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Growing Up At Godfrey's Pond in the 1950s and 60s, Part II

By David Reilly
godfreys pond aeral

Author's note: I am aware that there was discrimination against people of Italian and Polish descent (and possibly others ) in the 1950s and '60s that prevented them from enjoying what I did. I apologize ( I found out about it in high school) and understand if there is leftover bitterness. It seems that things have changed for the better today, and there are no longer any restrictions.

When I was a kid in the 1950s and 60s, I was fortunate to be in a family who had a membership at Godfrey's Pond ( See Part 1 History The Batavian Aug. 9, 2023) operated by the Genesee County Fish and Game Protective Association in Stafford. We enjoyed swimming, picnicking, fishing and boating. My mom's family, the Newhouses, who lived on North Lyon Street, were members (my Uncle Bob Newhouse, age 93, is a lifetime one), so when my parents got married, apparently, my dad got a Reilly membership for us. Being only a short driveable distance away, we spent a lot of time there in the summer months. Others in the Genesee County area have summer memories of Nu-Lake, Silver Lake in Wyoming County, Horseshoe Lake (which was mostly private), Boulder Park at Indian Falls or other places. I did visit a couple of those places, but my remembrances are primarily of Godfrey's Pond.

reilly godfrey's pond

Peck At The Pond, Rap On The Rump
My first memory of the Pond comes only from photos. There I am on the shore in a playpen, maybe about age 3, so it would be circa 1950. The little girl caged in there with me was the daughter of some family friends. Now, I have written many times about how shy I was as a child and teenager. Well, apparently, on this day, I somehow got my nerve up and there for all to see was my first kiss. The look on the girl's face tells the whole story in one word -- “Whoa!”

reilly kiss godfrey pond

I don't remember the kiss, but I do recall the swat on my behind. When I was probably seven or eight, my mom got out the photo and was teasing me a little with it. I got embarrassed, grabbed the photo, and tore it in half. Mom was not happy. I still have the torn and taped-together picture somewhere, but luckily an unripped version survived. Recently, I saw that the “ little girl's” mom passed away at the age of 99. I was able to contact her, and after expressing my condolences, I sent her the photo. I hope she was amused.

Swimming Stories
When I was small, we spent a lot of time playing on the beach at the “shallow end,” as everyone called it. As a fair-skin freckled redhead, this has probably come back to haunt me in my later years with frequent trips to the dermatologist. I'm pretty sure that there were no SPF sunblock lotions available back then, so I have become very familiar with liquid nitrogen treatments even though I avoided the sun like the plague as an adult.

I learned to swim at Godfrey's Pond (I remember as a real little kid being at the YMCA and going in the pool naked with a bunch of other little boys- what was that all about?) but like almost everything I did back then it was a battle for my mother. The day lessons were supposed to begin, I chickened out and hid in a closet outside the door of our upstairs apartment on Ellicott Avenue. She eventually found me, and after a lot of screaming and pulling, Mom finally got me out of there by threatening to call the priest from St. Mary's to come over. Of course, once I got there and got to know the other kids and the teacher, I was fine and really enjoyed it. Except for diving underwater – I had and still have bad sinuses.

I think the teacher's name was Mrs. Williams, and there were several steps to pass -- beginner, intermediate, and advanced. In order to pass the lessons ( I think it took me 2 years), you had to swim out to the overhead “wire” (I think an electrical line stretched across a section of the pond) and back with Mrs. Williams rowing beside you in a boat. It was maybe 100 yards. If you made it (I did), you received your swimmer's badge. Some really good swimmers got to apply for their lifesaving badge. You had to be able to surface dive down to save someone, and I couldn't do it. Blasted sinuses again.

One funny story I recall about swimming at Godfrey's: we took a friend one time, and we were going to swim out to the floating raft that was positioned probably 25 yards away. He swam halfway out, exclaimed, “ I can't make it!” and swam back. I'll let you do the math, but he got teased for a while about that one.

