Spring Lake Beach History
Special thanks to Patricia Merhtens, The Stearns family, Donald Burns, Betty Mencucci, and all those storytellers throughout the years.
Spring Lake was called Herring Pond in the 1800’s. Folklore tells us the local Black Hut Indians named it Herring Pond due to the abundance of fish - so many you could walk across the pond on the fishes’ backs. There is some information that the original pond was dammed up to serve as a reservoir for the Blackstone Canal. While this fact has not been verified, there is no doubt the pond has a man made dam in the cove at the south west corner. Post cards from the early 1900’s still referred to the lake as Herring Pond. There was also a short time when it was known as Silver Lake. Based on research, the pond was named Spring Lake some time after 1910.
Spring Lake Beach and Spring Lake are sometimes confused with other destination fresh water beaches in the area. Silver Lake in Bellingham and Wildwood on Lake Alexander in Putnam are the two lakes/swimming areas that seem to be confused with Spring Lake most frequently. Wildwood is the beach that had diving boards on metal frames located in the water and the legendary water wheel that you could climb on and ride into the water. Wildwood was a privately owned facility and closed some tim in the early 1990’s. Silver Lake’s name is probably why this beach gets confused with Spring Lake. The Town of Bellingham Massachusetts has redeveloped Silver Lake into a fine municipal swimming area.
(Beach Advertisement from 1894)
There were 3 distinct swimming areas/ beaches at Herring Pond. An article highlighted in Patricia Mehrten’s book, One Hundred Years Ago in Burrillville, talks of a day at Herring Pond. First published in the Burrillville News on August 9, 1889, the article describes a summer day of swimming, fishing, boating, and clambakes. People could visit Comstock Grove, or have a clam bake furnished by Philander Putnam. It is believed this refers to the beaches that later became Lapan’s and Monroe’s respectively. It also describes the beach and a concession on the island next to the beach, which could only be what was later called Flynn’s Beach. Flynn’s was a public beach but mostly served the owner’s association on the west end of the lake.
A trolley line from Woonsocket to Pascoag would stop at the Glendale Station, in the general area of the Glendale post office. People would ride the trolley from ‘downtown’ and walk the mile up to Spring Lake Beach. This made a trip to the lake truly a whole day affair. The beach owners eventually trucks from the Glendale station to the beach eliminate the long walk.
Development around the lake started to pick up pace, with people building summer cottages mostly on leased land. Flynn’s beach was located in a cove on the west end of the lake. The water was relatively shallow, with a few large boulders under water that swimmers would stand on. Directly across the lake, located next to each other were the other 2 beaches, Monroe’s to the North and Lapan’s to the south. Early 1900’s postcards show 2 different snack stands on the beach in those early years. There was also the Spring Lake Hotel which still stands today. It is the brown house at the south end of the beach. The rooms upstairs were rented out while the lower level towards the beach was a bar. Cases of very old wine bottles were found under the building lending credibility to this fact. Across the lake in back and next to Flynn’s beach was a granite quarry. Italian masons would work the quarry during the day and row across the lake to the bar at night. There is more folklore as to the ‘colorful’ past of the bar and hotel. However, Spring Lake Beach is a family beach and we won’t go into that.
The Early Years
The generations that used Spring Lake Beach prior to 1991 are mostly familiar with the southern end of the beach. People that visit after the redevelopment was completed in 2000 see it as one beach, but this was not always the case. The beach is about 600 feet long total, about 400 feet on the south end and about 200 feet on the north end. With each beach there were acres of land behind them where the owners rented land and families built their summer cottages. In keeping with tradition, it is only right that the the two main beaches at Spring Lake be discussed individually.
South End of Beach
The entrance to Spring Lake Beach today is on a rise to the south end, overlooking the whole beach and lake. However, from the 1800’s until the 1999 redevelopment, the entrance was at the foot of the hill, down Pinecrest lane.
It was a warm summer night at the Western Hotel in the Nasonville section of town. Henry Lapan was involved in a a game of poker with friends. Little did he know he would walk out that night the big winner with the deed to a large portion of land and a section of Herring Pond! OK, OK, this is a bit of folklore, but it is the story that has been told for years. We’ll leave this for historians to research and debate. In any case, Henry Lapan did became the owner of the property sometime around 1920.
