Personal Memories of Green Lakes State Park
Barbara Cross Naylor (1922-present) was the daughter of Roger Cross, a farmer whose land was appropriated by the state for the creation of Green Lakes State Park. Naylor has many fond memories of growing up on the land that would become Green Lakes State Park, as well as fond memories of visiting the state park later in life as a Fayetteville resident. She documents her memories in "Remembering Green Lake," composed for this project in 2009.
Remembering Green Lake
Ever since I can remember Green Lake has been a happy part of me. Now at eighty-seven when I swim the dog paddle in the pool, my husband says I'm doing "the Green Lake Crawl."
In l918 my parents, Roger and Grace Cross bought the Wilcox farm with my Uncle Howard and Aunt Frances. The cow pasture bordered Green Lake. My parents bought the farm house which was a short walk from that deep beautiful green glacier lake. What a romantic spot for newlyweds! The house was a hundred years old at the time. Since then renovations have revealed that horsehair was used for insulation.
There was a little scenic stream about a half mile long, connecting Green Lake to Round Lake, with a quaint foot bridge at the Green Lake end. The bridge and the path have been maintained all these years so that hikers could enjoy both lakes. These lakes were pristine jewels set between the surrounding wooded hills, before the Green Lake Golf Course up above was even dreamed of.
Cedar trees still hang over the water at Green Lake. On the east side right by the path is an underwater ledge called "Dead Man's Point." There was a story that a man drowned exploring under that ledge. A warning sign read "No Swimming or Diving." Other stories described the depth and source of the green water. Dr. Henry Meier, a Syracuse University Professor in the Forestry College, determined that a certain algae made the water green.
At the east end of the lake is a small stream that goes under Route 92 and then under a branch of The Erie Barge Canal. My husband told me that he caught a big trout bare handed in that stream. Perhaps it was going upstream to spawn.
At one time recreational groups came by canal boat from Syracuse and Rome to visit Green Lake, partying at the Wilcox hostel.
In the early days before the State Park my Mother rented canoes out on the lake. Young people from Fayetteville would rent a canoe, then leave it at the far end of Round Lake, and hike through the woods back to Fayetteville. On Sunday afternoons our family would go paddle the canoes back. Mother soon learnled to take a deposit for each rental.
Before the State Park there wasn't any beach at Green Lake, only muck. But my Dad made a little dock for launching the canoes and for us swimmers to enter the water without having to wade through the muck. I recall a picture of me at about four years old hanging on to the dock from the water. That would have been 1926.
Dad planted an apple orchard overlooking the lake. After years of pruning and cultivating, the trees finally reaached their prime. He highly valued the Macintosh and Northern Spy orchard, but New York State condemned the farm property during the depression so that it was sold at a great loss to the Cross Family. This happened soon after the two brothers had divided the farm. Howard became a hay broker, loading freight cars in nearby Minoa. Roger preferred to specialize in dairy farming. The cows with the best butterfat were named for his daughters.
Development of the State Park
The Federal CCC planted pine trees on the back of the farm. Some time later rental cabins were built among those trees overlooking the lake way below. A stone pavillion was built on the east side of the lake. At first it was to house the family of Arvin Almquist who was the first Superintendent of Green Lake State Park. Later on the building became a restaurant. A boat house soon followed, and then a refreshment stand on the beach. By this time many truck loads of sand had covered up the muck and made that beautiful beach.
The hill been our Wilcox house and Green Lake was removed to make a huge level parking lot. That was the end of our asparagus patch. A house was built for the Superintendent's family in a complex of buildings built for storing maintenance vehicles and tools.
Construction of The Green Lake Golf course was soon under way. A huge stone pavillion was built on the top of the largest hill, a Clubhouse with a fantastic view. My sister Martha became a waitress at that Golf Clubhouse, saving her earnings for college. It was there that I stood holding hands with my husband and watched some spectacular lightning, overcoming my long time fear of thunder storms. Right there in front of us was the long slope with drumlins that used to be our favorite sledding and skiing hill. It was familiar territory and I felt calm and safe.
A new winding road was built from Route 5 up to the Green Lake Golf Course and upper Green Lake State Park entrance. In his retirement years my Dad worked at this upper toll booth of the Park. He never complained about losing his farm. Instead he wrote poetry in the solitude of the woods while waiting to take tolls.
Picnic areas with playgrounds and toilets came next along the new road going down to the beach at the main front entrance of the Park. People came from Syracuse and all around the county. Several life guards were needed for the high view chair and the lifesaver boats. Martha and I rented our bedrooms to lifeguards. It may sound suspicious, but no one questioned us. We slept elsewhere and just made their beds, saving the rent for our college savings.
When I was a teenager I conducted a day camp for young girls at our farm to earn some of my college expenses. For a dollar a day I used some Girl Scout skills to teach swimming lessons at the lake, using the buddy system. We held crafts in a remodelled chicken house, and talked Pig Latin in the tree house. Mother served a hot lunch followed by a story time and naps in a "dormitory" upstairs. My sister Martha helped, along with two other good friends, Ann Armstrong and Carolyn Jennings. We rotated half hour activities signalled with bugle calls, and closed the day with a flag ceremony at five o 'clock. Some of the girls who attended camp often were Liz Gruppe, Helen Spencer, and Joyce Brown from Fayetteville. Grace Bryan sent her nieces who visited her for the summer.
