The Old Swimming Hole The cool waters of Beaver Dam beckon like a nostalgic oasis on summer's hot and hazy days

July 11, 1992|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer

For 45 years, on sunny summer days, Twilah Wier and Dorothy Avery have occupied the same spot on a rock overlooking Beaver Dam.

"You know what they call us?" Mrs. Wier asks. "The daily double."

Mrs. Wier, actually, has been coming to Beaver Dam Swim Club for 52 years. It is where she taught her two sons to swim and where she has watched generations of children grow up and bring their own offspring. "I watched the kids grow up. They turn into lifeguards and then they come back as fathers," she says.

For the two old friends, Beaver Dam, now surrounded by office and industrial parks, malls and busy roads, is a restorative oasis that recalls other times and other places. "Once, it was all country as far as you could see," Ms. Avery says.

"This is more like the small lakes in New England than any place down here," Mrs. Wier says of the former Cockeysville marble quarry, opened by Mark P. Hanley Sr. in 1936 and still run by the family. Marble blasted from this spot since 1805 made its way to the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol, the Peabody Institute and a multitude of snowy-white Baltimore stoops.

For the thousands who come to Beaver Dam every summer, the old quarry and its nearby swimming pools offer a bucolic alternative to the regimen of a swim club.

On this breezy weekday, the quarry is filled with mothers and children, kids on summer break, couples with the day off. Teens queue up for the "main attraction," a trapeze-like swing that carries them out over the quarry where they can drop into the deep, green, mysterious water.

Girls, in dripping bikinis, lunch on nachos and diet Coke in the snack bar. A hot pink ball is spiked on the sandy volleyball court. Little ones, protected by life vests and water wings, bob alone in the dam's shallow entry while their parents watch from ashore.

Floats of all dimensions get trapped in a logjam near the beach. Kids spin the wheel of two bright red buoys trying desperately to hang on and tip the buoys, all at the same time.

Misty Doonas, 15, and Kristin Patzkowsky, 14, both of Towson, ** have visited the quarry three times so far this summer. "It's better to come here instead of just sitting around all day watching TV," Kristin says.

Clad in flowery bikinis, and nurturing smooth tans in preparation for Ocean City, the two girls love the scary and exciting "Tarzan swing," as they call it. Meeting boys is another story. "There aren't any," they say glumly.

But out on the cliff, boys in profusion await their turn on the fabled swing. Some have glistening hair to their shoulders, others sport buzz cuts with a sweep of bangs. They wear trunks, jams or bikinis, ankle bracelets of leather and an occasional earring.

Over and over again out they fly, over the water where the rope seems to hesitate before returning. At that moment, the boys drop, in a wriggly dive, cannonball or plain old jump. Finally, drenched and sated, they return to a towel.

Meanwhile, Ronald Triplett is hawking his own line of skin care products and/or trying to find a model over 18 to represent the company, "sort of like Elvira for Coors Beer," he says.

In between handing out cards and samples, Mr. Triplett takes time to reminisce about the quarry while three girls listen, wide-eyed. He speaks of the old cranes, bicycles, machinery that once occupied the dam's depths. And of the expensive jewelry that has been lost below, including a Rolex watch and a diamond ring or two.

And, of course, there are eels and snakes galore, he says.

"Really?" the girls gasp.

"Oh, god, yes," Mr. Triplett says.

Nevertheless, the girls -- Jessie Byrd, Tracey Lambright and Melanie Kraska -- choose the quarry over a pool any day. "It's natural. There's no chlorine that can harm your eyes," Melanie says.

All around, visitors have parked enough gear for a week at the beach: Coolers, toys, squeeze bottles, tape players, strollers, rafts, bags of chips and pretzels, extra clothes, towels, beach furniture. On a prime Sunday

afternoon, as many as 2,000 people come to the swim club.

Some visitors at the far end of the dam camp nose to nose with their automobiles. A baby naps scrunched up in the corner of a portable playpen, lulled asleep by a kind breeze. Mothers are constantly in motion, retrieving toys, preparing sandwiches, wrapping shivering children in towels.

At one of two swimming pools, children slip gleefully down a sliding board into the water. Others swing wildly on the playground. The rhythmic pounding of a bass line comes from a van arriving at the dam. When the door glides open, the music explodes into the air. The old man who will talk your ear off if you let him pokes into the trash cans, looking for a broken chair, perhaps, which he can take home and repair, and then try to resell at the dam.

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