Ruth’s Story – Summer Days on Bolton Lake

edited by Hans DePold, town historian
(Published in the Bolton Community News, April 2002)

The following is a page in the life of Ruth Johnson Converse, who as a child spent many happy summers on Bolton Lake. Ruth, who is the grandmother of Tax Collector Lori Converse, gave me a folder a few weeks ago to share with you. Thank you for these great memories of Bolton, Ruth.

"The year was around 1929 when my father hired a builder to build the cottage at Bolton Lake. The small driveway down to the cottages is now called Lakeside Lane. There were three cottages and a vacant lot next to our cottage.

"My father, with my mother Lydia and me, Ruth Johnson Converse, would drive there on what is now called Old Bolton Road, which at that time went through wetlands and marsh. At the end of the old road we came to Gowdy's gas station where my father filled his old Studebaker up with gas. Then up the hill, where we would pass a big white house on the left that was my grandparent's farm, where the veterinary hospital is today. The story goes that grandmother would not move there because Bolton had no electricity and she didn't want to go back to lamps. So grandfather, Mr. Brink, with the help of the Cheneys, for whom he worked, brought electric light poles from Manchester up to Bolton to the farm. This was the first electric wiring in Bolton.

"We would pass the Rainbow Club, as it was called back then. It was painted in stripes of different colors to represent a rainbow. It later became Fiano's Restaurant. On the left was Bolton Notch pond with the railroad tracks running alongside of it. The train station was there and when the trains came through, their whistles could be heard way up at the lake.

"Mr. Haling owned the Bolton Notch quarry that built many buildings in and around Hartford. On to the left was the mountain known for Squaw Cave. The next street on the left was Vernon Street. It had quite a few cottages built on the shores of Bolton Lake. Next on the left was a hotel owned by Mr. and Mrs. Haley. On the main floor was an ice cream and candy store that we kids enjoyed. There was a brown barn on the side of the yard. Mr. Haley cut ice from the lake in the winter and stored it in the barn with piles of sawdust to keep it from melting. My father always stopped to get a block of ice for our icebox. The lake had no electricity, so we had to keep things cold in iceboxes. Mr. Haley also rented rowboats for fishing and for pleasure.

"There were about four cottages on the left on the lake before we turned into our lane. The Thompsons owned the farm and a big white house on the hill above the lane where the cottages were.

"Some hot weekends my folks, Phil and Lydia Johnson, and myself would get everything ready in the car to drive up to the lake to go swimming to cool off. Sometimes when we got there the lake would be dry. The Willimantic Thread Mill would use lake water for their power and empty the lake. However, it was a good time for all the men to go into the dry lake and clean up all the cedar stumps. They would put them in a huge pile and have a big bonfire. The lake was Cedar Swamp at one time, because it had so many cedar trees. The lake was usually full with good clean fresh water and a delight to jump in to swim. My father bought me water wings to teach me how to swim. They were made of heavy material with a wooden mouthpiece to blow them up. Families had wooden rowboats and some had small engines on the back. Men used them to troll to catch their fish.

"A friend and I would walk the stone wall in front of the cottages all the way around to the dam. Near the dam the land was all wet and marshy. From the dam we saw Mr. Hull's boathouse and all his land across from the dam. In the summertime, we would walk up the highway past the old 18th century Bolton cemetery, and come to the house where the Methodist minister lived. It had an open porch at that time where he would hang a cage with his pet parrot in it. We would call to the parrot and the parrot would answer back. We would go to the Methodist Strawberry Festival. We would eat our shortcake on Mr. and Mrs. Perrett's lawn, which was on the opposite corner from the church on South Road. They had tables and chairs set up for us to use. There was also a puppet show to watch.

"There was a small meat and grocery store owned by Al Skinner on the lane that is now called North Road. The land between the lake and North Road was developed in later years to what is now Keeney Drive and the state owned the boat launch."