[The publisher gladly relinquishes the Pub Notes space this week to Steve Elliott-Gower and wholeheartedly shares Steveâ€™s appreciation for Legion Pool.]
The recent Red and Black articles about Legion Pool reminded me of and reinforced my very strong feelings about Legion as an incredible community resource.
Inspired in part by my UGA mentor, Gary Bertsch, Iâ€™ve been going there ever since I came to Athens in 1983, and my wife and I have been taking our children there since our first child was born in 1994. For us, and for the many other UGA-connected families we have met and come to know there during the years, Legion Pool defines the summer in Athens. Thereâ€™s something about the topography and those shade trees on one side that make it the coolest place in Athens in the summer. The people there are pretty cool, too!
Legion Pool is also unique because of its history. It was built in or around 1935 by Allen R. Fleming Post #20 of the American Legion using federal grant funding from the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal agency that employed millions of workers to carry out public works projects across the country. WPA projects provided new public buildings, recreational amenities, bridges and roads, as well as cultural and historical programs, in communities large and small, rural and urban.
The American Legion property was an ideal recipient of the WPA grant, as the Legion Post purchased the 12-acre tract bordered by Cloverhurst, Baxter and Lumpkin in 1934 specifically to serve as a community recreational resource. According to Red and Black articles from the 1930s, the field at Legion Park hosted Georgia Bulldog football games as well as American Legion fairs and festivals, where UGA students could enjoy free rides and shows on â€œUniversity Day.â€ (As an aside, I saw R.E.M. for the first time there in fall of 1983; they opened with â€œRadio Free Europeâ€!) After the Legion Pool construction was completed, intramural swim meets among competing fraternities were held there as early as 1936.
While the City of Athensâ€™ Recreation Department operated the pool through an agreement with the American Legion, town and gown users clearly both embraced the pool as a shared resource. The university sponsored free swimming parties, complete with â€œBathing Beauty Contests,â€ and swimming and diving competitions for faculty, staff and students. Likewise, local 4-H clubs held annual picnics and swim parties there.
When the University of Georgia offered to purchase the pool and the surrounding acreage from the American Legion in 1952, Judge Henry West of the Clarke County Superior Court reviewed the offer and noted that Legion was â€œone of the largest outdoor pools in the South,â€ and that it was in â€œmore or less the nature of a trust,â€ built to serve the citizens of Athens. The sale was finalized two years later.
In spring of 1975, Legion Pool was in need of upgrades and renovations. The City of Athens had just opened Bishop Park Pool and decided it was no longer interested in continuing to manage Legion. Funding for its operation had not been budgeted by university departments, and the question of whether the pool would open that year weighed upon representatives of the Student Government Association. â€œIf we donâ€™t get the money,” the SGA administrative vice president said, “Legion Pool might not open at all. Ever.â€ Ultimately, the SGA held an emergency referendum to allocate $3,100 from a contingency fund that would support the necessary repairs and allow the pool to open. The students saved Legion Pool and initiated a new phase in the poolâ€™s long life and relationship with the community.
The University of Georgia continues to operate Legion Pool. In so doing, UGA maintains that â€œtrustâ€ that Judge West talked about, and provides an inestimable resource to the extended UGA family (faculty, staff, alumni and students) who relish summers with family and friends at Legion. May future generations enjoy Legion Pool as much as my family and our friends have over the past couple of decades!
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