The following was adapted from an early history written by Ellis J. Burdett who had the idea of forming the Oakfield Recreation Club (ORC for short) in the early 1930’s, and Jean Olcott, his niece. Present day notes have been added in brackets .
Looking for Property--
As I recall, the Oakfield Recreation Club was organized in 1931. Ellis Burdett was elected president and the Rev. T. T. Wilson, minister of the Oakfield Presbyterian Church, was Sec. and Treas. The idea for the starting of the club started when I was commander of Post 626 of the American Legion in Oakfield. I wanted to do something for the people of Oakfield and surrounding countryside. I suggested at one of our meetings that we look at the old school house on Webber Ave. to see if it could be purchased and fixed up for a recreation area and we also planned to build a swimming pool on the big lot behind the school. At that time the school building was a wreck with broken windows, there had been a fire, and half the roof was burned off. Plaster was falling off the walls and the maple floors were ruined from rain beating on them, and the furnace was rusted out. Therefore the other members of the post were not keen on getting the school with all its problems.
The Edwin Green Farm--
I then forced a committee of five men and myself as chairmen to look around the town for a better place to start the club. We went to look at several locations where ponds had been, and finally ended one day at the Edwin Greene Farm. The area where we wanted to make a pond was filled with trees, brush and weeds, but it did have a nice little stream flowing through it and we thought with a lot of hard work, we could make this our club location.
We had a meeting and decided that this was what we wanted to do, so we asked Mr. Greene about getting the land back of the water. After our committee walked through all the underbrush, we realized that we had a big job to do but everyone was willing to work on it. Mr. Greene said he would give us a 100-year lease on the property. The ORC since has obtained ownership of all of its acres of property and parcels through the years.
Railroad Pond Formly Filled Steam Engines--
We got started clearing out all the brush and trees and then we found out that the west shore railroad pipeline, which carried water to the railroad, ran right through the center of this tract of land that we were clearing. So we went to the railroad company and got permission to clear the area where their pipeline was, but they told us we had to give them the right away if ever they had to repair the line, which meant we would have to drain the pond so they could make repairs. The railroad also owned the reservoir (now the ORC’s back pond used for fishing and use of our row boats and canoes), which ran into the stream, which would become a part of “the ponds”. “The ponds” is a fond nickname that many members of the ORC over the years have continued to use referring to the ORC.
Building a Dam--
We kept on clearing the land until we got to the point where we had to start building a dam. I then found out that we had to get permission from Albany to build a dam. I wrote some official of New York State in Albany and they sent us specific directions so that farmers who lived below the dam site would be able to get water for their livestock. We had to let a certain amount of water always flow over in order to do this. A man named Carl Snyder, who was the crane operator for USG, built the dam for us and did a wonderful job.
"Emerald Lake" and Water Toboggans--
The pond filled up after a time, and a lot of people thought that because there was gravel all over the property it would not hold water, but it did and we had a very nice pond for our members. At this point some of our members began referring to our swim pond as “Emerald Lake”. After we filled the pond we decided we needed a bathhouse, so we went to the school board to see if we could buy a small building on Weber Ave. that they wanted to dispose of. We were able to get it, and had it moved up to the pond. We had it fixed up so that it look really good. We had 2 sections—one for females and the other for males. We roped off the beach so the small children would be safe until they learned to swim. We built a dock from the bathhouse out into the deeper water for swimmers to jump or dive from. We built a nice toboggan slide on the east bank where we had little toboggans on wheels, which ran on a track, and it was a nice ride down into the water. You could almost skim across the water to the other side if you sat just right on the toboggan.
First Cottages from Boxcars--
After one year we incorporated the club with Buckley and Avery doing the legal work for us, and we gave them memberships for doing so. The club members starting using tents at first to stay at the pond weekends, etc., but then one by one we all built cottages. I started out with a large tent with a wooden floor and sides closed up half way with siding. Then I gave up the tent and bought an old barbershop building, which had been on South Pearl Street. I had it moved to the site on the east side of the pond. Some of us also bought an old railroad boxcar and tore it apart; that built Paul Eisenberg’s cottage which was next door to mine. There was enough lumber for me to add two bedrooms onto my little cabin. Some of the other members built their places with boxcar lumber too.
The early members who helped me form the club were as follows:
Mitchell Reed Harry Gumann
Ira Burr Clarke Barnum
Rev. Wilson Paul Eisenburg
Leon Chamberlain Dave Dutton
Fred Clor Les Reed
Best Water in Oakfield--
There were others but I can’t remember them all now. We discovered there was a nice spring on the east bank near the toboggan slide so we had the water tested and it was the best water in Oakfield. We knocked out the heads of two 60 gallon steel drums, sunk them over our spring, one on top of the other, piped the water to the top of the east bank, and bought a new well pump. Later on, we piped water into some of the cottages.
