Three public pools for Pekin

With the news this week of the uncovering of a portion of Pekin’s first public swimming pool during construction at the Miller Senior Center, we thought some might like to read again one of our old Local History Room columns on this subject, first published in August 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

Three public pools for Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A new school year has begun and the end of summer is approaching, but there will probably still be some time to go swimming before the cooler weather of autumn sets in. In Pekin, for the past two decades, DragonLand Water Park in Mineral Springs Park has been the primary place for fun in the water.

Prior to the construction of DragonLand, though, Mineral Springs Park had two different earlier public swimming pools. According to “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2002), p.82, the origin Pekin pool was built in 1882. However, that date is a mistake. The park began in 1882, but, as the 1949 “Pekin Centenary” makes clear (p.131), it wasn’t until later in the 1880s that the first park swimming pool was built.

“Three thousand trees were soon set out in the newly purchased 40 acre tract, a lagoon scraped out, and in 1883 a bath house was erected,” the Pekin Centenary says. “During the next years were constructed a swimming pool, a pagoda, and roads and fountains; and the people of Pekin were happy to have a fine park without cost to the citizens.”

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial (p.138) reveals that, “The old park swimming pool was located across from the 14th Street side of the park lagoon in the area now occupied by the horseshoe pits to the south of the Methodist Church.” This is where the Miller Senior Center is today. The Sesquicentennial adds that the park’s original artesian well, from which Mineral Springs Park derives its name, was located near the old swimming pool.

“Bathhouses surrounded the pool so there was not much room to ‘lay out’ in the sun (as some girls still remember from the 1930s). The bathhouse was built with two wings, each containing six tubs, two showers and two treatment rooms,” says “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”

By the mid-1930s, the need was obvious for a new, larger public pool. The Pekin Centenary says, “In the summer of 1935, after a second sulphur well had been sunk to a depth of 1,080 feet to establish an adequate water supply, a new 532,000 gallon capacity outdoor pool was constructed, the second largest in the state and one of the finest in the Middle West. In May 1937, the pool project was completed with the opening of a splendid new bath house at a total cost of $150,000 including the pool. The new bath house has 15,000 square feet of floor space, 12 individual tub rooms, 13 private dressing rooms for women swimmers and hot and cold mineral water for tubs and shower baths.”

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” adds that the new pool included a slide, and “was 60 feet wide, 160 feet long with a diving wing on each side 17 feet wide and 30 feet long. Filled daily with fresh sulphur water and holding 532,000 gallons of water, the new pool was located behind the Park District offices. Check rooms provided baskets for 756 women swimmers and an equal number of men swimmers. It also had public showers and dressing rooms.”

That pool continued to serve the community for almost six decades, though it underwent renovations from time to time. Finally, in 1992, the 1937 pool was retired and replaced with DragonLand. The new water park was built southeast of the old pool, and a new miniature golf park, Magic Dragon Golf and Games, was constructed on the site of the pool.

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This photograph shows Pekin’s original public swimming pool, which was located where the Miller Senior Center stands today across from the lagoon on 14th Street. The old pool, built in the 1880s, was replaced in 1937.

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