It was a century ago when the idea of the first public swimming pool came from the minds of the Young Businessmens' League, which was reformed in the spring of 1916. As an associate organization of the Chamber of Commerce, these young men set as their main goal to spur the development of Dublin and Laurens County.
On June 1, 1916, the group launched a plan to build a civic natatorium as its first public project. If you have to look up "natatorium," like I did, it is simply a building which contains a swimming pool or basically, an indoor pool. A mass meeting was held a week later to begin the campaign to raise the necessary sum of $1,000.00, a goal easily within the reach of the group. The initial estimate was revised dramatically upward to $15,000.00.
The original plan was to build and equip a concrete swimming pool 40 feet by 125 feet, one which was to be filled by an artesian well. A corporation was formed to manage the facility, much in the same style as the 12th Congressional District Fairgrounds, several blocks further down the street on the edge of town. The goal of the project was to make the pool self-sustaining with any profits put in reserve for expected expenses for repairs.
Although construction took place ahead of schedule, a late start forced the opening of the natatorium on Saturday, September 2, two days before the unofficial end of summer on Labor Day.
In the years which followed, the natatorium's managers wasted no time in getting an early start. Season ticket drives began before Valentine's Day. In 1918, at least 41 tickets were sold to early birds, who could get a season pass for $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children. Those who did not take part in the 10-day special would have to pay 25 cents per day. Tickets were limited because of the size and popularity of the pool.
A long coaster slide was added for the 1919 season, which opened during a hot mid-April week. Every year the operators made repairs and improvements as much as their budget would allow. Two years later, a cold snap delayed the opening for a few weeks. Prices were lowered than the original pre-war prices.
Major improvements and repairs in the amount of $1200.00 were made in 1927 to erect new dressing rooms and equipment.
The city's second pool, although private, was constructed on the grounds of the Dublin Country Club in 1924 in the area between Turnberry Court and Muirfield Court in Saint Andrews Subdivision in Dublin.
A third pool, in the city-owned Stubbs' Park, was established for children in 1923 under the direction of J.J. Donaldson, who managed the pool until his death in 1937. A new and expanded park was officially opened on the 4th of July in 1932. Situated in forest of pine trees, the pool could be accessed by entering through a small gate on the lower side where the ticket office and two medium sized dressing rooms. Entrance could be made on the high side of the park from South Drive by crossing a three-foot-wide wooden plank bridge, located high enough to withstand frequent floods during the rainy season.
The 60-foot by 100-foot pool ranged in depth from 3 feet to 9 feet at the deep end. Just above the adult pool was a smaller and much more shallow children's pool, three feet deep at its deepest. The kiddie pool was fenced in to keep young children from wandering out an into the adult pool.
Pool rules banned anyone entering in an embarrassing manner of dress. One day was set aside as women's day only. Church and organizations wishing to have picnics and parties had to make reservations in advance.
Although the opening of the pool in Stubbs' Park would have ordinarily damaged attendance at the natatorium, such was not the case here.
J.D. Donaldson opened the Natatorium right on schedule on May 1, 1933 with much fanfare. Henry C. Tharpe and W.B. Alsup oversaw the complete renovation of facility. A new feature was the sale of cold drinks and sandwiches. Season tickets were $3.50, a price lower than the original opening price, but somewhat high during the height of the Great Depression. Single day tickets were fifteen cents, day or night.
L.L. Howell, of Cedar Grove, and his sister-in-law, Miss Clyde Woodard, took over the management of the Natatorium in the summer of 1937, when J.D. Donaldson retired to take a much needed long vacation to Florida. The Natatorium closed in the summer of 1937, when the property was sold for taxes.
In the fall of 1938, Dublin's City Attorney, Carl K. Nelson, Sr. filed an application with the Public Works Administration to build a new public swimming pool located next the Hargrove Gymnasium across North Calhoun Street near the front of Calhoun Street School.
Three years later in October 1941, the construction of a swimming pool began on the grounds of the Negro 4-H Center, now Riverview Park. The 60-foot by 100-foot, artesian spring fed pool was built under the auspices of the Georgia Extension Service and students of the National Youth Administration on land which was donated by the Chamber of Commerce. The pool was a part of a complex which included an assembly hall, canning and vocational educational buildings as well as a large number of student cabins.
In the summer of 1944, County Superintendent Elbert Mullis and Dan Hoard, of Indian Springs, proposed a plan to build a pool on the corner of North and Woodrow Streets. That plan never materialized although it was endorsed by Dublin mayor, M.A. Chapman.
A year later, the Dublin City Council approved a plan to build a city swimming pool. Again, that project never materialized.
In the latter third of the 1940s, the Dublin Jaycees operated a pool in the same spot as the pool which was proposed in 1938. That pool closed about 1966 and was paved over for a tennis court.
And, if you travel to the lowest spot of South Church Street south of the Church of the Nazarene, look for a house surrounded by a 3-4 foot tall concrete wall. It is of course, the Natatorium, Dublin's first city swimming pool.