El Dorado Springs holds the distinction of having the first swimming pool in our four county area. It was made possible by three St. Louis school teachers—Miss Lucile Ketchum, Miss Lillian Parks and Miss Majors—who came to El Dorado Springs in 1913 for a vacation. They liked the place and decided to move here. They erected two houses on S. Jackson in the 300 block and called them the “St. Louis Cottages.” They lived in one and rented the other one.
Noting the lack of recreation facilities in the city, they decided to build a modern, up-to-date swimming area. N.H. Cruce must have agreed with them for he proceeded to offer them the land just across from the City Park for their project. They took him up on his offer with such enthusiasm that Cruce went a step farther and deeded the land to the ladies for a period of 20 years, free of charge, provided it was used solely for swimming pool and recreation area.
Misses Ketchum and Parks hired Frank Churchill, a local contractor, to build the pool. The ground just west of the branch was excavated and a pool 60 ft. wide and 100 ft. long was built. The water depth was 2 ft. deep in the shallow end and 8 ft. deep in the other end. The pool held 200,000 gallons of water.
A large bathing house containing 54 lockers was erected on the west side of the pool. A refreshment stand was built on the south side of the grounds over the branch. An open air dance floor was laced on the north corner of the area. The pool contained a copper bottom slide, a high diving tower, a spring board, and there was a sandy beach area for the children. The cost of this project was $3,000 which included a high ornate fence which was built around the entire area with two large gates at the entrance.
It had its grand opening on July 8, 1914. It was a gala event. Music was furnished by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The whole area was brilliantly lighted and a huge crowd was present. Never before, or since that night, has El Dorado Springs had such a spectacular event.
Miss Grace Pyffel of St. Louis, an accomplished lady swimmer, was hired to manage the beach. Each week a special attraction was presented for the public’s pleasure.
On the agenda for the last two weeks in July was Buster Bush, a 12-year-old boy from St. Louis. He was the champion boy diver of the Midwest. He gave exhibitions of high dives from a platform 60 feet in the air; and Miss Beta Libbey, one of St. Louis’ most accomplished violinists, gave concerts for the crowds at the beach.
The beach closed out its first summer season on Sept. 1 concluding a very successful summer.
Miss Ketchum began in May 1915 to prepare for the opening of the summer season. Several major improvements were made, such as a beautiful summer garden where chairs and tables were placed about the grounds and refreshments of all kinds were served. She also hired an orchestra to play for both round and square dancing each evening during the summer. On July 15, our own City Band furnished the music and Miss Florence Busch of the Musical Art Institute of Oklahoma City gave a fine demonstration of interpretive dancing. To cap off the second successful summer, Miss Ketchum had a big watermelon feed with a crowd of 300 young and older gusset there to enjoy the evening eating and dancing.
Miss Ketchum met with opposition on June 28, 1917 when she announced the beach would show motion pictures during the summer. N.H. Cruce informed her he would ask for a temporary restraining order to prohibit the management from showing movies or using the beach for anything other than what was mentioned in the deed. Mr. Cruce owned the Opera House which he stated represented a large investment and he would not allow any competition from the owners of the beach. So, rather than take on a prolonged court battle, Misses Ketchum and parks gave up the idea of showing motion pictures at the beach.
The summer season of 1918 was to have begun on June 1, but a breakdown at the city pumping house delayed the opening until June 20. The music that summer was furnished by a group of St. Louis musicians. In the later part of June, a reception was held at the Park Hotel in honor of Misses Ketchum and Parks and Madam Eugene Dussechal, supervisor of music in the St. Louis schools. It was quite an affair with S.M. Snodgrass delivering the welcome address. The beach enjoyed another busy season of swimming, dancing and entertainment.
In June 1919, Ketchum and Parks erected an open air brick structure with a stage and movie screen for the showing of motion pictures on a piece of ground they bought on the hill west of the Beach. Since this land was not given by Mr. Cruce, he could not restrict the showing of movies, and they were now able to have any form of entertainment they wished.
