American folklore is saturated with images of boys such as Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer cavorting in swimming holes, usually in their birthday suits. Artist Norman Rockwell helped popularize such images, too.

In this column, I’d like to reminisce a bit about one such place in particular, which I frequented and helped develop when I was growing up in Saco.

The eight or 10 of us who enjoyed a particular hole lived on Portland Road between Thornton Academy and Goosefare Brook. During the hot summer days, we enjoyed what we called Smitty’s Hole. Those of us in the Hutchins Street area off Route 1 took a route that became routine.

Using paths through the woods that might have been trampled down by Native Americans, we passed a huge boulder 10 to 15 feet high that gained contemporary “fame” for an event that became known as the “Toopee-Josh” battle site. That was because our effort to make peace between the two family dogs failed completely.

Leaving what was then called Baker Woods, we soon reached the railroad tracks of the Eastern Division which passed through Saco on its north side.

Walking those tracks was torture on a hot July day; neither the railroad ties nor the tracks would tolerate bare feet on the quarter-mile stretch past the Sweetser Home’s fields through which we passed until we reached the high railroad banks over Goosefare Brook.

Scampering down those banks was dangerous, since they were built from loose coal/coke ashes. Spraining an ankle would have been easy.

But all this pain and danger was worthwhile simply to strip down to bare skin and plunge into the swimming hole, an area of perhaps 20 feet by 30 feet, enough to accommodate up to 10 lively boys.

The hole was not simply a place to which we came. We helped shape it.

We could hear the few autos of the 1920s racing along Route 1. When trains passed, we waved to the engineers passing 40 to 50 feet higher than our heads. They always seemed so friendly!

Nor to our knowledge did they ever object or turn us in for nudity, which of course lent a degree of freedom which we prized. We enhanced the condition by making slides down the slippery clay banks, both on our backs and our tummies.

We trimmed the surrounding brush and built up the dams that contained this small body of brook water, but I doubt if its depth went beyond 4 or 5 feet, so it was not too dangerous — and we looked out for one another!

Looking back on those events, they were worth the memories even if we reached home hotter than when we left, since the railroad stint burned more on the home leg of the trip. The swimming hole was always Smitty’s to us, but in retrospect, we could have named it Freedom’s Follies.


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