Remembering Chief Tonganoxie Pool
A new local project is nearly complete, as the Tonganoxie Water Park soon will be open for area residents to enjoy for summer recreation.
But before construction started in 2007 on the park, which will include several bells and whistles, a Tonganoxie landmark had to be taken down to make room at Third and Main streets.
Chief Tonganoxie Swimming Pool attracted swimmers for more than 80 years, but upkeep of the longstanding pool was deemed too much of a burden for the city and construction of a new pool was proposed. Tonganoxie voters approved the financing of the new water park through a sales tax just more than a year ago.
In an effort to reflect on the downtown hot spot one final time before residents turn their attention to the new water park, The Mirror is publishing two pieces about the former pool. The first is from local historian John Lenahan, who has written books about Tonganoxie's history. The second is from Tonganoxie resident Manette Holton, who wrote about the pool for a college English assignment at Kansas City Kansas Community College in 2003.
Here are those writings:
Chief Tonganoxie Pool
From John Cass Lenahan Sr., 2005
Before the information on the swimming pool is lost, I would like to pass on the description of the method of construction as was told to me. August Dieckman, the local contractor, told me some of the info and the rest came from Harry Gallagher, one of the local laborers.
It reportedly cost $2,400 plus 150 sacks of cement, and the stockholders who had invested the money (local business people and interested citizens) hired an engineer after the plans were approved. Local people like August and Harry Were were hired to do the work.
As usual, in those days (the 1920s) the horse and mule furnished the power. Farmers with a team and slip were hired to dig out the major part of the dirt. Generally, $2 a day for man and team was paid.
To complete the 5 feet to 10 feet depths they used dynamite to help remove the sand rock. There was lots of handwork done by local laborers too. Mr. Dieckman supervised the pouring of the concrete, water and drain connections. Construction began in the spring of 1925 and was completed June of 1926.
Like most events, it has a beginning, a happy one we hope, and the finality, the end. In the case of the pool, a grand celebration was recorded.
There was an end for the stockholders when in the late '30s and early '40s the pool lost money year after year. Several attempts to donate it to a nonprofit organization (such as the Boy Scouts) failed.
As these attempts were unsuccessful, the city of Tonganoxie voted to take ownership and continue to operate the pool. This was quietly accomplished under the leadership of Mayor Laughlin and Walt Neibarger in 1948. The few remaining investors kissed their stock goodbye with a smile of satisfaction.
The once acclaimed "largest and most modern public pool west of the Mississippi" is yet being enjoyed by resident and neighboring swimmers 78 years later.
Remembering the pool
Written by Manette Holton, 2003, KCKCC English paper
"Is it filled yet, mommy?" Annie anxiously asks. "Hurry up. I can't see!"
As we drive along Main Street, my daughter, Annie, is bouncing up and down, hoping to catch a glimpse of shimmering blue from the Tonganoxie Swimming Pool. There it is! It's glistening; shining waves seem to crook a finger, beckoning my daughter to jump right in.
It may be only May 17th, but it is now officially summer for my 7-year-old and others of the pre-teen set.
Kansas heat challenges many of us who live here, albeit none as cruelly as a Tonganoxie mother with hot and cranky kids. Back in 1925, local adventurous merchants and businessmen took up this cause and decided to build one of the first public swimming pools in Kansas.
Somewhat shaped like a fat ice cream cone, it sported double, nearly vertical, slides, which according to Annie's venerable uncle, "Shot me right across the pool."
Whether it was fear of litigation or fear for the children's lives, the slides were removed and two properly placed diving boards were added. Even though the loss of the slides must have been a great disappointment to many daredevils, it's really the ambience of the pool which attracts the little ones. It's that mix of cool water, classmates and unbridled youth.
For this reason, the Tonganoxie pool is a hotbed of activity during the summer. Friends call each other up: "Meet you at the pool at one o' clock!"
After plunking down two dollars on the counter, boys go to the right and girls to the left through the changing rooms, then into the pool area. Hot concrete and a palpable wave of chlorine bombard the senses and irresistibly pull the victim to take a a leap and : cannonball!
Everywhere it's kids splashing, diving, leaping, throwing balls, turning underwater somersaults and generally forgetting that a short time ago, they were hot and cranky.
Of course, being 78 years old, the pool does require a facelift every year. Cracks are smoothed out and a new paint job restores the pool's youthful appearance. This summer season she's wearing a white coat and sporting two new psychedelic benches.
Three umbrellas fringe the pool area and break the heat for the sun-weary lifeguards.
In contrast to my 15-year-old, who comments that the pool is "tiny and bland," this mom remembers her and her sisters. Those little girls would sit at the water's edge, legs pistoning, as they eagerly awaited the lifeguards' whistles after a lengthy 15-minute break.
There were early morning swimming lessons, shivery, goosebump lessons where these little sisters could barely keep a chin above water in three feet. It took a lot of encouragement to get those girls to venture out in the deep water. The pool wasn't so tiny then and the pure excitement of just being there kept energy levels soaring.
There are larger, more modern pools around. We visit the Lawrence pool at least once a year. It has all the bells and whistles of the modern pool like two huge tunnel slides, fountains and water that goes from an inch to 12 feet.
Nevertheless, we spend more time at our very own, homegrown Tonganoxie pool. It's close and convenient and familiar and loved, and full of memories yet to come.
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