Lapan sold his beach to the Poirier family. George’s son Richard took over management of the beach in the 1960’s. The Poirior’s ran the beach with pride and as a tight ship! The beach was hand raked every morning to prepare it for the guests of the day. Children living in the cottages on the beach had better not mess up the freshly raked sand!
Sometime in the late 1950’s, the two beach owners had a disagreement over entry fees. Poirier’s charged individual admission to his beach. The Monroe’s charged for parking. A carload of people would go to the Monroe side and then walk over to the Poirier side where the sand and beach were more desirable. There was no other solution, so Mr. Poirier had a fence put up across the property and about 12 feet into the water. Now if anyone swam around the fence, they were promptly asked to return to the other side. The great fence of Spring Lake Beach stood for over 30 years.
In 1972, the Stearns family negotiated with the Poirier family and purchased the beach along with the land on Black Hut Road that is used for parking.
The year about 1938, we can probably see the peak of Spring Lake Beach’s development. Facing the water, from left to right, there was the Toboggan Slide, Lapan’s Bath Houses, The Food Concession (was this Lamberts?), Carmel Corn Stand, Hamburger Stand (which is where the Stearns Family lived in the 50’s and 60’s, Arcade, Maher’s Ice Cream, now over the line to Monroe’s, The Octagon building with sundries, candy, etc., Two Double Decker houses, one with the Shooting Gallery on the first floor, the second a store, The Shore Dinner Hall, Monroe’s Hot Dogs, Monroe’s Bath Houses, and directly behind this, a Carousel.
The North End of the Beach
The Monroe family owned the North end of the beach into the 1960s. Stay tuned for more information on the early history of the North end of the beach!
The Monroe’s sold their property to the Woonsocket WMCA. They also sold some of the cottage lots to the families that rented the property for years. They gave some of these families along North Shore Drive deeded rights to enter the beach property, protecting their friend’s interests for the future.
Town of Burrillville Purchases Spring Lake Beach
In 1989, when the Town was purchasing the southern beach, the State of Rhode Island negotiated with the YMCA to purchase the north beach and 25+ acres of land that stretch from North Shore Drive to the State’s Black Hut Management area. The purchase was hindered by financial issues. The state then leased the north end of the beach in 1991 to the Town of Burrillville. During that 1991 season “The Great Fence of Spring Lake Beach” was breached to allow overflow crowds onto the north end. In 1992, after securing the outer perimeter of the north end of the beach, the fence was removed. The funny observation for the years that followed is that the patrons, so use to having the fence there, would not go beyond the now imaginary border! Today, once again the beach is split. The north end is used for private parties and the Town of Burrillville’s extended Care program.
In the early 1990’s some preliminary work was done to plan for redevelopment of the beach. However, rightfully so, fiscal priorities pushed the project to the end of the decade. However, demolition of some of the old and deteriorating buildings was done in preparation. 4 cottages were removed in 1990. A fifth was removed the following year. 1995 was the last year for the old restaurant building. While commenting on how clean the building was, the state health inspectors came to the conclusion that the building just did not meet new codes and should no longer be used for food service. It was dismantled during the winter of 1996. The following year a portable food concession was set up. This left the arcade, the ice cream shoppe, the large hall at the north end, and the gate house as the only remaining buildings of the original Spring Lake Beach properties. click here(early 1900 beach)
“Today I still can remember the feeling when I drove down the hill that fall to see a barren piece of land all the way down to the water…. No buildings, no trees, no Spring Lake Beach…” John
Finding the Funds
When the town bought the beach and the State bought the YMCA property, the general policy for funding for development of a recreational property was 1/3 local funding and private grants, 2/3 by state grants. The State, it was thought, would be responsible for developing their half. There was a financial crisis brewing in the state that would hit everyone. The banking crisis was on everyone’s mind when newly appointed Governor Bruce Sundlund closed the credit unions and banks secured by RISDIC. The Town of Burrillville had their own issues, facing a severe shortage of school rooms in all grades. A new Middle School, expansion and repair of the High School, and still more work in the elementary schools stretched the budget and the taxpayers money to the limit. There would be little money available for capital spending on projects like Spring Lake Beach.