There were three diving boards at the deep end - low, medium and high. I was okay with the low and the medium, but I always had to hold my nose or wear nose clips because when my face hit the water, it felt like someone shoved a knife up my sinuses. The high board was a different story, though. Heights are not my favorite, and there was no way I was diving face-first from up there anyway. I don't think I ever dove head-first off the high board, but I would jump off occasionally just to prove that I wasn't a total chicken.

Godfreys pond

Fishing Forays
Just behind the “deep end ” swimming area was a line of trees, and then the terrain descended into an area we called “The Hollow.” At the back of the hollow flowed Bigelow Creek after the Pond water flowed over the dam. When I was 8, 9, 10 years old, I used to prowl along the edge of that small stream, fascinated by the fish I could see in there. I didn't have a fishing pole, but I got some fishing line and tied a hook on the end (probably not an improved clinch knot) and added a little sinker. I would spend hours, it seemed, tossing that line in the creek, trying to get something to bite. Mostly the fish were just Suckers, but one day I finally managed to get a little Perch to bite. I was so proud that I ran with it all the way to wherever my mom was to show off my probably six-inch fish. It wasn't much to brag about, but it was my first catch.

At some point, probably about age 10, I got a fishing pole and reel of my own. Nothing fancy, of course, just a little push-button spin-cast reel. I must have taught myself to cast because, without a doubt, my dad was the worst fisherman I ever saw. There is a famous legend about the “Gordian Knot,” which was supposedly tied by Gordius, the King of Phrygia, which was only able to be untied by the future ruler of Asia. Well, my dad came up with snarls in his line that would put old Gordius to shame. These occurrences resulted in an outpouring of “Judas Priests!” (my dad's faux cussing ) and “This goldarned stupid reel” that would send us kids scurrying for the hills.

Later in life, I had a small fishing boat and got up the nerve to take my elderly dad fishing in Lake Ontario one time. I was in the front of the boat, and the “Judas Priests” began in the back. I went to help, and somehow he had cast his line backward behind him. As I took the pole and reel to assist him I realized there was a fish on the line that had bitten on his worm. I handed him the pole, and he reeled in a decent smallmouth bass that he had caught completely by accident. Better to be lucky than good sometimes, I guess.

Once I got my own pole and reel, I graduated from the hand line in the creek to fishing in the actual pond. My go-to spot to try was on the bridge where the dam was, and I would cast my worm into the hole on the side where the water had carved out a deep pool before going over the falls. Since I was only 10 or 11 years old, I didn't have a lot of patience, so after the sunfish stole all my worms or I actually hooked a couple, I'd give up and go swimming or something instead.

Godfreys pond

But, one day, I could see a decent-sized largemouth cruising around in my favorite fishin' hole. I REALLY wanted to catch that bass. I might have cast 20 times, and it just wasn't interested, and I was getting frustrated. I almost wanted to say, "Judas Priest bass!” But I tried one last cast and could actually see the worm drifting right in front of the bass's mouth. “C'mon, bite,” I thought and BOOM! It did. I set the hook, and hand trembling, I reeled the bass up out of the water and swung it onto the bridge. As you can see from the photo, it really wasn't that big, but of course, I was thrilled and put it on a stringer to show my parents. Once I was older, I almost always practiced catch and release (I do not care for the taste of fish, and it's better to let them live and grow), but there was no way I wasn't gonna show that one off. I must have gone swimming afterward, though -- notice the nose clips around my neck.

I never really caught a big fish in Godfrey's Pond, but they're in there. Once in the fall, when the water got cold, we watched a guy fight a huge Northern Pike right in the usual summer swimming area. It put up a long fight, and when he finally got it in, it was definitely 3 to 4 feet long.

