Billy Jones and Ernest Hare, known as the “Happiness Boys,” recorded a song in 1921 called “Down at the Old Swimming Hole.” “Come along with me, down to the old swimming hole. Come on and be a kid again. It’s great to lie on the bank and look at the sky. And let the rest of the world go by.”
As a youth growing up in Johnson City, I regularly patronized several city and surrounding “swimming holes.” In the late 40s, my family often traveled to the refreshing mountain waters of Hungry Mother Park in Southwest Virginia. It had a homemade beach and a kiddy wading area that was completely surrounded by a white wooden picket fence.
Another cold-water excursion was to Rock Creek Park in Unicoi Country, sporting a rocky natural pool and picnicking facilities. Mom insisted that I wait an hour after eating before entering the chilly streams so as to prevent cramps. I usually cheated on my time, not believing her worries held much water.
A third popular “hole” was the Sur-Joi establishment (formerly Watauga Swimming Pool) once situated on the site of Carver Recreation Center. Mom literally carried me there in the late 40s as a spectator because I was battling rheumatic fever and restricted from physical activities, including walking. I later became a regular active patron of that facility.
Moving to Johnson Avenue in 1950 afforded yet another selection. Mrs. Dorothy Keezel would occasionally load several neighborhood kids into her convertible and escort us on a day’s outing at Willow Park in Erwin.
Munsey Memorial Methodist Church’s natatorium (indoor swimming pool) provided folks with perennial swimming. The pool operated on an hourly basis with lifeguards blowing whistles promptly on the hour to usher in a fresh batch of waiting swimmers. The hourly charge was 50 cents. I usually stopped at their modest snack bar opposite the pool for a bite and to watch the other swimmers. I learned to swim there from an instructor who, strangely enough, stayed dry by tutoring her students from the side of the pool.
I infrequently dipped in the Franklin Pool in Elizabethton at an early age, so my recollection of that enterprise is a bit blurred. I can, however, recall visiting Woodland Lake near Jonesboro, an establishment offering two large pools – a normal one and another containing all deep water for lap swimmers.
Unquestionably, my favorite aquatic location was Cox’s Lake (formerly Lake Wataussee). Its remoteness made it further desirable. In the late 1940s, Baxter Street was paved only as far north as Woodland Avenue.
Cox’s Lake had it all – swimming, picnicking, canoeing on the pond, a large screened in recreation area over the water, a jukebox and dime pinball machines, offering the potential for free games. The elongated towering wooden sliding board along the west side of the pool was thrilling, as was the high diving board at the deep end. Patrons entering the murky pool had to contend with a chlorine footbath with its strong trenchant odor.
When the city opened the municipal pool in the early 1960s, I became attracted to its dual low and high diving boards.
Oh how I long for those carefree days of yesteryear when this boy went “down at the old swimming hole” and “let the rest of the world go by.”