History of Legion Pool
Resting in a lowland on the west side of Lumpkin Street, Legion Pool has long stood as a place for recreation, relaxation, and an escape from the sweltering heat of the Georgia summer.
The 77-year-old pool continues to open every summer for use by University of Georgia students, faculty, staff and their guests; however, recent approval by the state Board of Regents to replace aging Bolton Hall has resulted in an uncertain future for nearby Legion Pool. On a map released by the University outlining the proposed construction of a new dining hall in UGA’s Northwest Precinct, Legion Pool is quietly absent.
The pool began as the dream of the Allen R. Fleming Post No. 20 of the American Legion. In the midst of the Great Depression, Legionnaires wanted to provide Athenians with a community center. They envisioned the community center as a multi-faceted park complete with a playground, swimming pool, and a cabin for hosting Legion meetings and events. According to a 1936 article in the Athens Banner-Herald, the Legion began a 10-year fundraising effort, hosting a series of entertainment programs to raise money for the “playground fund.”
In 1933, the Legion identified a suitable spot at an old waterworks property on Lumpkin Street. Resting in a natural bowl, the location was perceived to require very little grading or alteration to the site. The only significant physical obstacle on the site was a small stream that required realignment. The land was acquired and cleared, and by 1934, concrete had been poured and the erection of a swimming pool was underway. Though not fully complete, the pool was open for swimming by the following summer at a cost of 10 cents for children and 25 cents for adults.
That year, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration agreed to furnish labor and a portion of the building materials to complete the swimming pool and additional structures, provided the Legion could raise the additional $12,500 necessary. In all, the federal government provided $18,000 of aid toward the completion of the project. The city of Athens and private residents gave additional contributions.
Finishing touches were put on the property in 1936. These included tiling the pool, completing the bath houses, and landscaping the grounds. On Jan. 7, 1936, a gala was held to celebrate Legion Pool’s official opening. The elaborate program was reportedly attended by some 2,000 people and included remarks by Miss Gay B. Shepperson, the WPA Administrator for the State of Georgia, and Athens Mayor T.S. Mell. The remarks were followed by swimming and diving demonstrations from local high school state champions, University of Georgia swimming stars, and Olympian and gold medalist Harrison Glancy.
Touted as the largest and most beautiful swimming pool south of Richmond, Va., the Legion Pool and associated facilities were designed by architect C. Wilmer Heery of Atlanta and erected at an approximate cost of $75,000. The pool was 75 feet wide by 175 feet long, ranging in depth from 2.5 feet to 9 feet, and held 475,000 gallons of water. On the east side, a 100-foot-long pavilion shielded onlookers from the glaring sun. The pavilion was flanked at each end by rooms used for registration and concessions. Bath houses more than 130 feet long spanned the north side of the pool and provided space for changing, showering, and storing personal belongings. The pool area was surrounded by a 4 foot concrete deck and a 6-foot turf deck as well as a high metal fence. The state-of-the art pool also was equipped with 10-foot and 5-foot diving boards and a 10-foot diving tower, plus underwater lights for nighttime swimming. The pool was also heralded as the most sanitary — it included a modern filter as well as automatic showers and antiseptic foot baths in the bathhouses.
For a short time during World War II, Legion Pool and the surrounding property was conveyed by the City and Legion Post No. 20 to the University of Georgia for use by the Navy Pre-Flight School. The Navy Pre-Flight School conducted training exercises throughout the week. During this time, the University continued to hold intramural swimming meets at the pool, though general student access was limited to weekends. This arrangement ceased in 1944 when the Navy erected a field house and pool elsewhere on the UGA campus.
The pool continued to be owned by the American Legion, but run through a lease held by the city, until 1952 when it sold the property to the Regents of the University System of Georgia for $75,000. The property was formally deeded to the Regents in 1954, though it continued to be run through a lease by the city until the mid-1970s. Since opening in 1936, the pool has continued to play a unique role in campus and community life. In addition to general recreation, the pool has hosted swimming meets and a variety of student events including swimming parties, barbecues, and concerts.