Development started after the 1998 season. Construction was hampered by snow and typical construction surprises. 1999 looked like a tough season. The arcade building was close, but not complete. The original machines still packed in storage and the new machines for that summer waiting at the distributor’s warehouse waiting for delivery. The ice cream and food concessions were not even close to completion. The new entrance and new rest rooms became the obvious priority. The beach opened that Memorial Day weekend to 90+ degree weather on what should have been the best season open ever. (typically, the weather is cool and cloudy) It was swimming only and food from portable concession trailer. The arcade was finally complete and occupancy granted on the last week of June.
Construction of the food concessions continued through the year. The main beach development was complete for the 2000 season. The beach now had two sets of restrooms, an entry/office building, and the arcade. A grand opening was held in May 2000. At the grand opening, The State of Rhode Island officially deeded the land formally owned by Monroe, and the YMCA, to the town of Burrillville. For the first time since records in many years, Spring Lake Beach is now one beach under the jurisdiction of one owner.
The final phase of this plan, reconstruction of the recreation hall, was made a reality after a second grant was received from the Champlain Foundation that summer. This building, The Champlain Recreation Hall, was complete and ready for the 2001 season.
The land across from the beach between North Shore Drive and Spring Lake Road now includes a camping area for local youth organizations.
For more information on Spring Lake Beach, contact Burrillville Parks and Recreation or visit their web site at (Spring Lake Beach)
THE SLIDES of Spring Lake Beach
No story about Spring Lake would be complete without mention of the slides into the water. The largest slide was to the left beyond the brown house, and built partially on top of a summer cottage. This was Spring Lake’s version of the “Chute the Chutes” amusement park ride. The builder is unknown, but a company called Philidelohia Toboggan Company had plans for this type of ride. They were famous for building roller coasters, carousels, and Skee Ball!
The two beaches each featured wharfs and platforms to jump and dive off. Each wharf had slides going into the water, facing each other. The earliest were made of wood with stainless sliding surfaces. The slide on the southern beach was replaced by a ‘modern’ slide that faced the beach. Today, there are 2 children’s slides on the shoreline, made from modern plastic materials.
Mr. Edmund Reed
In the 1920’s, the two side by side beach businesses were in friendly competition. The Monroe beach had a shooting gallery, a small carousel, and the shore dinner hall that was used for other entertainment including dancing and roller skating. Mr. Lapan had the toboggan slide, food and retail concessions, and a small pool hall as an amusement facility. Griffin’s pool hall had a root beer barrel out front to serve cold beverages. About 1930, Mr. Edmund Reed and Henry Lapan entered into an agreement and Mr. Reed installed his Walking Charley concession in a building next to the pool hall. A Walking Charley is a carnival type game where mannequins traveled on a track located at a distance from the patrons. The patrons would try to knock a hat off the mannequin with an accurate throw of a ball. A skillfull player would win a prize. Reed also installed a few penny operated amusement machines in front at the entrance of his concession. In short time he realized the penny games did better than the Walking Charley click here (Evan’s Walking Charley), so he removed the game and installed all coin operated machines. The machines were purchased as a package from the Mills Novelty Company. It is believed the group of machines was originally in Worcester and owned by a relative of Reed. While Mills manufactured their own machines, the package also included machines from other manufacturers to round out the selection. Some of the early machines were: Mills “Cupid’s Post Office”, Mills Punching Bag, The (large) Electric Shocker, an Exhibit Supply Co. “Horoscope”, Ball Strength Tester (similar to the one presently in the arcade), a Gypsy Fortune Teller, Erie Digger, Drop Picture Machines, and others. Some of these machines were sold around 1972 to a retro amusement facility. Efforts to find these machines led to many dead ends. However, it was confirmed that they did not end up at Disney World.
