What happened to Six Penny Lake? A “lost lake” teaches life lessons

When my daughter comes home, my normal life is put on hold the few rare, brief times she takes a break from her steady flow of travel, studies and work. One of the ideas Sierra had this time home, was to rent a yurt at a state park and have a small adventure. Her and Eben were celebrating their one year wedding anniversary and although we have a sweet little cabin on our property that Todd built for me that the kids sleep in when they are home, they wanted something a little more special and “away.” Since they had to rent for two nights minimum, they invited the rest of the family for night 2.

One of the places Sierra wanted to explore was French Creek State Park, where the yurt they rented was located. We all met there for a cook out and a hike. We chose a 3 mile loop called “Six Penny Loop.” As we walked through the mature hardwood forest, decorated with blooming mountain laurel, I remembered….forty five years ago, I frequented this park on a regular basis with my boyfriend, Chris. He borrowed his father’s Le Mans and we drove his inflatable orange vinyl kayak out to French Creek SP and spent long afternoons in the soft cushy boat, learning about love and sensuality and our bodies etc. The park had Hopewell Lake and Scots Run Lake to boat in and we also swam in the freezing cold Six Penny Lake. Sierra selected a three-mile loop called “Six Penny” for our hike but when I examined the park map, I saw no lake anywhere. How could a lake just disappear? I put it out of my mind and as I walked the loop, I became immersed in my own memories. I hadn’t visited them for most of the last 45 years.

My parents were not thrilled with my boyfriend choice of seven years, from the ages of 15-21. Chris wasn’t a bad kid- he came from “a good Catholic family,” was a bright student and a star on the football team, and he treated their daughter well enough. But my parents thought his personality was too different than mine, so different that I was not able to be myself. He was very quiet and private and I found myself suppressing my own outward personality to under shadow him. My parents knew that once I grew into my own person, a different type of man might better compliment me as a life partner. They didn’t MAKE me break up with him, but I knew for all those years, I did not have their approval and well wishes. They tried to limit our time together in the summer months by giving me a cut off of how many days we could see each other.

Chris and I both loved to hike and paddle and cycle and be in the woods and I saw little harm in sharing more time together. I got good at lying and sneaking around. I spent a few summers driving around crouched on the floor of his dad’s Le Mans, looking to all those who passed, as if Chris was driving solo. He actually saw my dad go by a few times in our comings and going. Chris would wave, then say, “You can come up now, your dad just passed.” When I returned home, I would make up some story about where I spent my afternoon, but it truly was at places like French Creek State Park or some other outdoor natural setting.

Of course, at the time, I completely disagreed with my parents’ opinion. I loved Chris and thought that was all that was necessary to mate selection. As the years went by in our relationship, fortunately for us, we had some separation and I had some distance for my head. Chris went to grad school in Arizona, I went to art school in Philadelphia. I began meeting other young men and realized how many different personalities were out there and lo and behold, I learned THAT YOU COULD LOVE MORE THAN ONE MAN in your life. And just because you loved someone, love was not all you needed to make a life long relationship work. Chris and I grew to be too different. I began to feel confined in the relationship. I wanted to feel free to be myself. I finally accepted the fact that I had to move on separately and went though the extremely painful process of breaking up. He thought we would be together forever and for many of our seven years, we held that “truth” in both our minds.

I was thinking about all these memories and thoughts as we hiked the Six Penny trail. This loop was a possibility for another hike in the very near future, where I would lead, along with my Board Members of my non-profit, River House PA, a group of Veteran patients from the Coatsville VA on a short hike. The idea was to get them out on a beautiful walk in nature but not challenge them so much that they tired and did not ever want to hike again. I was looking for an alternative on the Six Penny trail to shorten their hike. When we came to a short side trail that looked, on the map, as though it led to a locked gate by the hard surface road, I asked my family if we could take a quick detour to check it out.

In just a few minutes, our trail turned into a set of stone steps and a stone walkway. What’s this? It looked like the remains of something man built place from long ago, but the forest was taking it over. In a few tenths of a mile, we began to hear a chorus of croaking frogs and came to a swamp where cat tails and water grasses shot twelve feet into the air. Oh my God, was this the missing Six Penny Lake?

The trail encircled the wetland and in a few minutes, we came to a beautiful old stone dam. The water drained the swamp and flowed freely through the outlet. Part of the lake still remained open water. I stood there and marveled. I remembered swimming in this spring fed, mind-numbing water on hot summer days in my teen years. What had happened?

