In the spring of 2012, coming home on a bike ride, I stopped at Ted’s Store, just south of Crooked Lake Park on Crooked Lake Boulevard.
It’s a tiny thing, smaller than a lot of people’s garages and I was surprised to find it still open.
The insides, a jumble of cereal boxes, general groceries, candy and sundries, reminded me of the general stores of the 1950’s and 60’s
I bought a Coke and some peanut butter crackers, and sat near the front door and thought of the times I’d visited Ted’s 20 or 30 years ago, when Crooked Lake had a swimming beach and a summer’s Sunday afternoon saw a steady flow of children and adults trotting down in their wet togs to pick up a snack.
A few months later I read that Ted’s, which had already closed and been reopened once, was shuttered for good.
Similarly, the Crooked Lake Beach is no longer available – according to the Coon Rapids web site, the shoreline has no lifeguard and swimming is not allowed.
There’s no longer a sandy waterfront; the grass runs right down to a lip and a short drop to the lake.
Anyone who wants to take the family swimming at a maintained Anoka County beach must drive up to Lake George or pay for admission at the Bunker Beach Water Park.
Crooked Lake Beach was a great place to take the family for a low-cost weekend outing. For a long time it was free.
There were picnic tables and large shade trees and a designated area that went far enough out into the lake for actual swimming, if you didn’t mind paddling back and forth next to the boundary rope.
While it could get crowded, we always managed to find enough sand to spread out a few towels and build a space for ourselves.
We never went to Coon Rapids’ other swimming hole, on Coon Rapids Boulevard at the site of the old police station, but we drove by it plenty of times.
The folks there looked like they were packed in.
If the car windows were open, we could hear the crowd noise all the way out in the road.
Today, it’s a weedy pond alongside a bike path. That little afterthought of water has seen a load of history.
The water pit, sometimes called the Clay Hole, was dug in the late 19th century to support The Anoka Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company, a brick making operation that was Coon Rapids’ first commercial enterprise.
Clay extraction came to a halt when the diggers struck a spring at a depth of ninety feet.
Swimming went on for decades before being stopped for water-clarity safety issues.
At Crooked Lake, you can still see the stretch of lakes hore where sunbathers and swimming staked out their territory, even though there’s no longer any sand.
It takes a lot more imagination to look at the Clay Hole remember what the crowd of swimmers looked like.
Today, county swimming is more organized, more costly, and probably safer.
It may be just as much fun, but it’s quite a bit different from what it used to be.
Editor’s note: John Evans is a volunteer with the Anoka County Historical Society.