What began as a pond with a muddy bottom used by farm animals became one of the most popular and memorable swimming and picnic areas in Trumbull County.
Farmer Jim's was located on 50 acres of land including a two acre spring fed swimming pool with a blacktop bottom on state Route 46 in Cortland. It was an idyllic place to beat the heat from Memorial Day through mid-September, sunbathe on the lawn or picnic with family and friends at one of the 14 pavilions and purchase a treat from the concession stand.
People even traveled from western Pennsylvania and Mahoning County to enjoy a beautiful sunny day there, go down one of the three slides or swim to the middle of the pool's 15x15 foot dock.
A crowd of people gathers at Farmer Jim’s in Cortland. The black-topped swimming hole was a popoular summer destination for Trumbull County residents from the late 1940s until its closing in 1994.
Photos special to the Tribune Chronicle
Weekends were especially busy at Farmer Jim's. Swimmers had to arrive early to find available space on the lawn to place their beach towel.
Marion Gibson of Cortland remembers when her friend Betty Callahan Fillmore's parents purchased the property and opened it up to the public in the late 1940s. In 1977, after approximately 30 years of owning Farmer Jim's, the Callahans sold the picnic area to Helen and Edward Esposito.
"It was known as Farmer Jim's way back and they just kept the name,"?Gibson said. "It was Betty's family that turned it into the picnic area."
She said the Callahan family also put up a concession stand selling snacks and drinks with a jukebox and cement dance floor inside the building.
The concession stand has special significance for Gibson.
"I worked at the concession stand the summer after graduating from high school,"?she said. "I met my husband working there. He was a lifeguard."
The Callahans would let the workers stay after hours to dance to music played on the jukebox. The Espositos would also let their employees,which included family members, stay after closing to enjoy takeout food.
Gibson's husband, Jim, was employed as a lifeguard at Farmer Jim's from 1956-1961. He worked there the summer after completing high school in Cortland and while he attended Youngstown State University.
"The best part of the job was being outside and each spring I never had to scramble to look for a summer job," said Jim Gibson.
He had some training in Boy Scouts, but the Callahans hired an instructor to train lifeguards on Farmer Jim's premises.
Keeping track of the children, adults and teens in the water is a typical responsibility for lifeguards, but when Farmer Jim's first opened, the job included other duties
The Callahans had the muddy pond blacktopped and Jim Gibson recalled having to clean tar off of swimmers' feet.
"By the early 1960s, we had that problem solved," he said.
Often when children were missing, parents assumed that their child was in the water. Gibson said that they would clear the pool of people, but the child was usually found in the trees or other locations.
He was proud of the fact that there weren't any drownings during his time there.
Andrew Herman of Warren was a lifeguard during one of the years the Esposito family owned Farmer Jim's. He recalled riding his bicycle from his parents' home in Howland to his summer job at Farmer Jim's.
"I was working there the summer of my freshman year of college at YSU. I took a lifeguard class in school for my training," said Herman.
The Esposito children and grandson Pat Esposito Jr. worked at the Cortland pool.
Pat Esposito recalled his mother, Helen's, favorite part of the recreation area.
"My mom and grandma would collect the money of people coming in, - 75 cents under 12 years old and $1.50 over 12."
The Esposito family ran Farmer Jim's until 1994 when they closed the swimming pool and recreation area.
In 1995, a new era began when Farmer Jim's Sports Complex opened indoor soccer fields for children and adults.
Farmer Jim's was a landmark in Trumbull County. Area residents who are now in their twenties to senior citizens all have a special memory of the former summer destination - their first swim in a pool to taking a ride on the swings in the children's area set up in the water to enjoying a family reunion in the picnic area. From late spring to mid-September, sunlight until sundown, Farmer Jim's was the place to socialize, swim and tan.