Long before West Windsor had its pool called WaterWorks at Community Park, if you didn’t have a private pool next to your house you still had three main choices if you wanted a swim nearby in the warm season.
One was the Princeton Swim Club on Washington Road where the Princeton Tennis building is today, and another was the establishment called Paradise Pool. It was on the east side of Route 1 near its intersection with Meadow Road. Today you will find the shopping center called The Square at West Windsor near that location.
The third choice was the sheepwash, a natural “beach” along the Millstone River where it skirted the RCA property between Penns Neck and Princeton Junction. In addition, for a few years after High School South opened, the bubble covering its pool was retracted in the summer and the pool was open to residents. But that practice was short-lived.
A few West Windsor-ites — if they had some connection with Princeton University — also used a couple of outdoor pools in Princeton: Broadmead and Springdale. There was also the newly opened Cranbury Swim Club, but that was far away from most of the people in West Windsor.
The Princeton Swim Club was a “private” establishment. Private meant that the owner had to approve each applicant for membership in person, including children. There were no other membership criteria except the owner’s say-so. Many West Windsor families had memberships as did some from surrounding areas, including Princeton.
The Princeton Swim Club had been at the same location at least since the early 1930s. Princeton friends told me of having swum there when they were children. The owner when we belonged in the 1960s and ’70s was named Aristotle Pharaslos. He was very strict about behavior and if a child ran on the boardwalk around the pool or disobeyed his instructions, no more swimming that day. Too many infractions meant loss of membership. And he wasn’t kidding. Also, no food allowed on the boardwalk.
Maintenance of the pool and its surroundings was a full-time thing and Aristotle used to carry a hammer around to pound protruding nails back in that stuck out of the boardwalk. Part of the boardwalk was covered by a coarse fabric pathway nailed in place, but nails always worked their way out here and there. Between the pool and Little Bear Brook, which flowed nearby, there was a grassy area that could be used for throwing a Frisbee around or having a catch. These activities were also subject to Aristotle’s close surveillance. There were also a few picnic tables in that area for anyone who brought lunch. Most people didn’t.
Paradise Pool was another matter. It was basically for walk-ins. You could buy a season membership, but you could also just show up at the gate, pay a daily fee, and take a swim. No membership criteria except your money. It also had refreshments for sale. Essentially, it was a “public” pool, whereas the Princeton Swim Club considered itself anything but. I guess the main reason we belonged to the Princeton Swim Club — aside from Aristotle’s approval — was that it was only a mile away from our house. Paradise was nearly five miles away. Even for paradise, that’s a long way to go.
The third swimming option — until about 60 years ago — was the “sheepwash” on the Millstone River, which forms the entire boundary between West Windsor and Plainsboro. About half-way between where it goes under the railroad tracks and Route 1 it passes what was once a low grassy area that was quite flat and almost completely devoid of trees, Basically, it was farmland like most of West Windsor.
A century before RCA built its research center in that area, the river was used by sheep breeders to wash their sheep before shearing. Aside from farming, raising sheep and other livestock was prevalent in West Windsor in the 19th century and before. Until the mid-20th century, West Windsor families used the river at that location as a local beach, with umbrellas, beach chairs, cook-outs, swimming, and any other thing you might do on the beach at the shore — without having to travel 40 miles. Of course, the water was a bit muddy, and as time went by its level of pollution increased.
Even so, I actually swam there a couple of times in the early 1950s, and I can attest to the mud. It stopped being used for swimming later in the 1950s, but there are still families in town who can attest to the benefits of West Windsor’s only “beach.”