BRISTOL — - When the Lake Compounce amusement park opens for the season Saturday morning, the focus will be on the modern rides, new stage shows and maps showing plans for a future expansion of the water park.
But local writer Lynda J. Russell's new book, "Lake Compounce," spends only a chapter or so on the latest changes at the lake, and instead offers a photo-packed history of the place going all the way back to its beginnings in 1846.
Magazines, newspapers and websites have devoted many pages over the years to chronicling the ups and downs of "The Lake," as most local residents refer to the park that straddles the Southington border. Russell's book leans heavily on more than 120 historic photographs and reprints of old tickets and handbills to show the park as it developed over the decades.
"She really did some research. I think maybe people will be apt to remember the pictures," said Harwood "Stretch" Norton, 85, one-time park owner and a descendant of the park's primary founder, Gad Norton.
Black-and-white photos show the cornfields where the park stands, two tracks worth of trolley cars arriving with guests in 1895, swimmers on the lake's shore in the 1940s, skaters during a roller skating craze at the park, massive company-organized outings for factory workers in the early 20th century, and the park's first roller coaster, the 1916-built Green Dragon, which was ripped down in 1927 to make way for the Wildcat — a ride that's still operating.
"I've seen bits and pieces of what she was working on, and it looks like a terrific job. We were able to provide her with a few older pictures, but mostly they were new ones," said Jerry Brick, general manager of the park.
Russell chronicles the long series of big-name musicians who played at the lake's ballroom during the mid-1900s, such as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and a very young Frank Sinatra. Decades later, Elvis Costello, Cher, Jimmy Buffett and Barry Manilow took the stage at Lake Compounce when newer owners tried to make it a concert venue. She also has brought together a collection of images showing the business leaders and politicians who kept the park open during the 1980s and early '90s, when it was teetering on a permanent shutdown.
Russell will be doing a book signing at a reception at the Bristol Historical Society on May 17 from 1 to 4 p.m., and will speak at the organization's annual dinner May 20 at 5:30 p.m.