Mr. Haggard, proprietor of the Star Theater in Nevada, had charge of running the theater for a time, but was later replaced by Mr. Gray of the Opera House in El Dorado Springs. Miss Ketchum also began a program of teaching swimming to anyone who wished to learn. She hired a teacher form the Y.M.C.A. in St. Louis to perform this added program specialty.
On Aug. 26, 1920, Miss Ketchum announced she was closing the pool for the rest of the season due to a misunderstanding between the City Council and the Beach management over the refilling of the pool and the raising of water rates. The Mayor, W.N. Pickard, stated that Miss Ketchum had a contract with the city wherein she agreed to a specified price for the water used and to pay it monthly. She did not pay her July bill as she had agreed to do. So in accordance with city law, the water was shut off on Aug. 10. The pool closed and Miss Ketchum left for St. Louis in a every unhappy mood.
On June 1, 1921, word was received form her that she would not open the Beach during the summer since the raising of water rates made the operation of that enterprise unprofitable.
But, on June 22, an announcement was made that it would open under the joint management of Forrest Martin, a well-known El Dorado boy, and P.R. Rhine of Ft. Scott, KS, who had worked out a lease agreement with Miss Ketchum. Mr. Rhine who was manager of the leading theater in Ft. Scott stated he intended to bring several shows here during the summer to be shown at the theater. Forrest Martin ran the pool and dance pavilion. So the season, though a bit late in starting, was a big success.
In May 1923, a group of local businessmen formed a company, bought the Beach from Miss Ketchum for #3,600, and immediately began necessary improvements on it. A new roof was placed on the bathing house. A new dance pavilion was erected. The fence surrounding the grounds was put back in shape. A new cement bottom was put in the pool and the entire ear was painted. F.M. Burch was in charge of operations.
By June 22, the Beach was again open for s summer of swimming and dancing. The theater on the hill ceased to operate and was later torn down and the property sold.
The season of 1924 started off with a bang. On opening night the admission to the grounds was free. Also, the music and dancing, and of course, the pool was open for a refreshing swim.
I can’t recall who ran the pool for the company during the next six years, but in 1930, ’31 and ’32, my mother and I ran it. Mother ran the pool and dance area, and I ran the refreshment stand.
In 1958, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Hendricks bought the Beach and began extensive improvements on it. They tore down the old bathing house and built a new one on the east side of the pool, put in new walks, covered the open branch with cement, tore down the fence surrounding the grounds and put in a filtering system. Many more improvement were made during the 12 years the Hendricks ran the place.
The old dance pavilion was used for a time as a roller skating rink, but in January 1962, Mr. Hendricks began a remodeling job on it and in April of that year the public was invited to the grand opening of the Spring Dinner House. It was run by Charles and Georgiana smith and was a great asset to the area. The good was delicious. However disaster struck in September of 1965 when the Spring Dinner House was destroyed by fire and was never rebuilt.
In 1971, Mr. and Mrs. Hendricks sold the Beach property to Mr. Baldwin who ran it until 1976 when he sold out to Richard Gardner who still owns it. However, it is up for sale at the time.
Of course, as most of you know, I feel the city should find a way to buy it and run it as a municipal pool. It’s an asset to the town and to everyone who swims or wishes to learn. Do you agree?
Our summer program for the young people who want to learn to swim is a wonderful thing and should continue. Also, I feel if it was owned by the city, the costs of swims could be set low enough that all children and adults could partake of this healthful and enjoyable sport. Think about it.
Anyway, the beach has given the residents of El Dorado Springs and many surrounding areas 65 years of the foresight of three St. Louis schoolteachers. Many of us in the city learned to swim in that pool and can well remember the fun we had here during the hot summer months. Let’s keep it going for our children. Don’t let it disappear, as so many of our former assets have in El Dorado.