Community Swimming Pools by Denise O’Brien Van

Historical Society Program given April 14, 2023, at First United Methodist Church, Jefferson

Well, here I am again, ready to regale you with another story of Jefferson’s great assets, our swimming pool in Chatauqua Park.

The last time (April 2022) I was here to tell you about local history, I was a Post Office baby.

Today I’m a pool rat. Here’s a picture of me, ready to head to the pool in 1948.

I hope that when this story is over, many of you will share your memories of the swimming pool. And Greene County’s other municipal pool in Grand Junction.

And before I begin, thanks are in order to Dianne Piepel for finding old pictures for me. And to Grand Junction librarians Susan Hogueison and Diane Kafer for helping me find out the info I needed about Junction’s pool. And current Jefferson Rec Director Denny Hamman. And former director Vickie Lautner.

About 75 years ago, I climbed down the ladder at the southwest corner of Jefferson’s swimming pool into the 3-foot depth and took my first swimming lesson. I floated! In the freezing water in the grey cement pool. I was an instant pool rat. I was also blue.

I don’t remember who my lifeguard instructor was, but I hope it was Harry Upton, son of the local sherrif, whose name also was Harry. He looked like a movie star to 5-year-old me. Harry was the first lifeguard crush of many to come. Or maybe it was the beautiful and blonde Virginia Tronchetti, daughter of the legendary Louie who owned the teen hangout candy kitchen on the west side of the square.

Enough about the little pool rat.

The pool opened on July 18, 1937, a Sunday. “Marked by a cold rain and a temperature of only 62,” the Jefferson Herald said.

A crowd of some 140 hardy souls roared with delight when Dr. J.K. Johnson Jr., a local osteopath and chair of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, a group that had pushed for construction of the pool, was tossed fully clothed into the icy pool. No heater in  those days…and for many years to come.

The pool was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. The pool and bath house were constructed at a cost of about $21,000.

WPA planners alloted $12,400 for the estimated $17,000 cost of the original project. The city  had to come up with the remaining $5,000 bucks, which was slotted for the pool’s circulation system.

An April 9, 1936, Herald editorial suggested that bonds be issued for the $5,000 shortage. Adding that “swimming in the river is dangerous not only from a standpoint of drowning, but because of pollution.” Sound familiar?

The City Council set the referendum for May 14, 1936. The Jaycees mounted a campaign in favor of the bond issue. School kids joined the effort and the supporters hit every house in town to urge favoerable votes.

The issue passed…almost by a hair… because 60 percent of the vote is required for a bond issue to pass. The final vote was 600 for, and 345 against. Just 33 votes put the issue over 60 percent.

Twenty-five WPA workers dug the pool by hand. They had previously worked on the Squirrel Hollow project and county roads. Working 29 hours a week, they made just over $40 a month.

They dug out tons of dirt for the 75-by-120-foot depths ranging from 3 o 10 feet…that would hold 400,000 gallons of water. They also dug the shallow “baby pool,” which originally was outside the main pool’s fence….so toddlers could splash without having to buy a ticket.

As the project progressed, another $3,200 was needed. The Herald noted only that the extra money would be raised locally. Lots of citizens probably chipped in.

Work on the pool  began in fall 1936. The Sept. 17, 1936 herald reported a “hiccup” in the construction had occurred. “A member of the Board of Supervisors ordered that the shovels and tools use by the workmen be taken elsewhere.”

“Just when did Jefferson cease to be a part of Greene County,” enraged editor and publisher A.J. Kirkpatrick wrote. I never found how the issue was resolved…but it must have been!

And there were other hitches. When a lack of skilled labor on WPA lists delayed the summer 1937 opening, the Herald reported that City Councilman Oren Goodrich and Mayor Dr. D.E. Lyon “finally took the bull by the horns.”

“WPA workmen, it seemed were stalling,” the reporter wrote. “Goodrich and Councilman Hal Thompson informed the foreman that local workmen would finish the project.”

The pool opened two weeks later. JHS athletic coach Mark McLaren was the manager, and there was one lifeguard.

For many years, JHS teachers and coaches managed the pool during their summer vacations.

