(GENO LUDWIG/Chewelah Independent)
SUMMER IS COMING: Browns Lake is part of Chewelah’s history and a community gem…
With Chewelah’s swimming pool a distant memory, area residents are migrating to Browns Lake for their summer outdoor activities. Only a 10-minute drive southwest of the signal light in the middle of town, the lake is becoming an increasingly popular place for frugal fun and relaxation for local families who are members of the Browns Lake Recreation Association.
Browns Lake was owned by the Northwest Magnesite Company, which mined and processed the ore at the Finch and Allen Quarries immediately north of the lake. Magnesite was dead-burned at the plant along Highway 395 and sent to steel plants to make fire bricks to line furnaces and kilns. Magnesite was originally purchased from Austria, but in 1914, World War One cut off that supply. So, the hunt for a domestic source of the mineral led to its discovery near Browns Lake. The magnesite was washed, crushed and some of its impurities separated at the nearby mill complex before being bucketed to the plant by a five-mile tram line. In the summers prior to the closing of the facilities in 1968, the blasting of rock in the quarries could be heard by swimmers at the lake and the smoke cloud could be seen rising out of the pit.
Workers from the mine took care of the grounds at the lake. They mowed the grass, emptied the garbage and kept an eye on the place. They lived in the houses across the road to the west of the lake.
Only the foundations and some empty shells of those houses remain. Back then, there was one high dock extending out into the lake on pillars. At the end of the dock was a diving board. To the right of the diving board was a two-level tower. People could either jump or dive off either level of the tower. The diving board was probably eight feet off the water, so it was fun to try trick dives. Both were later removed because of safety issues and insurance costs.
At the beginning of the swimming season, a railroad rail was brought down to the beach. Chains welded to the ends of that rail were then hooked to the back of a motorboat. As the boat drove away from the beach and out into the lake, it would drag the sea-weed out of the swimming area.
The beach was made of sand from the washing crushing plant. The sand was dumped on the edge of the swimming area and covered the rocks along the beach and a ways out into the lake. I do not know if that same rail was used to pull sand into the swimming area. The lake has a sudden drop-off about 30 feet away from the shore.
There was also a floating dock out in the water that was easy to swim to. As a kid, your first goal was to swim out to the raft. Later, it was to swim across the lake.
There were two outdoor toilets in the woods up on the side hill to the west of the lake. The concrete block changing rooms were added later. They always smelled because people would urinate in them rather than walk to the outhouses.
There was not gate to get into the lake back then, so night swimming was popular. If people in the houses on the hill saw car lights down at the lake at nights, they would sometimes walk down to see who it was.
The folks living at the lake also made a nine-hole golf course at the north end of the lake. The fairways were short and the greens were made of sand. You could play the course with a nine iron and a putter. It reverted back to its natural state after the plant shut down in 1968.
BROWNS LAKE WORKDAY
The Browns Lake Recreation Association Work Day on Saturday, May 18 at 9 a.m. Please bring any cleanup tools that you can, mosquito spray, work clothes/gloves, and a smile! Please check in with Rachael Griepp on the camp side (1st entrance) upon arrival for a job duty as well as making sure you get your $25 membership discount! Lake season does not begin until May 18, so be respectful that people cannot enter the property until then. Feel free to email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org