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Montgomery’s WPA pool made a splash during depression

By Staff | Jul 25, 2018

This August 1938 photo shows some young men having summer recreational fun at the Montgomery Pool. The pool featured a small beach area and many other modern features for the 1930s. Bottom row is Joe Bartlett; middle row from left are Thomas Kuntz, Scott Harman, and Keith Hafer. Top row is Alem LaForme. (Photo courtesy of Montgomery Area Historical Society.)

MONTGOMERY – During the 1930s when America was suffering through the ravages of the Great Depression, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal was the forming of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA served a dual purpose by giving unemployed Americans paid work to build needed structures throughout the country. The Montgomery Mirror reported that the borough was the recipient of nine WPA projects that totaled $84,838. Probably the most beloved was a huge swimming pool complex that was built by the Susquehanna River where the current Montgomery Little League field now stands.

The construction of the pool was completed between the summer and fall of 1936. The Montgomery Park had been devastated by the 1936 flood and the pool was part of the improvements provided by the government to help rebuild it. The Montgomery Mirror kept faithful reports all throughout the summer of 1936 updating the community on its construction progress.

The concrete pool was massive in size, 154 feet long x 150 feet wide. The shallow end began at a mere six inches in depth, and its graduated bottom went to eight and a half feet at the deep end. The pool held 500,000 gallons of water and was fed by Adams Creek with a specially constructed dam. The pool was chlorinated and had a sandy area surrounding to create a small beach. The pool also featured a two-level diving tower and a bath house. The sixteen-compartment bathhouse measured 24×40 feet. The entire complex was surrounded by a wire fence.

According to Marion McCormick, the pool also featured a large wooden raft in the center for people to swim out and hang onto. She also said there was a snack bar that sold candy bars and popsicles.

On June 10, 1937, the Montgomery Mirror reported, “Shouts of laughter accompanied by much splashing of water greets persons in the Montgomery Park area this week. With completion of the cleaning of the swimming pool at the park children and adults alike have found it a refuge from the intense heat of this week. This has been the first opportunity to really enjoy the water in the pool. From 125 to 150 persons are reported to have been in the pool yesterday.”

This undated photo of Montgomery shows the massive size of the 150x154 foot WPA swimming pool, especially when compared to the Grace Presbyterian Church in the left corner of the photo. The pool was constructed in 1936, opened in 1937, and was filled in around 1954 to build the current Little League Complex. (Photo courtesy of Montgomery Area Historical Society.)

Apparently the original plans for the pool did not include having the floor finished. The same article stated that “it was later found it would be necessary to concrete the bottom of the 150×154 excavation which was then completed last fall.” The pool was completed by the early summer of 1937, and the beach was almost finished. At the time, the official opening date of the pool hadn’t been announced.

The Montgomery Mirror reported on June 24, 1937 that it would be necessary to charge “bathers and spectators inside the enclosure” to help with the upkeep of the swimming pool. Spectators were charged five cents admission, and swimmers were charged ten cents per day. Those who planned to use the complex frequently could pay two dollars for a season ticket. In today’s money, that’s equivalent to 87 cents, $1.75, and $35.00, respectively.

By the end of July of 1937 swimming lessons were offered to children of all ability levels. Classes were held on Wednesday and Friday mornings and were led by two WPA instructors Dorothy Secules and Fred Barrett, and Woodruff English from the Red Cross. All three instructors lived in Williamsport at the time. Classes offered to children were beginning swimming, advanced swimming, diving, Junior life saving, and Senior life saving. About 35 children were enrolled.

The pool was a popular attraction for teenagers and adults as well. Marion McCormick of Montgomery remembers how young men would climb to the highest level of the diving tower to perform back flips into the water.

In addition to summer fun, the pool was put to good use during the winter months. When it was frozen over, it welcomed citizens to ice skate.

Sadly, the pool was not immune to tragedy. On Tuesday, July 28, 1949, a six-year-old boy drowned the in the pool. The Luminary reported that the child was Lynn Larry Lovelace of Montgomery who apparently fell into the pool and no one noticed until it was too late. Although efforts were made to revive him, they weren’t successful.

According to records at the Montgomery Area Historical Society the pool lasted until 1954 when the decision was made to fill it in and convert the space into a Little League Complex. Today two baseball fields and a maintenance building occupy the space where the pool once was.