The arcade did well through the 30’s and 40’s. Griffin’s pool hall was taken over by Reed and the 2 buildings connected together. There were 3 large pine trees between the buildings. A double one in the middle of the porch, the other about 6 feet in from the front. The trunk from the trees were still present under the structure when the original arcade was torn down. Two stumps were about 2 feet in diameter. It must have been quite a project to remove that tree between the buildings. The trees in the middle of the porch survived until the late 50’s when beach owner George Poirier remove all the trees along the front of the beach. Part of the charm of the old building was the uneven floor that most people attributed to old age and settling. However, in the late 40’s (it is believed) a large addition was made to rear of the arcade. Unfortunately, a minor mistake was made calculating the height of the floor. The back addition turned out 4 inches lower than the main floor. Rather than rebuild, the temporary fix was to make ramps between the floors. The temporary fix lasted 50 years until the end…
George Stearns took over the arcade operation from his father in law in 1965. George established many traditions and developed the personality of the arcade business. He kept the older games and supplemented these with newer games he acquired while working for a games distributor, Martab, in Miami Florida.
Spring Lake Arcade
Wanted: Old Coin Operated Machines
Memories of visiting the arcades at Hampton Beach and Salisbury stirred the curious and young mind of John Bateman. The machines were cool not only because they were fun, but there was that constant question “how does that thing work?” Bateman started collecting coin operated machines in the early 70’s. A bowling machine was offered to his father Lloyd, free for the taking. After an hour or so of tinkering, the machine came back to life! Then there was this ad in the paper for pinball machines for sale… He brought 3 more machines home and started a new hobby and future. A few years later a neighbor mentioned visiting Spring Lake Beach.
Bateman’s first visit to Spring Lake Beach was in the summer of 1976. The arcade was full of old classic games. Games the arcades at Hampton didn’t have anymore, and some games he had never seen before. There he met George Stearns, discussed collecting, and asked of there were any old machines for sale. A few weeks later, 14 machines and a ton of parts found a new home. There were machines stored everywhere and Stearns needed to free up some space. Over the years that followed, Bateman and Stearns continued their friendship. Stearns taught Bateman some of the tricks in repairing, and Bateman would occasionally help with a repair at the arcade.
Some machines that were purchased in the late 70’s found their way back home into the arcade.
(Today, you can play Knockout Pinball,
and Liberty Belle pinball, which were removed from the
storage areas in the late 70’s.)
The Evan’s Ten Strike bowling machine was in a particularly bad area. A shed on the side of a cottage was in extreme disrepair. The roof was failing. It might have lasted one more winter. Many parts were pulled from this shed, old pinball playfields that eventually were stripped for parts. The playfield wood was used for shelving…. Also in this shed was a Gottlieb Humpty Dumpty pinball machine, the machine that introduced pinball players to flippers in 1947. That machine is still in the Spring Lake Collection and hopefully will be restored in the future. (the Evan’s Ten Strike Bowling machine was replaced with a reproduction bowling machine in 2006. The scoring assembly of the Evan’s machine had worn out and will need to be restored before making it back to public operation.)
1988 was an important year for the beach and the arcade. The Stearns family was looking at options for developing the beach property. The options for the arcade were to sell it piece by piece, possibly at auction, or find the next caretaker. Town officials and residents alike recognized the unique charm of the beach, it’s reputation as a family friendly location, and it’s historic connection to northern Rhode Island. There was interest in maintaining the characteristics that made the beach special. In the past, arcade machine collector John Bateman and Stearns had discussed the future of the arcade and how it might survive a few years more. The Stearns family opted to sell the property to the Town to allow it’s continued use as a swimming facility. The purchase of the arcade was negotiated concurrent to the sale of the property to the Town. A long term lease was also negotiated to insure it’s continuance for at least five more seasons.