Electricty and Phones--
We planted many trees around the pond and the grounds. We had a mason from east Pembroke build us a building that would hold two rooms to be used as bathrooms for men and women. We also had a septic tank with leach beds put in. Leon Chamberlain, Supt. of the Phoenix Gypsum Co. in south Alabama, NY, and the members of our club, had a shuffleboard court made. We had electric service installed for all the cottages that wanted it and also phone service. We built outdoor fire places on different sites, and we had a steel cable stretch across the pond from the east bank to the west bank with a wheel on it, and handles to grip, so you stood on one bank, grabbed the handle and rode down the cable and dropped off in the water.
We did also lease the reservoir from the railroad company and stocked it with fish, as well as the pond. I was president of the ORC for 5-6 years, and always loved the place. It has brought many years of enjoyment to many people. In the beginning it was mostly local people who had cottages at the pond, but through the years they have been sold to out-of-town folks. Many came from as far as Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo area [and NW PA] etc. When the ORC was formed, the dues were only $3 dollars a year.
Footnote by Gene Olcott, niece of Mr. Burdett
I can remember going to visit my aunt and uncle at the pond when I was about 7 years old. I can remember staying in the tent and it being knocked down once when we had a thunderstorm up there. We used to have our Glor family reunions up there every summer and would spend a whole day eating, swimming and playing games. I used to love to ride the toboggan slide and that finally had to be taken down in the 1940’s because kids started riding down while standing on the toboggan and they got hurt. The club decided it had to go. I can’t recall when the steel cable broke, but that went too.
Cookouts and the Pavilion--
When Wayne and I were first married my cousin Fred used to let us use his cottage for our vacations. In 1950 he decided to sell it and we bought it fast. We have never been sorry we made that purchase. When different friends of ours came up for a picnic at ORC, they also loved the place, and two couples also bought cottages there. When my uncle and his friends started the ORC they had a Saturday night ritual for years. They usually built a campfire in the fireplace near the dam and always had hots and hamburgers around midnight. As a child I thought that was a real special treat. They were still doing this when Wayne and I bought our cabin. As the years went by we progressed from hots and hamburgers to steak roasts, chicken roasts, corn roasts, ham and eggs, veal and peppers, pizzas and pudgie pies. You name it we cooked it and ate it. We’d sit around those outdoor fireplaces many nights talking, swapping jokes, singing, and having great times. In the early 60’s we decided to build a pavilion. Too many of our cookouts and campfires had gotten rained on, so a very roomy pavilion was built, with a wood stove installed. Many a pleasant evening has been enjoyed under that roof. We also had a big Labor Day celebration for years. All the ladies would take their special dishes and we set up a huge buffet in the pavilion. It seems like we eat-eat-eat!!! Ed Hayes and Harry Smith were our clam chowder makers for that day; and what good cooks they were. It was always a real festive way to end a good summer at the ORC.
The Concrete Dam
The pond had to be drained once back in the 60’s because of a bad weed problem in the water. Leaves falling from the tall cotton wood trees kept building up a muck layer and caused this problem. We had this problem again so we decided to cut the trees down in 1980 and clean up the pond again. In 1978 the ORC went on to remodel the dam and this time instead of an earthen dam, used concrete. We had concrete trucks come in with cement and our the men spent hours of hard work on this, but now we have a nice new concrete dam.
Dredging the Pond--
In 1989 it was decided to dredge the pond. Truckloads of sludge were removed. Half of the sludge went to the town dump and the rest to the ORC dump near our reservoir. As a result of the dredging, the pond became wider and deeper than ever. It is now 12 feet to 15 feet by the high diving board. The bottom of the pond has hard shale and stone surface, which we discovered once we had the pond dredged in 1989. A water pipe was also discovered down the center of the pond coming from the old steam train reservoir, which had been put there in 1915. Mr. McNulty renewed our beach by bringing in 5 loads of sand, and he also built a culvert along the road with stone to keep rainwater from washing across the beach and forcing sand into our pool (the “pool” is our main pond for swimming, water sports, paddle boats and our canoe). [The ORC also acquired an aeration system for both ponds that pulls air into the ponds from a pumping station to provide oxygen to both ponds to promote there health and sustainability of both ponds and wild life.]
It was estimated that water from the natural springs goes into the pond at 3500 gallons per hour. Very happy groups of cottage owners watched “ Emerald Lake” fill up again in August of 1989 and we all had a few glorious weeks of swimming to enjoy, so our “ Long Hot Summer” ended on a happy note!!!
A Peaceful Retreat from Our Hectic World--
The ORC has always been a nice place for families to go to with their children and a nice place for well-earned retirement. Many fine friendships have developed through memberships in ORC. We are always sad when old members decide to leave us and we are pleased to meet new people who take their place. One would hope that it would always be a retreat from our hectic world for generations to come.