Our town, Augusta, Kansas, didn’t have a swimming pool when I was a little kid. A pool was finally constructed when I was in high school, probably about 1951. The pool was located at the northwest corner of Kelly Road and Dearborn. One memorable note was that the head lifeguard was John Hutter, the high school coach and algebra teacher. We weren’t without options before the pool was built. Let’s recall a few.
Not having a pool during our younger days, we made use of the natural water sources available to us with one exception. When I was 12, I got my first formal swimming lesson at the YMCA in Wichita. Some of the local mothers took a couple of carloads of boys to Wichita every day for a week or two of lessons. As I remember it, we swam every day in the nude until graduation day when our parents were invited to attend. I remember that on graduation day, one of the requirements was to dive off the edge of the pool, swim across, and get out on the other side. I had never dived and didn’t know about arching your back so you would surface. I dived in and went straight to the bottom. The next thing I knew, one of the lifeguards was hauling me to the surface. My mom was in attendance and must have been real proud of my performance.
There were a number of places near town where we could swim. Mom and Dad, who were both good swimmers, once took my sister, Sylvia, and I to Elm Creek for a swim. Elm Creek is west of town and runs into the Whitewater River just north of Highway 54. We went to an area about 200 yards from the Whitewater that was just deep enough for swimming, and the folks gave us some lessons.
Camp ROKI is 3 or 4 miles southeast of Augusta. The old Camp ROKI was actually a picnic area on the south side of the Little Walnut River and on the east side of the road. The place for swimming was where the low-water bridge crossed the river. It was shallow on the east side of the bridge, and you could drive a car off the bridge and into the water. During times of drought and water rationing, when we weren’t allowed to wash cars in town, we would go out to this low water bridge, drive into the river, and wash them. On the west side of the bridge was the swimming hole. The water was deeper on that side of the bridge because for years that’s where they dug out the river gravel for use on the roads. On the south side of the river, the road had been cut through a high bank. This high bank continued for some distance to the west. A few yards west of the road and on top of this high bank, was a really big tree. From the tree, someone had hung about a 1 ½ inch manila rope. You could swing way out from the bank and hit the water feet first, or you could flip yourself around and dive in head first. The water was deep enough to tolerate a dive. This was the best such set-up I’ve ever seen.
I wish I could tell you more about Camp ROKI. Maybe the Historical Society has something. My mom told me that the townspeople used to enjoy going there for picnics,, but I don’t know if it was a commercial enterprise that you had to pay for, or if it was just a nice place to go even though it had no amenities.
In my old age, I’m getting a little hazy on location, but I’ll give it a shot. Go East of Augusta on Highway 54 for 3 or 4 miles, and turn South on a country road (it may be Purity Springs or maybe the next one) and go 3 or 4 miles until you hit the Little Walnut River. The old low-water bridge has been replaced by a modern structure that is higher and should be above flood level. Camp ROKI was located east of the road and on the south side of the river.
I was told that in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s, Dr. A. E. Bence, an orthopedic surgeon from Wichita, had purchased Camp ROKI as a weekend retreat. In the fall of 1952, Dr. Bence removed a bone growth from my left tibia.
Another swimming hole was at Dry Creek. Dry Creek was straight west on Highway 54 and about 1 ½ or 1 ¾ miles from the corner of 7th and State. There is a nice, modern bridge across the creek. Below the bridge and a few feet to the south, there is a concrete dam with a spillway in the center. The water runs over the spillway most of the year and creates a nice pool. The pool is not much bigger than a residential swimming pool, and is shaped like a bowl. On the south side, the edge comes up and forms a riffle so the water can flow out, but not with much force. It was a good place to swim and once, when fishing, I caught a 6 inch bullhead. We figured that people might be dumping their pets there because we saw a big goldfish and, another time, we saw one of those little “painted” turtles.
Santa Fe Lake was okay for picnics but the swimming didn’t amount to much. A few yards off shore, there was a raft that looked like it was made of railroad ties, and it was tethered to an anchor on the bottom. You could swim out to the raft and mess around, but that’s about all. There was nothing to jump off of or dive off of.
You couldn’t swim in the Walnut or Whitewater Rivers. They were stagnant and green most of the time and often had some oil waste floating on the top.
Approximately one mile east of Augusta and on the north side of Highway 54, there is a small pond called Holiday Lake. There was an attractive white house fronting the highway, and on the west side of it there was a dirt road or lane leading to the lake. You can also hike down the Frisco railroad tracks to get there. The lake is between the tracks and the highway. My memory fails me on who owned the house. The name may have been Behymer (bee-himer). Anyhow, the lake or, more accurately, the pond looked like it had started life as a quarry or gravel pit. We swam there a few times. Jack Watson and I went duck hunting there a couple of times. A flock of ducks actually flew in one morning. I think Jack got one, but I missed. It’s just as well. I hate the taste of duck.
I don’t want to forget Augusta City Lake. A bunch of us went for a swim one night, and it didn’t turn out well. I covered this in detail in another story. The gist of it was that the cops hauled us in, and the judge lectured us about the fact that swimming in the city’s water supply was a “no-no.”
That’s all I remember about swimming in those days. It was always a good time.