Austin was a swimming paradise

Published 6:04 am Friday, April 26, 2019

By Jaimie Timm

Mower County Historical Society

It might be hard to believe, but the Austin area used to have numerous swimming beaches and swimming holes.

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Local residents often cooled off with a dip in the Cedar River during the hot summer months whether that be at the downtown Austin Mill Pond, north of the city in the Ramsey Mill Pond area, the northwest corner of East Side Lake, or at several places on Turtle Creek.

The water, however, was not always safe or healthy for swimming.

In the early 1930s, Austin Mill Pond’s swimming beach — part of the Horace Austin State Park at the time — was closed frequently due to poor water quality.

When this happened, officials lowered the downtown dam to increase the river’s flow and they actually sometimes poured chlorine directly into the river to “clean” it. This lack of sanitary water for swimming eventually led the city to construct its first chlorinated pool in the late 1930s at the same site of today’s city pool.

Diving at the swimming pool. The deepest part of the pool was 10 feet.

The pool was partially funded by the Public Works Administration (PWA).  The PWA, part of the New Deal program of 1933, was a public works construction agency focused on funding projects involving skilled and semi-skilled labor to help alleviate some of the job shortages during the Great Depression. 

Austin officials received $26,533 of PWA funding for the pool and raised the rest of the needed funds through bonds. In total, the reinforced concrete pool cost $60,000 to build, and was 100 feet by 150 feet. It held 480,000 gallons of water and featured the latest in water-clarifying technology.  The pool was built in Horace Austin State Park and opened on June 24, 1939.

This history shows that our watershed district has always made an effort to provide healthy places for the public to swim. Current efforts to improve water quality hopefully will lead to a time in the future where we will have swimmable waters again in our watershed.

Connected to water: Read more about Austin’s rich history of water