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Looking Back on Old Bloomington

This is a newspaper article from the “Bloomington Daily Telephone” from December 16, 1929 by Blaine W. Bradfute.

Image of the Showers Administration Building from the cover of Shop Notes vol 1 no 2, April 7, 1917 (1989.072.0027b). The old Showers pond was 100 yards south of this building.

Four and five decades ago the boys of the north end of Bloomington found amusement at the Showers pond and the Hunter pond. How many people of today can recall the sites of these two ponds? The Showers pond was located a hundred yards south of the present Showers administration building. This pond was constructed as a water supply for the factory before Bloomington had a water system. It was used by the factory for many years and it was also used by many boys as a playground. Hundreds of youngsters skated on the pond, and sailed boats on its water. With its mud bottom the pond did not offer much of a swimming “hole” and no fish lived in it. Besides its economic feature of supplying water for the factory the Showers pond gave thousands of “play hours” to the boys and girls of the north part of Bloomington.

The Hunter pond was located on the Gen. Morton C. Hunter place at the foot of College avenue hill going north – it was near the I.C. tracks but it pre-dated this railway by many years. The Hunter pond offered a place to sail toy boats, skate and fish. Its waters teemed with small catfish and many a Bloomington lad threw his first hook and line in the waters of the old pond.

The favorite swimming “hole” of Bloomington boys at that time was in Griffy Creek, a hundred yards north of Griffy Creek bridge. A huge log was part of the north shore of Griffy Creek at this place, and it offered a fine place to dive into the water. The depth of the water was only up to a small boy’s mouth but there was a great amount of diving – many youngsters learned to swim and dive in this “old swimming hole.” The diving log and pool were in plain sight of the road and the bridge and whenever a horse and buggy approached “with a woman” there was a great splashing as a dozen naked youngsters plunked into the water, much as that many frogs might have done. This was long before the day of the one-piece bathing suit; indeed it was before the day of any type of bathing suit in Bloomington. In the summer the small boys bathed in the waters of Griffy Creek, in the winter they suffered a weekly Saturday night bath in a tin tub in the kitchen. By and large this was before the advent of the bathroom to Bloomington.

Photo from the MCHC photo collection (1989.041.0001)

The electric light had just come to Bloomington, gas was a long ways in the future, the automobile was to be invented a decade later, the “very rich” people drove a horse and surrey or phaeton. Livery stables occupied prominent places about town; here the “sports” kept their red-wheeled buggies. All the Saturday visitors carried their buggy whip in hand as they strolled about town Saturday afternoon. The mothers of small boys warned them against three great evils – the saloon, the pool parlor and loafing around a livery stable. It was a day of simple pleasures, a “nickle” was a large amount of spending money for a small boy, a dollar was a day’s wages for the ordinary working man. Chickens sold for 20 to 25 cents. There were saloons still about the public square and on north Walnut street (in the Princess and Harris Grand block). The general populace did its drinking in the saloons, celebrating the annual arrival of the Bock beer season. Business and professional men, town officials and deacons took their drinks at one of two famous drug stores. Life was very liable to be short, there was no hospital, no surgeons in Bloomington; it was before the day of appendicitis – men died from causes which today would hardly be termed a serious illness. Excitement dated from one fire to another; there was a volunteer fire department and a hand “Cater-rack” and every man, woman, and child down to the last baby attended – no excitement can compare to a good-sized fire of the old days when Bloomington was a village.

Watching a fire continued to be a form of entertainment in the 1920s. Here a crowd gathers in front of the Hooks Drug fire in January 1929. From the MCHC photo collection (2003.059.0005)