decades

 

Cecelia Avenue lake --- Nelson S. Morgan BHS Class of ‘66.

    I grew up right across the street at 2641 Cecelia.  But this story really doesn’t begin with me.  My father, Nelson G. Morgan, who is now 102 years old, moved into that house in the summer of 1917.  He was just short of his eighth birthday when his family bought the house incomplete.  His father finished it.  They moved there from Maplewood.

    My father says that he was always told that the lake was formed sometime around or shortly after the Civil War.  Apparently  the area was being farmed and during a drought, hogs rooting in a low spot for water opened up a spring which flooded the space.  This story may be legend, but he has always stuck by it as what he’d been told.

    At the time his family arrived, the lake (yes, I’ve always called it a lake.  I know others refer to it as a pond, but my dad always called it the lake and I’ve done so as well) was owned by a dentist named Dr. Coyle (sp?).  Dr. Coyle lived and worked in the city and came to the house and farm on weekends.  Much of the land north and east of the lake was  grazing pasture for his cattle.  The Wartenbee family were caretakers for Mr. Doyle.  My father became friends with their sons.

    When he first moved to Cecelia his mother wouldn’t let him play in the lake because it was  said to be about 25 feet deep with seven active springs seeping water from below.  But as he grew up he was allowed to swim and fish just across the street from his house.  If you have a copy of the 1969 Brentwood 50th Anniversary booklet, there is a picture of my father with a pretty good sized fish on page 69.  Of course when the lake froze over during winter it was always popular for ice skating.

    A lot of changes occurred when the street was further subdivided.  In fact, a large stone cistern was built right in the center of Cecelia in front of the Cook/Languth house just north of my father’s.  It was quite large and cars driving up and down Cecelia would have to carefully manuever around it.  I mention this cistern because when the lake was frozen, large chunks of ice were cut out and stored in it with straw for use in warmer months.

    According to my father, the Wartenbees were still caring for the property at the end of World War II.  David Cook, who had grown up next door, also lived there as caretaker after he was married.

    I was born in 1948 and the lake was always a beautiful thing to me.  A family with the last name of Crowe (sp?) lived there as I grew up.  By then, the lake was fenced and I never fished or swam in it, but the Crowes allowed skating in the winter.  I remember how the kids on the street would anxiously wait for the ice to thicken properly.  Mr. Crowe, (I remember him as a tall man with black hair) would drill through different parts of the ice to check its thickness.  Every day he would tell us the thickness in inches and how much it had to go.  When it was thick enough, we had our sleds and ice skates ready to go.

    I would take my sled and run and then bellyflop on it.  It would go forever.   Or someone would  take the rope and spin me around and around.  My birthday was in January and on my tenth birthday I received a pair of skates.  I was so excited and fortunately the lake was soon frozen over.  I was down as much as I was up, but progress was being made when disaster struck.  This was ten years before Blues’ hockey, but kids still played ice hockey when they could and older boys used the lake as one great big  hockey rink.  They skated in and out of everyone, fighting  for possession of a  puck.  These were high school boys and they paid little attention to a ten-year-old trying to find his ice legs.  A powerful  shot caught me just above the left eye. I went down like a light and there was blood everywhere.  My dad took me home and there was no more skating for me that day.  I was so disappointed when, during my healing period, the weather warmed, the ice melted, and I  subsequently outgrew the new skates.  I believe it was the next year that  Mr. Crowe began to prohibit skating.  Something about insurance.  I suppose it was my accident that contributed to the ban, but no one ever said.

    One of the most fun things of those skating days was the bonfire. Today there is a huge new home on the Salem side of the lake, but  that space used to be a  fairly flat  and large shore area.  Logs, limbs, sticks and whatever were  gathered there and set ablaze for the skaters to warm themselves.  Some would roast marshmallows and it seemed that everyone brought a thermos of hot chocolate. As a little guy, I was always in awe of the high school boys hugging and kissing their girlfriends around the bonfire.

    Ducks and geese frequented the lake from time to time.  They never wintered-over, but some would make it their summer home.  One summer in the early sixties there were some interesting residents; a large white goose and some smaller brown ducks.  The goose was an ugly character. He had all kinds of red bumps on his bill and face and was quite bossy to anyone close by.  One summer afternoon this goose left the shade of the lake, wandered through the yard, across the street and into my front yard.  He honked and I gave him some bread.  This started a daily routine.  You could almost set your watch that he (sometimes accompanied by the smaller ducks)   would arrive in our front yard at four p.m.  He would honk, hiss, and demonstrate with his long neck until my mother or I would come out and feed him some bread.   This went on for a couple of months.  We were disappointed when he finally took flight and left.

    It was about this time that Mr. and Mrs. Jim Orton purchased the lake property.  They were a wonderful older couple that basicly bought the place as a retirement home.  Mrs. Orton made great cookies and they soon hired me to mow their lawn.  It was a large yard, but easy to mow because of the many big shade trees.  However, trimming the lake fence line along the street sidewalk took forever and was not in the shade. I believe there is still a stone wall along the lake shore next to the house.  I helped to build that.  Mr.  Orton was concerned about erosion of the shore line so close to the house.  It was to the point that there was only room for one person to walk between the water and the foundation.  Since the lake was silting up, Mr. Orton saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.  I think it was 1965 and he hired me to help him.  He obtained a fairly large dredge with a cable link to a cantankerous gasoline powered winch.

    But first we had to build a retaining wall.  That’s where the flat white stones came in.  We went out into the lake where it was nearing the house and began stacking the large rocks.  The base rocks  set well in the sticky, sucky mud and we slowly built a wall a few feet out into the water, curving around the edge of the lake.  The plan was to dredge the lake, therefore deepening it and using the mud brought up to fill in behind the stone wall, thereby extending the shore outward and protecting the house.

    The dredge scoop was a huge bulky metal thing that had to be dragged out into the center of the lake by pulling it as you swam.  When it was in position, you dropped it and allowed it to settle into the mud.  Then came the battle on shore with the winch.  The thing had a mind of its own and  fought against being started every time you pulled the rope.  Once started, the clutch often fought you as much as the motor. But bit by bit, the engine ran and the winch began pulling in the muck-filled dredge.  We then had to shovel the mud out of the dredge into a wheelbarrow, take it across the yard and dump it in the space behind the wall.  Slowly but surely the mud displaced the water and the shore was extended to protect the house.

    An unexpected bonus of the dredging process was that a large area along the shore was flattened into a gentle slope out into the water.  Mr. Orton decided to build a  beach.  He ordered delivery of several truck loads of sand and the beach became a reality.  The lake was still closed to the general public, but I could swim in it whenever I wished.  The Ortons also had an old green flat-bottomed rowboat.  I could take it out and row around whenever I wished.  There weren’t many fish in the lake by then, other than a  couple large schools of goldfish.  They were fun to watch swimming en masse under the sun light.  But it was in that old boat that I made an interesting discovery, or at least confirmation of something my father had told me.

    As mentioned before, he said there were  once seven springs in the lake.  Rowing around in that old boat, I discovered vast changes in water temperature  at different areas of the lake.  In much of the lake, the water was quite warm under the summer sun. However, in about four places I found the water to be very cold...as it came to the surface from some seepage below.  Maybe those Civil War era pigs did open up some spring flows.