Recently a reader called and asked, "Why don’t you write about that unusual Columbia College swimming pool?" I am happy to do just that.
Christian College was the first women’s college chartered by the General Assembly and is the oldest women’s college west of the Mississippi River. After advertising the opening date across the entire state, seven students came the first day, but more continued to drift in.
Many years later, two women shared the presidency, and one of them, Luella St. Clair Moss, recognized that young women "who had never even seen a bathing suit" were choosing to enroll at colleges with swimming pools. She determined that Christian would have the largest and most beautiful pool connected to any institution in the Midwest. She realized that dream by raising the $25,000 it took to build it.
Mid-January is the time, traditionally, to observe Charter Day for this 151-year-old college, now named Columbia College. I began teaching swimming, diving and lifesaving courses there 50 years ago. Builders and architects from several states came to see Christian’s state-of-the-art pool when they were planning similar structures. The big Eastern women’s colleges had pools, but this one was unusually attractive - the first such facility "out West." White 1-inch porcelain tiles were used for the entire area: floors, pool, showers and dressing stalls. Blue tiles marked swimming lanes, water depths and distances. Even the overflow gutter, a safe place to grab in a hurry, was made of white tiles.
Twenty-three large, frosted glass windows and a skylight over the water added to the feeling that swimmers were almost out of doors.
The pool was 60 feet long and 25 feet wide. The shallow end was 3 feet, 4 inches deep, and the water was more than 7 feet deep in the diving area. There was probably no standard size for diving boards 84 years ago when Carl Hobart Construction Co. built the pool. The crystal-clear water was circulated constantly through large sand filters in a lower-level room where chlorine was added. The room temperature was regulated by valves on steam radiators in the pool room, and the water temperature was kept near 79 degrees. Showers were required, and the correct chlorine content of the water in early years was "six-tenths parts of chlorine per million parts of water." That is not enough in 2002.
The shower stalls were panels of imported gray, patterned marble an inch thick and cut into panels 4 feet by 6 feet, making this an elaborate facility for a small college serving fewer than 300 young women.
Hobart, our neighbor, built Christian’s pool in 1918 and completed the natatorium in 1919 when I was a child. Perhaps he used plans from Eastern colleges’ architects.
The transition in 1970 from Christian College to Columbia College was a happy one. I was an alternate on the naming committee. For 66 semesters, I taught swimming, life-saving and water-safety classes, averaging more than 100 students each semester. That’s a staggering thought. Burnout? Not at all. I still love swimming, those students and that college!