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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Swimming Pools in America

French Norman Manor House, Columbus, Ohio, 2007. Marilyn M. Briggs, photographer. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens. Garden Club of America Collection.
What would summer be without swimming pools?  The Archives of American Gardens includes hundreds of images of pools, a staple in many regions of the country and a welcome feature in so many outdoor spaces.

Weber Garden, Highland Park, Texas, 2013. Elsie Norman Dunklin, photographer. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Garden Club of America Collection

While swimming pools in some form or another can be traced all the way back to ancient times, they are by comparison a relatively new concept in America.  One of the earliest public pools opened in Boston in 1868; another opened in 1884 in Philadelphia.  These and other municipal pools served as a public baths for working class men and women and were often located in impoverished neighborhoods.  Many of the poor living in urban areas did not have the necessary facilities in their homes to bathe properly.  As a result, early municipal pools were more or less large, public bath tubs.

These pools were immensely popular, seeing over a thousand swimmers a day during the summer months.  Their popularity, however, was not due primarily to the desire to get clean but to go swimming.  In the late 19th century, however, social protocol did not see swimming as an acceptable pastime.

Castle Hill, Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1931. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Company Collections.
As time went on social norms changed and swimming became more accepted.  As a result, swimming pools evolved into something geared more towards recreation and social gatherings than to bathing. Beginning in the early twentieth century, hotels and resorts in America and other countries built swimming pools to attract the vacationing middle and upper classes.  By the 1920s, public baths and swimming pools were common and could be found in many U.S. cities.  Private pools gained in popularity as well.  While only the rich and famous could afford such a luxury during the early twentieth century, after World War II pools became more affordable and widespread.  As the latter half of twentieth century progressed private swimming pools grew in popularity and so did the desire to create more unconventional pools in shapes differing from the standard rectangle.  The kidney-shaped pool in particular became wildly popular.

Chilcott Garden, New Vernon, New Jersey, 1965. Molly Adams, photographer. Archives of American Gardens. Maida Babson Adams Photograph Collection.

Swimming pools represent a long-standing trend in American history that has evolved over the years. As resources, needs and social norms changed, so did the swimming pool.  Though they started out as public bathing pools, today swimming pools, both public and private, can be found in almost every community across the country.

Kathryn Schroeder
Archives of American Gardens Summer Intern 2015

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