Goin’ Swimming: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

As the temperatures rise and summer draws near, many anxiously anticipate the arrival of swim season. Nothing is better on a hot summer Arkansas day than a dip in cool water.

Early Faulkner County residents usually found the nearest creek, pond or river on those hot summer days. My grandmother’s family often gathered near the “forks of the Cadron” for family picnics and swimming. Neighborhood ponds also provided a quick place for cooling off.

As a special treat, occasionally families made the trek out to Lake Bennett (Woolly Hollow), which opened in the 1930s.

There weren’t many places in town for Conway residents to swim. The urge to cool off took many about seven miles out of town to Rhoden’s Mill. A six or seven foot deep pond, fed by a stream, was located there. On Sunday afternoons, boys would ride horses out to swim and swing from a rope hanging over the pond. Apparently they didn’t mind the snakes!

In 1922, on the outskirts of northwestern Conway, a group of thirteen and fourteen year old boys were ambling about in the Kuykendall’s pasture when they discovered a pool of standing water next to a knoll. They suspected there might be an underground stream there. Hoping to build a pond they could swim in, they began digging.

Frank Kuykendall discovered the group, which included his two sons, Arnold and Robert, and asked what they were doing. Once he heard their explanation, he told them, “If you are going to do that, I’ll help you and we’ll do it right.” With the help of a hired hand and two mules, Frank and the boys dug a swimming pool with a shallow wading end and a deeper end for swimming and diving. The pool was ready by the next spring.

The shallow third of the pool was concreted while the deep end was only tamped-down dirt. The sides of the entire pool were reinforced with rock and mortar. After the first year, some businessmen asked Kuykendall if he would finish concreting the pool and make it available for the entire city. A drain was installed with a long pipe laid to “Rocky Branch” where the water emptied. Wooden pipes were laid alongside the pool to fill it from the city water system.

During the season, the pool was emptied, cleaned and refilled weekly. The sides and bottom were scrubbed and rinsed thoroughly before the new water was added. It would be years before there would be a filter system.

Dressing rooms were built. The Kuykendall daughters, Ivah and Claudia, spent their summers managing the basket room (where patrons stowed their possessions) and the concession stand. Their brothers were lifeguards. Eventually, the Kuykendall sisters took over most of the operation.

The Kuykendalls opened the pool every summer for the next 18 years. In 1934, the original building at the pool burned and a new, larger two-story building made of logs was built. The second story living quarters had a deck all along the front.

In the early 1940s, the Kuykendalls sold the pool to Karl and Margaret Dreher, immigrants from Germany. The Drehers made several improvements, including rebuilding and enlarging the pool house. They lived upstairs all year round. Many patrons remember the one-armed lifeguard, Tony Zermatten, who worked for them.

The pool was a very popular place. My mother told me that as a young girl, she walked from south Conway (Nutter’s Chapel Road) to the pool where she met up with friends and stayed all day. School class parties were held there. Some patrons even remember seeing Conway Twitty, a popular country-western singer, perform there.

In the mid-1950s, the Drehers retired and sold the pool to Jim Miller. Miller sold it in the late 1960s and it became a private club. It was later renamed Briarwood Swim Club and its popularity waned. By the 1970s, Conway residents had other places to swim like backyard swimming pools and country club swimming pools.

For those who couldn’t afford such, there were still the lakes, ponds and creeks of Faulkner County. But sometimes the need to “beat the heat” still led to desperate measures. Like that one hot summer day when I found my younger brother trying to dig a swimming pool in the back yard with his Tonka earth mover …

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