As the new caretaker of the arcade, Bateman’s priority was to quickly learn the business and to stabilize the building. The back of the building was in the mud, there was no foundation. The building was originally 2 buildings that were joined in the center and additions made. One of the beams holding up the center between the 2 buildings was cracked in the middle. Before the summer of 1989, the center of the arcade building was jacked up almost a foot. The beam came together so cleanly, you could not see the crack. The footers in the center were repaired and stabilized. It didn’t take much to notice the front of the building leaned back about 5 degrees. It was even more apparent if you stood in the rear doorway. An attempt to straighten out the leaning building was futile. The reason the building leaned was the large addition made in the rear. This addition was not built on footers or a foundation. As typical for summer shacks, it laid directly on a gravel base. Over the years it settled and pulled the main building back. In 1989, cross braces were added to the main structure to secure it. The following season, the rear was jacked up and more repairs made to the back walls. In 1990, the electrical was updated and old wiring removed eliminating a potential fire hazard of the old inadequate wiring. All of this work was considered temporary as a new building would hopefully be in the future.
It became apparent that the best marketing approach for the arcade was to build on it’s historic nature, continue the feel or personality that Stearns developed over the years owning the arcade, and to enhance the experience of playing old and new games. Research into the past continues to this day. One goal is to locate, acquire, restore, and operate historically correct machines that are fun to play. The approach paid off as many articles have been written in local papers. Copies of which can be viewed on the walls inside the arcade.
While maintaining the museum like nature of the old side of the arcade, it could never survive on income of nickels and dimes. Also, in today’s world of instant gratification and fast paced advances in technology, we had to appeal to the desires of our primary marketing target, children between 5 and 15 years old. Brand new machines or machines that are hot in the game world are added each year.
An important aspect of the modern arcade is the winning of prizes for a skillful play. It is not known if ticket redemption machines were ever a part of the machine line up in the past. There is no indication that they were. Prize machines were in the arcade in the 30’s and 40’s at least. They were re-introduced in 1992 as a stuffed animal crane machine was installed. The following year, several more prize machines were added including and antique digger game, an Exhibit Supply Novelty Candy Vendor. Today prize machines have expanded into both sides of the arcade. All the prize machines are operated in a manner to be fair to the patrons. However, some are not as skilled as others and we feel bad about that. So a new twist to an old tradition has been implemented.
In 1989, the machines were position with old and new mixed around the floor. Most of the machines were owned by Bateman, but several newer machines were leased from an operator.
One Play One Cent
How can you have a penny arcade unless you can spend pennies? Not all machines are a penny, of course! Where possible, the machines operate on their original coins. Children learn that they can really stretch their money if they want to. They also can see what it is like to play a real 3 dimensional game, not just a video image. Most important, playing a few penny games can be just as enjoyable as playing the new higher cost machines.
Spring Lake Beach’s unwritten rules:
It’s a Family Beach!
Respect for those around you
No Swearing, loud radios, horse play, etc.
Phunny Photo Phollies
The photo booth was always a popular machine at Spring Lake. The four picture black and white picture machine was installed sometime in the 60’s. You can see by the sample photo’s shown on the sides just how old it is. Check out the bee hive hair do’s! This replaced a Mutoscope Photomatic machine that gave one picture in a metal frame per vend.
It was an honor if George placed your picture inside one of the machines. He usually surprised the person, as they wouldn’t know he did it until someone pointed it out. If you look around the arcade, you can still see a few of these photos peaking out or hidden within the graphics of a game. When trying to continue this tradition, it became apparent there are so many kids and so few places to put pictures. You see the old mechanical games usually had clear glass panels. Now with video games and redemption games, there were limited places to put a picture.
In the summer of 1989, we started the Annual Photo Contest. Entry to the contest is free. Simply take your funniest picture in the photo booth and enter it into the contest. On Labor Day, a group of impartial judges selects the funniest photo. The winner receives a reward of $25 and the distinction of have the years funniest face! Now instead of having a few faces peaking out of machines, we have photos of children at their best! The contest has continued annually to this day. The 2011 prize for the Phunniest Phace will be 5000 Tickets!
We keep the last year’s contest photos on display until August when we start posting the current year’s entries. Entrys from past years can be viewed in the arcade as well. Unfortunately, the old leaky roof destroyed a couple years worth of photos. The challenge is how to display thousands of Phunny Phaces?