Legion Pool has undergone several renovations and refurbishments over the years, though it retains much of its original form. Renovations include re-grouting, leak repairs, replacement and removal of damaged lighting fixtures, expanding the concrete deck surrounding the pool, and the removal of the original tile surface, which was ultimately resurfaced with cement. The price of admission has also changed over the years, rising to the current rate of $3.50 for students.
Though University officials have yet to confirm the demolition of the swimming pool, they have cited constant water leakages and difficulty finding replacement parts as the primary challenges affiliated with extending the life of historic Legion Pool.
Ashley Baker Pruitt
The recent Red and Black articles about Legion Pool reminded me of and reinforced my very strong feelings about Legion as an incredible community resource.
Inspired in part by my UGA mentor, Gary Bertsch, I’ve been going there ever since I came to Athens in 1983, and my wife and I have been taking our children there since our first child was born in 1994. For us, and for the many other UGA-connected families we have met and come to know there during the years, Legion Pool defines the summer in Athens. There’s something about the topography and those shade trees on one side that make it the coolest place in Athens in the summer. The people there are pretty cool, too!
Legion Pool is also unique because of its history. It was built in or around 1935 by Allen R. Fleming Post #20 of the American Legion using federal grant funding from the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal agency that employed millions of workers to carry out public works projects across the country. WPA projects provided new public buildings, recreational amenities, bridges and roads, as well as cultural and historical programs, in communities large and small, rural and urban.
The American Legion property was an ideal recipient of the WPA grant, as the Legion Post purchased the 12-acre tract bordered by Cloverhurst, Baxter and Lumpkin in 1934 specifically to serve as a community recreational resource. According to Red and Black articles from the 1930s, the field at Legion Park hosted Georgia Bulldog football games as well as American Legion fairs and festivals, where UGA students could enjoy free rides and shows on “University Day.” (As an aside, I saw R.E.M. for the first time there in fall of 1983; they opened with “Radio Free Europe”!) After the Legion Pool construction was completed, intramural swim meets among competing fraternities were held there as early as 1936.
While the City of Athens’ Recreation Department operated the pool through an agreement with the American Legion, town and gown users clearly both embraced the pool as a shared resource. The university sponsored free swimming parties, complete with “Bathing Beauty Contests,” and swimming and diving competitions for faculty, staff and students. Likewise, local 4-H clubs held annual picnics and swim parties there.
When the University of Georgia offered to purchase the pool and the surrounding acreage from the American Legion in 1952, Judge Henry West of the Clarke County Superior Court reviewed the offer and noted that Legion was “one of the largest outdoor pools in the South,” and that it was in “more or less the nature of a trust,” built to serve the citizens of Athens. The sale was finalized two years later.
In spring of 1975, Legion Pool was in need of upgrades and renovations. The City of Athens had just opened Bishop Park Pool and decided it was no longer interested in continuing to manage Legion. Funding for its operation had not been budgeted by university departments, and the question of whether the pool would open that year weighed upon representatives of the Student Government Association. “If we don’t get the money," the SGA administrative vice president said, "Legion Pool might not open at all. Ever.” Ultimately, the SGA held an emergency referendum to allocate $3,100 from a contingency fund that would support the necessary repairs and allow the pool to open. The students saved Legion Pool and initiated a new phase in the pool’s long life and relationship with the community.
The University of Georgia continues to operate Legion Pool. In so doing, UGA maintains that “trust” that Judge West talked about, and provides an inestimable resource to the extended UGA family (faculty, staff, alumni and students) who relish summers with family and friends at Legion. May future generations enjoy Legion Pool as much as my family and our friends have over the past couple of decades!
This information is from Gary Doster's book of historic Athens postcards.
from Gary Doster's book of historic Athens postcards