This summer the pool Anna Pound will oversee daily operations. She’s held that job for several years, and… she’s a teacher. There will be 15 lifeguards….if they can be found. For safety reasons, lifeguards now work two-hour shifts.

And, now for a little intermission:

There’s another public pool in Greene County. That little gem over in Grand Junction. Talk about a beloved entity: That pool has had huge community support since it opened in 1965.

The $75,000 bond referendum was held on May 27, 1964. The Globe-Gazette noted an unusually high turnout of 444 voters. 275 voted “yes” and 168 voted “no.” Jan Scheringson of Junction remembers her parents counting “yes” and “no” votes as people arrived at the poll.

“They literally pulled people off the street to assure the 61 percent needed to pass,” she told me.

When the bond issued passed, the community ralleyed and over the years has kept the pool in good working order. Junction Garden Club members donated  the original landscaping.

In 2016, the pool needed costly repairs, priced at $100,000, and it didn’t open that summer.

Grants were successfully sought to fund therepairs. And the community…local businesses, civic clubs and individuals raised the rest.

Over the years, Grand Junction civic clubs have raised money to support and renovate the pool. Bake sales, plant sales, salad luncheons…you name it. Grand Junction loves and supports its pretty pool with its summertime colors.

And now for a couple of stories:

Beginning 1948, the Jefferson pool was the site of of spectacular free water shows featuring up to 100 cast members. Usually put on for two nights in a row, the shows drew huge audiences on summer evenings. The annual shows continued into the early 1960s.

The 1952 show, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, had a circus theme and ran for two nights. It featured a clown diving act performed by members of the JayCees, three “choruses” composed fo young swmmers of various ages, a water ballet solo by Jean Lindhart, who was the show’s co-director. She founded the Jefferson Swim Team in 1962.

Bill Sorenson, one of the founders of American Trampline, and his University of Iowa gymnastics teammate Frank LaDue performed on the trapeze, flying rings, and, according to the July 22, 1952, Bee, “on the trampline, the appartus which brought them great fame in intercolleciate athletics.” 

The 1951 show, narrated by Maxine Hawwk, featured the “Singing Fountain Chorus.” Members include current Jefferson residents Mary Jane Seela Sorenson and Carole Peninger Fischer. There was alsoa queen contest..never found a record of who got the crown.

“Let’s climb the fence.”

Legions of Jefferson teenagers have uttered those words, and the brave among them probably followed through, scalng the pool’s chain-link fence before it was topped with barbed wire during the 1987 renovation.

The barbed wire was removed last summer. Rec Director Denny Hamman says there’s no need for it now because of security cameras and motion sensors. Cases of midnight swimming have decreased to almost zero.

The first-recorded nabbing of after-hours swimmers took place in July 1939, when four young men, recent JHS graduates, were busted. “Four Jefferson boys arrested by night watchemen McDowell and Parr taking a dip about midnight,” trumpeted the Herald.

The miscreants were Dough Moranville, Richard Tate and Jack and Verle Langford.

“The boys were taken before Mayor Harding immediately and fined $10 and cost,” the newspaper reported. “The boys admitted to swimming several nights before they were caught. They undressed in Chatauqua Park to avoid detection.” So it probably was a case of skinny dipping, too.

In the late 1940s, Don Goodrich often swam after hours with permission from high authority. “All I had todo was find Mick Parr…who was Jeffersons’ legendary police chief…up on the Square, and tell him that I wanted to take a dip,” Goodrich told me several years ago.

Support for Jefferson’s pool has continued over the years.

Right now, the pool is getting a “small” renovation. At a cost of $104,000, there will be a new family restroom which will be built into the women’s side of the bathhouse. A new attraction at the pool this summer will be a rock climbing wall funded by a $12,215 grant from the Greene County Community Foundation. The climbing wall will be located near the northeast corner of the pool. And a new one-meter diving board will also be installed.

In 2019, the City spent $86,000 on a new liner for the “tub” and $35,000 for a tarp to protect it in the off season

In 1986-1987, the pool was completely renovated and a new bathhouse was built at a cost of $430,000. Ten years ago, the facility was valued at about $1.4 million. Couldn’t find today’s value.

That first shortened 1937 swim season, the pool more than paid its way, taking in $1,600 while spending $1,000 on salaries and utilities.

