One of my earliest memories involves going to Cisco, Texas, which is east of Abilene on I-20. (If you don’t know where Abilene is, you may have to Google it; I can’t do everything for you.) If you’ve ever been to Cisco, you may be wondering why I would remember going there.
When I was a child, in the early 70s, my family (consisting of my parents and five kids!) would load up in the Ford station wagon and head to the east, not to see grandparents or anything quite so prosaic, but to go to what was billed then as “the largest swimming pool in the world”. Whether it was or not, I have no idea, but it was a great place to go.
Carved out of the Sandy Creek bottom on the lee side of the Williamson Dam in 1923, the pool was—at that time and well into the 1960s—the largest concrete pool in the world. Fed by fresh water from the spillway—and, yes, that meant part of the experience was feeling live fish swimming past your legs. Besides the two part pool (a “deep end” with a depth of 25 foot and a shallow end of 2-4 feet deep and an island that acted as divider between the two sections and had a great slide) there was a miniature golf course, picnic grounds and—though there were only remnants by the time I came along—a zoo and an amusement park. Within the pool, there was a massive slide coming off the island and into the shallow end, swingsets you could swing on WHILE IN THE POOL, and a massive diving tower.
45 feet above the waters of the deep end it rose. Ask my father. For, on one fateful day, he and my brother decided to try diving off the top of the tower. My brother chickened out—or wised up, as the case may be—but my father made the dive. Forty-five feet down to the water’s surface, touch the bottom of the deep end (remember that part about it being 25 foot deep!?!) and surfacing in tremendous pain with a burst eardrum.
When pulling up in the station wagon (it didn’t have sufficient air conditioning to make 7 people comfortable, which made us really appreciative of the fresh-water [no chlorine!] pool) the first place we would go was the main building. It was a two story building with an ancient skating rink on the bottom floor and a window where one paid to enter the swimming pool area. Between the building—which sat on something of a hill—and the giant pool, there was a whole bank of concrete steps, like a grandstand without benches. I remember my mother telling me that, when she was little, she remembered coming to the pool in Cisco from her home in Haskell to watch beauty pageants. Hundreds of people would sit on those steps (which even in my childhood still displayed in fading letters letters and numbers for divided seating) and watch the beauty pageant contestants parade across the bridge and island. Being something of a nostalgia buff even as a child, I wished I could have seen those sights, then walked the midway of the amusement park while a band played from the old bandstand.
Of course, I also thought of those things because of the aforementioned dam. The pool was on the east side of the dam and—arriving in the late afternoon after my father got off work as we always did—the dam was dark and brooding and foreboding and (thanks to my sister Beth who enjoyed pointing out that it was holding back a lakeful of water capable of killing us all and washing our bodies miles downstream) the single-most-scary thing in my world. Trips to Cisco were fun but often involved nightmares for days after.
I drove by the old pool a few years ago and was surprised that as much was left as is. The skating rink—like most everything else from my childhood (see the article from two weeks ago)—burned down, but there are still remnants of a gazebo, the old picnic tables, some crumbling cabins and—surprise!—the pool is still there, though the shallow end is overtaken by weeds and the water in deep end is dark and scary.
(If you’d like to see some excellent pictures of the zoo as it looks today (or, in 2000, anyway) click here.]