Farmville Lake and the history of local golf

Published 1:48 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2016

First in a series

Dr. Ray A. Gaskins

Professor Emeritus

During the second week of May 1922, 15 Farmville businessmen had a meeting of the minds and formally organized the Farmville Lake Association. They agreed to take a piece of raw land between Farmville and Kingsville on the east side of what is now Route 15 and develop it into a “park and amusement resort” in just six weeks, so it could have its grand opening on the Fourth of July.

Within days, a contract had been let to Sanderson and Parker, and on Monday, May 22, 1922, work began. They first improved the road to the site and then began building the dam and clearing the lake. The dam measured 363 feet long, 61 feet wide at the base, and 10 feet wide at the crown. It would impound enough water to create a lake more than a mile long, 300 yards wide and 20-acres in area.

The contract was the construction of a 4-acre sandy beach, a fenced off 25-foot by 100-foot children’s pool, two bathhouses, a large pavilion, an ice cream parlor and tennis courts and numerous campsites.

After the dam’s completion, the road was extended across it to Pickett’s Spring, which was only 100 yards from the lake. This gave stockholders access to the east side of the lake where they planned to build cottages for personal use.

When told that there was no Farmville Lake prior to 1922, people born and reared in Prince Edward can hardly believe it. To them, there has always been a Farmville Lake. The reason there was no Farmville Lake prior to 1922 was, in a word, electricity. Without electricity, there could be no nighttime activities, which were necessary for an economically viable amusement resort.

When Hampden Sydney finally got electric service in 1919, the line was run from Farmville to Hampden Sydney along what we now call the Farmville Road (Route 15). This line was tapped to provide electricity to the Farmville Lake area. No one was happier about this turn of events than Charles B. Pickett Sr., who moved here from Colorado in 1907, and established Pickett’s Spring in 1908. Now Pickett’s Spring, too, could have electricity.

They missed their targeted grand opening of July 4, 1922, so they postponed it until 1923 and used the extra time to make big improvements. In the fall of 1922, they built a new 30-foot wide road around the lake to Pickett’s Spring and raised the dam two feet, which dramatically increased the size of the lake. The contract was awarded to Boxley, Chism and Hall, and they began work on these improvements Wednesday, Sept. 27, 1922. This new road was more than a mile long and opened up enough campsites to accommodate 2,000 campers.

The 1923 grand opening was worth the wait. “An old fashioned Fourth of July Celebration at the new Farmville Lake is the treat in store for the people of this section, and thousands are expected to be on hand at the formal opening of this resort.” And thousands did turn out on the Fourth, arriving in hundreds of automobiles, but the Farmville Guard was on hand to direct traffic so there were no accidents. That night, while the Farmville Silver Band played, the crowd was treated to one of the grandest displays of fireworks ever seen in these parts. The grand opening festivities were so well received by the crowd and got such rave reviews by the press, they decided to have a repeat performance on Labor Day. It was an embarrassment of riches to have two great fireworks displays during the same summer season.

On August 17, 1923, The Farmville Herald wrote: “lights installed at the lake side and the pavilion give it the appearance of a real ocean resort. The Lake is increasing in popularity. It affords clean and healthy recreation for the entire town and daily more and more citizens are spending the hot afternoons at this cool spot.” An electric piano was installed in the pavilion, attracting gobs of young people every afternoon to dance.

Dr. A.C. Fraser organized the Farmville Red Cross Life Saving Corps in 1923. “Ten volunteer Life Guards will be on duty on Sundays and holidays. On the Fourth of July, they handled efficiently one of the largest crowds ever seen on any beach in this section. The presence of this corps at Farmville Lake adds much to the success of the new resort.” They made seven rescues in 1923. In 1925, they built a bungalow on the bank opposite the bathhouse to use as their home base.

It was not unusual for large and small groups to spend the day at Farmville Lake. For example, at the State Teacher’s College (STC) The Rotunda of May 5, 1924, reported: “On Friday afternoon at 4:30, Miss Bullock took her co-supervisors and all her student teachers, whom she has under her supervision during this session, to Farmville Lake for a bacon-bat.” (A bacon-bat was an outing that included sports and a picnic.)

As an example of a large group, on Friday, Aug. 22, 1924, the Tobacco Growers Association held an all-day picnic and social gathering for more than 2,000 members from Prince Edward and surrounding counties — one of the largest crowds ever assembled in this portion of the state. To hold their attention every minute of the day, speeches were given, a band concert was performed, and there were water sports for the children.

In June of 1928, Charles B. Pickett Sr. was made manager of Farmville Lake. He had two big jobs to accomplish: rebuild the floodgate, which had been dynamited a few weeks earlier to save the dam from a heavy rain; and improve the road leading to the lake. He made short work of these two projects and on the Fourth of July served “a dinner that (caused) people to come from miles around to the resort.”

Meanwhile, in August of 1926, Mike Johnson of the Spaulding Company was brought to Farmville to identify a suitable location for a golf course. On Thursday, Aug. 19, 35 Farmville businessmen met at the courthouse to hear his report. He recommended a site on the Dunnington property near Farmville Lake and the group voted unanimously to establish a “Country Club and golf club” there. On Thursday, Sept. 9 they met again to select a committee of five men to fully investigate “the costs of a golf course (and) to obtain options on a site” and report back in a week.

On Friday, Sept. 17, 1926, the committee made its report and the Farmville Golf Club, whose stated goal was to build a proper nine-hole golf course near Farmville Lake, was formally organized. The officers of the new club were: J. Taylor Thompson (1876-1949), president, E.S. Shields (1883-1950) and J.J. Cobbs, vice presidents, C. Willard Hart (1898-1957), secretary-treasurer, and Dr. A.C. Fraser (1887-1967), general manager. (Thompson and Shields were among the original 15 members of the Farmville Lake Association.)

By early 1927, the club was close to purchasing 50 acres of the Dunnington property laying between what we now call “The Manor” and Farmville Lake. It was soon determined 50 acres was not enough for a proper nine-hole course, so they upped the ante to between 80 and 100 acres. On Monday, June 18, 1927, the club voted to sell stock for $25 per share and to acquire the Dunnington site. “Golf fever” spread so quickly that by the beginning of 1928 the club had 75 members.

To tide them over while the Dunnington site was acquired and developed, 40-acres of land on the farms of J.J. Marshall and N.B. Davidson — one mile from town on the Rice Road — was leased for a makeshift six-hole golf course. The six-hole course, the first golf course in the Farmville area, was ready for play by May 1928, but, as expected, was “too small to accommodate the large number of members who gather daily to (play),” so the Dunnington site was pushed along as quickly as possible.

The deal was greatly expedited by electing J.W. Dunnington club president. The new nine-hole Farmville Lake course was officially opened on Wednesday, May 15, 1929, and was an instant success. On Wednesday, June 26, 1929, Everett H. Irby, in the company of Dr. T.G. Hardy and Vernon P. Paulett, shot a hole-in-one on the 145-yard seventh green. In spite of the Depression, in 1932, the Farmville Golf Club still had an active membership of 40.