Historian Lonzie Dove thought that early settlers moved to Brocks Gap because of good fishing streams and hunting lands. Those good fishing streams also had good swimming holes. With the North Fork and its tributaries, practically all residents had a good nearby spot to cool off and relax in the summer.
Of all the swimming holes of the Brocks Gap area, the most famous and largest is Bennie’s Beach at the Gap. Here the North Fork of the Shenandoah River was wide enough and deep enough for swimming, diving, and motor boating. Benjamin H. “Bennie” Carr (1919-1984) bought Brocks Gap Service Station after World War II. He enhanced the existing swimming hole by building a cinder-block bathhouse on the far side of the river. It stood until the 1985 flood. Even before Bennie’s time, there was a diving platform in the middle of the river.
The river at Bennie’s was perfect for floating in inner tubes or zipping around in a small motorboat. Small children splash in the shallow water. With a picnic area in the trees, the place was idyllic for spending a relaxing summer afternoon. People came from all around the county to enjoy the area.
Cars drove through the ford to park on the other side of the river from Route 259. The fords served as car washes, too—just stop in the middle of the ford, splash water on your car with a bucket, lather, and rinse. This practice faded in the 1960s when more people had electric water pumps at home.
Every community had a swimming hole or two within walking distance. Sometimes a place changed names over the generations. Some of them were:
- Bear Hole, behind Valleyland store
- Trumbo Ford, at the end of the Hollow Road
- Mallet Hole, Hollow Road
- Ernest Fawley’s, Hollow Road
- Original Ruritan park
- Shoemaker Hole or Indian Hole
- Wittig Hole
- Blue Hole
- Big Rock, Germany River near Valley View Church
- Long Rock, Cootes Store
Swimming was often a reward for working. Debby Ritchie of Criders remembers “usually we had chores to do before we could go to the ‘swimming hole,’ and one of the longest and hottest would be hoeing the corn in the garden. In those days the rows were VERY long!”
Even 100 years ago, swimming was a reward. In the 1920s, when Joseph A. “JoeNat” Fulk took his boy haymakers to Shoemaker Hole (behind Clifford Crider’s house) to swim after a day of getting in hay, Eunice Thomas and Hazel Bare were already swimming. JoeNat told the girls to leave and not look back, because the haymakers were about to swim in the nude. If they looked back, he told them, they would turn into a salt pillar like Lot’s Wife.
Larry Custer recalled a similar reward for a hot haymaking session in the 1960s. “Kermit [Larry’s grandfather] & my dad would take Bobby & me to a hole back there that was really deep after making hay. We took a bar of soap & no swimming trunks. They called it the Indian hole.”
At Criders, David Ritchie recalled that in the 1960s there were at least three swimming places between their grandmother’s house on German River Road to the bridge. However, the best and deepest one was at Big Rock. While it was bigger, it could not accommodate a crowd. David’s brother Dan Ritchie added that if others were already swimming, he and his siblings came back another time or waited until the others left. They all remembered eating water berries along the path to Big Rock. German River changed course in the 1985 flood, and Big Rock was washed out.
The Blue Hole at Bergton was the major swimming hole for Bergton and Criders. It was deep, and parents had to be watchful of their children. It is still a popular place.
Trumbo Ford swimming hole was near where Shoemaker River empties into the North Fork. The river bank was reinforced with logs, making a fine place to dive in. My Uncle Granvil Turner filmed his siblings at Trumbo Ford about 1950. I’ll post that short video on the Fulks Run Virginia Facebook page in early August. In the late 1960s you could swing from a rope into the deepest part.
Some of the swimming holes served as baptismal pools before churches installed them inside. Mountain Grove Church of the Brethren conducted baptisms in my childhood swimming hole at the bridge at the old Ruritan Park.
You probably have fond memories of swimming in a stream. Please share them by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.