Decades ago the Ashley community banded together to build a dam.
It began in the 1920s when neighborhood kids, and adults, wanted a respite from the heat.
A cool retreat.
The potential for such a place existed right in town in Solomon Creek, at the end of Wyoming Street. Solomon Creek originates in the shaded forest near Penobscot Mountain and flows cool and clear.
But as the creek entered Ashley Borough, it wasn’t deep enough for swimming.
The residents changed that when, in the 1920s, they put together enough money to buy sand and gravel to make concrete.
The concrete was used to make a dam, which in turn back up the water to create a pool known as “Chester’s Hole.”
The deep pool quickly became a popular swimming spot for generations. Over the years, as the dam deteriorated or when residents collected enough money, more concrete was added and the swimming hole grew larger and deeper.
One Ashley resident who grew up swimming in the creek told me “Nobody had or needed pools in my neighborhood back then. We had the biggest swimming pool you could ask for in Solomon Creek.”
The makeshift concrete dam that was built and maintained by the coming together of a small community survived numerous floods and held up through patchwork repairs. This summer, however, Chester’s Hole and the dam that created it met their demise.
The stretch of Solomon Creek had issues. Sediment was building up in Chester’s Hole and behind several other makeshift rock dams, erosion was carving away the banks and, in the summer, the pools grew shallow, warm and stagnant.
It wasn’t good for stream ecology, flood control or trout, and that’s why the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation spearheaded a program to revitalize the section of Solomon Creek.
Sediment was cleaned out, banks were stabilized and water flow and dissolved oxygen levels were improved for aquatic life.
To accomplish the goal, all of the dams were removed, including the concrete wall that formed Chester’s Hole.
Today, where the swimming hole once swirled the creek flows fast and straight with nothing to impede it aside from four structures above made of boulders that generate smaller plunge pools.
The concrete wall that was poured by a caring community was a memory.
It needed to be done in the interest of stream ecology and trout habitat, but a group that has long served as the guardians of Chester’s Hole is now faced with a challenge.
The Ashley Area Trout Stocking Association hosted an annual trout derby in Chester’s Hole for decades. The group purchased and stocked 2,000 trout each April for kids from anywhere to come and catch. The derby was held on the opening day of trout season, and kids lined the banks of Solomon Creek, many of them catching the first trout of their lives right from Chester’s Hole.
While the derby evolved into a tradition, last spring it succumbed to the hazards posed by the creek. Debris washed down by floods made the banks treacherous and the stream unsafe for kids to fish. The derby was cancelled and the tradition postponed.
Now, with the recent work to improve the stream complete, there is more access to the stream, and it’s safe.
Best of all, the derby will return next spring.
But what about Chester’s Hole and the dam that created it? The concrete wall not only held back water, but the trout as well for the kids to catch.
The stocking association won’t be deterred. They’re looking at options to keep the stocked trout in place, such as plastic fencing that can be temporarily placed across the creek to prevent the fish from escaping.
It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s one that the association will overcome by working hard and working together.
Just like the Ashley community did nearly 100 years ago when they wanted to build an old-fashioned swimming hole in Solomon Creek.