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We hiked further and explored black top roads that were grown in by the trees and vegetation, narrow and winding with a hint of a white line still painted on the blacktop. On these same roads, forty-five years ago, we drove Chris’s dad’s Le Mans. You could follow the road to old parking areas. There were remains of the stone bath house, water fountains, even metal baskets for storing your belongings while you swam in the tall grass and weeds. It was eerie. There were no indications on the park map that this place ever existed. Did the officials think, “Erase the evidence from the map and maybe the place will disappear off the earth.?” But here it still remained. Why was it removed or attempted to be removed?

That night in my bunk in the yurt, I had a difficult time falling sleep. I relived memories of growing up. I revisited my difficult decision to break up with my childhood boyfriend and find a better suited life partner. Forty five years ago, I was heading down a course that would not be the best choice for a life partner for me, but one who taught me about love. My own husband of thirty-three years snored quietly above me on the top bunk. I have been very happy with my decision to choose THIS man to be my life long partner. My daughter, a bride for a year, slept with her new husband in the double bed across the yurt. As a parent, I am very happy with her decision too, a man who brings out the best in her and supports who she is so she can shine and freely be who she is.

When I returned home from our yurt wedding anniversary celebration, I Googled “Six Penny Lake/French Creek State Park” and found that back in 1999, the lake was part of an attempt by the Department of Environmental Resources to remove dams that were impeding the natural flow of a wild stream. The lake behind the old stone dam at Six Penny had accumulated silt and was filling in. It had served well as a recreational lake in its time but its time was over. Once the dam was opened back in 1999, and Six Penny Creek was allowed to run free, native brook trout returned and within a few short years, the quality of the stream reached the highest rating of health. Removing old dams was controversial back in the 90’s, but it is now a common practice seen as a greater good for the health of our streams, wildlife, and the forest.

With a little exploring, I was privileged to revisit this place of my youth, with my daughter and new son-in-law, and happy husband of 33 years. Chris, wherever you are, I wish you well. I thank you for sharing part of my youth with me, teaching me about life and love and allowing me the painful but wise decision to move past you and flow freely into the world and adulthood and the rest of my life. And thank you Six Penny and French Creek SP for making me feel gratitude one more way in my life.

35 thoughts on “What happened to Six Penny Lake? A “lost lake” teaches life lessons Leave a comment

  1. WOW! Thanks for the memories, especially of French Creek SP. It has been over 40 years since I was there. I passed through the park while I was hiking what was then the Horse Shoe Trail. I loved the park, and all of its various hiking trails! I can see you enjoyed the memories too! Thanks!

    1. thanks for the shout out Earl- a great place- will be meeting there regularly with Vets in a re hab program from the nearby VA- so good to utilize the local state park, which are under rated!

  2. Back in the 50’s we went to French Creek State Park. My father was a farmer so we went after evening milking. It was often 5:30 or 6:00 when we got there so the heat of the day had already passed. We swam in Hopewell Lake but the state closed the lake because there were hundreds of wild geese that landed on the lake so there was too much goose poop and unsanitary. Then we tried Six Penny Lake but it was way too cold especially because we arrived too late in the day. Yes, I remember it all. Too bad it has closed. Nancy

  3. Yes, thank you for that memory, Cindy. I swam in that cold lake every day one summer in the mid 1950’s. My sister, Charlotte and I went to camp there with the Jewish Community Day Camp that year. It was the only summer day camp in Berks County that was co-ed. And thank you for putting a positive slant on its demise.

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Growing up in that area, Six Penny was a favorite spot. As mentioned above the goose poo polluted the lake so badly they had to shut it down. The beautiful bath house burned down, I believe arson was the cause. That was a sad day. So many happy family memories at Six Penny. It is eerie walking through there because the memories flood your being as you so eloquently shared yours.

      1. I’m in!. Riding res area on other side of Geigertown Road is a bit easier, very rocky on the six penny, french creek side.

      2. i am coming to French creek on Sunday to meet the Coastville vets- they are leaving about 2:30 are you free? I saw where the blacktop remains of a road goes back where Six Penny Creek crosses the rd- we can access from some parking lot – be in touch if you are free

  5. I remember swimming at Six Penny in the 70’s. Yes, freezing cold!! But it was a nice family outing on a hot summer day. Good memories.

