Swimmers used to race to Memorial Beach  
Thursday, July 8, 2010





There was a time when swimming was tolerated near the Webster Water Department’s well field on Webster Lake, says Alexander Zackiewicz of Gainesville, Fla., a Webster native who has lived in Florida since 1940.

His family lived in the upper Lake Street area, on Summit Street, when Mr. Zackiewicz formed the Webster memories that remain with him. “I try to stay in touch with what is going on in my home town,” says Al, who will celebrate his 89th birthday this month.

A couple of his juvenile cohorts, John Nowak and Frank Miczek, inaugurated swimming season over several years by racing from the so-called pumping station to Second Island, now Memorial Beach, says Mr. Zackiewicz. “Those of us with boats would line the route.”

Mr. Nowak used a swimming style he learned as a kid, and Mr. Miczek used the Australian crawl, popular in the 1930s because Johnny Weissmuller used the stroke in Tarzan movies, says Al. The swim meets attracted pretty good crowds, but there’s no record of who won the long series.

That people swam near the town water source is the revelation. “This area was later banned for public use for fear of contaminating the nearby artesian wells that supplied our water,” notes Al.

He has developed a list of little-known facts about life in Webster, from the mid-1920s through 1940. His contributions are without specific dates, offered in hopes that someone might add a note or two.

•Staying with the Water Department wells field at the lake, and the ’20s, Al says a variety of “ugly-looking” fish, probably suckers or carp, began to propagate the area in great numbers. They were soft and oily, neither game fish nor edible. Groups of fishermen attacked the unwanted species on moonlit summer nights, using search lights and spears, wading into nests and eliminating great numbers of them, says Mr. Zackiewicz.

•Stanley Zackiewicz was just a young fellow when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to his first term in 1933, and remembers some of the make-work programs that FDR instituted to combat the Great Depression. Construction of the Athletic Field on Ray Street, now the Memorial Athletic Field, was a WPA project. “It took a lot of men a very long time to put up that wall facing the Upper Memorial Park.” Undoubtedly, but it was carted to Memorial Beach after World War II, and the neatly graded stones were used for the public beach house. It stands today pretty much as built at the lake around 1947. Mr. Zackiewicz left his Webster roots before the wall was turned into another memorial. The entire field, with a baseball diamond and a football layout, was closed in with a standard-height fence, even at street side, where the fencing was above the wall, matching the other three out of the park dimensions. It was repaired with the same type of linkage, and this is why a seam is visible in the fence from Ray Street today.

•The Stanley Kozlowski family ran a bakery at one time, and Tony Kozlowski, the eldest son, peddled goods door to door with a horse and wagon, says Mr. Zackiewicz. The part of Summit Street between Everett Street and Greystone Avenue was unpaved in the 1920s (and much later), a bit hilly and filled with ruts. The back doors to the delivery wagon opened one afternoon, and round loaves of packaged bread went rolling down the street. “We (three kids) helped Tony retrieve the bread, and he gave each of us a pineapple square.” The loaves were not damaged.

•William J. Prout, a town police officer, lived on Eddy at Summit Street from the 1920s, recalls Mr. Zackiewicz. Mr. Prout, a sportsman and trapper, kept a large garden on his corner lot. “He staked his tomato plants so high that a stepladder was needed to pick ripe ones from the top of the vines,” says our correspondent. A Worcester Telegram photographer took a photo of Mr. Prout gathering tomatoes one year, and a copy of the print remained in a Webster office file for years, even to my early years with the Worcester publications. Bill Prout was a second-shift desk officer, 3 to 11 p.m., when I happened into the news business. He recognized a news story when he saw one, and this made him a friend to the press. One of his sons, John Prout, was a boxer and lived in the same house with his parents. He trained in a garage near the domicile. Neighborhood kids watched his workouts, says Al Zackiewicz. Another Bill Prout, the original’s grandson, also lived in the Eddy Street house as a pre-teener, and also got into law enforcement. A former police chief in Dudley, and now head of security for Commerce Insurance Co., the current Bill Prout remembers the piping his grandfather used to support his high-vined tomato plants, and recalls that old boxing gloves were hung up in the garage when he was just a kid.

-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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