In the Good Ole Summertime



“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high,” as the George Gershwin song goes. Our summertime memories may include fishing in a neighborhood pond and seeing cotton fields in full bloom on the drive to the beach. But there’s so much more to remember about summertime, so let’s reminisce about our summer experiences in Winston-Salem.

First, let’s decompress and remember when the thought of summertime meant endless unscheduled days. We endured the last days of school, as students and teachers, with the notion that better, more fun days, were coming.   With the ringing of the bell, school was out and here comes summer!

In the early days of Winston-Salem, recreational venues were limited to distances that could be traveled on foot or by buggy or by streetcar. For the convenience of city residents, Henry W. Fries built a recreation area called Nissen Park. It was located at the end of the streetcar line near Waughtown and opened in 1900. Nissen Park offered a myriad of recreational opportunities, such as a swimming pool, roller skating rink, botanical gardens, fish ponds, a bowling alley, a zoo, and moving pictures. Church groups traveled en masse to enjoy picnics and the opportunity to leave the city for an afternoon of food and fellowship. Nissen Park gradually faded from the landscape when residents owned cars and could travel wherever and whenever they pleased.

Although Nissen Park’s history was brief, other local parks were established and offered summertime activities for all ages. Memorial Day signaled the opening of local swimming pools and boys and girls of all ages headed to the nearest pool. Reynolds Park (1941), Miller Park (1942), and Tanglewood Park (1955) featured swimming pools, in addition to picnic shelters, swings and slides, baseball fields, horseshoe courts, amphitheaters, golf courses, amusement areas, miniature trains, tennis courts, and walking paths.

Forsyth Country Club, Old Town Club, and Pine Brook Country Club had their own swimming pools for club members. Summertime activities often featured special events such as beauty contests, swimming races, diving for pennies, and greasy watermelon races.

Crystal Lake, on Reynolda Road, was a recreation area owned and operated by the Davis family. The concrete, multi-depth swimming pool was located between a boating lake and a fishing lake. It featured a pavilion that provided a dance floor with a jukebox and benches that overlooked the pool. Young swimmers had their own area that was equipped with a water fountain that you could stand under, and that also had a slide. Parents watched their youngsters from a covered poolside seat. Swimmers remember the water wheel in the center of the swimming pool and the variety of diving board heights, from a springboard to a platform high above the pavilion. Other swimming pools could be found in neighborhoods, such as Westmore Hills, Town and Country, and Bolton Park.

Finding just the right vantage point for July 4th fireworks took some planning, but both Reynolds Park and Tanglewood Park had plenty of room to spread out and see the sky come alive with bright, colorful lights. Old Salem held a torchlight celebration with costumed interpreters of all ages singing and walking around Salem Square.

Summertime also evokes memories of delicious foods, such as watermelon and freshly picked vegetables and fruits, often served at picnics and cook-outs.   The Music at Sunset concerts performed by the Winston-Salem Symphony combined entertainment with food at their Graylyn concerts, where families brought picnic dinners and listened to the symphony, led by John Iuele. Salem Band concerts in Salem Square also combined music and food, and this tradition continues today.

The Methodist Children’s Home grew much of the food that was consumed on the campus. The boys and girls got a good taste of summertime with an all-you-can-eat watermelon feast on the grounds. Speaking of feasts, families, churches, and organizations have dinner on the grounds during the summertime. With heavily-laden tables stretching far and wide, it’s hard to find room on one plate for all the goodies.

Summertime holds memories of outdoor fun, delicious food, seasonal activities, and carefree days. May you fill your plate with summer’s bounty and make delicious “summer of 2016” memories.

Coming in August: “Take me out to the ballgame!”

By Molly Grogan Rawls, author of five books on Winston-Salem history and the Winston-Salem Time Traveler website. Contact Molly at or