Godfreys pond

My last memory of fishing in The Pond was soon after I was married in 1972. My wife and I took my younger brother Jim in one of the rowboats across the pond to the south side where the railroad is. A bunch of trees on the embankment provided shade, and it must have been spawning time because we caught so many Sunfish and Bluegills that our arms got tired. This time we let them all go, though.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Godfrey's had a bunch of small rowboats which you could rent for a nominal fee. That's how I learned to row, and we used to cruise around the pond just getting exercise and horsing around. Sometimes fishing too. Eventually, we discovered that in the southwest corner of the pond, there was a cement culvert that went under the railroad tracks. It was put in to allow Bigelow Creek to flow through from the swampy wetlands between Horseshoe Lake and Godfrey's.

Godfreys pond

The Pond rowboats would fit through the passage, but you had to get down really low and fight your way through the spider webs. There might have been a bat or two in there as well. I guess all that made it more exciting. A couple of times, when we got to the other side, we told ourselves that we were going to row all the way to Horseshoe Lake, but the murky water between the reeds and cattails got shallow, and we never made it very far. I'm not even sure it's possible in a boat.

My younger (by 11 years) brother Jim tells a story that when he was a teenager, he took our Uncle George the plumber, not exactly the outdoor type, out in a boat and through that underpass and surprisingly, he really enjoyed it. When you think about it, I imagine a plumber would be used to dark watery places with spiders.

Picnics and “The Stand”
The Pond had plenty of fireplaces, picnic tables, and even a couple of covered shelters for larger family gatherings. My Gramma Newhouse and my mom, Anna Newhouse Reilly, were both good cooks, so we had plenty of picnics on nice summer days. Weekdays were the best because it could get really crowded on weekends. My dad was a notorious mosquito hater, and they loved the taste of him for some reason, so if it was a little damp and not windy, he'd be swatting like a madman. We still tell stories of how at home, if he heard one buzzing near his ear in the night, he'd keep us all up whacking the walls with a rolled-up newspaper until he got the offending bloodsucker.

After swimming (back then, everyone believed that if you ate before swimming, you'd get murderous cramps and drown), we'd always ask Mom for some change and go to the little refreshment store where the changing lockers were (I don't think I ever changed in there once -- we'd just wear our bathing suit under our clothes). We always just called it “The Stand”. We'd get a popsicle (grape was my fave), creamsicle, fudgsicle, candy or a little bag of chips. I think most things only cost a nickel or dime back then. “Ah, the good old days,” as everyone from back then says now.

Godfreys pond

The Worst Thirst
My mom was pretty strict and wouldn't let me get a two-wheeled bicycle until I turned 10 years old, which I did in January 1957. So sometime that spring ( we were living on Ellicott Avenue just before we moved to North Spruce Street), we went to J. Frank Dicks Bike Shop on the corner of Thomas Avenue by Corrigan's mom-and-pop store, and I got a bike. It was a three-speed, and it was referred to as an “English “ bike.

Once I learned to ride, I became obsessed with riding to Godfrey's Pond. I nagged Mom for a long time, and finally, she gave in – with one provision: She would not allow me to ride on Clinton Street Road (Route 33), which was the way we took in the car because of the busy traffic, especially big trucks. So we had to devise an alternate route.

After taking a test ride in the car, it was determined that I would pedal out the Bank Street Road, turn right onto Batavia Stafford Townline Road (no, I didn't remember most of this 66 years later, I had to look it up on my iPhone GPS), then left onto Fotch Road, left to Batavia Byron Road ( a lot of this route is going back south making it longer but safer in Mom's eyes, small country roads with little traffic), and finally onto Griswold Road which takes you to Godfrey's Pond Road.

I started out in the morning, and as I recall, the ride there wasn't actually too bad for a 10-year-old. It was about 8 miles, so I got a good workout for a kid. I felt pretty good about myself, too -- look what I did all by myself. Once there, I really don't remember what I did. It was a weekday, so I don't think any lifeguards were on duty in the morning, and I know I didn't bring a fishing pole on my bike. I guess I just hung out for a while before I started back.

I do remember one thing, though, and it was prophetic of my return trip. Somewhere by the dam and “The Hollow” was a natural spring pipe that people used to drink from. I thought, “I'll get a cool drink before I leave.” Why didn't I bring a canteen with water that I could have filled? This became a very important mistake on my trip home.

