Saturday, June 13, 2015

The history behind JC's evolving swimming pools

by   Abel Loza

As spring is starting to warm into summer, there are few places that are better to cool down at than the public municipal pool. This current pool is not the only one that Junction City has seen. There have been two previous incarnations of a public pool here in Junction City and each one has a very unique story. The municipal has always been a good place for the people of the community to gather around during the dog days of summer and Geary County has had the luxury of having a municipal pool for 102 years!

The first swimming pool in Junction City was created because of the generosity one of the first prominent pioneers in the area, Sumner Pierce.  Pierce was able to attain wealth and prosperity due to the fact that he was the founder of the Central National Bank, which is still a very prominent bank in the area. Pierce gave the park land to the city and was responsible for building the swimming pool there. Pierce who had developed a crippling ailment as a boy, believed that if he had stronger swimming facilities in his hometown of Cooperstown, New York, that would have prevented his disability. So Pierce believed that his investment in a city pool would benefit the children of the community. 

According to a Republican article from 1973, the original pool was actually a state-of-the-art (for its time) and had some of the “most modern facilities of the time with a very sanitary method of changing water by means of a drainage ditch that ran north across several lots to the edge of town.” Although there was not big opening ceremony for the pool’s first day, the Junction City Union reminded the local towns’ people of the big day. “Tomorrow the new swimming pool at the playground west of the city will be opened for use of the boys and girls of the town and the day will long-remembered.” So the first municipal swimming pool officially opens on August 20th, 1913.

The Sumner Pierce pool was the destination in Junction City summers for 25 years. By the mid-1930s, the once state-of-the-art pool was now becoming old and obsolete.  In February 1937, a proposal to build a new pool for Junction City came before the City Commission. The original proposed budget of $40,000 seemed to be an ambitious one, especially during a depression filled decade but with the help of a WPA grant of $20,000, the pool was approved to start construction in 1937.  The crew started construction in August on 1937 and was completed in time for the start of the pool season in 1938.The official first day was on June 19th, which had been pushed back from the original date, Memorial Day 1938 (May 30th).

One of the stipulations for the new pool was that, unlike the old Sumner pool, this pool would be a “pay pool” meaning there would be an entrance fee, with the exceptions of some free days for kids and the community. They would use the fees for maintenance and upkeep of the pool. This new WPA pool was located directly to the east of the old pool and would feature all the latest up-to-date equipment of the 1930s. This included a gravity filtration plant to keep the water as clean as possible.

During WWII, many soldiers and their families participated in the pool fun. Even some celebrities of the 1940s took part of the pool festivities. Gene Tierny, a Hollywood actress, wrote about her time in Junction City as an Army wife and at the city pool. “Never since I was a school girl, have I had a change to be with girls so much- and I’ve never enjoyed it more! As the summer grew bakingly [sic] hot we all repaired to the new city swimming pool not far away, and lay around it trying to keep cool while we sewed on our baby clothes, for it seemed every women in Junction City was an expectant mother!”

Just like the first city pool, the second pool had a long stay in town. The WPA built municipal pool was a part of Junction City summer’s for exactly 50 years. It was consistently open for those 50 years, expect for a few summers where health officials wanted to stop the spread of polio during the late 40s and the early 50s. Unfortunately for the WPA pool, by the start of the 1980s, it seemed as though as the municipal pool had seen better days. It was running on its last legs and many saw that a new pool needed to be built in its place. By the late 1980s, the proposed million dollar bond issue was passed almost unanimously to build the pool we all know and use today.
Picture of the original municipal pool in Junction City Circa 1918