I love to remember the tree house. It was inspired at Green Lake. My boy friend Jim and I sat on one of those cedar logs hanging out over Green Lake. We looked at our reflections in the still green water below. He said that he loved me. I said, "Oh no you don't or you'd build me a tree house". The next morning I was sleeping late and awoke to a pounding hammer. Looking out of an upstairs window of our farm house I saw Mother holding a post for a tree house. Jim was in the wide main crotch of the big maple tree pounding one of the posts in place to support an extended platform. Bed side boards added safety. The campers could blow soap bubbles from there and change their bathing suits in a telephone repair tent which Dad had suspended on a cable. above. The tree branches were a natural clothesline. When the wind blew the tent the little girls sang a song I had learned in Girl Scouts.
One of our favorite family stories is about Gramma sleeping in the tree house. Martha and her three daughters were visiting and the girls wanted to sleep in the tree house. After we thought they were settled, first Connie came down. and then Ruth came down the ladder. Mother said, "We can't let Margie sleep up there alone." As she headed for the tree house Dad asked, "Are you going to climb up that ladder with your nightie on, Grace?" She just kept going, climbed safely up, and promplty fell sound asleep snuggled next to her little granddaughter. When Margie had heard enough snoring, she too came down and left Gramma alone up there sleeping peacefully in the tree house.
Later in life we rented an apartment in the Wilcox house of my parents. Jim enjoyed the golf course and I the lake.
When we lived in Fayetteville I brought my children to enjoy Green Lake. In one of the picnic areas we found a little secret cave still undisturbed. I'm grateful for Green Lake State Park that now so many other families can enjoy God's natural wonders as we have. Everyone loves Green Lake. One of my relatives even requested that her ashes be spread on the water.
Do come and see Green Lake State Park for yourself, and bring the family.
Roger Cross (1891- 1979) was a farmer who owned a large parcel of land surrounding Green Lakes prior to its development as a state park. After the State acquired the Cross farm via contract, Cross had difficulty parting with "the quiet solitude of the primeval forest around Green Lake." He returned to Green Lakes State Park upon his retirement, working as a toll collector for a total of 15 summers. The following is a poem Cross wrote as a reflection on his time as a toll collector at Green Lakes, taken from his book of poetry called Autumn Leaves:
Richard A. Almquist (1934-present) is the son of Arvin H. Almquist, the original superintendent of Green Lakes State Park. Richard lived with his mother and father on park property during his childhood, and worked summers as a maintenance employee in the park during the late 1940s. The following are excerpts from his 1997 article entitled "Personal Memories of Growing Up on Green Lakes Park," accompanied by photographs taken by Arvin Almquist during the park's formative years.
"Growing up as the son of the Superintendent of Green Lakes Park, with 900 acres, a golf course and a lake to consider as my own back yard, was a very special destiny that I'm only fully appreciating in my later years. To walk bare-footed over to the beach through a parking lot packed with cars; to become immune to hot tar on the soles of my feet by the end of July; those memories are spotty now because I didn’t realize what destiny had bestowed on me, and I took a lot of it for granted. My classmates and I had a Mutual Envy Society going: I lived where they wanted to go on weekends and they lived in Fayetteville where all the action was.
My mom, Ruth Cheeseman Almquist from Seneca Falls, and my dad, Arvin Henry Almquist, from Connecticut, were married in 1927. My dad’s job was to help survey and then supervise the development of Green Lakes State Park. At the beginning of the project, they lived at first in an old cabin near…the west boundary of the park. My folks had no electricity and had to haul water by hand up to that lonely camp.
When the Administration Building was completed, Mom and Dad moved into an apartment in the west end of it.
"They were living in that beautiful lakeside apartment in the summer of 1929 when the parking lot first filled with cars for the parks Opening Day…the summer before The Great Wall Street Crash."
"I’ve been told that my mom refused to have me until there was a proper house in which to raise me, and the first winter after they moved from the lakeside Administration Building to the new Superintendent’s House, I was born (1934)."
Until I started working (on the maintenance crew) in 1948, I seldom went into the bath house except to harass the lifeguards. I must have been a real little pain because I realized my father was their boss, and I guess I pushed the limits of endurance too far a couple of times. I remember one terrifying incident back when I was probably a snotty 6- or 7-year-old, where I was grabbed and became the unwilling centerpiece in a game of blanket toss.
Winter sports at the golf course started before World War II. I remember watching Dad flood an area…behind the golf house for a skating rink. Skiing was kind of informal back then, but we may have had a tow rope on the front nine running from the bottom of the golf house hill up toward the pro shop.
During the war it was very hard to find suitable guys for lifeguards. Dad got the permission to try some girls that were certified by the Red Cross and I soon learned about equality. Those girls could pull a swimmer in trouble out of the lake just like the big, burly guys we used to hire.
These are some of my memories of my years at Green Lakes Park, mementos that I feel should be left for those who now and in the years ahead will enjoy the wilderness treasure that I was so privileged to call home for my first years of life.”