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Club History


Excerpts from "Early Days at Martin's Dam"
by Emma C. Patterson

The first known European settler to the Martin’s Dam area of whom we have written record was a Welshman names Lavis.  This was in 1648, some 30 years before William Penn received his grant of land from Charles I I of England.  The Indians in this locality, who were accomplished fishermen, woodsmen and agriculturists, belonged to the Algonquin and Iroquois tribes.  It is likely that the Welshman may have learned farming skills from these tribes as there is no record that Lavis had any of his countrymen as close neighbors.

In the first century after the settlement of Pennsylvania, the comparatively simple needs of its people were supplied by the individual artisans among them.  Along the streams, mills driven by the weight of falling water sawed the logs, ground the flour, and fulled the woven cloth.  There were various mills in the Martin's Dam section from time to time, including a sawmill operation next to Martin's.  The earliest records located indicate that a dam, known as Henry Zook's Dam, was on the site of the present dam in the late 1700's or early 1800's.  Title to the property apparently passed to James Patterson sometime during the first three decades of the century.  In 1841, Richard Martin and is wife, Hannah, purchased the dam, the surrounding acreage and the homestead from Mr. Peterson.

The old Martin family Bible shows that Richard Martin was born in 1792 in Manchester, England.  The Martins had lived in Kensington before coming to Upper Merion Township in Montgomery County to run a woolen mill.  They occupied a small pre-revolutionary house across Croton road from the Dam.  As the family grew, so did the house, until two wings had been added to it.  All the Martin children attended the small frame school on the right hand side of Croton road past Martin's Dam, the walls of which are still standing.  In winter the Martin’s often walked on stilts to keep out of the snow and in spring to keep out of the mud.  The property remained in the Martin family for almost fifty years; their name became affiliated with the dam.  The probable commercial activities conducted at the site were a stone and gravel quarry, a lumber mill and the sale of block ice cut from the frozen lake in the winter.

Of the nine children born to the Richard Martins, James was the last to occupy the old homestead.  In 1809 James sold the rights to Martin's Dam and a few surrounding acres to the Lower Merion Water Company, and they immediately began construction of a brick pumping station.  They also raised the original breast of the dam in order to build up a larger supply of water in the lake.  To fund these projects, the water company had floated a bond issue through the now defunct Guaranty Trust and Title Company which was named as bond trustee.  The law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius served as bond counsel.  Through mismanagement, the overall project ran into financial difficulty, the water company went into bankruptcy, the project promoters fled to Mexico, and the bond holders lost all of their investment.

In the early 1900"s, a Mr. Kirby leased the dam property from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, bankruptcy trustees.  In 1906 George R. Park purchased the old Martin home and assumed the lease of the dam property, utilizing the lake as an informal swimming club.  In May, 1924, the dam and lake property were leased to a group of local residents, including Paul L. Lewis, T. Magill Paterson, Staton C. Kelton, Humbert B. Powell, and Joseph F. Stockwell, who formed "a restricted club for swimming and other sports".  They called their new organization The Martin's Dam Club.  According to Paul L. Lewis, of Strafford, the idea of the Club originated in his mind and T. Magillt Patterson's as "they sat together on a log over at the Dam one day".  Because their children were experiencing the joys of a
"good old swimming hole", these two men could envision the benefits to be derived from an organized club for the residents of the community.  Because of the legal entanglements resulting from the Lower Merion Water Company bankruptcy, the Club was unable to acquire title to the dam property until the spring of 1936.

Many years later their dream is still alive, we continue to experience the beauty and family atmosphere of that “Good Old Swimming Hole”, sprinkled with the excitement of professionally managed Swimming, Tennis and Paddle programs.