It was getting into the afternoon as I left, the sky was clear, and the sun was beating down. I think it turned out to be a pretty hot day. As I retraced my route, it was also more uphill --  a harder ride than the way there earlier. By the time I got to Bank Street Road, I was VERY thirsty. That's when the “Why didn't I bring a canteen ?” thought hit my brain.

You've all seen the movies and the cartoons where the parched travelers are dying of thirst, and the heat waves look like an oasis of water to them as they crawl through the desert sand dunes. Well, I wasn't in the desert or crawling (and definitely not dying), but that's how I felt. And then I made a second crucial mistake. Instead of turning onto Bank Street, somehow, I thought going straight on the Batavia-Elba Townline Road and then taking State Street home would be faster and easier. Wrong.

As I rode along, my lips felt like sandpaper. I had no saliva to swallow, and I was running out of energy. At one point, I peddled, very slowly at that point, past a herd of cows, and there was a tiny little stream of water there. I honestly considered stopping and at least rinsing my mouth. Thankfully I did not make that mistake. Can you imagine how sick I could have gotten from that?

Stock photo for illustration purposes -- not the actual machine that saved Dave's life.
Stock photo for illustration purposes -- not the actual machine that saved Dave's life.

Finally, I made it to State Street ( I must have forgotten to bring my cell phone to call home for Mom to come pick me up, too), and local residents know that is where the Batavia Airport is located. Somehow through sheer willpower (and walking my bike up hills), I made it there, and I was thinking, “They have got to have a pop (that's what we called soda) machine. Please!” And they did.

In my pocket, I had 2 dimes. The machine said 10 cents per bottle .” Yes! I'm saved, I'm not going to die of thirst”. I put in the first dime and pulled on the bottle. And – it wouldn't release. “No! This can't be happening!” One more chance. I put in the second dime, tugged on a bottle in a different row and out it came. I don't even remember the flavor or brand, but I downed that probably 8-ounce bottle like it was the last liquid on earth. Man, that tasted good! And cold.

So I was temporarily saved. But I still had a couple miles to go to Ellicott Avenue, and now I had a raging stomach ache from drinking the pop too fast. But off I went. As I got across the Thruway bridge and closer to the residential area, I came to the Little League Stadium on the corner of Bank and State Streets. I thought, “They have restrooms there! Please let them be unlocked.” And finally, I caught a break -- they were open. I went in and, using my hands as a cup, I drank from the sink faucet (I know-gross) until I thought I would burst. Again-dumb move as I barely made it home without vomiting.

When I got home, I put my bike in the garage and practically crawled up the stairs to our second-floor apartment. Mom was anxiously awaiting me and said, “Oh, I'm so glad you're home safe, Dave. How was your ride?” I was in no mood to tell the whole story right then, so I said, “It was fine. I'll tell you about it later. I'm a little tired right now.” I went right to my bed, and I think I was asleep in about 30 seconds. I don't know if I ever told her the whole story, but I do know that was the thirstiest I have ever been in my life before or since.

Return Visit
I did not go to Godfrey's Pond for many years. In 2016 I reunited with Jim Heatherman, an old elementary, high school, and college friend in Batavia, for lunch. I hadn't seen him in almost 50 years. Over lunch at T. F. Brown's (formerly Mancuso's Restaurant), we got to talking about The Pond. When he left, I drove there just for nostalgia's sake. I didn't stay long. I walked down by the swimming area (now closed due to pollution, a pool has replaced it), saw the old “Stand” and walked the short distance to the dam. I swear everything looked exactly the same. Even the old beat-up rowboats at the docks by the swimming area. The only new thing I noticed was there were two young girl lifeguards on duty, and they were wearing bikinis. That most definitely wasn't the case when I was a kid.

Godfrey's Pond certainly holds a lot of good memories for me and many others. I just wish all could have enjoyed it.

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