EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - One of East Brunswick’s prized treasures is the Dallenbach Lake, or what you may know as the Crystal Springs Family Water Park. For the past 23 years, this facility has served the many families of East Brunswick for thrills and spills, with its giant water slides, and relaxing lazy river. However, there is also a naturalistic side to it for those who want to escape the crowds and walk through the lush woods encompassing the whole property. There is a long history of the property spanning back decades, well before there was any recreational use. In this article, we will look back on the history of the Dallenbach property, and how it has transformed to its present state.
Most kids who go to Crystal Springs every summer are unaware that it once served as the township’s own Community Beach, and most longtime residents are unaware of what preceded the Community Beach. Before the beach was created, and before there were any lakes, this was the site of the Dallenbach’s Sand Company. Owned and operated by the brothers Jacob, and Walter Dallenbach, this sand mining operation was among many in the county which was used to create materials for construction use. Their materials were used to construct county buildings such as St. Peter’s Hospital and the New Brunswick Post Office, as well as county roads in the area such as State Highway 27. The Walter Dallenbach family was situated in the Riva Avenue section of the township, where their farmhouse still stands today. The family of Jacob Dallenbach lived at the Dunhams Corner Road site. The Dallenbach family was very well-known in the township, not only for the Sand Company, but for one of their own, Wallace (Wally) Dallenbach Sr. & Jr., who were professional race-car drivers. As a result of the sand mining operations, lakes were formed.
Afterwards, the sand mining operations moved over to Deans Rhode Hall Road, South Brunswick, and the Dallenbach’s ceased operations at the Dunham Corners Road site. People in the area would walk on over to the site and bathe in the lake. Because there was no regulation at the time, people swam there at their own risk. There was nowhere to park nearby; there were no concession stands, or any lifeguards on duty. This unregulated swimming hole was free to use by anyone. It also came at a rather tragic cost, when a young 15 year-old boy drowned while attending a swimming party in 1948. The township had a number of proposals to properly maintain the Dallenbach Lake. One of them was to divert millions of gallons of water from the pit to be used as the township’s own water supply. By 1949, things started to go haywire. Word-of-mouth caused people from all over the state, some even as far as New York, to convene at the swimming hole. It was reported by the Daily Home News that on a Sunday weekend in July, there were over 1,000 people there at one time, and most of them were not even township residents. Postings of ‘private property’ signs could not ward off the out-of-towners from bathing at the sandpit. Police had to chase hundreds of people out of the property when it got late on any given weekend. This not only annoyed the Township committee members, but the residents as well, who felt that these out-of-towners were not giving them the full opportunity to utilize the swimming facility for their own benefit. The township committee took further action to regulate use of the sandpit and on the first of August that year, an ordinance was finally passed.
The township began to lease what was now the Dallenbach Municipal Bathing Beach for about $1 a year. Local residents could obtain a badge from the police station, giving them free use of the facility all season long. Out-of-towners, on the other hand, had to utilize the facility at a fee of $5. Anyone caught there without a permit would receive a $200 fine. In less than week, about 154 permits had been issued to township residents. The following summer, improvements were already being made to the facility, one of them was having two beach sides, a sunny side and a shady side. Over time, new features were added to the municipal beach from playground equipment, a concession stand (which was originally operated by the Women’s Auxiliary of the Brookview Fire Company), a floating dock that people could climb on, and a pavilion. Many events were held at the beach from beauty contests, movie and dance nights. This was also where the East Brunswick Sandpipers’ swim team was formed, who still compete today. There was also a special bus service that could pick kids up from the nearby neighborhoods and take them directly to the beach.
In 1964, East Brunswick made use of the state’s Green Acres funds to convert the old swimming hole into a Community Beach. With this, came a complete reconstruction of the beach. The pool itself had to be sucked out and reconstructed. Offices, locker rooms, and a new concession stand were built. Additionally, the facility finally had a parking lot on the property. Previously, people had to park across the street near Herbert’s Grove (now the East Brunswick Baseball Managers Association field). By 1968, the East Brunswick Community Park was dedicated. Mayor Aleck Borman called it at the time, “a garden spot for Central New Jersey.” Under this new ownership, residents could still enjoy all of what the beach had to offer, but under a more affordable price than that of the average suburban swim club at the time. During this period, they started hosting the township’s summer concert series, which hosted local and independent bands from around the area. They had a number activities available from swimming lessons, to story time by the lake by staff members from the East Brunswick Public Library, who also had their own little section at the park where people could take out books. For the more adventurous folks, out in the back, there was a rope-swing at the other end of the lake they could use. It was also the foundation and meeting place for the East Brunswick Association for Brain-Injured Children (affectionately known as Camp Daisy), where campers would go to every morning at the start of camp. Their original building, located at the Community beach parking lot, suffered a horrific fire that destroyed their entire building and all their equipment.
