Butler County Times Gazette
  • Residents remember McPherson’s first public pool

  • Memorial Day and the opening of the McPherson water park led some residents to recall idyllic childhood summers at a different pool in much the same spot.
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  • Memorial Day and the opening of the McPherson water park led some residents to recall idyllic childhood summers at a different pool in much the same spot.
    Sisters Merrily Pierson and Susan Redstone went nearly everyday.
    “Unless it rained, and it had to be a downpour,” Pierson said.
    The pool, built in 1939, was open from 2 until 5 in the afternoon.
    “Mom would feed us lunch and make us lie down,” Pierson said. “We could hardly close our eyes. All we wanted to do was swim. There had to be something major for us not to go swimming.
    “We walked to the pool in our swimsuits with just a towel for cover. Nobody ever tried to snatch us. Parents might come and watch us but we ignored them if they did.
    “We got a new bathing suit every year, some two-piece, some one-piece. The brands were Catalina and Bobbie Brooks, and we bought them at Morris and Sons on Main Street, down in the basement where the Girls’ Department was.
    “That was the meeting place, not to eat but to swim. It seemed to me that we all knew how to swim. We’d walk on our hands, see who could hold their breath longest, that kind of thing. You could take in your own goggles and floaties or whatever.”
    David Nigh remembered the BPU bringing in two 25-foot wooden poles that they used for floaters one year.
    “They got slimy, they were in there all summer, but you could use them to rest your arms on or whatever,” Nigh said. “They were supposed to stay in the outer circle, the shallow area, but sometimes someone would pull one in through a gate into the deep part.”
    He said it wouldn’t have been too nice for anyone diving to land on one of them.
    “There were only two lifeguards and five diving boards,” Pierson said. “There were almost no rules. The first was, don’t drown. The second was, don’t drown anybody else. And there was probably something about not bringing food into the pool area. Things were so much freer then. Now there’s 18 lifeguards and one measly board and so many regulations.”
     
    Pretending the dream
    “Esther Williams, the swimmer, was popular then, in the movies. We’d have our own water ballets, we’d make a circle and then dive backward into the water like in the movies. It felt so great.
    “All the boys would be trying to dunk us and we would almost drown, but we didn’t.
    Page 2 of 3 - “I worked in the concession stand when I was in high school. I would boil the hot dogs on the hot plate in a quart pan with water. They were a big item. They probably wouldn’t pass health standards or parents’ standards today.”
    A rare pool
    The Hunter Seaside Pool was one of only a handful across the United States. It was built as a WPA project along with the band shell, scout cabins and rest areas. Prior to then, it was simply a pasture, separating College Hill from the rest of the town. The new pool and other park features acted as a connecting agent for McPherson College and downtown.
    “It was the first public pool,” Nigh recalled. “Before that, in the ‘30s, there was a privately owned pool in the 800 block of Kansas Avenue where everyone swam, but no public pool.”
    “It was a round pool with a 25 foot sand seashore,” Redstone said. “The exterior was shallow, and then there was a fence that surrounded a deeper center island area. We said it dropped off like a sugar bowl. The five diving boards were attached to a round center area that you could climb up from the outside. It was hollow and there were viewing stations inside, like a periscope, and we could still feel and see the portholes, but when I remember it, it was locked. I think it leaked. Workers could go in there but not the swimmers.
    “The boards were all different,” Redstone recalled. “The fourth board had springs so all the fancy dives were done off that one. There was a long ladder to the very top. Once or twice a year, the really good divers would climb up there and show off some dives.
    “There were these pots of petunias all around the exterior, and at their bases were where the water sprayed out into the pool.”
    “Other pools we’d visit were so odd,” Pierson said. “They were sorta fun but they weren’t the wild delirious fun that we had at our pool. Everyone who came to McPherson was taken with our exotic pool.
    “We loved seeing who could make it to the inner circle fence first, where the deep water started.”
    Tragedy strikes
    “The sand was removed in my time,” Redstone said. “It made the water a murky dark brown and I suppose it got into the filters, but the main reason it was removed was because a little boy who dove off one of the boards didn’t come up and no one saw. He was found in the water by feel later, drowned.
    Page 3 of 3 - “Our dad was the coroner at that time, and I remember him driving up to the pool area. They had taken the little boy into the bath house and that’s where Daddy pronounced him dead. It was a tragedy.”
    Between the brown water, the unusable periscope and the fact that laps were much harder to do than in a rectangular pool, it might seem that people would have been excited about the pool’s demise in 1969, but not so.
    End of an era
    “We all cried when they tore it down and built the new pool,” Redstone said. The “new” pool was the predecessor to the current water park.
    “Now it seems like so many people have private pools, but back then we wanted to see each other,” Pierson said. “It was the swimming pool in the afternoon and Teen Town at night.”
    Redstone wrote a lengthy poem about the pool, and another local pool fan, artist R. Bolton Smith, made it the subject of one of his paintings.
    “It was a mystical, magical thing, our pool,” Redstone said. “It was iconic, the center of dreamland. I can’t even explain how fabulous it was.”
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