But it’s run a deficit for the past 30 years. This year’s expenses will run $86,000I. Salaries and benefits, operating expenses and repairs and maintenance. Revenue is expected to be $36,000—from tickets , rental fees, lessons and concessions. The deficit is made up using City General Fund monies. Our pool is a valued and beloved recreational amenity for Jefferson, not a money-making enterprise.

And attendance has fallen off, too. During the hot, hot summer of 1962, 14,000 admissions were recorded between June 13 and July 10. Almost 900 swimmers plunged in on July 3 of that year. The pool’s record attendance was set on June 30, 1961, when temps reached 97 degrees and 1,102 people went for a swim. I’m sure I was one of them. Attendance in 1986 totaled more than 30,000. In June 2012 was 4,150.

Last summer, just over 8,000 swimmers used the pool, not counting dogs. Ten percent of those swimmers held senior passes. The 39 seniors senior pass holders swam just over 800 times. For an average, each senior made about 21 visits during the summer.

Those figures are kind of sad, compared to 1962.

But the value of the pool is really immeasurable.

Over the past 86 years, thousands of Greene County children learned to swim there. For many years, the Red Cross offered free swimming lessons for all skill levels. From beginners fearful of putting their faces in the water to senior lifesaving for teenagers hoping to snag that iconic summer job…lifeguarding. (And, by the way, both the Jefferson pool and the Grand Junction pool are looking for guards.)

Take a good look at the back of  my official junior life-saving card. The lifeguards who taught that class in 1956 were among the iconic college and high school kids who stood guard, taught, were admired by all the pool rats and had a lot of good times at the pool. You may remember them. Eddie Coover and Joyce Applegate, daughter of the famous “Doc” Applegate who taught science at JHS for man years.

Currently the Rec Center offers classes for nominal fees, lifeguards give private lessons, and the Home State Bank provides free lessons during one week each summer.

I hope this story of Jefferson’s swimming pool will encourage more people of all ages to use the pools. 

During the Jefferson pool’s adult swim from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily, 80-year-olds and their younger pool pals swim laps in the deep end or walk back and forth in “the five foot,” while aqua exercisers share the shallow end with toddlers taking private lessons. 

This year, Jefferson’s pool will open about June 1. Denny Hammen says the exact date depends on getting getting a full lifeguard crew in place.

And you know, that while swimmers up to a certain age look really good in their swim suits, some beyond that certain age worry about their appearance. I have a solution for that. Before I dive in, I take off my glasses. I can’t see anyone, and I figure they can’t see me either. We’re  all invisible. But I’ll say “See you at the pool!” anyway. 

A Parade of Prams and Baby Buggies at the Historical Museum

Baby Buggie with doll dressed in traditional clothing
This elaborate wicker baby carriage, circa 1900, belonged to the Henry and Mary Meinecke Schilling family who farmed near Cooper, It was donated to the Museum by Henriette Schilling Hagman, the daughter of August Schilling, who, along with his sisters, Vonnie, Grace and Minnie, were stolled around in it when they were babies.

Today, they’re called “strollers,” but in years past the vehicles in which parents took their babies out for an airing were called perambulators (often shortened to “prams”) and baby buggies.

A parade of 11 carriages, most bearing antique dolls, will be on display at the Greene County Museum, 219 E. Lincolnway, through June.

The prams on display were used from 1900 though the 1960s. They’re constructed of wicker, metal and canvas.

Beginning May 3, the Museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays, and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, or by appointment. Call 515-386-8544.

Museum Opens for Summer on May 3

The Museum opens for the summer on 5/3! Hours will be: Wednesdays 1-4, Saturdays 9-12. We also have a new exhibit, “A Parade of Prams, Perambulators, and Push Chairs,” on display, courtesy of Jed Magee.

Greene County’s indigenous people topic of May 5 Historical Society program


JEFFERSON, Iowa, April 25, 2023 — Mary Weaver of Rippey will give a program on Greene County’s original inhabitants on Friday, May 5, at the Churdan Public Library, 414 Sand St. 

