Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way
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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lake Cisco Dam and the World's Largest Swimming Pool

I have been working on research for the Living New Deal Project the past few months, and constantly checking out the areas in which I travel in the hopes of locating undocumented projects from Roosevelt's New Deal administration projects completed during the 1930s and early 1940s to help the US recover from the Great Depression.  I thought I had remembered hearing that the Lake Cisco Dam and amusement complex was a Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) project when I worked briefly at Cisco College.  My brother, who attended CJC--as it was known then--in the 1970s said he thought the zoo was a WPA project.  We were both wrong.  Nonetheless, it was fun to revisit the complex where I once sustained a major injury to my left great toe during an outing while attending McMurry College in the late 60s.  Randy, who spent many summers there visiting his grandparents, filled in many of the gaps for me in terms of the complex.
 Lake Cisco was formed when Williamson Dam was constructed on Sandy Creek.  It opened September 7, 1923 (wdr.waterusgs.gov, Water Data Report 2007).  The dam is 1,064 feet in length, and the old road from Cisco to Moran traversed the dam.  Due to the overgrowth, and the fencing of a portion of the area, it is difficult to capture a photo that shows just how immense the "world's largest concrete swimming pool" was, but you can get a glimmer of an idea in the picture of the dam at the end of the pool.  Unfortunately, the dam cost more than a town the size of Cisco could afford, and in 1929, at the beginning of the depression, an audit revealed "the town was going broke" paying for it (A. C. Greene, 1972, The Santa Claus Robbery, Denton: University of North Texas Press).
 The pool had 3 sections: this is a portion of the deep end (depth up to 25ft) and this portion of the pool was natural bottom with concrete sides.  Just to the left are the remains of the old "high diving" tower, which reached a height of about 40 feet (Wikipedia, Talk: Cisco, Texas).
 The deep end of the pool was connected to the "shallow" end (depth of 2 feet to around 4 feet) with a narrow walkway under which water flowed.
 The sloped grassy area held concrete steps used for seating, for the huge (at times, thousands) crowds of folks who visited the area, which was a major tourist draw during the 40s and 50s.
 The walkway also connected to the island in the pool, which also was used as a diving platform and the location of the giant slide which deposited the swimmers into the shallow end of the pool.  The remains of the swing set, also in the water and which were used to propel the brave back into the water, are barely visible just to the left of the concrete island.  It was on those swing legs that I stumped my toe, driving a shard of rusted metal under the toe nail.  I was spending the day there with friends during an outing of the HEI (Eta Epsilon Iota) social club, and by nightfall, could hardly stand at the ballgame.  My date promptly returned me to my dorm, citing he was tired of listening to me talk about the pain in my toe.  In hind site from my current vantage point of age, I am sure that was true, but as an 18 year old, it seemed like a pretty big deal and I was getting no sympathy.
 The shallow end was concrete bottom, and held a kiddie pool (about 6,000 square feet) next to the dam.
 The dam was an "...Ambursen-type slab and buttress all concrete dam" with a "270 foot long, uncontrolled ogee-type spillway with hollow core" (war.waterusgs.gov, Water Data Report 2007).  The dam interior was open to the public for the years prior to the pool closing, and venturing inside the dark and damp corridors was allegedly a test of bravery.  Water is still discharged into the old pool through an underground concrete conduit, which was used to flush the pool water during its years of operation as the pool was not chlorinated.  The water system for Cisco is at the dam site, and following processing, some of it is discharged into the pool.
 The pool was closed in the 1970s.  An article in the Abilene Reporter News (Kathy Edwards, 2008) reported there were city plans to redevelop the site into a water park, although clearly, those plans have not come to fruition.
 Part of the complex also included a two-story skating rink, miniature golf course, amusement park, park with picnic tables, and zoo.  I speculate that this small pavilion was a dance floor, as many parks in the area held them.  Bob Wills is one of the entertainers who played the park.

 Cabins were located on the premises, and a few still remain in various stages of deterioration.  The old lodge at the top of the hill is nothing more than foundation and a few crumbling walls.
 The zoo was behind these cabins, carved out of the boulders in the hillside.  Remnants of the cages still remain, although it was way too steep and overgrown for us to venture up on a warm day when the snakes might be out.  My brother told tales of their going out there to "explore" the old cages during his time at the college.
A few foundation slabs, steps, and this intact bench were visible from the roadway.  Perhaps after I get my knee repair in a few weeks, and subsequent recovery time, I will put on my snake-proof hiking boots and give it a whirl during a cool fall day.  I'd like to see those pens carved out of Texas rock.

34 comments:

Gigi said...

Some of my friends and I drove out to spend the day at the pool when we were in high school. Must have been in 1970 or 71 before it closed. We picked up two long haired guys who were hitchhiking and had a big ole time all day long at the pool. :)

Beth said...