  6. Is sixpenny lake still spring water? I remember when I was a kid Mom and Dad used to take us where to get water from the lake with milk jugs

  7. Recently was on hike at French Creek with the H3O Meet-up. We hiked an saw the foundation of the old stone bath house and the baskets, and the stone steps. Did not however see the old stone dam that was opened. I commented to the hike leader that I had also swam in Six penny lake when I was young as well asHopewell Lake before the geese mess. The hike leader asked when that was; and replied in the sixties. I do remember it being cold also. So happy to read this explanation, and remember being there with my family! Thanks, Cindy!

  8. Cindy Beautifully written memories. As a child many many weekend visits to FCSP with my family of 6. Fond memories of spring fed creek exploration for frogs & tad poles & swimming in the cold water lake with my brothers & sister. Six penny was the destination instead of Hopewell lake (even before the “modern” change house) ‘tho we did both. Mom & Dad could relax on the sudo-beach, as we kids explored the springs & basked in the sun and forest all day, safe & sound & taking in the FREE nature that surrounded us. Many many families shared the wonder of Six Penny & didn’t spend a dime & got all the stimulation one needed as a child discovering nature. Thanks for the article & your beautiful prose & for the update of why it no longer is a beach/lake. I guess the freedom of the dam is progress in nature but I often think of those wonderful family times at Six Penny that unfortunately my own children won’t be able to experience like I once did.

    1. Thnak you Ed- it was a great way to grow up- takes more work now-a-days to disconnect from technology and get outside but so worth it- the gifts are still there- as wonderful as always- thank you for sharing

  9. I loved going to Six Penny 1970’s to 1990’s. We had family reunions in the pavilion by the creek. But by the time I could drive the park had closed. Still I would drive back and sit on the beach over grown with weeds. Even though big boulders were placed at the entrance we would take the children there to ride bicycles on the old roads. Six Penny holds a special place in my heart.

  10. I went to christian camp there for a few summers in the 70s and remember vividly swimming six penny lake (and chewing sassafras in the back row during sermons). Good Times.

  11. My family and I were constant visitors to Six Penny lake in the 1950s. As an adolescent, every visit was exciting. Unlike the other commentators I don’t recall the frigid water temperatures; I guess we were too thrilled to be there to worry about that.
    I distinctly remember the trails between the parking area and the lake, filled with twists and turns, little signs, and steadily increasing anticipation. I seem to remember that there were food and beverage concessions of some sort.
    I too recall the metal baskets! I also remember lots of floating in tubes, as well as platform rafts.
    All in all, it was a truly magical place!!!

  12. My twin sister and I had our 10 year old birthday party at Six Penny! I have photos! The family also came regularly in the 60’s to Six Penny. We’d collect tadpoles and frogs at the far end of the pond and bring them home and put them in the bathtub for a few weeks to watch them grow legs! We set them loose after that….What terrific days! I remember the bathhouse and the concession stand, the parking lot with the long walk to the pond. I loved all the sand, like a beach! What a terrific memory! Just hiked there last week looking for it, and found it!!! So exciting!
    Kim Pickett

  13. Mine and another family would get together for picnics and swimming all the time growing up in the late 60’s/early 70’s. We would spend the day swimming and exploring, looking for frogs and tadpoles, and BBQing, and the day wasn’t complete without a stop at ‘The Cow’ for ice cream on the way home. Thanks for bringing back some great memories.

  14. I remember this when I was real young (early 70’s) my dad took us their to swim. I recall pavilion near the dam. I remember a school weekend field trip at Hopewell\French creek park (1975).when all of the kids did a science project along the Six Penny creek (below the dam) I hiked with my brother this year around this area and we found a lot of fire rings around. Was there a camp ground here at one time?

  15. Just came across this blog.
    Our church, on Valley Forge Road in Devon, PA, used to go out there in the 1950s.
    My sister and I were little so we stayed in the shallow part by the “sandy” shore which I presume was carted in.
    Thanks for the good memories.

  16. Thanks for this reflection. As a you g boy, over 50 years ago, my father used to take us swimming there at the little beach. In recent years I’d ask people if there was still a “beach” there, and I’d get blank looks. I began to think it was a different name my dad used that wasn’t an official one. He died in 1971 and that drive from Wayne to French Creek was way too ambitious for a young mom trying to figure out what to do with her young kids for recreation. But thanks to Google and your wonderful post, I now know it did exist and how nature took it back with a little help.

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