Round wheel like stone tool with hole in middle.
Found in Greene County, this ancient tool was used by Native Americans for…..? Find out at the Historical Society’s May 5 program at the Churdan Public Library.

The free presentation is part of the Greene County Historical Society’s 2023 program series. It will follow lunch, which will begin at noon.

Weaver has been interested in American Indian cultures since she was a child. She says she hopes to finally find an arrowhead along one of the county’s waterways this year.

Her continuing interest was piqued last fall when local professional photographer Peg Gannon told her about an Indian burial site at Seven Hills Park southwest of Jefferson. 

Graves of indigenous people had been inadvertently dug up when the park’s tow rope was constructed in 1967. The remains were reburied near their original locations in the hilly park.

Members of the nomadic Sauk and Mesquaki tribes lived along Greene County’s many streams, including the Raccoon River’s Horseshoe Bend, in the 19th century. The bend area, a large loop in the Raccoon River, is located in Kendrick and Cedar townships north of Scranton. 

Weaver will display American Indian artifacts found in the county by the late Payson and Berniece Hillman, who lived in Grand Junction and amassed quite a collection.

“I’m going to pass a few around,” says Weaver. “They are touchstone items that people used…scrapers, tomahawks and fire starters.”

Dan and Bessie Sayre will help Weaver tell the story of Greene County’s indigenous people. Dan is a Greene County Conservation employe, and Bessie was director of the Historical Society’s first museum on the north side of the Greene County Courthouse Square.

The free program will follow lunch. To reserve a place at the table, call 515-386-4408, or your Historical Society community contact by Tuesday, May 2. Cost of lunch is $10.

Swimming Pool Talk with Denise O’Brien Van

Denise O’Brien Van gave a wonderful talk on Greene County Community Swimming Pools on Friday, April 14, at Jefferson’s First United Methodist Church. Many interesting facts and fun stories were shared with an appreciative audience.

Jefferson’s Broom Factories

Watch the program here in case you could not attend:

Brooms were traditionally made from broom corn, which is said to have started in the US with Benjamin Franklin. He bought an imported whisk broom that still had a seed attached, so he removed the seed and planted it. Soon he had lots of broom corn plants, and by 1895 it was an important part of the US economy. Broom corn was prevalent in New England, but it also grew in Iowa. In Greene County there were 23 acres in 1885, and it was a regular crop in the state in 1920. Following World War II, there was some interest in establishing broom corn as a staple crop in Iowa, but nothing came of it. It’s grown today in the Thomas Jefferson Gardens.

The Jefferson Broom Manufacturing Company was founded by Herbert Pelton and George McCully in the 1880s. Its first site was 206 S. Oak, and it was located in a building that had originally been a Presbyterian Church and had been moved to that address. They produced about 20 dozen brooms a day. Jesse Bailey bought out McCully, and he and Herbert Pelton moved the business to Madison Street between Oak and Elm. 

In 1898 Pelton and Bailey moved to Cedar Rapids where they continued making brooms, but the Jefferson Broom Manufacturing Company remained in Jefferson. The company was purchased by Fred Bossert, A.M. (Earl) Head, and Clyde Eagleson at that time. It employed 8 people and made whisk brooms, broom brushes, and brooms for the home. Earl Head was president of the company. They added a power stitcher to the business, which allowed them “to turn out work with greater ease and expedition.” Their brooms were carried by all the merchants in town.

The biggest danger facing the young company was fire. In April 1899 the business had nine employees. Two of them extinguished a fire that started when a bundle of broom corn ignited from a melting kettle. Nearly 50 pounds of broom corn were lost, but there wasn’t a total loss of property.

  Just 8 months later, though, in December 1899, there was a huge fire in the afternoon, shortly after the dinner hour. It was spotted by a workman returning from lunch. He found the inside of the drying room on the east side of the building ablaze. $200 worth of finished brooms waiting for shipment burned, along with two tons of corn. Workers cut a hole through the west side of the main building and removed most of the machinery, some gasoline, and some finished and unfinished brooms. The loss was estimated at $1,250, and the insurance only paid $450, so there was a total loss of $800.

