Sunday, July 3, 2016

Independence Day, Great Depression Style

In the southern part of Beadle county, South Dakota, Cain Creek meanders through the slightly hilly terrain of Clifton township.  Nearly 50 miles long, the creek enters western Beadle county and winds its way southeasterly, emptying into the James River.  A small portion of the creek just barely caught the northwest quarter of Will Knutz's 80 acre farm, and as my mother remembers, was down a rolling hill from their house.   In the weeks before the Independence Day holiday in 1933, someone looked at that creek and had a great idea...

The dot inside the red circle shows the location of the farmhouse of the Will and Virta Knutz family, and its proximity to Cain Creek.  The road just to the left of the red circle is Highway 37, south of Huron.

Neighbors and friends gathered to build a dam on the creek, forming what was said to have been an excellent, and very popular, swimming hole.  The Knutz children, among others, spent their days enjoying a refreshing swim and the company of others there for the same purpose.  Young Richard Knutz, just 16 at the time, "just about lived in that pool," said his mother, Virta.  Will Knutz gave his blessing to the project, on the condition that everyone pick up after themselves before they left.   A small baseball diamond was added as well.

A group of young swimmers at the Knutz swimming hole

The swimming hole was the site of an incredible 1933 Independence Day party.   On July 3, some of the ball players showed up and "fixed up" the diamond, cleaned out the tree grove, and "penned off a corner of the pool for the little kids to swim in," Bill Knutz wrote.  And the Knutz family prepared for the onslaught of guests the following day.

Swimmers - from left, Bill Knutz, Lillian Christensen (who would later become his wife), and second from right is either Howard or Richard Knutz. 

It was estimated that about 1,000 people showed up for the festivities, starting with a "kitten" ball game for the youngsters, commencing at 10 am and stopping at 12:30 for a picnic lunch.  Afterward was the women's ball game, and then the races - first the younger kids, then the young men's race, the married couples race, and lastly the "fat man's" race.   Cash prizes were awarded for first and second places for each race.  The "big" baseball game followed the races, and it was estimated that as many as 90 cars were parked there at that time.   Pop and ice cream were sold; horseshoes, and of course, swimming, were all-day events.  It was noted by Bill Knutz that there were so many people in the pool that the water was nearly to the top of the dam.  All the neighbors for miles around were there, "and then some," noted by one of them, Miss Edna Christensen.

After dark, another neighborhood acquaintance, Mr. Baum, hosted a barn dance for which Bill Knutz and His Harmonians supplied the music.

After the Fourth of July party, the swimming hole continued to be a hot spot for the rest of the summer, with cars coming and going all day, "up until midnight," said Mrs. Knutz.  But the following spring, when the snow began to melt and the rains came, the dam washed out.  The neighborhood came together again to rebuild it, and they enjoyed another summer of swimming.  But the following spring, in 1935, the waters proved too much for the dam and again, it wouldn't hold.  This time, it was not reconstructed.  The days of the Knutz swimming pool were over.

Cain Creek today, photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Elvirta Knutz's Life Story, as written by herself
Letters of Bill Knutz to Lillian Christensen
Letter from Edna Christensen to Lillian Christensen
Huron Daily Plainsman, 20 Feb 1966
List of Playing Dates for Bill Knutz and His Harmonians
1949 Beadle County Plat Map, R. C. Booth Enterprises
Betty Hammer
Google Earth