Mark Simonson

Even though they weren’t saying it out loud, the kids had to be thinking, “Come on, let’s get this over with.”

It was a hot August afternoon and the kids were poolside, waiting. And waiting.

“Before an enthusiastic crowd numbering in the hundreds — including dozens of boys and girls in bathing suits, all ready for a plunge — the Wilber park swimming pool and bathhouse were dedicated yesterday by WPA and city officials,” Oneonta Star readers learned on Aug. 9, 1939.

There had been some big steps forward in improving the Wilber Park pool over the last two years. Prior to that time it had been pretty much a pond, with Oneonta Creek dammed up since 1923. A concrete bottom was under consideration in December 1928, but little had been done since.

“The pool was constructed last year by the Oneonta Park commission,” The Star continued, “at a cost of $10,669.95; and the bath house was completed this summer as a WPA project for which the federal government provided funds of $18,899 and the city furnished $8,409.50 in the form of materials and use of equipment.” Construction also provided work for several unemployed local men.

“Acting as master of ceremonies yesterday, Chairman Joseph A. McCarthy of the Parks commission, introduced Lester W. Herzog of Albany, WPA administrator for upstate New York, who gave the speech of dedication for the bathhouse.

“He said in part, ‘This bathhouse shows what this municipality and what the country are doing for the youth. It could not have been done without the cooperation of the city of Oneonta and the federal government…This job is a tribute to the unemployed. If you give a man a good job, you will get a good job done. I dedicate this bathhouse to the men who worked on it.’”

Before the dedication the bathhouse was open for public inspection, which many took advantage of. A half-hour concert by Keeton’s Band followed. The exercises were held in the front of the building, facing toward the pool. Bleachers were set up across the pool, where the audience listened to the speeches over a public address system.

There the youngsters in bathing suits continued to wait, and they had one more event to endure before it was their turn.

“Five swimming races closed the program, with Mayor (Daniel) Franklin, Postmaster (Chester) Miller, Edward Crippen and Lewis F. Rose acting as judges. The pool lifeguards, Donald Brand and Viron Thomas, had charge of the contests.” Watches and season pool passes were awarded as prizes.

At long last, for kid time, “As soon as yesterday’s exercises closed, boys and girls who had come in bathing suits plunged into the water. Because of the hot weather the pool was opened for use several weeks ago, instead of being closed until the dedication.”

While this was the grand opening, a “soft” opening was at 1 p.m. July 10. The bathhouse was far from complete.

As The Star had pointed out on May 20, “‘Considerable work remains before the bathhouse is completed,’ said City Engineer Frank M. Gurney, ‘but we expect that swimmers will be able to take advantage of the pool early next month.’” The prediction came close.

Gurney at the time said that the pool would only be five feet deep, to permit shallow diving. “This project called for a swimming pool, but plans are under way for construction of a diving pool and the project will be launched later.” It turned out to be much later, as for decades city budgets never allowed for a diving pool, finally coming to fruition in 1965.

Even before the bathhouse officially opened, the pool saw plenty of use that summer. A record number of 400 had plunged into the water at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 22. Swimming was free from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., but from the hours of 1 to 8:30 p.m., it was 10 cents admission for children, 15 cents for adults.

On Tuesday: The local business beat of July 1954.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Tuesday columns address local history 1950 and later.  If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.

Ask Mark... 

Have you ever had a question about a history-making event or a prominent person in our area and didn't know where to find the answer? Well, we've got an expert who might be able to help you. Historian Mark Simonson has spent many years chronicling major local happenings, and he's ready and willing to dive into The Daily Star archives for answers, which will appear in this newspaper and online at www.thedailystar.com.

Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, 102 Chestnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com