BATTLE GROUND LAKE STATE PARK — It was a little world unto itself, complete with grocery store, restaurant, dance hall, roller rink, baseball field, residential cabins and community kitchen. And it was a place for all the rituals of youth — first swims, first jobs, first loves.
“Boys were watching girls and girls were watching boys,” remembered Louise Tucker, Battle Ground’s long-standing unofficial town historian. Last year, Tucker took on the project of researching the facts and collecting the community’s memories of Battle Ground Lake during the early and mid-20th century, when it was the growing town’s favorite getaway and gathering place.
Tucker will greet readers and sign copies her new 57-page volume, “Battle Ground Lake Before Becoming a State Park,” from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Literary Leftovers, 813 W. Main St., Suite 105, Battle Ground. Purchase price is $15. All proceeds go to the General Federation of Women’s Clubs-Battle Ground.
In May 2022, the local chapter of the club hosted Battle Ground Lake park ranger James Donnellan as a speaker. Donnellan confessed that his files contained no documented history of the lake from the early 1900s through 1968, when it was a privately owned resort and entertainment complex. The women’s club voted to fill in the missing record by deploying Tucker, a community linchpin who worked for years at The Reflector and Battle Ground Public Schools, to research and compile the story.
“I thought it was important that people today know how people used to have fun there,” Tucker said.
Tucker put a notice in The Reflector and was amazed at the photos and warm remembrances that came flooding in from some 100 people, she said.
Make that slick, chilly remembrances, actually. The No. 1 shared memory turned out to be of a complex of wooden swim tanks along the shoreline, installed so newbies could take swim lessons in safety. But the wood proved both slippery and splintery, as many never forgot.
“I remember … taking lessons in the old wooden tanks where I got about a hundred foot splinters,” contributor Lance Allworth writes.
Jack Massie recalls, “I went down the big water slide. When I hit the water, my trunks came off from the force! How embarrassing!”
The slide stuck out in Judy Famili’s memory, as well: “The scariest thing ever. It had water flowing down it and it was thrilling.”
(Tucker said she remembers clunking her own teenaged head on that very slide.)
Lynda Murray writes, “There was no admission fee to the resort, but admission for swimming was 50 cents for adults and 35 cents for children. That was an all day swim.”
Working hard, going wild
The private-resort story begins with a nearby homesteader named Henry Blystone. In 1914, Blystone leased 59 acres alongside the lake from a group of sibling owners who had already envisioned “a park and recreational pleasure resort,” Tucker writes.
Blystone installed myriad improvements: bathhouses, cottages, a store, a pool hall, rentable boats, a boardwalk that extended to a high dive and the first version of that slippery swim tank.
Blystone died in 1918. In 1921 local businessman Steve LeRouge negotiated a new lease, and over the years dramatically redeveloped and expanded the facilities. The local LeRouge-Dollar clan and the Thomas and Ek families also owned or operated the site, which is why so many former kids contributed memories of their first job experiences there.
“My job was to cook, serve customers, clean, do whatever needed to be done,” Murray writes. “I made 75 cents an hour, which seemed like a lot to me at the time. The biggest benefit was that I was able to see my friends who came to swim. It was a fun and ideal job for a teenage girl.”
Famili’s grandmother worked in the restaurant and lived in an apartment on-site. “During fishing season Grandma would put my brother and I on the counter and we would sing songs to the fishermen over the loudspeaker,” Famili recalls in the book. “I was about 3 or 4 years old.”
But it turns out that fascination with history is a condition that never goes away, she said. Tucker blames her father, who wrote his own memoirs, as well as a beloved schoolteacher in her past named Homer P. Foster, who didn’t require history students to memorize dates and facts, Tucker said.
What Foster wanted his students to understand, she said, is “what life was like for people.”
“I think it’s interesting to reflect on the past,” Tucker said. “I think it’s fun to find out about how people used to have fun.”