I can just imagine this place filled with people having fun! Still a fun place to come to explore now, but it is sad that it has passed from being useful into abandoned.

Suzassippi said...

Didn't your mama tell you not to pick up strangers, Gigi? And what happened to them after the day--I assume they were heading on down the road? LOL

It really was a gorgeous place in the day, Beth.

Gigi said...

LOL Yes,I am sure my mama would have been upset...in fact, I am not even sure she knew we'd headed for Cisco. Doesn't sound like something she would have allowed--I was on a pretty tight leash. haha I can't remember where those guys were going but I imagine we parted ways in Cisco and they rode their thumbs to the next stop.

Anonymous said...

Excellent pics and info about this very special pool and park in Cisco. It's just begging for someone to save and restore it. Wish I could.

Susan Fowler said...

I went there as a small child in the late 1960's till it closed.
it was enormous and so much fun.

Rodneyrdr said...

Those are really great pics that bring back so many memories. When I look at them there's a deep sadness in my heart. Something about a place filled with kids having fun I think. Now there is something wrong because the sounds are gone. Thank God for the memories.

Anonymous said...

I have such intense wonderful memories of going swimming there as a child. I remember taking swimming lessons early in the morning in the summer. 1965. Then all the summer cook-outs, playing putt-putt golf. Even the summer pageants on that walk-way bridge to that little island. Because of that awesome pool, I had a "perfect" childhood. Wow, the wonderful memories. Wish I had millions, I would bring that pool back. Sarah C

Suzassippi said...

When you think about it, it is pretty incredible that a place like Cisco invested in such an attraction. I have great memories of going over to Cisco from Abilene many times to see the plays that were put on in the dinner theatre in the penthouse of the old Laguna hotel.

Anonymous said...

Spent many summer days in that big old pool. I was never surprised to see a little turtle or fish swimming with me. I even remember skating in the skating rink on the second floor above the pool dressing rooms. I danced at the little pavilion too. My family often held family reunions in the rock cabins and all of us kids would get bored with the "visiting" and cheek pinching from the old folks and would venture off to the old zoo grounds. It's a wonder one of us didn't run across a snake. The old dam was spooky when we walked through it because it was dark and some of the handrails were broken. Good memories....

Anonymous said...

There was also a hole under water that went through the concrete wall under the bridge between the concrete pool and the mud bottom deep pool. We would take a deep breath and swim through it. It was a challenge for everyone.

Bev Fontaine said...

What great memories I have of this site. We lived in Ranger and my grandparents lived in Moran, so we were through there all the time. We swam, skated, mini-golfed and picnicked there for years in the 1950's and 60's. Our 6th grade class trip was a day there and what a grand time we had! Too bad it has deteriorated so much.

Overstreet - Western Fiction said...

Thanks! This was one of my favorite places to go as a child (though that dam looking over the whole thing used to scare me to death!).

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Cisco from 54-67. Cisco Lake and pool was a great place to be as a young person. We had a skating rink, swimming, and miniature golf course. We even had a snow-cone stand. On July 4th there was bathing suit contest and Miss Cisco was crowned. By this time the zoo had long since gone but walks through the dam was scary and fun.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Olden tx. But my mom would take us kids to the skate rink. drop us and not come back till closing time. EVERY weekend. one of our favorite songs was Marie Osmaond Paper Roses. then we would see who was brave enough to go thru the dam. of course there was always someone in there to scare you. loved that high board at the pool too. took alot of courage to jump off that JUst the first time tho..

Anonymous said...

I recently heard that Cisco,Texas may be on its way up again. They are planning on building an international airport there, which I find amazing! They are already building a large truck stop, a large recording studio is almost finished, and it is really state of the art. The Wilks, who was recently listed in Forbes Magazine, are investing in the town. So who knows, something may just happen to the old pool. Hope so!

Dale Smith said...

I lived there as a child in '59-'62, moved away but always spent summers and holidays visiting our grandmother and tons of relatives. That pool was one of the best experiences a kid could have. My parents lived in Cisco from the twenties through the early sixties and told countless stories of the worlds largest swimming pool. I'm ready for it to be revitalized as well.
Who's in?

Shack said...

My dad would take me with him when he had consulting in Cisco and drop me off at the pool for the afternoon- not as good as wiyh my girlfriend in Cisco lake but pretty darn great!

Rodneyrdr said...

Its been 91 years since the dam and pool was completed, yet it still captivates your imagination and reminds us of a different era where simple things like family, friends,lazy summer afternoons and picnics were what we looked forward to. Oh, how I wish I could turn back the clock.

Phil Surles said...

