What are the names of Janesville’s ponds?
I serve on The Gazette’s newly formed Style Council along with Chairman Andy Reuter, Frank Schultz and Ann Fiore. Our monthly meetings are designed to define written style and use guidelines for The Gazette.
One topic recently arose that had us scratching our heads. What are the names of those ponds in and around Rotary Gardens?
Schultz wrote about the ponds, created decades ago by companies mining sand and gravel, in his Word Badger blog last October. He said the city has two or three ponds along Palmer Drive, depending on how you count them.
“Kiwanis Pond, named for the Kiwanis Club, is well known to fishing folk. It’s a great place to take a kid—or yourself—fishing,” Schultz wrote.
Lions Beach is on Lions Pond, which is about 8.3 acres. “It’s named for the local Lions Club that donated the land to the city, according to Tom Presny, city parks director.”
Then there’s the so-called trout pond, about 2 acres, surrounded by Rotary Gardens and connected to Lions Pond by a narrow strait. Schultz wondered if that trout pond has or needs an official name.
Through my 25 years here, I’ve also heard one of the ponds referred to as Atlas Pit. Which one is that?
I thought to contact retired Gazette General Manager Dave Johnson, a Janesville native.
He further muddied the waters with his email reply:
“Atlas Pit would be the small pond that borders Blackhawk Golf Course. Kiwanis Pond is what we as kids called the ‘trout pond’ now on the Rotary Gardens property. Lions Beach is southeast (adjacent to the garden property).”
Hmm. So what Schultz’s blog called Kiwanis Pond is what Johnson called Atlas Pit, and Johnson and his childhood buddies called the trout pond in Rotary Gardens “Kiwanis Pond.”
I then thought to contact another former co-worker, Tom Thren. He now lives in Arizona, and I recalled him telling childhood stories about fishing in those ponds.
Tom responded by email:
“When I was about 12 years old (and all through high school), my friends and I fished all these ponds. Atlas Pit was owned by a guy named George Gross. It was a privately owned sand and gravel pit. I think it was named Atlas Sand and Gravel. We always had access to the pit because one of my friends’ dad knew George. He let us fish and swim there even though it was fenced. Later on, the city of Janesville bought the pond from George Gross and renamed it Kiwanis Pond. Blackhawk Golf Course was built around the pond. This whole area is located across the road from Rotary Gardens. Sharon Road separates the two ponds.
“Lions Beach is where we swam as kids. We also fished this pond. We did most of our fishing in the area near the narrow channel that connects Lions Beach and the Trout Pond. Later on, Rotary Gardens was constructed on the land that encompassed part of Lions Beach, and the narrow channel of the Trout Pond. Rainbow trout were always stocked in the area known as the Trout Pond.
“I hope this helps to clear up some of the confusion.”
Tom provided nostalgic reminiscences in a follow-up email.
“My friends and I used to fish on the spillway at Centerway Dam in downtown Janesville. We would ride our bikes back to Atlas Pit carrying bucketsful of channel catfish. We then dumped the fish into Atlas Pond.”
That, of course, would be a no-no according to DNR regulations today. Doing this risks spread of a fish virus that has hit some waters in Wisconsin.
“Quite a few years later,” Tom continued, “someone caught a 32-pound channel catfish out of that pit. I always wondered if that was one of the catfish that we planted. The DNR used to plant older breeder brook trout that were no longer useful as reproductive trout. Sometimes we would catch them through the ice in January. They were usually 18-inch to 22-inch trout.
“When I was about 13 years old, I had a couple of friends that lived at the top of Atlas Pit. I would sleep over at one of the guys’ houses. At night we would sneak out a bedroom window and spend most of the night fishing and swimming and cooking hot dogs down at the pond. We always got back in before the parents missed us. Sounds like a scene from the movie ‘Stand By Me.’
“That was the kind of neighborhood we all grew up in. Not like that today. Kids today don’t know what they missed.”
Thanks for your thoughts on the pond names, Dave and Tom, and thanks, Tom, for the look back at a bygone era of Janesville.
I’ll forward your views on the pond names to our style council.
Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or email@example.com. Or follow him on Twitter or