Crystal Lake:
A Childhood Dream—An Adult Fantasy

by Rose Deskin

        What's one of my favorite childhood memories? Crystal Lake, of course! Just about everyone within a sixty-mile radius of the lake could say the same.
        Susan Whiddon tells the story of how her granddad, A.O. (Joe) Whiddon, had a dream. His dream was to fulfill others' dreams of a beautiful lake to come swim in. This he did by damming up an eight-acre valley in northeast Texas near Joaquin. It was nestled between Shreveport, one hour to the east and Nacogdoches, one hour to the west. Marshall, TX is about one hour north and Toledo Bend is about that distance to the south. What a perfect location and setting!
        Joe Whiddon built Crystal Lake in 1913 where his corn and crops had grown. To his dismay, a huge flood washed its levee away in 1933. His son, O. C. (Orren) Whiddon, took up the dream in 1947, along with his wife, Cynthia, a school teacher. Jack-of-all trades, he could build or fix just about anything.
        Orren Whiddon had strict rules, though. After only a few years, glass bottles were totally out-lawed—and so was cussing. In fact, he preferred church groups and boy scout troops to reserve it in the daytime. A Catholic church held their services there every week. An all-denominational Sunrise Service was held on the hill overlooking the lake every Easter. I loved visiting my grandparents, Rev. and Mrs. R. O. Bazer, for Easter when they lived south of Shreveport. We'd come visit my great-grandparents, Wesley and Lula Cockrell, and go to that sunrise service. The Bazers retired to Joaquin in 1967.
        Orren Whiddon closed the intake and drained the lake after Christmas. He'd get on his tractor and clean it every January. That would rid the lake bottom of any fishhooks, bottles, weeds and water moccasins.
        Crystal Lake flowed from a clear, spring-fed creek. That's how it got it's name. Orren kept it open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, on weekends only.
        You could find anything you wanted at Crystal Lake: diving boards, a kiddie pool, platforms to rest on, a high trolley for thrills, slippery tops to twirl on, a putt-putt golf course, absolutely the best hamburger stand and snack bar, picnic tables, a bathhouse to change in, and even a dance hall at night after the church bunch left!
        The bathhouses were so wondrous to me as a child. There, you could rent anything: swimsuits, intertubes, paddle boats, towels. You had a box inside the building with a number on it for your possessions. You were given an elastic wrist band with a metal number on it to match, to claim your things.
        O. C. Whiddon had to let the lake close in 1980 when his health deteriorated, but he had already furnished a million memories for us. His son, Abner, re-opened Crystal Lake in 1985. He had to close it in 1988 due to low attendance.
        Orren's daughter, Coach Susan Whiddon, planned to re-open the lake in 1989. After she and her brothers, Abner and Orren Jr. (a retired general) conferred, it was decided that the liability insurance was too high.
        I asked my cousin, Susan Whiddon, what her best memories were. She said, "The people—I loved all the people that came."
        Did she have any words now to say to her friends, former customers, and students? "Thanks for the memories."