Chester Martin Remembers Lake Winnepesaukah

Saturday, March 12, 2016 - by Chester Martin
The grandsons at Lake Winnie
The grandsons at Lake Winnie

THAT is what everybody called it 'way back when I was a kid growing up: Lake Winnepesaukah. The tendency to shorten names was not yet in vogue, and places with longer names, like Fort Oglethorpe had not yet become, "Fort O." ("Cuzzin Clem" on radio station WAPO used to talk about "Mrs. Winnie's Lake Winnepesaukah", but he never shortened the name of the park, proper). The name, "Lake Winnepesaukah" had mystical, magical powers to my generation, and the very mention of the name could instantly mend a bad day.

If you want a good description of the physical park itself - just the amount of acreage and the stuff that is found there, I refer you to Wikipedia, but the park I will be describing will be that "mystical and magical" place of my childhood and young adulthood.

When some kind adult would finally satisfy our cravings to go there, we would drive across Greens Lake Road and enter from the north - which continues to be the main entrance.

There was a woodland off to the right which was an ideal spot for parking the car. Many barbecue pits were thereabouts - and the good odors coming from them were very compelling. Under those tall shady trees it seemed at least 10 degrees cooler than it was in the surrounding world. Parking was free, and, yes, admission was free also!

From the parking lot onward, all you really needed was a bathing suit, as Lake Winnepesaukah's big "draw" back then was the immense swimming pool. It was reputed to be one of the largest pools in the Southeast, and it was always full of people - including adults who were there to watch over the little folk. On one of my high-school outings my Senior Class spent almost one whole afternoon in that pool. Many years later the pool was closed, sad to say, because of some untoward incident that happened there, and the management decided to start charging admission to the park as a result.

To fill the space where the pool had been, a merry-go-round (carousel) was added. It was/is easily a museum piece, made by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company about 100 years ago. Several artists through the years have been hired to re-paint the hand-carved horses. The festive "circus music" generated by 19th Century technology makes a ride on this old attraction very much worthwhile.

There were always a lot of other things to do, and the "Boat Chute" was probably at the top of the list. It dates back to 1925, and was designed by the park's original owners. No trip to Lake Winnie is complete without sampling that ever-fun ride! The mother of my childhood friend, Billy Jackson, used to talk about it from her own girlhood days. Newer attractions have included several variations of roller-coasters, and chair-rides across the lake. Colorful vintage automobiles allow young driver wannabes the opportunity to drive a real-seeming car.

The parking lot, as mentioned, was nice and cool, but the "midway" of the amusement park could be very hot at times, so the cooler (but not air-conditioned) interior of the "penny arcade" was welcome relief from the broiling sun. I always liked arcades, and Lake Winnie's was pretty good. There used to be a mechanical "fortune teller" inside a 3'x3' glass-enclosed kiosk who would write your fortune (for a small fee, of course) on a small piece of paper and drop it to you through a chute. I understand that she is gone now, but there is a similar one at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, should you care to look at an antique from your great-grandfather's Victorian era.

Original brick administrative buildings still exist - exactly as they were when YOU were a kid. It is really nostalgic to find a place so well-preserved as Lake Winnie. New rides exist alongside the old ones, and the changes to the main park are minor, but constant. Unfortunately I have never gotten to see the new "water-park" feature of Lake Winnie, but  imagine it has affected the main park but little. The "water-park" of my day amounted to the swimming pool, the boat chute, and the foot-powered paddle-boats on the lake.

Back in the 1950's Lake Winnie had a stage where frequent Saturday and Sunday afternoon "acts" were booked. They had many good ones, and I am not sure if that stage still exists: it was set back from the main path between the brick administrative buildings and the swimming pool. They presented all kinds of entertainment, and one time the Carter Family from Nashville was scheduled. No visible security was ever present for such events. Never once did I see a uniformed policeman in the park, and so my mom and dad, just another couple in the park, spent all one afternoon talking and laughing with June Carter - long before she ever knew of a guy named Johnny Cash. (My dad was recently retired, so that made a nice mini-vacation for my parents.) Fireworks on the Independence Day holiday always drew thousands of attendees. Best fireworks in the entire Southeast!

In recent years my older grandson worked at Lake Winnie, where he was soon paired with another young man his age, selling "Dippin' Dots" and "Frozen Lemonade", alternately. These two became best friends almost immediately and have remained so for several years now, along with their respective girlfriends. My grandson also played a major role in Lake Winnie's annual "Lake Winnepaspookah" at Halloween. The girlfriend soon joined him at Lake Winnie, where she worked, selling tickets at one of the entrance booths. They have been together for several years now, and kind of confirms for me that Lake Winnie definitely was, and remains a "magical and mystical" sort-of place for family and friends.

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net )

Chester Martin
Chester Martin

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