Despite this loss, the company was determined to continue. It moved to the site of a blacksmith shop owned by Mr. A. T. Lohr, which was just west of the Louk Blacksmith shop and across the street from the Washington Street Stables. The Jefferson Broom Manufacturing Company owners were optimistic about this new location which was central and convenient, and they were able to move their power stitcher there. Yet, by 1901, they’d sold their business for $1500 to Mr. H.E. Reever, who’d previously had business interests in New York. Reever hired another man, Ose White, as a traveling salesman, and the two men were constantly on the road selling brooms. Although the business was profitable, in 1902 Reever decided he wanted to spend more time at home, so he sold the company to Mr. D. Talbot. Unfortunately, the company’s life under Talbot was short.

Another broom maker emerged, though. Clyde Shannon had started at the Jefferson Broom Manufacturing Company at the age of 11 as a worker. In 1918 he and his mother moved onto a farm in the Horseshoe Bend area. Clyde had the owner of that farm plant 4 or 5 acres of broom corn for him. In the fall he’d walk through the field and bend the rows of broom corn toward each other, about waist high. This made a bench, and when he’d cut the heads off the corn, he’d lay them across this bench to dry. These heads were gathered and held over a spinning drum to remove the seeds. They were then fashioned into brooms using sticks and wire that Clyde would order. People came from miles around to purchase Clyde’s brooms, and he also peddled them from a horse and buggy.

In 1924 The Bee said, “Clyde Shannon, of Kendrick Township, was in Jefferson yesterday with some fine samples of broom corn which he is raising there for broom making purposes. He tells the Bee he has enough this year to finish 125 dozen brooms, and that the quality this season is the best he has ever produced. Clyde is an old hand at this business, having conducted the broom factory in Jefferson for a number of years, and folks who buy his brooms can count on them being of the highest wearing quality.” 

A year or two later Shannon joined with R.W. Bennett to found the Jefferson Broom Factory, which was located near Winkelman Switch on the Bennett farm. They had 12 acres of broom corn, and they made 500 dozen brooms a year in 1927. 50% of their brooms were sold outside of Greene County. However, despite this success, the factory didn’t continue, and its demise marked the end of broom making in the county. Shannon left the broom business, going on to a long career with the Jefferson Telephone Company.

In the 1970s the Lions Club sold brooms in the for $2 apiece as a fundraiser, but broom making itself was a thing of the past in Greene County.

Join in on the good time at Museum’s St. Pat’s event

JEFFERSON, Iowa, March 13, 2023 — Count on a good time at the Greene County Historical Museum on St. Patrick’s Day, when the whole world is Irish.

To celebrate the day, the Greene County Historical Society is hosting a gathering at 1 p.m. on Friday, March 17, at the Museum, 218 E. Lincolnway in Jefferson.

In Ireland, the event would be called a “craic,” which is Gaelic for “a good time” especially when the conversation is lively and fun. It’s pronounced “crack.”  

Craics often take place in pubs, where the tavern crowd talks and laughs and sings along with a fiddler or a flutist.

There’ll be no Irish stout at the Museum’s free event but there will be conversation and song. The craic will include readings by Jefferson residents Hollie Roberts and John Turpin. The singing of Irish songs will be encouraged, with Jeffersonians Rick Morain playing the piano and Peg Raney strumming her guitar.

Morain claims about 12 percent Irish heritage. Raney, whose maiden name is Nolan, grew up in northern Iowa’s Irish enclave, Emmetsburg, where St. Paddy’s day is celebrated with a big parade.

The song list will surely include “Peg O’ My Heart,” plus “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” and “Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder.”

Turpin will read a few Irish legends, and tell a few Hibernian  jokes. As far as he knows, he lacks Irish genes, but may be Irish by association: His wife Janis’s grandmother was an O’Connell.

Roberts, of Norwegian descent and without a drop of Irish blood, harbors a love for the Irish. She’ll raise a few Irish toasts and offer a few limericks.

Betty Connor Kuebler, also of Jefferson, was born in Coleraine, a town 50 miles from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and immigrated to Greene County in the late 1950s. She’ll recall her memories of the Emerald Isle.

There will be refreshments, including cake and cookies, and drawings for wee Irish door prizes.

Everyone is welcome to attend the free event, and enjoy a good time. “Wearin’ of the green” is the uniform of the day.

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