Norton Grove has gone from hot weather destination to year-round place to live, but residents still love it

Originally published for The Sun Chronicle on Sept. 4, 2016.

Jane Ellison still remembers the summer she hopped aboard a brand new paddle steamer used by Frates Ice Cream to boat patrons around Norton Reservoir.

The water was a deep, clear beauty, filled with swimmers, rowboats and fishermen as children explored the Norton Grove neighborhood on bicycles or on foot, soaking in the last few weeks of summer sun as school crept around the corner.

Friday nights brought a basket of steamed clams for 35 cents at the Norton Grove Association Hall, and, since most homes lacked hot water and a tub, baths were taken in the lake.

In those days, the 1940s, the end of summer meant the end of the Grove. Bags were packed, bicycles stowed and vacationers left the cramped antique cottages empty as they drove back to reality in the city.

But these days the swimsuits and kayaks stay out a little later. The houses are bustling.

And when winter comes, summer accessories are delightfully traded for snowshoes and cross country skis.

“It brings out a different set of people,” resident Dave Henry said of winters in the Grove. “There’s still a ton of people – the activities just change from season to season.”

Somewhere around the 1950s, a post-World War II housing crunch converted the closely nestled summer cottages into year-round residences. What was once a cherished vacation destination soon became everyday life for residents of the Grove.

And, to much delight.

Ellison has spent the past 73 years on the reservoir – first as a summer visitor, but then as a permanent resident when her family sought comfort after her father’s death by moving into their 1938 duplex fulltime in 1973.

In 1990, married and looking for her own place in the Grove, Ellison settled down with her husband Herb in a house just down the street from her childhood cottage – which still remains in the family under her brother’s watch.

And, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“I came straight from the hospital to here,” Ellison said. “I love it here. I wouldn’t want to live any other place.”

The Grove might have first charmed visitors with dreams of a summer on the lake, but winter months on the reservoir have their own set of charms, residents say.

Henry moved his family to the Grove in 1999, looking to escape the city and find a change of pace. They expected a home on the beautiful waterfront, but soon realized the advantages that winters in the Grove would bring.

There’s ski mobiles and ice boats. Cross-country skiing and ice fishing. And, frozen waters filled with snowbanks and trees glistening with icicles create the perfect backdrop for winter bonfires.

“If I had to move back to suburbia, I don’t think I would like it as much,” Henry said. “We sacrificed all of that to live in a smaller home, but its worth it because of the views and outdoor activities that are available here year-round.”

The Ellisons feel the same way, Jane recalling the several winters she and her brother spent skating across the frozen reservoir when the ice was thick enough. And now, the couple have special ice shoes allowing them to walk across their backyard to visit many of the reservoir’s small islands.

“I love winters here,” she said. “They’re beautiful and peaceful. The summers were always nice, but the winters are special, too.”


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