"Wonderful Old Lawrence" by Elfriede Fischer Rowe


     LAWRENCE NOW HAS A NEW, deluxe, outdoor swimming pool where the old and young, black and white, can learn to swim. The youth of yesterday had a wide choice for outdoor swimming. And those spots too, were open to all ages and color.

     There was Peterson's Pond on the Lake View road. One of its "alumna" described it as the place where you got scum on your chest. The Lake View Club, six miles northwest of Lawrence, offered such attractions as water snakes in its muddy waters. You might be floating or swimming along and a fish or two would nibble at your toes. When you jumped in off the dock, your feet would touch bottom and that in itself was a sensation. Your toes would sink in soft, squashy mud. There was no beach -- only the boat dock to climb up on to rest. And there were always splinters that seemed to go into places where someone else had to extract them for you.

     Then there was the old Brick Yard pond at the foot of Mississippi street where the Veterans of Foreign Wars club is now. It was used for skating in winter, too. The Wakarusa river had several choice swimming spots; one was at Brown's Grove, south of Lawrence. The grove had many walnut trees, red bud, paw paw and persimmon. The banks were steep and muddy most of the time.

     Deichmann's Crossing, now called "Gage Bridge", on the Wakarusa was a wonderful spot, not only for swimmers, but for picnickers. Large stone slabs on its banks eliminated the fear of poison ivy, snakes and chiggers. There was a suspension bridge over the Wakarusa somewhere between Lawrence and Eudora. It too, was a spot for swimmers.

     Many a boy learned to swim in the Kaw River. There was one place near the Santa Fe station. But all along the Kaw's banks, the natural sand beach made it enticing to the young. Most of the swimming there was sans swim suits. One time there were complaints that the boys were swimming too close to the bridge, as the spectators were seeing too much of them. At the foot of Ohio Street, Dolly Graeber, the town's most respected boatman, had his boat dock. For several summers when the river was quite low, old and young came there to swim. Some of the best swimmers would swim across the river to the north side, and back.

     Probably, most of the girls learned to swim in the Y.M.C.A. indoor pool. This building later was better known as the Wren building. It was built in the early 1900's at a reported cost of $40,000. At that time, it was believed there was a need in Lawrence for a place where young men could go to enjoy gymnasium facilities and a pool. It also offered rooms for bachelors. The entire project was supported by the merchants in Lawrence.

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     One day a week was given to girls and women who subscribed for gym and swimming lessons. Every Wednesday was our day. Returning to school after lunch, we brought our little cardboard suitcases containing our swim suit, gym bloomers, a white turkish towel, (no colored ones then), and a "Boudoir-cap" type swimming cap that always let in the water. We always found room in that suitcase for our after-swim snack -- sandwiches or cookies (which we'd trade back and forth), and always pickles, dill or sour. We bought the pickles for a penny each at the Leader, where the Kraft Furniture store now is located; or Thudiums or McCurdy's. Those pickles were the size of the largest you see on the market today. We can still smell that dill when the clerk would take a long-handled cup and dip into the wooden barrel that held them. We all had the same kind of suitcase. They probably were purchased at Hoadley's or Miller's Racket store.

     At 4 o'clock, when school was dismissed, we walked to the Y.M. and dressed for gym. Our costumes were black pleated bloomers, black stockings (cotton), and white middy blouses. The material in the bloomers was perhaps sateen. Our swimming outfits also consisted of bloomers. I have found no one who can recall the blouse. They probably were in one piece. The material in these bloomers was a heavy, wiry alpaca type.

     While we took "gym", the women, and some of them our mothers, had their swimming lesson. The gymnasium was one floor above. After gym we had to slide down a brass pole to the pool area in the basement. The pool room was always chilly and damp and smelled musty. The cement floor was always slippery. We had to take a shower before we could enter the pool. It was not heated and one now wonders if the room was heated. It was hard to keep our teeth from chattering and our body from shaking, it was that cold.

     Miss Douglas was our teacher. We all had to stay in the shallow end until she was ready to give us our individual lesson. This was preceded by a general group instruction or talk. Each child was given a certain amount of time for individual attention. When your time came, a long rope was tied under your arms and you had to jump in at the deep end. If anyone hesitated too long to suit Miss Douglas, she would push her in. You'd flounder around, relying heavily on the rope to hold you up, always wondering if Miss Douglas was strong enough to hold you up, or if she might slip and fall in while she was pulling you to "shore". Floating and the breast stroke were the two things we were taught first. It was a great day when we mastered the stroke and could swim across the length of the pool without the protecting rope.

     The highlight of each swim day was the "feast" while we were dressing -- the sharing and trading of our food. It was always 5:30 or 6 when we came out of the building to walk

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home. In the winter months, it would be pitch dark. The only light would be the feeble street light on the corners. Those living in the same neighborhood walked home together, with no thought of fear. Our suitcases were heavy with wet suits and towels and our long hair would be dripping, whatever the weather, hot or cold.

     The men and boys had the building the rest of the week. They met regularly for gym classes. There were no gymnasiums in the public schools then. One "alumnus" recalls it cost $5 a year to join, which included everything. Basketball teams were organized for all ages. Some of the older boys then in high school, went to KU and were members of our outstanding teams.

     There were two or three times during the winter months, for a gathering at supper time when the boys paid 10¢ for all the mush and milk they could consume.

     After World War I, interest in the YMCA lagged and the building was taken over by the Chamber of Commerce. Later it was purchased by the Jackman interests and remodeled for WREN studios. At that time, the two large concrete birds were put up at the front entrance. Lastly, the building was converted into apartments, and an office for the Independent Laundry. About three years ago, fire destroyed its interior. Like so many other building "casualties" the site now is a bare parking lot.

Printed in Journal-World May 5, 1969

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