I was born and raised west of Cisco. My mother and dad met at the old skating ring around 1939. My brother was a life guard at the pool during summers when home from College in the early 60's. I had already left and was in the Air Force then. There is still a painting on the side of the dam "CHS class of 1959. Many memories of skating and swimming at the park. A friend when we were 6 0r 7 years old lived in one of the rock cabins at top of the hill. Ray Judi was the lake warden.
My mother was Miss "Big Dam Lobo (Miss Cisco) from the beauty pagent at the park around 1938 or 39. I remenber the show put on there by "The Cisco Kid" Duncan Renaldo for the diamond jubilee in the mid 50's. To many memories to name them all. A great place. May it rest in peace as it will never be the same.
Phil Surles

Don Hamilton said...

I grew up in cisco and stayed at the park every summer from 1958-1962.i learned to dive from the tower which help me complete basic training in the navy.what a great place to grow up.

Unknown said...

I love reading these stories. I only went there when it was abandoned. My mom did research on Conrad Hilton and discovered the pool. We were on I20 on a summer trip to visit grandma and she asked if I wanted to see the first Hilton, I said sure. We saw it, then she surprised me with a visit to the old pool knowing I had an immense appreciation for abandoned places. Simply fascinating. I didn't realize the scope of it. The old golf course was there too. I love my mom for sharing that experience with me.

Unknown said...

I have pictures that I found in my great grandparents things of the dam being built. They bought into a pharmacy in Cisco in 1909 which became Dean Drug until closing 1999.

Suzassippi said...

Thanks for your comment! Which building was Dean Drug? I was through Cisco Friday and remarked about the old Rexall Drug Store.

Cheryl said...

Dean Drug was a block or two North of Rexall Drug. Dr. Addy would give us certificates for a free ice cream cone at Dean Drug each time we got our vaccinations and booster shots.

Viki Gregory said...

My dad was born and raised in Cisco, and I was born there in 1950 when my dad was coaching at CJC. Through his coaching job, we moved to various small Texas towns over the next 16 years. In 1967, we returned to Cisco when my dad starting coaching at CHS. Throughout those 16 years, we visited Cisco often to see my grandparents and we spent lots of time at the pool in the summers. My dad was a lifeguard there when he was younger, and I did the same when I was in high school. I participated in the Miss Cisco pageant on that little stage on the island (did NOT win...LOL!), played many rounds of miniature golf, skated on the second floor of the building, took many "pre-swim and post-swim" showers in the ladies dressing room, attended family reunions in the cabins, taught swimming lessons to the little ones, and have many fond memories of it all! Those of us who were able to experience such a unique an wonderful place during that era are truly blessed!

Suzassippi said...

I always enjoy hearing the stories of those who either grew up there, or just visited. Amazing that it had such an impact!

Priscilla Mahaney Gwilt said...

Love the information! I grew up in Cisco, and my grandfather was killed when he fell off a ladder in the building of the dam. My parents also met at the skating rink, and I spend many hours there and at the pool. My aunt and uncle (The Judia's) ran the rock cabins at the top of the hill, and below by the pool. One correction, the pool on the west side of the bridge was 5.5 feet deep, not 4. Always wish there was a way to bring all that back, such a wonderful place to grow up.

Tom said...

I broke my arm in the skating rink, running into a wall on an orchestra trip from Lincoln Junior High. But man, I had more fun there than anywhere. Still remember the steel top. Remember what it feels like, falling off it when it was tipped the other way. Painful. Remember the island, too, trapeze, and how spooky it was, walking inside the dam.

David Livezey said...

Thanks for preserving what's left of Years Gone Bye from A Place So many Memories were made for so many. We had many Family Reunions here..... From Swimming to Snow Cones and Putt Putt Golf. Sneaking into the Dam for a scary time and Skating. Sad these Days are Gone and it's still not the same for our Generation.

Rodneyrdr said...

Where was the miniature golf located, if you remember? TY

Phil Surles said...

The miniature golf course was located at the SW corner of the deep pool. There was a bandstand just SW of the course.

Tim Stewart said...

Went to CJC in the early 80's after a stint in the Marines. The county was dry then but a bunch of us used to drive to over to Putnam (22 miles round trip), come back with a few beers and hang out around the dam. The site was closed/condemned then, but we would poke around anyways. I never saw the cabins, but we did go through zoo, look in the animal cages, check out the huge swimming pools, and sneak in under the dam. There was a long unlit walkway where we would scare the girls (and some of the guy too). It must have really been something to see in its prime. Thanks for the post, it brings back some good memories.

Suzassippi said...

Ah, Putnam--drove over there a few times myself from Abilene. Buffalo Gap and Impact were closer, but sometimes a little run to Putnam was a good afternoon outing. :)