WHITE LAKE — The initial commercial boon at White Lake, which started in the early part of the 20th century, is, these days, the stuff of stories and second- or third-hand recollections. At least one White Lake resident, though, doesn’t have to rely on others’ accounts, because her aged eyes have witnessed what’s been occurring there for almost 100 years.
In this fourth installment of the Bladen Journal’s White Lake series, we pay tribute to one of, if not the oldest resident at White Lake — Helen Womble McSwain.
McSwain was born in 1916 in Chatham County, and, as a child, would spend her entire summer with her aunt and uncle, H.P and Bessie Goldston, who had purchased property at the lake and turned it into Goldston’s Beach.
“It was a real family place,” McSwain recalled of her childhood time there, “a fun place to be.”
She married Fulton McSwain in 1938, and they created a home in Wilmington, where Fulton worked with the railroad and Helen held a secretarial job — and where their two children, Freddie and JoAnn, were born. The crystal waters of White Lake beckoned, however, and that, combined with Helen’s fond memories and the exploding business potential at the lake, convinced the couple to relocate their family and start anew.
The McSwains bought a home at Helen’s beloved Goldston’s Beach, Fulton opened The Pool Room, and Helen operated a float rental stand during the summer months. In 1952, Fulton commissioned work on a boat, The Lilly, and began giving tours around the lake.
Their spare time, however, was what Helen remembers most fondly.
“They had a pavilion on the water — it was torn down later — and they would have famous people come and play there,” said McSwain, “people like Johnny Law.
“I loved to dance,” she added with a wistful look and a smile. “We’d dance just about every night.”
McSwain’s daughter, who is now JoAnn Knox, said her mother often talked to her about those days at the lake.
“The women would dress up with long pretty dresses, and there was a dance hall over the lake,” she said. “She loved getting dressed up and going dancing. That was a highlight for her.”
The couple bought Lasley’s Motel, Helen began working at the establishment, and the couple moved their Goldston’s Beach house to Lasley’s, where it still stands today.
“It was such a good time for them,” Knox said. “She loved it. There was a good social life in the summer, and everybody was so friendly.”
Though neither McSwain nor Knox recalled the year the family bought the motel, Knox did know one thing for sure.
“From the time they bought it until two summers ago, she was there every day,” Knox said. “And she would keep on going, if she could.”
“My favorite thing has been getting to know people,” McSwain said of Lasley’s. “We have people who have been coming and staying (at the motel) their entire lives. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them.”
McSwain will turn 100 in November, but said she doesn’t want any fanfare for the occasion.
“It’s just a birthday,” she said.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.