Although the Community Beach was East Brunswick’s crown-jewel, some township officials felt that it was not being used to its utmost advantage. In 1974, about 20 years before what is seen now became a reality, Parks Department Director James Hazelton proposed the idea to convert the Community Beach into a concrete recreational swimming facility. The original plans included a large concrete swimming pool, a wading and spray pool for the little ones, a bridge that would cross over the lake, a wooded picnic area surrounding the lake, as well as basketball, tennis, shuffleboard, and handball courts. Many residents were opposed to this change since they did not want to see the naturalistic beauty of the beach taken away. However, others felt that the change was necessary, given what they felt was the township’s long neglect of the facility. Because it was not economically feasible at the time, the plans were pushed aside, but improvements would eventually be made to the present facility. By 1986, the roofs and sidings on the main building were replaced due to structural damage, and the bathrooms were refurbished. In addition, the chlorine building was moved to a more secluded area at the beach.
By the late 1980s, with old residents moving out and new ones coming in, the demographics in the township began to change, and these new residents were not enamored of a brown-water swimming facility. As a result, membership began to drop, and the lake was starting to become a money-loser for East Brunswick. The township was put in a difficult situation about what to do with the community beach. The facility was losing about $100,000 a year from that point onward, and if the beach was kept in the current condition, money would still need to be spent to renovate the place in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. An Economic Feasibility study was conducted to figure out what would work well for the facility in the long-run. One of the proposed ideas was to convert the community beach into a year-round recreational facility, which would include both an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, along with an indoor ice-skating rink. However, what the Recreation department was mainly trying aim for the young demographic, particularly around the 10-20 age range, whom they say were not returning to the present facility. In trying to find what the young people were into, they found that water parks were becoming all the rage. Water parks such as Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach were models for what would become their dream goal. The idea was settled to convert the old community beach into a blue water aquatic facility, and the Blue Water Aquatic Facility Oversight Committee was formed, headed by township Finance Director, L. Mason Neely, and Recreation, Parks, and Community Services Director, Judith L. Leblein. Because nothing of the sort had ever been done for a town like East Brunswick, they took public opinion on this very seriously and wanted to get as many opinions on this as possible. In February of 1993, a town council meeting was held to decide on whether or not their dream would become a reality. Residents voiced their opinions on the matter, some supportive, while others were against it. It was mostly the older residents, along with Councilman Joseph Hudak, that were against the proposal. However, former mayor Borman (who had the Community Park dedicated under his watch) voiced his support of the idea, feeling the sentiment that the beach was not being used to its advantage, that being a “fine recreational facility.” He told the township council at the time, “Bless you! Go ahead! Do what that plan says, and I’ll endorse you a 100 percent.” The project was approved on a 4-1 vote, and the blue water aquatic facility was ready to go for a hoped summer 1994 opening.
Anyone who has gone to Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach at Walt Disney World may notice some similarities to that of Crystal Springs (particularly their water slides and Lazy River), and that is no coincidence, as the township hired the same architecture firm (Heery International of Atlanta, GA) who designed those parks to create the one in East Brunswick. Groundbreaking took place on November 6, 1993 for the $1.9 million project. Once again, the lake had to be sucked out and re-sanded to fit the new facility. Constructions workers worked day and night in order to ensure a July 1994 opening. The work was met with many challenges along the way, from snow storms, torrential downpours, and heatwaves. At one point, they did not think they could make their deadline, and the opening might have to be pushed back another year. However, they persevered, and pushed forward with their opening projection (ultimately costing them an additional water slide that would not be built for another 20 years). On July 4, 1994, the day finally arrived, as hundreds of people lined up to experience, for the first time, the brand new Crystal Springs Family Aquatic Center. Over 2,500 people came on opening day. Membership exceeded far beyond expectations, as they were practically close to selling out. The people of the township were mostly impressed with the new aquatic center, and life seemed to be coming back to the place, despite the extreme transformation.
Crystal Springs became a model in New Jersey for what other townships could do to transform their own recreational swimming facilities. Not long after Crystal Springs’ opening did Milltown transform their own swimming hole into a concrete swimming facility with water slides. Over these last 23 years, many people have come to enjoy the Crystal Springs Family Water Park, as it still attracts hundreds of families each summer. Since the opening, some changes and improvements have been made to the facility. It was just a few years ago, that they finally paid off all the construction costs. Because of this, they have been able to add new features, including the third water slide, a spray area that was once a playground, and just recently, the original main offices, locker rooms, and concession stand were demolished and reconstructed. Of course, there will be those who will remain nostalgic for the old community beach days, but today’s kids continue to enjoy this water park just as much as those from the community beach days. There is no denying the deep rich history behind this site, and that the former Dallenbach property continues to remain a valuable asset for the township, and will be for generations to come.
About Ethan Reiss -
A life-long resident of East Brunswick since 1993, I graduated from East Brunswick High School in 2012, and am a recent graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison. I have had strong fascination with local history ever since I was in elementary school. I have been active on social media with my historical postings onto various Facebook groups, including both "You know you're from East Brunswick..." groups, which I both co-moderate and manage. I have spent countless hours in the nearby libraries researching and finding anything of historic local interest. My hobbies include photography, droning, and of course, researching local history.