Baby Boomer Memories: Keeping cool in the summer was all about getting wet


Growing up in the Pittsfield in the 1950s and '60s, I can't remember any homes with air conditioning.

Most definitely no one had it in his/her car. The places I recall most with air conditioning were the North Street theaters.

How did we ever survive with without it in those 90-degree humid days?

As kids we mostly kept cool on summer days by running through lawn sprinklers or splashing in a wading pool.

When the city flushed fire hydrants, many youngsters cooled off in the spray. We did have public wading pools at Springside and Crane playgrounds

Even without these water features almost all of the other playgrounds offered a shaded retreat to distract us youngsters from the heat. We also had supervised games and activities and pick up sports every day at the playgrounds. And long before bottled water, we then cooled off with a drinking fountain, a nickel Popsicle or cold soda.

A cool treat for many in the summer was being a day camper at one of the service agency camps like the Boys Club Camp Russell, the YMCA's Camp Sumner, the Girls' Club Camp Stevenson, the Girl Scouts Camp Marion White and several others.

All were located on lakes, where they had swim breaks, often in the morning and afternoon.

The most popular "cool downs" took place at the free supervised public beaches at Pontoosuc and Onota lakes. Families that lived near the lakes could benefit from the beaches daily or their own shoreline.

The rest of us mostly went on weekends when the family breadwinner had the day off. We would pack up the old station wagon with family and friends, piling as many as nine of us inside. We had hardly enough room for the picnic basket and scotch cooler.

Our old inner tubes were tied on the roof that we'd use for our day's water fun. Hard to believe how many of us survived without kiddie seats and seat belts.

The beach was an inexpensive and safe outing for families. Lifeguards were on duty and shallow areas were fenced or roped off for kids. Somewhere around the age of 10 or 11, most of us learned to really swim. Our goal then was to be old enough and strong enough to swim out to the floating docks built over 55 gallon drums.

Although we frequented both lakes and sometimes other ones in the county, my all-time favorite was Pontoosuc. Truth is that in addition to its beach, the lake's proximity to many other attractions couldn't be beat.

Peter's Choo Choo, Balance Rock, Baker's Miniature Golf, the merry-go-round rides and the boat Sheila all were close to the lake. When we were lucky (and well behaved) one of these amusements became a special added treat.

Even when we were teens, the lakes never lost their appeal. But by those years the hot spot was now Pontoosuc's beach known as the Blue Anchor, next to the YMCA Canoe Club and named for a club that stood on the spot until the mid-1940s.

This was the place to sun bathe, show off muscles or cute figures and to socialize. Now and then a speedboat or water skier would zoom by to show off.

For the real nautically inclined, the club offered canoe rentals or sailing opportunities.

Nowadays baby boomers only have memories of Pontoosuc's public beach, the floating docks, the Sheila, the Blue Anchor, the Canoe Club and the merry-go-rounds. But now many of us cool off in air conditioned homes and cars, private pools and water parks.

Onota still has a popular public beach for families and the Common has a splash feature for kids. We can't complain too much, but I do miss those days.

Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native, is the founder of the newly opened Berkshire Carousel and author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." For more information on the project and books, go to or visit the carousel at 50 Center St. in Pittsfield.


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