Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A vision of Chariton as a summer resort

Lucas Countyans have many choices these days when it comes to outdoor recreation on hot summer days --- the Vredenburg Aquatic Center, Red Haw State Park, the Cinder Path, Pin Oak Marsh and many other Lucas County Conservation areas, thousands of acres of Stephens State Forest and, of course, proximity to both Rathbun and Red Rock lakes.

But that was not the case a century ago, back in 1921, when Crystal Lake --- known less grandly some years earlier when it was built as the "Q Pond" --- was the biggest body of water in captivity in this part of the south of Iowa and aspirational boosters were promoting Chariton as a summer resort.

The big pond (or small lake) was built during 1905 and 1906 by the C.B.&Q. Railroad as a water source, needed for the dozens of steam-powered locomotives that rolled through Chariton daily. The railroad leased the surrounding land to an area farmer and, during 1908, he subleased the shoreline and recreational use of the water to an outfit called the Chariton Gun Club.

Gun Club members were interested principally in shooting and fishing, but set about developing the southeast shore as a public recreation area that eventually would include a beach, bathing shelters, a pavilion and a variety of other recreational assets. 

But the farmer's marauding cattle --- which he declined to fence --- became a major issue. As a result, during 1910 the Gun Club took over the lease on all the property around the lake and christened it officially Crystal Lake during that year.

During 1920, the Lake View Golf Club was organized and a sublease for 40 acres along the southwest shore of the lake was worked out and the foundation of the current 9-hole course was developed.

All of these developments led up to publication in The Herald-Patriot of June 23, 1921, of the following article headlined, "Chariton as a Summer Resort: Has Advantages Ahead of Any Other City in South Iowa."


Just as Chicago discovered Lake Michigan a few years ago, so Chariton is awakening to its wonderful advantages as a summer resort. From river to river, across southern Iowa, there is no other city which enjoys the privileges of bathing, boating, fishing and summer recreation that Chariton has. Des Moines would give $100,000 if it could have such a resort as we have within easy access.

At almost any hour of the day pleasure seekers may be found at the Crystal Lake resort, but in the evening the autos are parked along the shore by the hundreds, there are scores of bathers and crowds engaged in games and as spectators. The breeze off the lake is cool and refreshing, and the water recently has been fine, just right in temperature and not muddy nor stagnant.

The resort is maintained by the Gun Club, a very democratic institution, meant to affor recreation for all who are willing to share the small expense for upkeep. Tennis, croquet, horseshoe grounds provide play for the adults and an enclosed space spells fun and safety for the little tots.

Many improvements are made each year and these will be continued until Chariton's play ground is one of the best in the state. More shade is needed and this can be quickly supplied by planting Carolina poplars, which are of quick growth. The bathing beach could be improved by added gravel and a fenced wading pond for the tiny tots would be fine. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Darrah, in charge, are just right for the place and it is to their credit that now accidents have occurred and that splendid order is maintained at all times.

Across the lake the new golf club house makes a fine appearance and the hills are dotted with the golf enthusiasts. More and more Chariton will realize that this resort is a big asset which will draw many people to the city.


Truth of the matter was, however, that Crystal Lake wasn't big enough to support all of the aspirational ideas surrounding it --- and so other than the golf course, public recreation assets were developed elsewhere.

The shoreline of the lake became the site for the seasonal cottages of club members that by now have been replaced for the most part by permanent homes --- some quite grand --- that are privately owned but sit on land leased from the golf club.

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