The Crystal Lake space was as soon as an leisure hub in Gardner
Today it is best known as Gardner’s largest natural body of water, and is so named for its purity and clarity. You may not notice it today when you gaze at the calm waters and pristine surroundings, but Crystal Lake was once a booming entertainment hub.
It has provided Gardner with its drinking water for centuries, and this necessity has led to the recreation area no longer existing.
The grounds once featured an ornate picnic grove, an outdoor bowling alley, a steam-powered carousel, a dance pavilion, and a baseball diamond. In addition, the lake was well stocked with row boats and several steamers crossing Gardner’s largest waterway.
A paper prepared in 1932 by Ms. Lucy Kendall for the Gardner Historical Society examined the origins of Crystal Lake, as well as the history of the park, which was a feature of the recreation area.
Originally known as Wells’ Pond, so named after a Thomas Wells who settled in the area and owned some of the land adjacent to the pond, the name was not an official one. As recently as 1857, the water source was referred to simply as Gardner Pond in a map book.
This changed, however, when, at a town meeting in October 1858, a committee examined land in the western part of the pond in order to build a burial place. At that point the committee decided that Gardner Pond would be called Crystal Lake and the cemetery would be called Crystal Lake Cemetery.
In 1872 the Boston, Barre and Gardner Railroad ran from Worcester through town and across the lake. There is a peninsula bisecting Crystal Lake with what was once known as Little Lake, where the railroad crossed the area. Little Lake eventually became the outdoor swimming pool at Greenwood Memorial Pool.
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A year earlier, John Hill of Gardner bought several row boats that could be rented for a leisurely rowing trip across the lake. Eventually, word got around of the beautiful landscape and crystal clear water, making it a coveted recreational area.
After the railroad was completed, the railroad managers saw the possibility of a picnic grove on the west bank – near the 11th hole of the Gardner Municipal Golf Course. Money was used to tidy up the grounds, tables and seating were built, and swings were put up. Eventually a cook house was built where coffee and stew were available, and a dance pavilion was built.
Hill, then known as the “Commodore”, bought more boats until he had a whole fleet. The new Crystal Lake Grove would become a very popular picnic spot. On some summer days, trains – with up to 12 to 13 wagons loaded with people – even ran up the grove from Worcester, while smaller trains arrived from Winchendon and Peterborough, NH
Structure of the holiday area
Further improvements were made to the site every year. In 1875 a large pavilion was built; Roofs were erected over tables and an ice house was built and filled for the winter. During the summer season, large tubs of refreshing ice water were set up to satisfy the crowd. A carousel was also a popular attraction for the younger generation.
Eventually a small steamer was also purchased, which is said to have been doing a thriving business on the lake.
The Crystal Lake Hotel was also built on the shore not far from the Heywood Brothers pumping station. In June 1880, a suspicious fire severely damaged one of the wings of the building. Hand tubs from the engine companies Torrent, Baw Bees and Cataract provided help.
By 1881 Hill sold his shares to Henry Foster, who built a house not far from what is now the shores of what is now the shores of the Gardner Elks Club. In 1895, a streetcar line was built from Lake Street to the park to carry the crowds that flocked there every afternoon and evening.
An attractive restaurant building was built nearby and meals were served daily during the park season. The old carousel was also sold and moved to the Picnic Grove on Lake Dennison in Winchendon. It was replaced by a new and beautiful steam carousel with eight chariots and 24 galloping horses, which circled accompanied by a music organ.
Several other attractions of the former picnic grove have also been preserved, including the bowling alley, shooting gallery, food stand, and photo studio. In addition, blasting and rock mining provided a suitable baseball diamond and a grandstand with 450 seats, which allowed the “National Game” – as it was called – to flourish on the site.
Marcus A. Osgood eventually leased the place and traveling parties presented popular variety entertainment every afternoon and evening in August. The tram was a popular form of transport, but many of the less affluent made their way to the pavilion across a lush pasture. They just stood around the edge of a seating area and could catch a glimpse of the stage without having to buy a ticket.
Those who preferred to traverse the area in a rowboat could enjoy orchestral music as they floated on the calm waters. It is said to have been a very pleasant way to spend a moonlit evening, and many games were reportedly played in the ideal romantic conditions.
In October 1890, the Gardner Boat Club built their clubhouse north of what is now the doomed pumping station on the eastern shore of the lake. A nearby bike path was popular for leisurely rides, while bike races were also held during the city’s Independence Day celebrations.
These joys soon ended, however, when the state took control of Crystal Lake as the city’s water supply in 1904 and banned its use for other purposes. The boats and the steamer were fetched from the lake, the boathouse demolished and the park closed.
A triumphant advance
In 1919, after the end of the First World War, it was proposed to build a “triumphal procession” as a memorial for the world war. The road would circle the lake and begin at the north end of Crystal Lake Cemetery, with the ridge providing expansive views of the lake’s east shore. The driveway would wind around the north end, past the old picnic grove, giving access to Clark Street. It would then run through Heywood Grove on the site of the former Heywood Farm and then past the pumping station to Park Street and Monument Park.
However, this plan never came to fruition. Eventually, the Crystal Lake area became home to the Greenwood Memorial Pool, Gardner Municipal Golf Course, Heywood Hospital, Veterans Memorial Skating Rink, and Gardner Lodge of Elks.
A bike path connects Park Street to Green Street, and part of the golf course enjoys the beauty of sprawling Crystal Lake, though it may present a water hazard to some golfers.
Few are who know Crystal Lake as more than the city’s water supply. But there was a time when it was one of the most visited entertainment centers in the area.
Then and now comments and suggestions can be sent to Mike Richard at [email protected] or by writing to Mike Richard, 92 Boardley Road, Sandwich, MA 02563.