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June 13, 1995

In the 1920s, wholesome entertainment was not hard to find in Perry. For most folks, it was practically in their own back yard. That was a time before TV, even before radios had become a standard piece of household furniture. The movies were here, though mostly silent. People did not head for the freeway and the nearest big city shopping malls because there were no freeways and no malls. Automobile trips were not that much fun anyway. Tires had unpleasant tendencies to blow out or just go flat on the road.

Simple pleasures were abundant in Perry. One of the best of these was a happy little five-acre water park known as Lake Laird. It was owned by Mr. and Mrs. S.E. Laird and they operated it with the assistance of their family. Mr. Laird was Noble county's first county farm agent and a true pioneer.

Lake Laird was located one mile north of the courthouse square. You got there by heading straight north up Seventh street to a point where it dead-ended on what is now Wakefield Road. At that time Wakefield had no name and was more or less just a dusty section line meandering east and west.

Some of the city's finer homes now stand on the old lakebed. The residences of the Dwight Hamanns, Bob Kaspers and Sharon Yost are approximately on the south shoreline of Lake Laird. The dam was just east of where a low bridge now connects Wakefield and Quail Creek Road on Seventh street. A remnant of the dam and spillway is still visible.

Lake Laird was opened for business in 1927 and was hailed by The Perry Daily Journal as "the mecca of summer vacationists and pleasure seekers." Indeed it was just that. Visitors came here from miles away to enjoy the facilities. The park provided a place for swimming, boating, dancing, fishing, family picnics and group outings.

The most eye-catching feature was a majestic electric toboggan slide standing at least three stories tall at the water's edge. It was constructed on a steel frame anchored by a network of sturdy cables and pilings. Many thought of it as our own version of the Eiffel Tower. Daredevil bathers of all ages were strapped to small seats which were pulled to the top of the toboggan at a 45-degree angle by a heavy-duty electric motor, moving up slowly from water level on a long, spidery steel arm to a turn-around at the top. From there gravity propelled them feet first into the water on a steep slide running parallel to the ascending arm. It was a breathtaking and hair-raising ride, and it certainly would not have met any of today's safety codes. But it was a lot of fun.

There also was a three-level wooden diving tower in the swimming area, but apparently there was no feeling that lifeguards were needed. Far as I know, there were never any on duty.

Adults and young people enjoyed a dance pavilion built out over the water on the south shore, with drop-down side windows for ventilation. They danced the Charleston and other fads of the age to music provided by a new "automatic orthophonic Victrola" installed by the City Drug Store. In later years the pavilion was leased out and was known as "the Lakeside club," with live music provided by local musicians or one of the touring orchestras that passed through here from time to time.

The park had swings, slides, teeter-totters and sandboxes for children. The lake was stocked with game fish. Originally it was envisioned that a modern tourist park would be built to accommodate travelers or weekend fun-seekers, but for some reason that phase never materialized. Plenty of space was provided for parking cars.

The area was grassy, having formerly been a cow pasture surrounding a pond, and Mr. Laird landscaped it with shady trees, decorative shrubs and colorful flowers. Buildings were splendidly and neatly painted. Altogether it was a most agreeable place to while away the hours between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Eventually, the growing popularity of golf and other facilities at the Perry Country Club, located a few yards upstream, probably brought about the demise of Lake Laird. By the early 1940s it seemed time had passed Lake Laird by. The dance pavilion also burned down under mysterious circumstances, and that certified the end of the era.

Long after the lake was drained, the grand old toboggan stood there forlornly as a silent sentinel and a reminder of what used to be. Finally even that was tom down and sold for scrap. In its time, Lake Laird truly was one of the finest places for summer entertainment in north-central Oklahoma, and as such it is still fondly remembered today by many Perry residents