By the summer of 1945, WWII was over in Europe. Hitler and Mussolini were dead, and the German armies had surrendered. However, the war was still waging in the Pacific, and uncertainty was felt throughout the world. By mid-July, Oak Ridge, TN was going to supply enriched uranium for the first atomic bomb to be tested in the New Mexico desert; this test would change the course of history and usher in a new age.
July 4, 1945 was a time of paramount celebration. Life for Oak Ridgers was reshaping. As they worked tirelessly on their contributions to ending the war, plans were also being developed for leisure activities in their Secret City. The large spring located across the street from Grove Center was converted to a public pool and was scheduled to open mid-week, on the 4th of July, for the week-long festivities. Life in Oak Ridge had ushered in a new age: an age of freedom, growth, prosperity and inexplicable joy.
For years to come, the new Oak Ridge community swimming pool had bragging rights. However, at that time the Secret City was still on lock-down. If allowed, Oak Ridge could have boasted on having the largest swimming pool in the world with over 2 million gallons of refreshing cool spring fed water and over an acre of surface area to splash, dive and swim.
Keeping the two plus million gallons of water clean was quite difficult. Due to lack of proper valves (the plants were using them) a filtration system was not available, that would come later. By the end of the swimming season, after long hot summer days, the increasing algae levels would turn the water green. But the former Recreation Director for the City (and a major party responsible for the pool creation), Carl ‘Rabbit’ Yearwood had devised a chlorination plan and method. After buying thousands of gallons of liquid chlorine, recruiting three lifeguards, obtaining two sets of swim fins, and procuring one boat, the chlorination system was ready to be deployed. Two lifeguards would swim alongside the boat, pulling and guiding it while one would sit at the stern and pour the chlorine into the water. They would have to crisscross the one acre of surface area until the proper amount of chlorine was determined. They would repeat this process constantly. Obviously, it wasn’t the most effective method, but like everything else about that generation, whatever it took, that’s what they did.
There have been several improvements to the pool over the years with the latest major renovations occurring in the early 90’s.
During a renovation project in 1955, the city had to order paint for the pool bottom. After placing the order, the paint company called the city back to confirm the quantity amount. Certain there had been an extra zero mistakenly added to the number of gallons needed, the city confirmed the amount was correct (900 gallons). The company informed them that this was the biggest order in their history. As things would turn out, an additional 300 gallons had to be ordered to finish the job. Whatever project the city planned for the pool, it was certain, that it would be on a big scale.
The spring filled pool has certainly been refreshing for Oak Ridgers from the early days of the Manhattan Project, but many may not realize the natural spring lake has been refreshing people for hundreds of years. The history of the area around the city pool is fascinating. The pool, located on Robertsville Road, was originally granted to its namesake, Collins Roberts in the early 1800’s. Collin Roberts was given 4000 acres(a disputed number perhaps more like 400 acres) to settle in that East Fork Valley area of Poplar Creek. Robertsville Road used to be called East Fork Valley Road and was a part of the historic Emory (Emery) Coach Road. The Oak Ridge pool used to play an important part in travel history. The large fresh spring fed lake, called Cross Springs (quite possibly named after farm owner and revolutionary drummer boy, William Cross ), was a stopping point for travelers to water their horses and refresh themselves. Emory Road ran from Blaine, TN, through Oak Ridge, Oliver Springs, Wartburg and crossed into the middle part of that state at Lansing. The road eventually made its way to Monterey, Tn. The eastern section of Emory road was blazed by Peter Avery and sometimes was referred to as the Avery Trace Trail and known originally as the Indian trail, Tahlonteeskee (originating from a Cherokee Village in present day Rockwood, Tn). An original section of the road can be found hidden in the tree line of Oak Ridge next to the Oak Ridge High School football practice field just north of the Oak Ridge Turnpike. A State Historical Marker on the Turnpike describes the location as being, ‘…60 yards north-northeast.’In that location, you can find the historic Rock Pillar Bridge. The bridge was built in the early 1900’s, and the asphalt road bed is still partially visible a few yards to the west. The partial route of Emory Road through Oak Ridge has been recreated on google maps starting from the Bull Run Steam plant, through the center of Oak Ridge, past the Oak Ridge pool onward toward Oliver Springs. (Map of OR section of Emory Road)
So as the Oak Ridge pool reaches its 70th birthday and you and your family visit for its cool refreshing waters, be sure to reflect on the rich history of the area, and the wonderful men and women that have maintained the splendor of the body of water once secretly known as, ‘the largest pool in the world’.
Oak Ridge Public Library Digital Collection and Teresa Fortney, Library Assistant, Reference, Tennessee Certified Archives Manager (Teresa found the rare, hardly ever seen before, photo of the springs from the Ruth Carey collection.)
Tagged as: oak ridge, Tn, oak ridge tn, emory road oak ridge, rock pillar bridge, Oak ridge pool, Oak Ridge Pool Turns 70 by Mark Griffith, Oak Ridge Outdoor Swimming Pool, emory coach road, carl yearwood, william cross, cross spring, avery trace trail, cross springs, collins roberts, lees ferry.