The Labor Day Drawing
The saddest day of the year is the day after labor day, when the fall clean up begins and machines are made ready for their winter storage. The Stearns family always had a raffle on Labor Day. It was a way to try to get patrons and friends to the beach for one last visit and to say goodbye for the winter. The raffle was also a way to move out any remaining inventory of food, ice cream, candy, etc. Prizes were given out by the other concessions as well in the spirit of fun. The grand prize was $25 and anyone coming to the beach received a ticket. Drawings were held all day for a variety of prizes.
After installing a stuffed animal machine in 1991, we felt sad for those that just were not skillful enough to win a prize. After all, our primary goal is to provide fun, not disappointment. So on labor day that year, we tried something just for fun. We handed out raffle tickets to everyone and opened up the stuffed animal machine. When a ticket was drawn, the winner picked out their prize. Well! This was fun! However, one very sunny and very busy Labor Day, we gave away our profits….
Our modern version of the Labor Day Drawing combines the old traditional raffle and the stuffed animal raffle. This version is for children only. As a little twist on tradition, one hundred quarters was the grand prize. All the children get a ticket and every child wins a prize. The first ticket drawn is the winner of the quarters. However, just for fun we do not divulge the winner. Instead we tape the ticket to the wall and do not let anyone see. The raffle is still mainly for stuffed animals, but bags of candy and other prizes are mixed in. It gets real exciting as we get to the end and only a few ticket holders remain. The last person standing wins the quarters and the next to last winner gets their choice of prize from any prize machine in the arcade. Today, the 100 quarters has been replaced with 5000 Tickets!
A tradition for the 21st Century
Little details help make this arcade special and create a sense of belonging for the patrons. As a new ‘tradition’ we would like to invite you to send in your stories about Spring Lake Arcade and Spring Lake Beach. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Traditions continue to give individuals something to come back to, a stability in which to find comfort. This little tradition, the Penny Arcade at Spring Lake Beach, invites all to come back and experience something ….. While keeping it the same over the years, new machines are added and others rotated out. Some are given a rest, only waiting to their turn at bringing a challenge or smile to future players.
Today, the arcade business is surviving on the same principles for which it started. It provides entertainment at a reasonable cost for the enjoyment of kids of all ages. Hopefully it also provides an educational experience as well. Even if it takes 5 or 10 years to realize it!
Transition to the New Building
It was well known that 1998 would be the final season for the old arcade building. Somehow, it still didn’t seem it would happen but in October that year, we received a phone call requesting the removal of everything, about 90 machines, cabinets of parts, decorations, everything. The machines were stored in a 40’ container on the property, as well as a barn in Woonsocket, and 2 other properties in Forestdale and Beverly (MA). The final game was played in the arcade on Sunday, November 22, 1998. It was one of the bowling machines. It took a week to get all the machines moved out and packed away. It was last machine to to be dismantled because it was the heaviest. On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, we returned to pick up some final things and remove the rest of the posters and decorations from the walls. That Friday morning I returned to find a bulldozer majestically perched on top of a heap of rubble that was formally the arcade. While the walls and roof were now in splinters, however, that old floor was still holding out, refusing to collapse under the weight of it’s attacker……
1999 was turning out to be a stressful Spring. It normally takes a solid week of cleaning, testing and tuning to get the arcade ready for the season. Plans to put the arcade back together in the new building kept getting pushed back. The building was not ready. This was the first Memorial day weekend without the penny arcade in over 65 years and naturally the temperature hit the 90’s.
The building was complete, the floor down and the urethane finally dry, on Friday of the last week of June. In 2 days we had all the machines on the new side installed and running. The 4 sets of doors made it easy to split the building so we opened half the arcade. The reaction was as expected. “Where are all the old games? They ruined it!” We should have put up a sign stating where we were in the project, but we were a bit busy…. We partitioned off the antique side so we could work while the beach was open. It took a week total to get everything in and working properly. On July 5th, the Monday holiday, we finally completed a marathon of moving and preparing machines. That Monday was perhaps the busiest day of the season.
Do you remember the Skee Ball Raffle? Stay tuned for more on the history of the arcade. We will also be adding the story of the introduction of Ticket Redemption games.
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