Once upon a time a stone quarry sat near the north bank of “Kyte Crick” as it curves around the south side of Rochelle turning westward toward the Rock River. From as early as the 1840s blocks of limestone cut at this site were hauled away to become foundations for buildings, sidewalks, and gravel for roads in the area. As rock was removed and the quarry grew larger, a spring on the west side gradually filled the hole with water, creating a pond. In the winter months men harvested ice and loaded it into Miles Braiden’s ice house, and undoubtedly during the summer months people from town were attracted to the spring-fed pond for swimming and fishing.
In 1924 Braiden’s widow sold the land to the city of Rochelle, and the quarry and pond officially became a park, eventually named Spring Lake. Over the years the site was improved. The south end of the pond remained undeveloped, decorated with “no swimming” signs and sometimes dotted with rowboats and fishing poles, but the north end became the city’s swimming pool. Probably in the 1930s or ’40s concrete edges were added along the northern third of the pond, making it more pool-like. Wooden fences and walkways were built to divide the swimming area into shallow, medium, and deep sections, and to separate the swimming area from the forbidden “no swimming” south half of the pond. Most notably a castle-like bathhouse was built against the rock cliff at the north end, to serve both as the official entrance to the pool and as an announcement of the pool’s presence for anyone driving into town from the south on US Highway 51. Old pictures show that at some time in the past a large slide was added to carry bathers swiftly down into the pool from the third floor of the bathhouse, but I don’t remember ever seeing that — it must have been removed before I was old enough to go to the pool.
From my house I had about a 15 minute walk — south on 9th Street, past the city power plant that lurked like some fire-breathing dragon hulking over its treasure hoard between the two sets of railroad tracks, across Lincoln Highway on its west-bound journey out of town, then a block east on Avenue A to near 8th Street where a flight of wooden steps took me down the old quarry wall to the pool entrance on the second floor of the bathhouse. I paid my admission and entered, still clutching a few precious coins for some later treat from the concession counter; a flight upstairs to the dressing room to change into my swimming trunks if I hadn’t arrived wearing them, and then two flights down again to the sandy “beach” at the side of the pool, not forgetting to step into the box of pale green liquid disinfectant that I assume was supposed to reduce the spread of athletes’ foot.
In my memory the pool was always filled with the noise of splashing water, friendly (mostly) shouts, and laughter. The old quarry wall on the west side of the pool was terraced with limestone outcroppings overlooking the pool, and teenagers generally lounged in these shelf-like spaces to rest from swimming, to talk with friends, or simply to bathe in the sun. From time to time a lifeguard’s whistle or shout warned someone to stop doing something.
And then, as the afternoon ended, there was the return trip — back up to the dressing room, back down to the entrance, and back up to the street and on to whatever else we had in mind to do that day.
But that was the summer. Winter at Spring Lake was entirely different.
I don’t know how many winters Spring Lake became a skating rink. Perhaps it was only that one year, 1951, when the Rochelle Lions Club tended the ice surface and made a place for winter activities (the picture above was taken during preparations). I don’t remember ever skating there myself.
The old bathhouse is gone now, and a completely man-made and enclosed pool has replaced the old quarry pond.
Some information used in this story comes from Franklin Kruger, History of Rochelle and Flagg Township, Illinois: Ten Historical Articles (Revised edition; Rockford, Illinois: Waldsmith Illustrators, 2000)